August 08, 2011
Hardware Review: HP Z210 CMT Desktop Workstation
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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It's 2011 and not all computer users need a workstation-class machine, but many truly do, especially with graphics-oriented applications, such as AutoCAD, SolidWorks, and Photoshop. However, high-powered workstations for graphics usually come with a price premium, so you can really pay a relatively high price for higher levels of performance. There are exceptions, however, and the HP Z210 CMT (Convertible Mini Tower) desktop workstation offers the best of both worlds – reasonable performance at a reasonable price.

The HP Z210 Workstation

I’d classify the HP Z210 as an entry-level machine that provides an introduction to desktop engineering workstations. Its small footprint and profile are not exactly aesthetically exciting, is a bit pricy for what you get (at least how our review machine was configured), but overall is a real performer compared with competition in this spec and price range. The HP Z210 workstation is designed for a professional, though not necessarily engineering-oriented environment. It’s got a lot of premium, server-grade components optimized for heavy workloads – although admittedly with some limitations that we discovered as we put the machine through its paces.

The HP Z210 we received for review came configured as follows:

CPU: Intel Xeon E3-1245, 3.30 GHz
RAM: 8GB (will handle up to 32 GB)
OS: 64-bit Windows 7 Professional
GPU: NVIDIA Quadro 2000
Display: HP ZR22w

With the advent and notoriety Intel's Core i7, why consider a Xeon processor? Since Xeon processors are generally intended for use in servers, they tend to run cooler and at lower voltages than the Core i7 CPUs. In other words, Xeon-based machines are designed for continuous use over long periods of time. The performance hit, though, could be an issue, and we’ll address that a bit later.

The Nvidia Quadro 2000 graphics card is part of a product line that is designed specifically to work on a continuous basis. Some applications, such as SolidWorks and Inventor are also optimized to work with Nvidia's Quadro cards, we found that large assemblies, advanced rendering, and some types of simulation bogged the system down compared with some other recently reviewed systems, but couldn’t determine if it was because of the CPU, GPU, or combination of the two.

With no tools required, a green latch on the side of the case provides easy access to the HP Z210's interior that contains three 5.25-inch drive bays, one occupied by the DVD burner and another by the card reader. There are three hard-drive bays, one occupied by the system’s hard drive.

However, a couple of concerns once inside the case. First, is the possible cooling issue because of too few cooling fans. There was one for the power supply, but only one other one for all other cooling. I think an overheating problem could easily arise due to air blockage and heat generation with additional cards and/or hard drives. Second, the internal wiring seemed a little haphazard and unwieldly with loose wires that I felt should have been tie-wrapped together to minimize the possibility of disconnecting or damaging when installing additional components in the chassis.

On the other hand, the sheer number of ports on the Z210 is amazing. For starters, it has a 22-in-one media card reader that can handle practically any data-holding card or other device on the market today. It has nine USB 2.0 ports, including three in front — 10 if you include the one on the media card reader, including two USB 3.0 ports on the back side.

Behind the scenes, but an integral part of the overall Z210 are the system software applications that come pre-installed on it – namely, the HP Performance Advisor and Power Assistant. Performance Advisor provides a lot of useful information and tools regarding the machine. It lists component changes, provides details on driver versions, as well as CPU and memory utilization – all handy information to know if and when you need it. The Power Assistant shows you much power the HP Z210 is using, along with estimates of its operating costs and carbon footprint. With this information, you can adjust how the system operates to minimize energy usage.

Pricing for the HP Z210 line starts at $659, and the model we reviewed was priced at $2,725 ($2,316 with 15% off using eCoupon) (as of 7/5/2011). All in all, a pretty solid value for a workstation of this type.

Just about every company has a couple users who need a little extra computing horsepower than is available in a generic desktop computer where a standard desktop PC might be perfectly suitable. However, heavy graphics and especially 3D can tax a standard PC fine beyond its limitations. For these types of applications and users, seriously consider a workstation. Even in 2011, workstations aren’t a major requirement for everyone. But, if you need a powerful PC to work with graphics and 3D tasks, and willing to pay a bit extra for optimized hardware for these types of tasks, and although it’s not perfect, the HP Z210 CMT is worthy of consideration.

Hewlett Packard Z210 Desktop Workstation

Pluses: Small form factor; internal accessibility; easily upgradeable; system management software.

Minuses: Few cooling fans; sluggish with some 2D and 3D applications (large assemblies, complex surfaces, and simulation).

Price (as supplied): $2,725 ($2,316 with 15% off using eCoupon). Prices start at $659.

Overall Grade: B

Contact: HP Z210 CMT Workstation


The Week’s Top 5

At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

CIMdata Publishes “Overcoming the Barriers Imposed by Geometry”
CIMdata announced a new paper detailing the use of SpaceClaim Engineer as a tool to prepare CAD model geometry for finite element meshing prior to analysis. “Overcoming the Barriers Imposed by Geometry” explores the issues that CAE analysts face due to the burden of poor quality and over-detailed geometric models in their attempts to produce timely simulation results. In order to properly mesh models for finite element analysis, topological inaccuracies such as surface gaps and small sliver surfaces in the geometry must first be corrected. The analyst must then simplify the model by de-featuring the geometric detail by removing things such as small holes, slots, and rounds that design has added for final manufacturing. The paper describes these time-consuming issues and relates the experiences of three different CAE analysts who have turned to SpaceClaim Engineer.

EOS And EADS Collaborate On Direct Metal Laser Sintering Technology
EOS, a manufacturer of laser-sintering systems, in collaboration with EADS Innovation Works (IW), has started work on a study to understand the potential of the Direct Metal Laser-sintering (DMLS) process to generate savings in the use of energy and raw materials. This will help to develop a new range of manufacturing technologies that will integrate sustainability relevant aspects into products and product manufacturing. By capitalizing on the benefits the DMLS process offers, including the net-shape technology to generate weight-reduced structures, along with the low use of raw materials, DMLS technology has great potential to contribute to sustainable development in manufacturing. A previous study conducted by EADS IW showed that although the use of energy during the manufacturing phase could not compare with conventional manufacturing processes, energy consumption during the use-phase of aircraft components dropped significantly. Indeed the DMLS technology unlocks structural optimization, leading to weight reduction of the components, and thus fuel and CO 2 emissions reduction.

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-- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.


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