HP's Z400 a workhorse workstation in any configuration

Pros: Many expansion slots and Serial ATA ports
Cons: Support bar interferes with some accessibility
Performance: A
Ease of Access: A-
Upgradability: A-
Features: B+
Value: A-
Price: $1,638 (government pricing available)

GCN Lab Reviewers Choice small logoFor a user running powerful applications, a run-of-the-mill desktop PC often won’t cut the mustard. Such power users need a workstation-class PC. With more powerful graphics cards and processors, a workstation simply can do more elaborate operations — and more of them at once.

Anyone would like to have a more powerful machine, but a workstation’s price most likely keeps it out of reach for the average user. But for jobs that involve computer-aided design, video editing or huge geographic information systems, a workstation is just the ticket.

The HP Z400 Workstation is a prime example of this high-end class of desktop PC. Its quad-core processor and 3-D accelerated graphics card give it a lot of punch. And the number of ports on the outside and expansion slots on the inside allow for a great deal of flexibility for additions.

The Z400 has eight USB ports, two in the front and six in the back. And because it also has PS/2 ports for a mouse and keyboard, all of those connections can be made available for use. It has a space for a FireWire port in the front, although the motherboard that came in the model we tested did not support a FireWire connection. We found the Nvidia Quadro FX580 to be a good choice for a graphics accelerator, at the high end of the entry-level category. Although it has only 512M of video memory, its greatest strength is that it can support one DVI monitor or two HDMI monitors. Its 250G Serial Advanced Technology Attachment hard drive provides enough initial space, though if you use large graphics files locally, you will likely need an additional drive or two.

As much as the Z400 offers, it still has room for more upgrades. There were two unused 5.25-inch external drive bays, and two unused 3.5-inch bays. There were an impressive six Serial ATA drive controllers, only two of which were being used. The Z400 has a decent variety of peripheral expansion slots — two PCIex16 slots, one of which is used by the graphics card, two PCIe2x8 slots and two regular PCI slots. It even had a floppy drive controller, if you ever need it. The only slight downside is that the 3G of memory takes up three of the four slots, leaving room for at most four more gigabytes of memory before you would need to replace an existing module.

Many organizations need to be concerned with the environmental impact of their operations, and the Z400 addresses many of those issues. The 475-watt power supply runs at 85 percent efficiency, and the configuration is EnergyStar qualified. We were especially pleased to find that it was loaded with HP WattSaver, an application that regulates power consumption, particularly when the machine is in Off mode.

Inside, we found that nearly everything is rather accessible. The Z400 has good cable management, and we did not need any tools to get inside or remove components, with a few exceptions. In one instance, a bar meant for structural support was attached with screws and sat directly over two of the expansion slots and against the release catch for one of the hard drive bays. We could not properly access them unless we unscrewed and removed the bar.

Because the Z400’s 2.66 GHz Intel Xeon W3520 processor is a quad core, we needed to use the most current version of the PassMark Performance Test software, Version 7.0, for our benchmark tests. As expected, the Z400 score was impressive — 1311.9, which is higher than the fastest dual-core system we reviewed for our April 20 issue. That score could have been even higher by increasing the amount of memory or installing a higher-end graphics card, but this was a good benchmark score.

As configured for this review, the HP Z400 Workstation costs $1,638, a pretty good price considering what you get. HP also offers government pricing — and, of course, because each build is customizable, you can tweak it to suit your needs while optimizing the price.

As we mentioned before, a workstation is a bit of overkill for the average user’s needs. However, for the user whose needs demand a powerful computer with a great amount of flexibility, the HP Z400 Workstation would do well. Given all it has to offer, we felt it deserved a Reviewer’s Choice designation.

Hewlett-Packard, 800-888-0261, www.hp.com

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

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