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HP Z820 Packs Streaming and Transcoding Power

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Yesterday HP announced the introduction of its Z820 workstation, replacing the venerable Z800 that has been the backbone of many workgroup streaming and transcoding solutions.

Showcased at a recent HP Global Workstation event held in Las Vegas,but under wraps until yesterday, the Z820 may seem like an incremental bump from the Z800, but it actually doubles RAM and processor core capacities: the workstation has two processor slots, with up to 16 processing cores, and can house half a terabyte of RAM (512GB of error-correcting code [ECC] DDR 3 memory).

While HP geared the event line-up of Z800 customers to its target markets—oil and gas, mechanical computer-aided design (CAD), mechanical computer-aided engineering, medical, video editing, and animation—a number of transcoding and stand-alone streaming servers I've tested over the past two years have used the Z800's power to generate significant throughput. The hard-drive storage capacity of the Z820 is also beefed up provides up to 14 terabytes (TB) of high-speed storage.

"HP Workstations based on our new Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 product family are helping workstation users fast track the way they create, test and modify their innovative ideas," said Boyd Davis, vice president, Architecture Group, Intel. "Our new Intel Xeon E5 processors combine an increase in computational capacity and proficiency with an optimized I/O infrastructure."

HP has a solid lock on the workstation entertainment industry, with a number of major studios using the workstations to generate a long list of Oscar-winning effects content, including all animated Oscar contenders this year. But one area that offers potential for even greater streaming media use is the Z820's ability to use dual NVIDIA Quadro 6000 graphics cards for graphics processor (GPU) rendering, encoding, and transcoding.

One other potential contender—a mid-line workstation that HP has enhanced to provide capabilities close to that of the original Z800—is the new Z620. While ostensibly a single-processor box, HP has cleverly designed a vertical slot on the motherboard that can attach a daughter card for a second processor and additional memory. As such, a user can add the second processor at any time. Like the Z820, the  Z620 can also have up to 16 processing cores but is limited to 96GB of ECC memory and 11TB of high-speed disk storage.

On the GPU front, the Z620 can use either a single NVIDIA Quadro 6000 or dual NVIDIA Quadro 5000 graphics cards. A 6000 series has 448 CUDA-capable processor cores and 6 GB of graphics memory, while a 5000 series has 352 cores and 2.5 GB of graphics memory.

Based on the Fermi architecture, the 5000 and 6000 series are capable of handling multiple streams of 2K and 4K content, a potential benefit for those attempting to transcode original content from RED and other digital cinema cameras.

Both NVIDIA and HP will be at SXSW next week to showcase the workstations for a variety of creative professionals. SWSW will be held in and around Austin, Texas, from March 9-18, 2012. The workstations will be on display at the Loft at 6th (215 E. 6th Street).

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