Teardown: Is HP's Z820 Too Good to Be True?

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Re: HP Z820
jmr60   3/14/2014 5:36:47 PM
It's definitely not meant to replace a server.  HP has plenty of server choices, including SMB models that may be quite a bit cheaper (no graphics, etc.).  It's meant to be a workstation all the way, targeting engineering, graphics art, and so on.  Products like these usually have configurations that are certified to work with various CAD programs (AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Avid, etc.)

The power supply and motherboard are definitely not standard ATX or anything similar, but I'm not sure what you mean by limited selection.  I think there is only one type of each; the available customizations are in CPU choice, memory, graphics, other add-in cards, drives, etc.  Those are all standard interfaces and form factors (PCIe, SAS/SATA).

By the time you'd want to swap the motherboard + memory + CPUs on a high end system like this for next generation parts, you'd be spending enough that you might as well get a whole new system box and sell or redeploy the old one.

As someone else mentioned, this isn't targeted at the DIY crowd, it's targeted at design and engineering professionals who want to get something that works for their high end software applications without any fuss.


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Re: love my Z800!
KingDWS   3/14/2014 4:56:29 PM
Gotta second that! The entire Z series is a well thought out SUPER easy to work on design with a unbelivable warrenty! No I don't work for HP ;-]  I have rolled my own and fixed pc's for years and was given one by Nasa for a design award. Mine didn't come maxed out but even so it ran circles around my wifes i7-4770K machine.  I may have accidently put a few more gooder parts in mine so it just looks at hers now and mutters something about tryhard...

Seriously I would have never considered buying a workstation and have been absolutely amazed at the power these have even when not maxed out. Other than the "odd weee" bit of fps action I use mine for solidworks. I was able to max out everything and turn on realview. I have loaded a very large assembly that my previous diy pc would choke on and this just spins zooms and works unbeliveably fast. Rendering out in photoview the same assembly maybe takes 10 secs compared to 4-6 minutes.

I had a seperate problem with my mouse and a cooling fan. A single email asking if these were covered by my standard 3 year warrenty say a replay within an hour (both on weekends of course) saying the parts had already been shipped! I did call up and ask what happens if the problem is too big for me to do and they said they just send a guy to the location within 24 hours. All covered by the warrenty.  And the parts and repairs are truely zero tools required. The layout and design is very well thought out. Nothing is hard to get to or at and always using only your hands. Replacing the cooling fan on mine took less time than it does for me to ype this out. It is that easy and fast!

So if you have been a dyed n the wool believer of diy or roll your own is just as good you are in for a plesant surprise at just how wrong you are. Oh and suprisingly the pricesfor the lower end Z's are about the same as a assembled cheapy pc from a retailer. If you make your living on the pc creating and needing some real horsepower you really need to be looking at a workstation.


And no I still don't work for HP but just a very surprised and satisfied customer!

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Re: expandable
bdcst   3/12/2014 4:01:15 PM
If you want expandable, you roll your own.  There are many gamer style overclocker designed cases with splendid cooling, a huge number of drive bays, room for multiple video cards and other expension cards and room for the largest mother boards.  They take standard ATX power supplies to well over 1200 watt monsters.  They can be equipped with radiators for water cooled chips.  The basic metal cabinet can be re-used over and over again as you load in new mother boards, etc.

But, if you are not an engineering geek and simply want to get work done, especially in art and science, you'll want an appliance, not a DIY gadget.  A friend of mine is a theoretical chemist, everything he does is done with mathematics, not test tubes.  At work he'll use arrays of HP servers to get super computer performance.  But in his office and at home he is a Mac person.

Tom M.
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Power supply
Tom M.   3/5/2014 4:37:50 PM
While I appreciate that it doesn't require tools to remove, in 2 years buying a replacement power supply is going to be $500 while standard form factor supplies will be 1/4 the price.

Tom M.

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HP Z820
jcbond_mi   3/5/2014 11:49:52 AM
Interesting study.  I am a DIY when it comes to computers (doesn't save money, but it's easy and fun).  What bothers me about this case is proprietary connectors.  I'm sure HP has different motherboards and power supplies.  But HP is the only place you can get them from.  I'd be interested to know what these items cost and what is available.  My expectation is that they have a limited selection, and that selection is quite pricey compared to the market.  But that's more my nit-picking.

This is a mass-produced product, probably aimed at small business servers and workstations.  It's well executed and quiet, and I certainly wouldn't kick it out from under my desk.

Dave Haynie
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Re: love my Z800!
Dave Haynie   3/5/2014 9:59:42 AM
Apple depends on Thunderbolt because of their otherwise-non-expandable design., and the fact they're MUXing Thunderbolt and DisplayPort on the same connectors (part of the Thunderbolt spec, not an Apple proprietary thing). DisplayPort is what you want for 4K video displays. 

Most current users have no need for Thunderbolt. A single Thunderbolt 2.0 port at 20MT/s is in-between a PCIe 3.0 x2 slot (16MT/s) and a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot (32MT/s) in performance. So it's all you're doing to need for most conventional I/O, but useless for additional GPUs, higher-end accelerators (Intel Phi, nVidia Tesla, etc). 

Apple's certainly found a way to make a moderate workstation-class PC, in terms of performance, that matches the Apple "appliance computer" philosophy. It's good news for Apple users, who had been left wondering if Apple was ever going to move the Mac Pro beyond late 2009 specs. But there are plenty of workstation needs that can't be met by the Mac Pro, which are very well served by this system. 

And who really cares what a workstation weighs? I have one at home, one at work... then pretty much live in one place their entire life. 

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Still Apples & Oranges
jhankwitz   3/5/2014 9:44:41 AM
HP's Thunderbolt is optional and it contains an optical DVD drive, making this more of a legacy configurable general use machine.  Apple's machine is more focused on 4K video production, so it serves a different and narrower market.  It's great that there is a broad choice for users of all kinds, but comparing the two using price as the primary commonality is still apples and oranges.   

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love my Z800!
jmr60   3/5/2014 9:35:49 AM
I have the predecessor Z800.  It really is a tank, in the good way.  It's rock solid reliable, and so easy to expand and reconfigure. 

It is also cool and very very quiet.  All those many (!) fans inside are variable speed, so it only cools as much as needed.  In a normal human environment, that means it's whisper quiet, even when running heavy loads.  I'm sure the dense case and many baffles and ducts helps with that too.  And for the extreme configurations, there is even a liquid cooling option.  Even the home brew crowd would drool.

You forgot to mention that the newest Z820 models include Thunderbolt.  Some people care about that feature, which is still uncommon and an advantage for Apple when compared to many other systems. 

William K.
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And what about power density?
William K.   3/5/2014 9:21:31 AM
If everything else was equal, which it probably is not, the computer with the fewer watts per cubic inch should be the more reliable one because the parts inside would probably be running cooler. That may not always be the case, but it certainly seems to be that way for laptop machines.

And why make such a big deal about how much it weighs? The Z820 is clearly not intended to be a portable machine, and all that size and weight make it a bit harder to rip-off, which is a problem in some areas. Plus, the expanded size does appear to make things easier to work on. But mostly I prefer to not have to service my computer, but rather have it run until it is obsolete, and still run perfectly. So this package seems to be what is needed, for those who need to run that high powered software. Clearly it is not just for writing memos and answering emails.

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naperlou   3/4/2014 4:01:16 PM
Now this is expandability!  Whereas the Apple machine was basically a great piece of one time use equipment, this is something you can keep growing as need arises.  For these high end boxes, that is the key.

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