HP Workstation Event: Z Series take serviceability to new levels

Published 30 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: amd, hp, nvidia, quadro, intel, firepro, xeon 5500, hp workstation event

#4: It’s been a frustrating few days for me. Not only because I had to leave sunny LA at the tail end of last week to return to wind and rain in London, but I got to see all manner of exciting technologies at HP’s global workstation event, which I’ve been unable to write about until now due to embargo restrictions.

One of these technologies is HP’s brand new workstation family, the Z Series (pronounced Zee Series by those the other side of the Atlantic). Comprising three models – the Z400, Z600 and Z800 – the new machines are something to get quite excited about. This is not just because of Intel’s new, incredibly powerful Xeon 5500 series processors, but because HP has completely re-thought the workstation and the way it can be serviced, upgraded and generally taken to bits.

To my mind, only Apple and Sun have delivered similar levels of serviceability offered by HP’s new Z series, which is completely tool-less in design. For its demonstrations, HP focussed on its top-end Z800 showing exactly how easy it is to service and maintain.

HP’s New Z800 workstation, can be taken to bits in minutes – and look, no wires!

The whole system relies on clearly marked green levers and clips to give users visual clues as to how to take things apart. HP has done this before but never to this level of simplicity. First of all there are no wires inside the machine! These are all routed behind the back of the motherboard – not only to make things easier, but not to interfere with the CFD-optimised airflow throughout the machine. Even the dongles used to power high-end graphics cards, such as the Quadro FX 5800, are routed behind the motherboard and neatly clipped away when not in use.

Everything in the system, from graphics cards to hard drives and even motherboard, feature innovative mechanisms for easy and tool-less removal. Components that rely on power, such as the power supply and memory fans, use blind mate connectors, which are funnel-shaped to guide the components into place.

The power supply itself has been completely redesigned, and runs the whole length of the chassis so it can take in cool air from the front of the machine and as a result generate less fan noise. User maintenance and diagnosis has also been improved and should the workstation develop a power problem the supply unit can be removed simply by pulling it out by its handle. Then plugging it into the mains will help the user verify the cause of the problem. If the supply is indeed faulty the green light on the side of the unit will not come on. HP will then ship out a replacement power supply which can be easily installed by the user.

In its quest for even quieter machines HP has also innovated in its cooling mechanisms. Specially designed injection moulded ducting means each CPU in a dual socket machine receives fresh air from the front of the workstation reducing the load and improving acoustics. Dedicated fans for each memory bank also run independently from each other to minimise noise.

For those craving even fewer decibels, a liquid cooling option will also be available this summer and new Intel solid state hard drives, which not only run quieter than traditional physical drives, but consume less power and produce less heat, will also be introduced soon. These will also increase performance for those that access a lot of data, frequently.

Power saving

HP made some bold statements about power, claiming that on average its new workstations consume 35% less power than similarly configured machines in its previous generation. In terms of power efficiency, all of its power supplies now surpass the 80plus initiative and are now 85% efficient. The redesigned 1,100W unit in the Z800 is even 89% efficient.

HP has also done a lot of work on power saving and a new hibernate mode called HP WattSaver reduces power consumption to 0.8W, compared to the 2.1W in its previous generation workstations.

In addition, HP claims that all HP workstations are to 90% recyclable by weight and the HP Z line is registered as Electronics Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) Gold, the highest rating available.

DesignWorks was instrumental in the development of the innovative new chassis for HP’s new Z Series workstation. Foam protoytpes pictured.

Industrial Design

HP engaged BMW DesignWorks as part of its industrial design team and to do the global customer research into what its customers want from workstations. In addition to the totally tool-less design to transform the way users re-configure systems, the Z600 and Z800 feature integrated handles making it easier to move them around on site. Also, because the workstations don’t have rubber feet, they can be slid around on carpets and tiled floors.

Styling was also high on the agenda and the ‘design language’ developed by DesignWorks expresses clean lines and premium materials. The grill that runs down the entire front of the Z600 and Z800 was made possible by incorporating a slot loading optical drive and brushed aluminium side panels also feature. Finally, with its injection moulded components, the machine also looks elegant from the inside, as opposed to the usual mess of wires and clips. It’s a welcome change from HP’s ‘xw’ chassis, which was getting a bit long in the tooth and while the Z Series has a refined look, it’s still no Mac Pro in terms of character.

Alec Bernstein, Senior Director, Strategy, Research & Strategic Partnering, DesignWorks USA, also explained how the Z800 applies a lot of the principles of green design. For example, minimizing the amount of screws and fasteners can have a huge impact on the environment as screws travel more than any product in the world as they are mined, manufactured and then shipped globally.

The Z family

HP’s new Z workstation series feature three models, the Z800, Z600 and Z400. The entire family is based around Intel’s new Xeon processor 5500 and 3500 series (codenamed Nehalem), which feature integrated memory controllers and Turbo Boost Technology.

The Z400 is a single socket machine taking the price/performance position in the range (though HP will continue to produce its Core 2 Duo-based xw4600 for those that want an even lower entry-point). The Z600 is a compact dual socket workstation, but for ultimate expandability the Z800 offers up to 192GB memory and 7.5TB of internal storage.

All workstations are armed with 1,333MHz DDR-3 memory and new professional graphics solutions have been introduced across the line. These include Nvidia’s Quadro FX380, FX580, FX1800, and FX3800, which join the established FX4800, and FX5800 in the high-end machines. The choice of AMD graphics cards has also been expanded over previous generation workstation families with the ATI FirePro V3700, V5700 and V7750 all offered as standard options.


With the introduction of the new Xeon 5500 Series, it’s an exciting time for workstations in general, because performance is about to go through the roof, particularly when users are multitasking or running multithreaded applications.

However, while this level of performance will be seen across new product introductions from all the major workstation vendors, what makes HP stand out from the crowd at this moment in time is its innovative approach to chassis design, which looks set to make the servicing of workstation an absolute breeze. Check back in the coming months where we plan to get our hands dirty with full reviews of the systems.

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HP Workstation Event: HP takes lead in workstation virtualisation

Published 30 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: workstations, hp workstation event, virtualisation, windows 7, parallels

#3: Despite being one of the most interesting technologies to appear at HP’s workstation event, it was surprising that this new workstation virtualisation technology was given so little stage time. Parallels Workstation Extreme enables users to run multiple Operating Systems on a single workstation, meaning Linux and Windows users don’t have to work with two workstations concurrently or resort to dual boot. But the real beauty of the technology is that it is claimed to run applications at 95-100% of their full speed.

I had a very interesting chat with James Raquepau, OEM Alliances Director, Parallels, who explained more about the technology and how he has already had interest from the automotive and aerospace sectors. For those that don’t know, Parallels is best known for its software that enables Windows to run at speed on Apple’s OS X. The new workstation-class product will do a similar thing for Windows and Linux so engineers could switch between their Linux-based CAE software and Windows-based design software, accessing the same data off the hard drive array, driving efficiency and reducing the costs and power requirements of maintaining two workstations.

Schlumberger, a specialist in the oil and gas sector, demonstrated Parallels Workstation Extreme at the event running on a HP Z800 workstation with two 30-inch monitors. It showed it running a Linux-based simulation using all eight cores while continuing to perform interactive 3D modelling operations under Windows at full speed. Changing control of the application was as simple as moving the mouse from one screen to the other with the keyboard following suit automatically.

Schlumberger’s excitement for the software was evident, particularly as many of its customers regularly need to run legacy Linux code alongside more modern Windows applications.

James Raquepau told me the requirements for the system are two identical graphics cards (HP currently supports Nvidia’s Quadro FX3800, FX4800, and FX5800), lots of memory and ideally a dual socket (CPU) workstation. The technology is made possible by new virtualization technology built into the new Intel technology and while it should run comfortably on any dual socket Intel Xeon 5500 platform, Parallels is initially partnering with HP for the launch of the product. It will retail for $399.

This looks to be an essential technology for those with multi OS requirements, and Raquepau also told me this could include those that want to work with the forthcoming Windows 7 whilst maintaining legacy Windows XP applications. Interesting times.

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HP Workstation Event: HP targets collaboration with SkyRoom

Published 30 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: hp, workstations, collaboration, hp workstation event

Jim Zafarana, Vice President and General Manager, Global Business Unit, Workstations, demonstrates HP’s new SkyRoom collaborative technology running SolidWorks’ eDrawings with a live connection to Jeff Wood, Director, worldwide workstation marketing

#2: For a few years now HP has had an excellent technology for collaboration, but a bit of a problem in communicating that to customers. The name, Remote Graphics Software (RGS), never exactly rolled off the tongue!

But now HP is in the process of re-branding and re-packaging its proprietary compression technology and combining it with its high-end Halo Studio technology to form a product that it is going to call HP SkyRoom.

HP describes SkyRoom as a ‘professional-quality visual collaboration and conferencing solution that preserves the value of highly personal human interaction.’ In short it combines video conferencing in a collaborative design environment where users can share any application on each other’s desktops, but at a much higher quality and frame rates than can be achieved with current generation tools

Jim Zafarana, Vice President and General Manager, Global Business Unit, Workstations, demonstrated the technology with Jeff Wood, Director, worldwide workstation marketing, over a TCP/IP network and the results were superb. The technology also appeared incredibly easy to use. Zafarana simply highlighted the portion of the screen to share (demonstrated using SolidWorks eDrawings). Up to four people can be connected at one time and they can also see what is in the ‘lens’.

The software is being architected to run on multi-core systems and also supports HyperThreading with Jeff Wood stating that the experience would be much richer on these systems. The base line of a Dual Core 2GHz machine was also mentioned. However, HP chose not to talk about bandwidth requirements as the product is still in beta at customer sites. With this in mind I’m a bit skeptical of how good an experience users will get over the Internet, or indeed if this system is designed to work on such bandwidth limited connections. I guess we will find out more when this collaborative design technology is launched later this year, which incidentally will run on all hardware and not just HP’s.

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Nvidia unveils new Quadro FX line up

Published 30 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: nvidia, quadro, parallels

With two of these new Nvidia Quadro FX3800 graphics cards you can run Windows and Linux at the same timer on the same workstation with little or no drop in 3D performance

On what is arguably the biggest day for workstation-class hardware releases for some years Nvidia has unveiled its new top-to-bottom line of Quadro FX professional GPU solutions, many of which will soon be available in new workstations from all the major manufacturers.

Joining the Quadro FX 5800 and Quadro FX 4800, which were announced last year, are the Quadro FX 380, FX 580, FX 1800, and FX 3800. Apart from promising better performance than its previous generation cards, one of the most interesting new features is the introduction of Nvidia SLI Multi-OS, a technology that enables workstation virtualisation.

Supported in the Quadro FX 3800 and above, SLI Multi-OS works in association with Parallels Workstation Extreme virtualisation software and Intel’s VT-d technology, assigning both the host and guest virtual machine its own dedicated GPU and boasting close to 100% the 3D performance that you would get from running each OS on its own workstation.

Click here for my first experiences with Parallels Workstation Extreme virtualisation software

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Dell unveils new Precision workstations

Published 30 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: amd, nvidia, quadro, dell, workstations, firepro, xeon 5500, ati, nehalem, windows

Dell officially unveiled its new range of workstation-class systems today with the launch of the Precision T3500, T5500 and T7500. Like all new workstations being announced this week, the new Precision family is based on Intel’s Xeon 5500 Series (Nehalem) architecture, which offers incredible power for multi-threaded applications; particularly those that take advantage of HyperThreading, such as 3ds Max and HyperShot.

Like most of the major workstation vendors, Dell has bypassed Intel’s Core i7 platform for its new Precisions, instead waiting for ECC (Error Correcting Code) memory for better accuracy, which is not supported on Core i7. The new Xeon platform also, uniquely, supports Direct Cache Access (DCA) which enables the cache of inactive cores to be accessed by those that are active.

Dell has expanded its range of graphics options with new cards from Nvidia including the Quadro FX 580, FX 1800 and FX 3800, but has also increased the number of AMD ATI FirePro cards it carries in the range with standard options available on the FirePro V3750, V5700 and V8700. Up to two Quadro FX4800 and FX5800 are available in the high-end T7500.

Acoustics has been a major design concentration for the new Precisions with low duty fans aiding the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) designed airflow. Dell has also done a lot of research into ‘what if’ scenarios, modelling what would happen if one vent was blocked off, for example.

In terms of machine positioning, the single socket T3500 will take up the entry-level role, but Dell will continue to offer the Core 2 Duo-based T3400 for those on incredibly tight budgets. The mid-range T5500 is a particularly interesting machine, specifically because Dell has managed to pack so much technology into such as small chassis. Dell gave DEVELOP3D a sneak preview of the machine and we were astounded by the engineering that has gone into this, with the second processor and memory located at 90 degrees to the motherboard on a riser card. With such a small footprint, however, the T5500 is fairly limited in its expandability and this is where the T7500 fits in with capacity for up 192GB RAM and a ridiculous amount of hard drives. It also includes an on-board SAS controller.

While the new systems will ship with Windows Vista by default, Dell will continue to offer Windows XP downgrades (with XP recovery disks) as well as Linux. However, thorough its custom factory integration program Dell can supply workstations with XP pre-installed, and it is also possible for customers to supply disk images for Operating System, network and applications, which Dell installs prior to shipping.

Dell is also in the process of developing a new Flash-driven workstation advisor website, which is designed to make it easier for customers to choose workstations according to which applications they use. This is coming in Q2 2009.

Look out for review of the new Precision range soon.

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COFES Agenda: Clash of the Titans (or my agenda)

Published 27 March 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: live reports, cofes 2009, events

It’s only a couple of weeks away (I’ve got a short trip to Portland before hand to see Autodesk’s 2010 line up for Manufacturing), but COFES is just around the corner and with a fresh off the wire agenda update, I’m looking to see what’s looking interesting. COFES Founder Brad Holtz kicks things off by presenting the results of a current survey they’re carrying out on the state of the CAD/PLM market – if you have a spare ten minutes, add your perspective if you’re actively using CAD and PLM for design, manufacture (you’ll also get a copy of the results once it’s complete).

First day is usually pretty easy going, so its nice to break yourself into the activities. If mine and Martyn’s flight goes well and they actually let him in the country again, we should make it there to see Kathleen Maher of Jon Peddie Research discussing “What’s Going to Stick to the Wall Next Year?”, will look at current trends and product categories with an eye to spotting near-term winners. Kathleen’s followed by DEVELOP3D contributor and longtime mate, Allan Behrens of Cambashi, a UK analyst outfit with a decided global reach. Fresh from safari in South Africa, Allan will be giving the attendees an International Business Update, about which the blurb says “Many consider that the true effect of recent tumultuous shifts has yet to be crystallized. While these are certainly testing times, many believe that now is the time to invest in the upturn. There are many examples showing opportunity and short-term gain at global, regional, and national levels – the challenge is how to balance often unknown risk with perceived opportunity.” Fun stuff eh?

Our Man Behrens. He really is that cheeky. And has some pretty scary looking charts I’m not even going to begin to pretend to understand.

The next day sees the event kick off proper and its a mix of keynotes, group discussions and briefings with software vendors showing off what they’re working on (Autodesk, SpaceClaim, Siemens PLM, PTC, ShareVis and Nemetschek) and what’s coming up. This is combined with briefings from a pretty impressive line-up of industry analysts discussing some hot topics.

Looking at the agenda, unfortunately there’s three that I’d like to sit in on running concurrently. Jim Brown at Tech Clarity discussing Design, Engineering, and Social Networking, Ken Versprille from CPDA talking about forthcoming trends in Design Data Quality and whether companies can actually enforce standards for CAD data and ensure they’re actually used and Jay Vleeschhouwer is someone that’s always worth catching. Recently set-free from Merrill Lynch, and possibly the most dapper man in the industry, Jay’s bound to deliver some insight into how Wall Street views the CAD/PLM world. Oh, make that four at the time.. I see that Bruce Jenkins of Ora Research is also talking about how simulation can be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the front end of the product development process. Not too sure which one will make it, but I suspect, it’ll be down to Bruce or Jim. I’ll leave Martyn to make his call on the others.

If you look at the agenda, there’s something called Maieutic Parataxis. Practically unpronounceable, apparently this means, a series of five-minute vignettes drawn from topics and ideas that, while perhaps not yet fully formed, are likely to impact your thinking about how we design, build, and interact with software in the future.

OK, back to the agenda and planning. If you want to know why we go to COFES, check our post of a couple of weeks ago. And if anyone’s got a temporary cloning machine, can I have a borrow? It could prove useful. And if you’re a twitter user, then you can follow all the action with the #cofes2009 hashtag. I’ll be tweeting from the event if you’re interested too and you can find me at twitter.com/alistardean.

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Live from LA: Behind the scenes at BMW DesignWorks

Published 26 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: design, catia, rhino, proengineer, bmw designworks, aliasstudio, tebis

I’ve just spent an incredibly interesting few hours with BMW DesignWorks in its headquarters in Los Angeles. Owned by BMW, the design consultancy has a hand in the development of BMW and Mini cars, but I didn’t realise that as much as 50% of its work is carried out for third parties.

With projects ranging from sunglasses and shavers to yachts and aircraft interiors the work is diverse to the say the least. But what makes the company so interesting is the way that it encourages its design teams to draw influence from each other regardless of the projects they are working on.

The new Saeco Xsmall by BMW DesignWorks

Housed in a light airy open plan office, and naturally lit, making the most of the seemingly endless Californian sunshine, projects are constantly on show on giant LCD monitors and designers are encouraged to print out their work so everyone is exposed to the widest range of projects beyond those within their own remit. And with 10-15 different projects on the go at any one time, this creates an extremely interesting environment for cross market influences.

In terms of technology BMW DesignWorks uses a huge range of digital tools, including Catia V5 for automotive, Pro/E for industrial design and Alias and Rhino for conceptual work, but designers are also encouraged to use physical models for product development.

For ergonomics testing this is essential, which in the case of a recent electric shaver project, was not only used to test out applicability for left and right hand users but also to test out innovative designs to help making shaving easier for men who wear glasses.

In automotive, clay sculpting still rules, and a whole range of rapid prototyping technologies are also used, but much of BMW DesignWorks’ physical output comes from a giant gantry CNC machine, the largest on the west coast I was told.

On any given week this can be used for carving out foam models of full size cars, or mobile phones. The CNC machine, driven by Tebis CAM software, takes IGES data from the wide range of digital design applications it uses, starting out with soft foam for conceptual studies and then as the design develops and detail increases stepping up to harder materials and finer tools.

Design for a new ThermalTake gaming tower, developed by BMW DesignWorks

As I’m sure you can appreciate, many of the projects at BMW DesignWorks are top secret, and a rather expressionless security guard enforces a strict no camera policy inside the design office. However, I will get to talk about one specific project next week as it comes out of embargo, so check back here next week.

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