At the tail end of last year HP held its annual Quad Fest event to launch its new workstation family. Greg Corke caught up with HPÝs Director of personal workstation marketing, Jeff Wood, to get the low down on Quad Core, AMD Opteron, Vista and green workstations.
GREG CORKE: The core of HPÝs workstation family is focused on Intel but youÝve recently introduced an Opteron machine with a very low price point. Can you tell me a little about that workstation?
Jeff Wood: Last September we introduced the xw4550, a low-end Opteron, single socket system. The xw4550 actually has an integrated 2D graphics controller. So for those folks doing rudimentary 2D and maybe some 3D design it will be fine with that particular graphics solution without having to add discrete graphics.
GC: Is the controller certified?
JW: Yes, if you thinking more about the DX-based solutions ± AutoCAD (2D), Inventor or even Revit. From that perspective weÝre going to see a lot of folks pick it up?
GC: And why Opteron at the low end?
JW: Just from a cost perspective – getting a lower-end price point. The integrated graphics is a thing that Intel doesnÝt have from an architecture perspective at the moment. This was the first workstation starting under $800 and that was the price point we were really trying to hit.
GC: But isnÝt AMDÝs Athlon even more cost effective?
JW: No itÝs pretty much the same cost envelope there. The Opteron 1000 is highly leveraged from Athlon64.
GC: So in addition to AutoCAD users are you targeting specific geographies with the xw4550, say India and China?
JW: Yes emerging countries for sure, hitting the lower end cost point.
GC: You also have Opteron at the high-end. With the new Intel chips performing so well where does this leave the xw9400?
JW: The xw9400 was, by design, built to run the new AMD Quad Core ÙBarcelonaÝ chip. WeÝve been holding our breath for AMD and we think it will probably be February we will be in production.
GC: And how do you think the performance will perform compare to the Intel boxes?
JW: ItÝs going to be very application dependent, so for those folks that require accessing a lot of memory, frequently, theyÝll see a benefit over the Intel architecture, primarily because of the integrated memory processing on board the CPU itself, whereas, by design, with IntelÝs front side bus architecture there is more latency accessing memory. So some of the oil and gas guys, some of the high-end 3D animators using big data, CAE, for example, folks doing analysis with big big models are going to see a benefit for Barcelona, but for more mainstream applications we believe Intel will still have the performance leap.
GC: And what about Operating Sytems? At the moment youÝre pushing Vista, but HP is offering a downgrade to XP. Is that more of a marketing thing?
JW: You know, Microsoft in the beginning had developed a plan that they were going to discontinue XP by January 2008 and we could no longer ship XP. Looking at the very slow adoption of Vista by our customer base we worked with Microsoft and said this isnÝt going to work and even through 2008 we need to continue to ship XP. From a branding perspective, they still wanted to promote Vista, so we uniquely developed this plan to do this Vista downgrade, which was the best of both worlds for us. It allowed the end customer to have a Vista license and the media to upgrade when ready, but we could still pre-enable Windows XP on the hard drive and ship it out the door. So we felt both of us had a win because they got to market Vista and we got to deliver XP. But for the customer, if you think about it, they have no way to get to Vista other than buying it without this opportunity. Quite honestly most folks will wait for Service Pack 1. All of our Enterprise customers are testing it, making sure their applications are compatible, all their peripherals (drivers) are compatible and I think youÝll see a big move in the second half of 2008. ItÝs a phenomenal Operating System – the visual interface is just incredible. It just has a lot to do with application availability and performance, and weÝre all counting on Service Pack 1.
GC: So you think Service Pack 1 will improve performance?
JW: Absolutely, weÝre working very specifically with Microsoft and the software vendors to uncover where the performance issues are. WeÝre working with Nvidia and ATI from the graphics performance perspective. As typical we, at HP, will effectively enable the market to move there because we do have the engineering expertise to work with these folks and optimize for these environments.
GC: Do you think the ISVs are doing enough to make Quad Core a success?
JW: As much as they can. In our friends with the enterprise CAD solutions – Dassault, PTC, UGS, thereÝs not a lot they can do. Architecturally, from a software perspective, itÝs just the way the applications have been built for years and years and years, it just does not lend itself well to threading. PTC tried to do a few different tools that were threaded several years ago and didnÝt see a lot of value in it at the time. So truly the advantage for the designer is the ability to do other things simultaneously. WeÝre finding that the automotive guys, instead of designing a particular part and sending it off to the server as a batch job for analysis and waiting a few days for it to come back, theyÝre designing two or three different versions of the part, sending it off for analysis in the background, continuing to work, and getting immediate response. So itÝs optimising their performance. Now the next thing will be to move to a 64-bit environment and build more assemblies versus components and do the same thing.
I continue to see an insatiable demand for performance, even in a multi application environment, Compared to Boeing when they designed the 777, the first digitally designed airplane ever, and they still had challenges because the hardware and software just wasnÝt there. But now they can render a fully loaded 777 model in real time.
GC: What other barriers do you think there are to adoption of Quad Core technology?
JW: ItÝs been price. And, quite frankly, Intel has collapsed their Quad Core pricing on top of their Dual Core. So specifically for this next product introduction it will be the first time we have a full line up of Quad Core processors from top to bottom at very similar price points to where we were at with Dual Core just last year. So honestly I think thatÝs probably the last barrier to success, because the software guys have really worked forever because there have been dual processor capable machines for a long, long time.
GC: But with Dual Core you can still get higher clock speed, which is most important for most CAD users.
JW: You do, you still will.
GC: But isnÝt that always going to be a barrier?
JW: I donÝt knowÍ.. stay tuned for Quad Fest 3 (laughing). Because next year is a different story.
GC: Producing ÙgreenÝ workstations seems to be a very important issue for HP at the moment. Can you take me through what you have done for the new products?
JW: There are three aspects to how we are driving for the environment. In terms of energy efficiency, what weÝve done across the whole portfolio is move standard to what is called an 80plus power supply, meaning the power at the plug translated to the system itself, we will be at least 80 percent efficient in our translation. Before there was no real benchmark and we may have been anywhere from 50 to 60 percent efficient, so you get a lot of power loss and of course that power loss is in the form of heat. So, for us, moving to the more power efficient solution, now youÝre taking less power at the plug, it will be less costly to run our workstations. So far we look like the only workstation vendor in the industry to have adopted that strategy and in fact you can imagine with this class of power efficient power supply itÝs in very low volume right now, because itÝs really for the workstation market and not full blown desktop PCs, so itÝs at a higher cost to us. But weÝve not passed that cost onto the customer, keeping our prices very stable. So itÝs a benefit and a good differentiator for our workstations.
With that, we are also very focused on product re-use and recycling from a green environment perspective, even from a delivery perspective. All of our cartons that we deliver our workstations in are made from post consumer recycled materials. We have taken out all of the literature and documentation out of our delivery systems and put everything online or in CD form, you can order the CDs. Because typically if we deploy 500 seats in an enterprise account theyÝve got 500 copies of these things that they throw away because the IT department are managing them and they know more about them that we do. ThereÝs a great opportunity there.
The substances and materials ± last year the big buzz word was RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances). We were the first workstation vendor to deliver that. In fact we updated our current shipping products to be RoHS compatible, where our competitors did not and they forced their customers to buy the new products versus the old. And in fact we won a lot of business away from Dell and others because they didnÝt do that and it was very important to a lot of key accounts.
So that along with the new EPEAT (www.epeat.net) standards that are going industry wide, we have silver certification right now and, fingers crossed, by the end of the year (2007), weÝll actually have gold status and we expect to be the first workstation vendor to do this.
All of our new systems also have Energy Star 4.0 (www.energystar.gov) compatibility. The entry workstation, the xw4550 is completely Energy Star compliant for all configurations and as you move up the line itÝs a little bit harder to meet all the standards. When youÝve got dual graphics and 64GB RAM youÝre just not going to be Energy Star compliant but we work very hard to offer many configurations that are.
GC: In terms of power consumption do you provide any figures to help customers predict typical power consumption over a year?
JW: We do that, but primarily on a case by case basis. The challenge is power coming out of the plug is different wherever you go. The power here versus the power across the street can be different so thatÝs a variable. Your system configuration is a variable. So we can give ball park numbers, but typically when customers ask that we go in and test their environment and give them a figure.
GC: But prior to that is there any way of a customer estimating how much a workstation will costs to run, over, say a three year period?
JW: We do a lot of Total Costing of Ownership analysis for the Blade workstations on behalf of our customers. In fact weÝve developed a tool into which they can plug in a few different variables and they can pop out an answer with the savings. We could potentially apply that to our personal workstations.
GC: In terms of technology, one of the value-adds that HP offers is its Performance Tuning Framework, which tunes individual workstation for specific applications. WhatÝs the latest news here?
JW: WeÝre actually going to be embarking on a new branding strategy for that, as well as the Remote Graphics software, moving it more mainstream into volume CAD and Content Creation market, optimizing it specifically for some of the new AutoCAD software as well as 3ds Max, for example. WeÝve got a lot of great tools that have been implemented and are being implemented. And as you move to a multi core environment it just opens up more doors for optimisation for us with that particular tool. So customers typically see a 10 up to 30% increase in performance over a standard distribution and again something that our competition canÝt do.
GC: So how are you achieving those levels of performance? The last time I saw the Performance Tuning Framework it was about making sure you had the right certified drivers to work with specific CAD applications. You also had some specific tuning for NX. Are you doing this for more and more applications as well now?
JW: UG (NX) is very specific because we developed the hyper tune infrastructure that goes right into the application and tunes, because UG has all the customer-tunable features, 3ds Max, youÝve got Max drivers, youÝve got Powerdraft drivers specifically for AutoCAD. WeÝre interested in moving to other applications as well, but itÝs really going to be driven more where the market is going. So weÝre working with Autodesk for Revit. Inventor is probably going to be the next.
GC: So you said youÝre going to be doing some re-branding for the Remote Graphics Software as well?
JW: Potentially, yes, weÝre going to look at the volume segment. Remote Graphics Software doesnÝt always roll off the tongue. When youÝre talking to, maybe a consumer thatÝs moving into a more prosumer area, you might need something a little more catchy to get them excited about it.
GC: Is there a lack of awareness for Remote Graphics? Do you think people know about it?
JW: The enterprise folks probably do. The rest of the small to medium business guys probably donÝt.
GC: Would you consider teaming up with a software vendor thatÝs big in collaboration?
JW: Sure, but we have to be careful to figure out, if there is value to our end customer
GC: One final question. You currently have an eight core workstation with two sockets. Do you ever see HP releasing a four socket workstation in the future?
JW: We looked at that many years ago with single core designs. Actually Compaq developed one, but it never took off. We effectively have eight cores in a system now, so until Intel or AMD innovates and goes to eight cores per socket or whatever, weÝll probably hang tight.