Hardware reviews are always an interesting proposition because the point of view of the reviewer is subjective. This review is a bit unusual in that is contains two points of view. The first is from Bill Debevc, an IT professional. For 20 years, Bill has worked in IT for a variety of organizations all dealing with various Autodesk related products. Weighing in with a design technology perspective is Lonnie Cumpton, who brings more than 20 years experience working with various software technologies related to the building design industry.
When you see the HP Z210 box come to your door, your first thought is, “Yup, there's a computer in there." It isn’t nearly as fun looking as the old cow boxes that Gateway used to ship nor nearly as sleek as Apple packaging, but it is clearly professional and very HP. Also worth noting is that the box itself is an environmental effort from HP—the simple brown box with limited black text and images reduces the resources used for packaging. Considering all of the efforts in the building design space to reduce the environmental impact of our designs, it's nice to see a computer company making an effort as well.
Box aesthetics aside, opening the box was a pleasant experience. The system comes out of the box easily and presents a clean functional design. It is a typical mid-tower design, small enough to fit either on a desk or under it. Not that you'll be putting it on display, but you also won't be embarrassed to have it be seen.
On the front of the unit is a DVD writer, memory card reader with all the standard ports, standard audio ports and three USB2 ports. On the back are the typical mouse and keyboard ports, audio jacks, six additional USB2 ports, one DisplayPort, and one DVI connector, which utilize the onboard graphics provided by the Intel Xeon processor.
The system we tested also included an Nvidia Quadro 2000 graphics card with two DisplayPorts and one DVI connector on the card itself. One of the expansion slots was also filled with a USB3 card providing two USB3 ports.
One important note is that the onboard graphics cannot run at the same time as the Nvidia card. To run dual monitors you will use the Nvidia card, plugging one monitor into the DVI connector and the second into one of the DisplayPorts using the provided DVI adapter. Our power supply was 400 watts, which could lead to power issues if you wanted to add a second video card.
Right out of the box, everything ran perfectly with the exception of the DVD drive. The serial ATA port on the drive was not plugged in. We can only assume that this was an oversight and not a standard feature. Once it was plugged in all ran fine.
On the inside, we have an Intel Xeon E31245 processor running at 3.30GHz, a 1 TB 7200 RPM Samsung hard drive and 32GB of RAM. A quick note on the RAM—we asked that the system be shipped with 32GBs of RAM even though the price point was a bit high at the time of the test. We did this hoping the price point for RAM will be dropping greatly at the first of the year.
After getting the system booted, the first step was to visit the "Windows Experience Index." Although not the most comprehensive test, it is available on all Windows 7 computers. The HP z210 scored a 7.5 on processor speed, 7.6 on memory speed, 7.0 on graphics, 7.0 on gaming graphics, and a 5.9 on hard drive speed.
The second step was to install our Autodesk applications. The new Autodesk Building Suite makes this process simple; with a single click we installed Revit Architecture, MEP, and Structure, as well as Showcase and AutoCAD in about 15 minutes with no errors.
In general, the performance of all Autodesk products was great. The AUBench test in Revit produced a score of 165. Like most benchmark tests the AUBench is great for comparing system performance but does little to score user experience. Our testing showed the speed of the HP z210 to be strong and comparable to most high-end workstation systems. The only area in which this system seemed to have performance issues is with the hard drive. With most Autodesk products, especially Autodesk® Revit®, hard drive speed can play a big role in performance, especially as it relates to the user experience. If you order one of these, we recommend going with 10,000 RPM or SSD drives.
In our testing we loaded several small files and a number of large files maxing out the processor and RAM. Even though the four cores are not 100 percent utilized by Autodesk products, the process was very fast and handled the load well—even loading a massive 500MB Revit file with three 200MB links. The 32GBs of RAM made this task simple, never using more than 12GBs of RAM until we ran multiple sessions of Revit at the same time. In Revit 2012, load times do take advantage of the four cores as that process is now multi-threaded. The graphic card was very responsive in all tests, with panning, zooming, and screen response very snappy.
We went one step further and converted the HP z210 into a private BIM cloud. This process turned the one HP z210 into five virtual BIM workstations. Once configured, we ran the same performance tests on all five users at the same time with no noticeable drop in performance. Overall, the HP z210 is a great candidate for both individual workstations as well as a private BIM cloud.
Once again HP has delivered another strong workstation at an attractive price point. We really hammered this system, and other than the hard drive, cannot find much negative to say. The retail price for the system as configured came in just under $5,500, with the 32GBs of RAM. With 16GBs of RAM the same system retails for about $3,000. As the RAM becomes more readily available in this configuration we would expect the 32GB version to drop in price.
Bill Debevc and Lonnie Cumpton are currently using their expertise to help companies develop and deploy private BIM clouds at BIM9. You can find them on LinkedIn and at www.bim9.com.