The xw4600 is an entry-level workstation by positioning, but this configuration from HP offers top-notch performance for CAD, writes Greg Corke.
he xw4600 used to be HPÝs entry-level workstation. That was until it introduced an even more cost effective machine, the xw4550. However, while the AMD Opteron-based xw4550 is all about offering good performance at a highly competitive price, the Intel Core 2-based xw4600 is able to reach the computational heights of its bigger brothers, the xw6600 and xw8600 and still offer great value for money. That sounds too good to be true, you might say. WhatÝs the catch? Well, it all boils down to what you want to do with your workstation.
Unlike the xw6600 and xw8600, the xw4600 is a single socket workstation. This means it only supports a single CPU instead of two, but because you get two or four processors built into a Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Quad you still get a multi-processor workstation without paying a premium for the second socket. You only really need a dual socket workstation (up to eight cores) when you get serious about design visualisation or simulation. Most CAD applications only take advantage of one or two cores, so by and large the most important consideration when buying a workstation for CAD is having a large clock speed. As a rule of thumb, anything over 3.0GHz is fast.
With this in mind an HP xw4600 with a 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 is an excellent starting point for a high performance CAD machine. But what else does this particular configuration offer?
With 8GB DDR2 memory, the xw4600 offers huge capacity for giant models. In fact youÝd be hard pushed to find an architectural/engineering firm that will reach this limit. To be able to utilise this amount of memory you will, of course, need a 64-bit Operating System, and as Microsoft continues to experience low customer demand for Windows Vista in the workstation sector, the xw4600 ships with a free downgrade to Windows XP x64 enabling customers to move to Vista when they are ready.
In terms of graphics, the machine is fitted with an ATI FireGL V7700. This was the last of the ATI FireGL cards to be launched before AMD rebranded to ATI FirePro this summer, so despite its high-end positioning, you donÝt pay a premium for it inside this machine. It will be of particular interest to users of high-end design viz software such as 3ds Max.
In this day and age 160GB seems a little bit small for a hard drive, though the 10,000 RPM Western Digital Raptor is extremely fast and thereÝs still a good amount of space for applications and data. Of course, a second hard drive can be added if you have extended data requirements.
Like all of HPÝs workstations, the xw4600 is an excellent, well built, quiet machine and this particular configuration is no exception. ItÝs sure to appeal to those who are pushing the boundaries of CAD, but donÝt want to pay a premium for a high-end dual socket workstation.