Being cynical, ultra-geeky types, the first thing we did when HP announced their new 8-16 core, 32-thread workstations powered by Intel Xeon E5-2600 CPUs was run our own benchmarking tests. After all, HP’s press release promised that “the Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 product family allows for up to 16 physical cores in a single system, and lets 32 threads run at one time when using two processors, each with eight cores and Intel Hyper-Threading Technology enabled”, and that these new CPUs would be capable of “megatasking”. Who wouldn’t want a go?
First things first: what are these workstations promising? Here’s the official word from HP:
“Engineered for the most demanding and compute-intensive visualization needs, the HP Z820 is ideal for customers in oil and gas, mechanical computer-aided design (CAD), mechanical computer-aided engineering, medical, video and animation. The HP Z820 provides up to 16 processing cores, up to 512 GB of ECC memory, up to 14 terabytes (TB) of high-speed storage and up to dual NVIDIA Quadro 6000 graphics.
“For quiet environments with minimal space, the HP Z620 is a great choice for customers in financial services, video, animation, architecture and midrange CAD. Updated to support both single- and dual-socket processors, the powerful and versatile HP Z620 provides up to 16 processing cores, up to 96 GB of ECC memory, up to 11 TB of high-speed storage, and up to NVIDIA Quadro 6000 or dual NVIDIA Quadro 5000 graphics.
“Engineered to meet mainstream computing and visualization needs for customers in CAD, architecture, video editing and photography, the HP Z420 includes up to eight processing cores using the latest Intel Xeon processor E5-1600 and E5-2600 product families, providing up to 64 GB of ECC memory, up to 11 TB of high-speed storage, and up to NVIDIA Quadro 5000 or dual NVIDIA Quadro 2000 graphics.”
Our 3D consultant Ben Kitching, who spent most of BVE chained to a Z800, saw the new models recently and notes that, CPU aside, the upgrades are largely incremental. However, key things to bear in mind include a unified chip set family over all models. This means that a single OS image will work on everything from a Z220 to a Z820 making it nice and easy to manage large estates. There are also larger PSU options on the Z620 and Z820, meaning that you can now have up to 3 GPU’s or a GPU and 2 Tesla boards, though the Z620 is now slightly bigger, which could pose a problem if you’re keeping it in a cage.
The tests: render times and Cinebench scores
Full disclosure: we couldn’t get our hands on a Z820, Z620 or a Z420. However, a supplier did lend us a server blade to do some benchmarking on, so 3D Consultant Ben Kitching slotted in two of the new Intel Xeon E5-2670s (eight cores each, top speed of 2.6Ghz). For comparative purposes, he also ran the same tests on a previous generation system based on two Xeon X5660s (six cores each, 2.8GHz).
3ds Max render test
The first thing Ben did was render interior and exterior scenes in 3ds Max. “I used two architectural scenes,” he explains. “One is an exterior scene lit with a mental ray sun and sky, the other is an interior scene lit with daylight portals. I rendered them both with iray inside 3ds Max at 1920×1080. I set the exterior scene to 500 iterations and the interior to 250. Setting the iterations like this ensures the results are comparable across different machines.”
– 3ds Max Interior scene render – average speed 6 mins 24 secs (previous generation: 13:59)
– 3ds Max Exterior scene render – average speed 13 mins 55 secs (previous generation: 28:41)
As you can see, the E5s get the render done in half the time of the previous generation – a big jump, even when you take into account the extra cores.
Cinebench benchmarks (higher is better)
Maxon’s Cinebench test suite, available for free here, uses various algorithms to stress every available core while it renders a photorealistic scene made up of about 300,000 polygons. Results are given in points – the higher the better.
– Cinebench multi-threaded benchmark: 21.44 points (previous generation: 15.24)
– Cinebench single threaded benchmark: 1.34 points (previous generation: 1.08)
Ben explains, “This shows that not only are the new 8-core Xeons ballistic in multi-threaded benchmarks, they are pretty good in single-threaded benchmarks too. This proves that the cores are more efficient than the previous generation, as they can do more work even though they run slower. Some of these results are actually more than 20% faster than the previous generation, but we are talking about 8-core models going up against 6-core ones. Looking at other benchmarks around the internet and extrapolating those results, it looks like the 6-core models of the new generation will be around 20% faster than the models they replace at the same price point.”
Want more results?
You can also see more E5 benchmarking tests for 3D and CAD work over at Tom’s Hardware – he’s not testing a HP machine, but the internals are very similar and they produce some interesting results, with the dual E5 system blazing through Premiere Pro and Photoshop tasks but flailing when it came to After Effects. (“This is probably due to the single-thread nature of After Effects and the fact that the new cores run a little slower than the old ones,” is Ben’s explanation.)
Pricing and availability If you’re thinking you can make do with fewer cores, Ben has some sound financial advice: “Not many benchmarks focus on the 6-core models but, looking at the pricing we’re getting from our suppliers, the 6-core chips are priced to match the previous generation of 6-core models but they are faster. A nice win for the mid range.”
However, if you need the full eight cores, the HP Z420, Z620 and Z820 workstations are expected to be available worldwide in the first week of April. Estimated U.S. pricing starts at $1,169 for the Z420, $1,649 for the Z620 and £2,299 for the Z820.
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