HP Z210 CMT: A Powerful Workstation With Room to Grow
By Nate Ralph
PCWorldMay 20, 2011 12:00 pm PDT
At a Glance
Messy internal wiring
Workstations aren’t for everyone. But if you need a powerful PC to work through heavy graphics and 3D tasks, and are willing to pay a bit extra for optimized hardware, the HP Z210 CMT stands out as a business desktop worth considering.
The HP Z210 CMT is an entry-level machine, serving as an introduction to the world of workstations. Clad in business-appropriate attire (read: drab), this midtower machine is one of the pricier members of our Business Desktops chart, but stands head and shoulders above the competition we’ve seen thus far. The usual business desktop caveats apply: A quick glance at the Mainstream Desktop category will reveal machines that offer up more raw power, for less. But this workstation is geared toward a professional environment, packed with premium, server-grade components optimized for hefty workloads.
The HP Z210 we reviewed came equipped with a 3.3GHz Intel Xeon E3-1240–a low-power, quad-core processor typically found in servers and workstations. It offers 8GB of of RAM (you can install up to 32GB of RAM), and sports an Nvidia Quadro 2000 graphics card. The HP Z210 CMT line starts as low as $659, and the model we reviewed sits at $2312 (as of 5/18/2011).
We’ll deal with the raw performance numbers first. On our Worldbench test suite, the HP Z210 earned a score of 150. For comparison’s sake, that puts it on a par with the Dell Vostro 460 (score: 156), a business PC equipped with Intel’s Core i7-2600 processor.
If performance is near-identical, why choose a Xeon processor? To start with, Xeon processors are generally intended for use in servers. They run cooler and at lower voltages than consumer-oriented Core i7 CPUs, being designed for continous use–24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The Xeon E3 processor also includes a number of business-friendly features, such as support for Intel’s vPro security technology, as well as Error-Correcting Code (ECC) memory. Both features add a price premium to the Xeon processor, but when you’re working with important, sensitive data, professionals will agree that it’s money well spent.
The same is true of the Nvidia Quadro 2000 graphics card. Built on the same Fermi architecture we’ve seen in the GeForce GTX line, Nvidia’s professional Quadro cards are expressly designed to work reliably under demanding, always-on conditions. Professional applications like 3ds Max and AutoCAD are also optimized to work with professional cards like Nvidia’s Quadro and AMD’s FirePro lines, delivering both accelerated performance and technical support not matched by consumer models.
The HP Z210 will likely fit right into most work environments. It’s par for the course for the business category–boring black shell, with a firm focus on functionality over form. The face offers three USB ports, a FireWire port, a multiformat card reader (with one more USB port), and the requisite headphone and microphone jacks. The machine is also equipped with a DVD burner; all these trimmings are pretty much standard in both the mainstream and business desktop categories, but accessibility is always appreciated.
The rear of the machine offers up serial mouse and keyboard ports–freeing up a pair of USB ports, and useful for offices with legacy hardware. A DisplayPort and a DVI connector are provided by the motherboard. You’ll find six more USB ports, gigabit ethernet, and 2.1-channel audio. The Nvidia Quadro 2000 offers HDMI, DisplayPort, and DVI connectors. A bit basic thus far, but one add-in card offers a pair of USB 3.0 ports, and another offers a pair of FireWire ports. Advanced connectivity is always appreciated, and while these optional add-in cards might sacrifice some internal upgrade space, the added flexibility they provide is welcome.
A lever on the side of the case offers quick and easy access to the HP Z210’s fairly cavernous innards. You’ll find three 5.25-inch drive bays, one of them occupied by the DVD burner, and another by the card reader, plus three hard-drive bays, one occupied by the 1TB hard drive.
The Quadro 2000 occupies one of two PCI x16 slots, and the pair of PCI x1 slots house the aforementioned add-in cards. That leaves a PCI x8 slot and a pair of PCI slots for future expansion. The entire chassis offers tool-free access, which is great–and especially useful in an office environment, where you (or your IT staff) will want to make internal repairs and upgrades as hassle-free as possible. Less impressive is the wiring job–it’s untidy, with cables attached and arranged without much care. The wiring doesn’t impede airflow and won’t get in the way of your work, but if you do ever need to pry open the case, keep a few cable ties handy.
The bundled keyboard and mouse are generic HP wares–not much we can say about those. The documentation is refreshingly thorough, albeit generic. They offer instructions on setting up and configuring every aspect of the the machine, including detailed diagrams.
The most important added-value element here is the software. We’ve seen the HP Performance Advisor and Power Assistant applications in the past, but their latest iterations continue to impress. Power Assistant is simple: fire up the application, and you’ll get a gauge of how much power the PC is using, along with a calculator that estimates your daily, monthly, and yearly operating costs, as well as calculating your carbon footprint. With that knowledge in hand, you can set an operating schedule for your PC, setting it to sleep when you know you’re stepping away from your desk for lunch or a meeting, for example.
Performance Advisor should be bundled with all of HP’s machines–business- or consumer-oriented–as it offers a staggering amount of useful information and tools in a simple, concise package. The app provides a thorough report on your hardware, listing any component changes and serving up details on the driver versions, CPU and memory utilization–the works.
Machine feeling a little sluggish? The Performance Advisor can track an application’s resource utilization, so you can pinpoint exactly where your performance bottleneck is, and plan your next upgrade accordingly. You can certainly do this all yourself with a bit of legwork, but having a dedicated suite of tools bundled right onto the machine makes the whole process, oh, so convenient.
The Mainstream Desktop charts are full of consumer-oriented alternatives to the HP Z210 CMT–overclocked, gaming-oriented machines that will handle number-crunching with aplomb, as well as packing enough graphical horsepower to tackle video editing and the like. But workstations are masters of specialization, and the HP Z210 CMT stands out as an excellent, cost-effective business machine. Consumer models like the Maingear F131 Super Stock or the Origin Genesis Midtower may have it beat in terms of raw power. But HP’s workstations are specially engineered to meeting a workplace’s demands, whether it’s through mitigating power consumption and offering quiet operation, or packing hardware that’s optimized for the software that professionals use.
But be sure you’re using the right tool for the job–if video editing or 3D design isn’t part of your workflow, you’d do well to look for a machine that’s a bit more cost-effective. The HP Compaq 6000 Pro stands out as a speedy option in a svelte, all-in-one package. For an option in a more traditional design, check out the cost-effective Acer Veriton X498G.