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HP xw9400 Workstation: AMD Opteron vs. Intel Core 2 Extreme

It's two against one as the Core 2 Extreme fights with one hand tied behind its back By Charlie White

HP today released its xw9400 Workstation (starting at $1999, $5999 as tested), a line of high-performance PCs incorporating next-generation 2000-series AMD Opteron processors. The company sent us a dual-processor dual-core workstation with two Opteron 2220SE processors running at 2.8GHz. Although the outside of the xw9400 looked a lot like its xw9300 predecessor we tested late last year, the inside was a different story. Running our suite of content creation benchmarks, we set out to evaluate the xw9400 and at the same time, see if two of these fastest Opteron processors could beat the speed of one Intel Core 2 Extreme (Conroe) processor.

The 9000 series from HP is intended for professionals such as digital content creators, oil and gas explorers, CAD engineers and such, and so maybe that's why the appearance of its the case is rather plain, a semi-retro rounded look that won't appeal to Apple fan boys but still has plenty of convenience inside for those who like to modify their PCs.

The chassis is completely tool-less, and its door comes off as easily as opening a refrigerator, reminding me of the latest Macs with their easy-open cases. The door on the xw9400 seems even heavier than its predecessor, and that's part of the sound-deadening technology employed by HP in this latest model. That, combined with ultra-quiet fans and the more-efficient Opteron 2220SE processors, makes this the quietest HP workstation we've tested so far. Sitting next to our previous champion of quietude, the Dell Precision Workstation 390 with an Intel Core 2 Extreme processor inside, the HP machine with its two processors was even quieter. HP techies tell me they've been working hard on quieting down these Opteron workstations, and their efforts have been a tremendous success. Bravo, HP.

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HP is covering the bases on both sides of the processor wars, where its 8000 series of workstations features Intel Xeon processors, and this 9000 series holds court with the AMD Opterons. HP offers a lot of great technology in the xw9400's computer case, and new for the 9400 are two PCI-Express x8 slots in addition to the two PCI-Express x16 slots of its predecessor. There's also the next-generation NVIDIA chipset onboard, this one including the nForce professional 3600 as well as 4GB of DDR-2 667MHz registered ECC RAM (you can fill it with 64GB if you so desire).  

Also on board is support for the latest and greatest SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) drives, two of which HP included in our test machine. The two 73GB 15000RPM drives, strapped together in a RAID-0 array, were nice and quiet while they nailed a head-turning 159MB/sec. read speed and a write speed of 163MB/sec. That's just a bit shy of the fastest SAS array we've seen here, but respectable, nonetheless. Also included in the configuration was a workstation-class graphics card, in this case the midrange NVIDIA Quadro FX3500 with 256MB of memory. Animators will want to boost that up a few notches, no doubt.

This is an excellent case design, with easy serviceability, great and quiet ventilation, and it even has decent onboard HD audio with the coaxial output in the back, but what about the speed? Can it even keep up with a single-processor Core 2 Extreme machine from Dell? In a word, yes. But it's not that simple. First of all, it doesn't seem to be a fair fight, with Intel's single dual-core processor going against two dual-core Opteron 2220SEs.

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Related Keywords:HP xw9400 Workstation, high-performance PCs, AMD Opteron 2220SE, processors, dual-processor dual-core workstation, 2.8GHz, xw9400, content creation benchmarks, Intel Core 2 Extreme, Conroe, review

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