By David Cohn
Over the years, we’ve reviewed almost all of HP’s entry-level (xw4000 series) and top-of-the-line (xw8000 series) workstations. But somehow, we’ve never managed to look at any of the company’s mid-range workstations. The systems in the xw6000 series deliver an intriguing mix of performance and design, so we were pleased when HP sent us the latest in this series, the xw6600 workstation.
The new HP xw6600 workstation packs two Intel Quad-Core CPUs and two PCI Express graphics sockets into one compact package.
While the xw6600, in its black-and-gray minitower case, looks quite similar to other HP workstations, it’s actually a bit smaller than the xw4600 we just reviewed (see DE, March 2008). The system measures just 6.5 in. x 17.3 in. x 17.3 in. and tips the scales at less than 32 pounds, yet provides two processor sockets. The system is based on the new Intel 5400 chipset (formerly code-named Seaburg), which provides support for PCI Express 2.0, 0.45nm Intel Dual and Quad-Core CPU processors, and dual x16 PCIe graphics slots. HP offers the xw6600 with CPU options ranging from 1.86GHz Xeon processors up to the 3.0GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon (formerly code-named Harpertown).
Our evaluation unit came equipped with a pair of Intel’s new 3.0GHz Quad-Core Xeon E5450 processors. Like other HP systems, the front panel provides two USB 2.0 connectors, headphone and microphone jacks, and an optional FireWire connector. There are also two external 5.25-drive bays, one of which contained an HP 16X DVD+/-RW dual-layer optical drive with HP Lightscribe technology, and a single 3.5-inch bay that housed a floppy drive. The rear panel adds five more USB connectors, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, an RJ45 LAN connector for the integrated Broadcom 5755 NetXtreme Gigabit LAN, and audio-in, audio-out, and microphone jacks. An optional 9-pin serial port is available, but there is no provision for a parallel port.
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Inside the tool-less chassis, we found the typical clean, well-organized design we’ve come to expect from HP, although in the xw6600, things were a tad tighter. The HP motherboard provides eight DIMM sockets angled about 30 degrees and hidden beneath an easily removable cooling fan. Two additional rear-panel fans also partially conceal the memory modules but do not hinder access. The xw6600 can accommodate up to 32GB of memory using 4GB DIMMs. Our evaluation unit came with 2GB of RAM installed as two 1GB DDR2 667MHz memory modules.
The motherboard also provides a total of six full-length slots: two PCI-Express x16 graphics slots, two PCI-Express x8 slots (x4 electrically), and two legacy PCI slots. One of the two graphics slots was filled with a new NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 graphics accelerator with 512MB of DDR2 memory. With both the system and graphics board compatible with the new second-generation PCI-Express specification, you get double the transfer rate for an aggregate bandwidth of 16GBps bidirectional.
Hard drive storage is accommodated by the integrated serial ATA controller with six SATA connectors with RAID 0, 1, and 5 capabilities. Our evaluation unit came with a 160GB 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda SATA hard drive installed in one of the two available internal 3.5-inch drive bays. HP offers other drive options, including SATA drives up to 1000GB. The system can accommodate up to three SATA or SAS drives. The 650-watt Active Power Factor Correction power supply provides for all of the system’s expansion capabilities, yet meets the 80 PLUS efficient and Energy Star certifications.
In spite of all the fans — one over the memory modules, two on the rear panel, one over each CPU heat sink, one in the power supply, and one more on the graphics card — the xw6600 is virtually silent.
HP Workstation xw6600
To determine how well the xw6600 performs, I ran my usual series of benchmark tests. On the SPECopc viewperf graphics benchmark, the system scored near the top, but lagged slightly behind several of the other systems we’ve looked at recently, including the HP xw4600 equipped with an identical NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 graphics board.
The results on the SPECapc SolidWorks benchmark, more of a real-world test (and breaks out graphics, CPU, and I/O performance separately from the overall score), were similar, with the HP xw6600 again scoring just slightly below the xw4600, completing the test in just over 184 seconds. Since none of these benchmarks push the limits of the systems’ CPU or memory, however, they never really show off the advantages of multiple CPUs, while the small system overhead of managing two separate processor sockets has a slight impact on overall performance.
But when we ran our AutoCAD rendering test, the xw6600 showed its mettle, ranking third in overall performance when compared to all the systems we’ve tested. Only the HP xw8400 and Alienware MJ-12 8550I (dual quad-core systems equipped with twice as much memory) and the Appro Xtreme WS 5548 (equipped with 16 processor cores and 32GB of RAM) outperformed the HP xw6600.
HP rounds out the xw6600 with its excellent 104-key keyboard and a 2-button optical scroll mouse. Windows XP Professional 32-bit came preinstalled. The 64-bit version of Windows or Red Hat Linux (32- or 64-bit) as well as Windows Vista are also available. Our Windows-based system also included the HP Performance Tuning Framework. The system is backed by a three-year warranty that includes parts, labor, and on-site service. And like other HP workstations, most CAD and DCC applications are tested and certified on the xw6600.
While the xw6600 has a starting price of $1,665, that’s based on a single 2.0GHz quad-core CPU and an NVIDIA Quadro NVS 290 graphics board. But even as equipped, our evaluation unit prices out at $4,611, making the HP xw6600 the most affordably priced dual quad-core system we’ve ever tested. Although most midrange CAD applications can’t take full advantage of all that multiple CPUs have to offer, if you’re running more demanding multithreaded software, the HP xw6600 is a perfect solution.
Contributing Editor David Cohn is a computer consultant and technical writer based in Bellingham, WA, and has been benchmarking PCs since 1984. He’s an applications engineer with The PPI Group, and the author of more than a dozen books. Please send comments about this article to DE-Editors@deskeng.com. You can also contact David at email@example.com.