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HP xw9300: Dual Core Dual Opteron 280s Inside

New contender for "King of the Hill" status By Charlie White

As AMD raises the bar on its Opteron line of dual core processors, bumping the speed its Opteron 280 chips up to 2.4 GHz, HP sent us its latest xw9300 workstation packing a pair of the new chips inside. This is brand new technology?the Opteron 280 processors were released toward the end of September, 2005. Keeping in mind that the fastest machine weve ever tested here at the Midwest Test Facility was equipped with dual core Opteron 275 chips, lets take a look at this newest generation of the Opteron, wrapped inside HPs industrial-strength package.

Introduced in February, 2005, the xw9300 is HPs flagship platform. Its similar to another of HPs popular workstations, its Intel-based xw8200, which has what the companys dubbed ?the worlds most expandable chassis. You might recognize it?the xw8200 is seen in all the right places, and is used for a most of Avids turnkey systems including Media Composer and most of its DS Nitris line. That might be changing, though. HP officials told Digital Media Net that in the past two months Avid has begun to use these new xw9300 models with AMD chips inside instead of the Intel-based xw8200, but at this point most of Avids turnkey systems are still using the xw8200.

This nascent shift toward Opteron on the part of Avid is for good reason, because the new Opteron dual core chips offer speed and technology thats not currently available on the Intel platform. As of this writing, circa late 2005, Intel has yet to ship technology that can accommodate two dual core processors on the same motherboard. Not only can two dual core Opterons coexist, but they are more efficient because of their slower 2.4 GHz clock rate. By comparison, Intels fastest dual core chip is its Pentium Processor EE 840 running at 3.2 GHz. The Opteron doesnt sacrifice any speed because of that lower clock rate, though, and one advantage of cycling through less gigahertz per second is lower power consumption. Opterons also benefit from their associated Direct Connect architecture which links the memory directly to the CPUs, and also directly connects the graphics to those processors through Hypertransport busses. Because the memory is physically closer to the processors, the result is less memory latency. As a result, anything thats memory-intensive is aced by the Opterons.  

Another advantage of this Opteron platform is that its motherboard has the ability to accommodate two graphics cards strapped together in NVIDIAs new SLI configuration. Unique to this particular HP xw9300 model is that it uses NVIDIAs new nForce Professional chip set that supports dual PCI Express x16 graphics and four SATA II disk interface channels. So, those desiring the highest graphics performance can plug in two of NVIDIAs SLI capable graphics cards. You can either attach one display using the SLI technology or up to four displays without SLI. In either configuration, the two graphics cards are connected by a small PC board that bridges across them and harnesses the graphics processing units (GPUs) on each card, resulting in a speed improvement that we measured at approximately 40%. While the HP machine we tested included one NVIDIA FX 4500 graphics card, we previously tested an Alienware workstation with two NVIDIA FX 4500 graphics cards combined in an SLI configuration. Those two cards in their SLI trim scored a remarkable 10580 on the Futuremark 3D Mark tests, while our single NVIDIA FX 4500 512 MB graphics card in this HP machine scored a 7630 on that same test.

This HP machine also smoked the 64-bit Maxon CineBench benchmarks, turning in the best score we've seen yet -- 1335.

Taking a look at the HP xw9300 workstations case, its not going to win any design awards but its certainly solidly built. Its all-metal chassis is constructed of heavy-gauge steel and has the easiest opening door Ive seen since the Mac G5. The way I figure it, if a computer is as easy to open as a car door, it rates highly in accessibility (see graphic below). And that door is heavy, containing massive sound insulation?its not made out of thin, cheap plastic or flimsy aluminum like other computer case doors.

With the xw9300, simply lifting a latch with one hand lets you pull the door off in one quick motion. I like that.

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Related Keywords:AMD Opteron 280, dual core processors, 2.4 GHz, HP xw9300 workstation, fastest machine, Opteron 275, review


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