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Benchmarking the HP Z840 Workstation for Video, Part 1: Editing

I perform three basic types of activities on my workstations: editing, encoding, and file analysis. With the Z840 in-house, I benchmarked performance in all three activities, comparing the results to my aging workhorse, the Z800. This 3-part article will present the results, starting with the editing tests.

In early 2009, HP rocked the editing/encoding world with the new line of Nehalem-based workstations, including the flagship Z800. Now, about 6 years later, they’re attempting to do the same with the Z840. During the interim, CPU, graphics, and memory technologies have all advanced linearly, but performance improvements in storage technology have gone exponential.

In an acronym, these performance enhancements are all about SSD, which stands for solid-state drive, as opposed to traditional hard disk drives (HDD), which use spinning platters to store data. Though I’ve messed with SSD drives a bit, this is the first time I’ve tested a workstation with SSD drives. To assist in my benchmarking efforts, HP sent a Z840 system with two second-generation PCIe-based HP Z Turbo drives (the Turbo SSD G2), along with a SATA-based SSD drive and a traditional SATA-based HDD.

What I Tried to Do

I perform three basic types of activities on my workstations: editing, encoding, and file analysis. With the Z840 in-house, I benchmarked performance in all three activities, comparing the results to my aging workhorse, the Z800. Beyond this simple comparison, I tried to focus on two aspects of testing.

• Whether performance was enhanced or slowed by enabling HTT technology.
• How performance varied based upon whether the disks used to store the projects are SSD or HDD.

I’ll report the results over three articles: Part 1 for editing, where I tested with Adobe Premiere Pro/Media Encoder 2015 edition; Part 2 for encoding, where I tested with multiple programs, including Sorenson Squeeze and Telestream Vantage; and Part 3 for analysis, where I tested with the Moscow University Video Quality Measurement Tool. The results will show how much computer technology has advanced over the last 6 years, how prominent editing and encoding programs leverage these advances, and how to configure your computer for maximum performance in all three activities.

Configurations

The Z840 is a gunmetal gray tower (Figure 1, below) with easy tool-less access to virtually all components, including power supply, which is a hallmark of the HP Z workstation line. If you have the stomach for it, you can watch a video of my then 8-year old daughter, Rosie, taking apart and putting back together the original Z800 back in 2009, a YouTube video with over 44K views. The Z840 has some advances, but works pretty much the same way.

Figure 1. The HP Z840, the fourth iteration of the Z8XX line.

The Z840 I tested came equipped with two 3.1 GHz Intel Xeon E5-2687W V3 CPUs, each of which has 10 cores—20, if hyper-threaded technology (HTT) is enabled. The Z840 ran Windows 7 with 64 GB of RAM, and came with an NVIDIA Quadro K2200 graphics card. The approximate price of the system, with web discount, was around $11,000, though prices for single-core base Z840 models start at $2,399.

The Z800 has two 3.33GHz X5680 Xeon processors, each with 6 cores, 12 if HTT is enabled. The system ran Windows 7 with 24GB of RAM, with an NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 graphics card. The system cost around $12,000 when new.

Beyond the CPUs, the two systems had very different disk drive options. The Z840 came with four drives. The system drive, where I installed all programs, is a Turbo SSD G2 drive, as was one of the data drives. Another data drive was the SATA-based SDD drive, while yet a third data drive was a traditional SATA-based 720 RPM HDD.

To assess the capabilities of the respective drives, I measured disk performance with two test tools, one the CrystalDiskMark available here, the other the Atto Disk Benchmark available here.

Table 1 (below) shows the sequential read score for the CrystalDiskMark, which is the first of four provided. The Atto results are for the 8 MB transfer sizes. I am not an expert on disk performance, and provide the results more to show that Turbo SSD drives are really, really fast, while standard HDD drives are slow.

Table 1. Drives on the HP Z840.

For perspective, the different types of data drives allowed me to test performance from each, so I could answer questions like should you use SSD drives to store content for video editing (probably not), or to store data sets for analysis (absolutely). I could not compare performance between SSD and HDD boot drives, though the jury has long since come in on this issue. That is, while the benefits of SSD storage for content is still in question, nearly every source I consulted recommended using an SSD drive as the boot and program disk.

For comparison purposes, Table 2 (below) shows the drives on the Z800. The 15K HDD boot drive is much faster in the Atto tests than the other hard drives on the system, but nowhere near as fast as the Turbo SSD G2 boot disk on the Z840. The SSD drive on the Z800 is an older SSD drive from roughly 2011. Though much faster than the other data drives, it’s nowhere near as fast as either generation of Turbo SSD. It’s also much smaller; only 64 GB in size, so I used it only for analysis tests.

Table 2. Drives on the HP Z800.

The key facts you should take away from this section are:

  • In addition to many more CPU cores, the Z840 has much faster drives than the Z800.
  • The Turbo G2 drives are much faster than SATA-based SSD drives, and (of course) traditional HDD drives.

Let’s start our analysis by looking at the editing results.

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I perform three basic types of activities on my workstations: editing, encoding, and file analysis. With the Z840 in-house, I benchmarked performance in all three activities, comparing the results to my aging workhorse, the Z800. Part 2 presents the encoding results.
I perform three basic types of activities on my workstations: editing, encoding, and file analysis. With the Z840 in-house, I benchmarked performance in all three activities, comparing the results to my aging workhorse, the Z800. Part 2 presents the analysis results.