Sponsor Spotlight : Under the Hood of the Z800

November 30th, 2010

When we say, "Let's look inside the box" in reference to a new workstation, we are typically talking about processors, memory, chipsets, graphics cards, and drives. Where the HP Z800 Workstation is concerned, we've got a whole other dimension to consider - the architecture of the box itself and how it works to enhance the performance of the workstation both now and throughout the lifecycle of the machine.

Lifecycle is important in today's economy, and extending that lifecycle through regular maintenance and an intelligent upgrade path is an important consideration, especially for Autodesk users working in the most intensive design and engineering fields. The HP Z series Workstations, and especially the HP Z800 Workstation, are designed to ensure reliable, efficient operations now and in the future through thoughtful and innovative design.

At first glance

Before you even open the case of the Z800, there are some design considerations that jump out at you, hinting at the intelligent design that went into this machine. Aside from the aesthetics of the sleek industrial styling, the most obvious feature is the pair of handles at the front and rear-top corners. They are built right into the case, providing secure, sturdy purchase when you need to handle the workstation case.

The next thing you'll notice is when you go to position the workstation tower on or under your desk. Instead of sticky rubber feet that grab the carpet or desktop surface, the Z800 features skid-pads similar to the materials used under furniture feet to allow large couches and such to slide smoothly across carpets. There is no need to lift the machine to put it into place. It just slides in and out.

Time to look inside

Getting in is simple. There's a latch on the side of the unit. You pull the latch and the side of the machine pops right off, and there is internal design feature number one. The location of all important motherboard features is mapped out and labeled on the inside of the hatch, etched right in, so that it won't wear away over time. All slots, drive connectors, etc. are laid out for easy upgrades and maintenance, but you can't see them quite yet.

The motherboard and internal components are concealed at first under a set of complicated-looking cowlings. All of these cowlings are easily removed simply by operating the latches at the various green-labelled touchpoints, but they aren't just for show. The cowlings are very important to the performance of the Z800 Workstation and are a bit of genius in and of themselves; they are part of the Z800's innovative cooling solution, directing fresh airflow from strategically placed (and very quiet) fans over critical components to ensure that they run cool and smoothly. Separate cooling systems exist for the power supply, processors and memory, I/O slots, and the various drives.

The power supply

Unique to the Z800 is the power supply design. Often, when something goes wrong in a workstation, the power supply is one of the first suspects. With the Z800, this is very easy to test. After unplugging the system from the wall, open the side of the box and look for the green touchpoints at the top of the interior of the case, pop the latch and remove the power supply from the machine. Plug the power supply into the wall using the workstation power cord and observe the self-test LED, If the light is green, the power supply is functioning properly. If it is not green, you've located the problem and can order a new power supply of the appropriate wattage.

That brings up another point. The Z800 Workstation is offered with two power supply options, an 800W option for simpler, more basic configurations with a single graphics card, and 1100W for intensive configurations with multiple, top-end graphics cards multiple drives, large memory, etc. Both pop easily into and out of the power supply bay without a need to fiddle with cable connections, screws, brackets and other finicky, and often hard to reach connectors.

Processors and memory

Below the power supply lays the processor sockets and memory slots behind a pair of air channeling cowlings, also easily removed by green labeled touchpoint latches. There are 12 DIMM slots on the board, six for each processor socket with memory management handled by on processor integrated memory controllers utilizing Intel QuickPath technology rather than the traditional (and bottlenecking) frontside busses of other systems. The processor units themselves are about the only major systems in the box that require a tool to remove and change out (a screwdriver), but once the heat sinks and fans are removed, the processors pop right out, easily replaced and upgraded.

Processor temperature is critical to efficient operations. Most two-socket systems send airflow over the processors as a pair with the second socket often receiving the waste heat from the first processor in the mix. In the HP Z800, each processor has an individual airflow, providing equal cooling and balanced performance. With the new Intel architecture, Intel Turbo Mode is activated if the processor is below a certain temperature, thus cooling becomes important for the added performance of Intel Turbo Mode.

Slots and more slots, but where are the cables?

Next is the I/O section directly beneath the processors. Just flip the latch and open the hatch. This is where another innovation will jump out at you. Where are all the cables? Okay, there are a couple, carefully routed so as to stay out of the airflow and your way. There is a cable coming down from the power supply to provide direct power to high end graphics cards, and there are some cables unobtrusively routed from the hard drive bays to the SAs drive connectors at the very bottom of the I/O bay, but that's it. The usual spaghetti- and lasagna-like cabling that festoons the internals of most computers and desktops are not apparent because they have been placed behind the motherboard against the other outside panel and out of the way of airflow and the non-factory maintainable areas of the computer.

Back to the I/O slots. There are a lot of them, seven in all including: one PCI, one PCI Express Gen1 (x8 mechanically, x4 electrically), one PCI Express Gen2 (x8 mechanically, x4 electrically), two PCI Express Gen2 (x16 mechanically, x8 electrically), and two PCI Express Gen2 x16. These slots are arranged to allow the installation of two top-end graphics units such as the NVIDIA Quadro FX 5800. These graphics cards are cards in name only. With their own processors, memory, and housings, the FX 5800 and similar cards are really dedicated subcomputers. Additional supports are provided within the Z800 chassis to secure these cards without straining the slots or having to fiddle with screws and tiny nuts and bolts.

Under the I/O slots and to the right is a row of eight SAS drive connectors for the various internal and external drives. Each drive bay cable is labeled to help you keep this straight and clear. And that brings up those drive bays. If you look to the right of the I/O bay, there are four internal drive bays with those neat green touchpoints. Just a touch and each bay pops out for easy drive installation or changes. It's so easy even this writer could do it. Accessing the three external drives is just as easy, the touchpoints are to the right of the processor bay and the drives themselves feed right out the front of the machine, again, no screws to fiddle with in inaccessible little bays; it is pretty much plug and play.

As applications like Autodesk Inventor and Revit grow increasingly powerful and correspondingly resource intensive, the ability to upgrade workstations to accommodate their growing needs is more important than ever. Thanks to some truly innovative design work by HP, the HP Z series Workstations, and most especially the HP Z800 Workstation, offer the headroom that designers and engineers need to support their most intensive applications both today and tomorrow.

To see an online demo of the HP Z800 Workstation, click here.

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