Category Archives: Workstations

HP intros new entry-level HP Z lineup

HP is offering new entry-level workstations with their HP Z lineup, which is designed to help accelerate performance and secure pros’ workflows.

The HP Z2 Mini, HP Z2 Small Form Factor and HP Z2 Tower, as well as the HP EliteDesk 800 Workstation Edition, feature built-in end-to-end HP security services, providing protection from evolving malware threats with self-healing BIOS and an HP endpoint security controller. Users get protection from hardware-enforced security solutions, including HP Sure Start Gen4 and HP Sure Run, which help keep critical processes running, even if malware tries to stop them. Additionally, HP’s Manageability Kit Gen 2 manages multiple devices.

All HP Z2 workstations can now connect with Thunderbolt for fast device connections and offer an array of certifications for the apps pros are using in their day-to-day work lives. HP Performance Advisor is available to optimize software and drivers, and users can deploy Intel Xeon processors and ECC memory for added reliability. The customization, expandability, performance upgradeability and I/O options help future-proof HP Z workstation purchases.

Here are some details about the fourth-generation entry HP Z workstation family:

The HP Z2 Mini G4 workstation features what HP calls “next-level performance” in a small form factor (2.7 liters in total volume). Compared to the previous generation HP Z2 Mini, it offers two times more graphics power. Users can choose either the Nvidia Quadro P600 or Nvidia Quadro P1000 GPU. In addition, there is the option for AMD Radeon Pro WX4150 graphics.

Thanks to its size, users can mount it under a desk, behind a display or in a rack — up to 56 HP Z2 Mini workstations will fit in a standard 42U rack with the custom rackmount bracket accessory. With its flexible I/O, users can configure the system for connectivity of legacy serial ports, as well as support for up to six displays for peripheral and display connectivity needs. The HP Z2 G4 Mini comes with six core Intel Xeon Processors.

The HP Z2 Small Form Factor (SFF) G4 workstation offers 50 percent more processing power than the previous generation in the exact same compact size. The six-core CPU provides significant performance boosts. The HP Z2 SFF takes customization to the next level with flexible I/O options that free up valuable PCIe slots, while providing customization for legacy or specialized equipment, and for changing display needs.

The HP Z2 G4 SFF ships with four PCIe slots and dual M.2 storage slots. Its flexible I/O option enables users to customize networking, I/O or display needs without taking up PCIe slots or adding external adapters.

The HP Z2 Tower G4 workstation is designed for complex workloads like rendering with up to Ultra 3D graphics and the latest Intel Core or Intel Xeon processors. The HP Z2 tower can handle demanding 3D projects with over 60 percent more graphics power than the previous generation. With high clock speeds, users can get full, unthrottled performance, even with heavy workloads.

The HP EliteDesk 800 workstation Edition targets users who want to upgrade to a workstation-class desktop with integrated ISV certified applications experience.

Designed for 2D/3D design, it is also out-of-the box optimized for leading VR engines and features the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080.

The HP Z2 Mini is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $799; the HP Z2 Small Form Factor is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of
$749; the HP Z2 Tower is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $769; and the HP EliteDesk 800 is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $642, including Nvidia Quadro P400 graphics.

New Dell Precision workstations offer smaller footprint

Dell’s new Precision 3930 rack is a 1RU workstation that delivers better rack density through its short depth. Extended operating temperatures and features such as dust filters and legacy ports allow it to integrate seamlessly into complex medical imaging and industrial automation solutions.

With the debut of Intel Xeon E processors, and recently introduced 8th generation Intel Core processors, the rack provides up to 64GB of 2666MHz DDR4 memory. In addition, the Intel Xeon E processor supports Error Correcting Code (ECC) for increased reliability.

The Precision 3930 rack provides the flexibility of up to 250W of double-wide Nvidia Quadro or AMD Radeon Pro graphics, and scalability with up to 24TB of storage. It offers three PCIe slots, and an optional PCI slot. It also features secure and fast remote 1:1 user access, with optional Teradici PcoIP technology and support for up to quad-display zero clients.

Dell has purpose-built these new entry-level workstations to focus on data- and graphics-intensive work. The Dell Precision 3630 tower is 23 percent smaller than the previous generation with more expandability. It features a range of easy-to-reach ports that make it possible to connect to external data sources, storage devices and more. It is VR-ready. 8th Generation Intel Core i and new professional-grade Xeon E processors provide faster memory speeds up to 2666MHz 64GB and up to 225W of Nvidia Quadro and AMD Radeon Pro graphics support.

Dell Precision 3630

The Dell Precision 3630 tower offers scalable storage featuring SATA and PCIe NVMe SSDs, which can be configured for up to 14TB with RAID support. The new Precision 3430 small form factor tower offers the same benefits as the Precision 3630, but in an even smaller footprint, and up to 55W of graphics support. It’s also expandable with up to 6TB of storage with RAID support.

Dell now supports Intel Core X-series processors, in addition to the Intel Xeon W processor options already available on the Dell Precision 5820 Tower. On all Dell Precision 3000 series workstations, adding Intel Optane memory will keep responsiveness high.

Dell continues to partner with application providers for ISV certifications. Dell workstations provide professional features such as Dell’s Reliable Memory Technology Pro (with ECC memory), to protect from potential crashes by mapping out bad memory locations, and Dell Precision Optimizer AI software, which optimizes the system automatically to run applications faster.

The Dell Precision 3430 small form factor tower, which starts at $649, and the Dell Precision 3630 tower, which starts at $749 are both available now. The Dell Precision 3930 rack starts at $899 and will be available worldwide on July 26. The Dell Precision 5820 tower workstation starts at $1,1190 and is also available now.

DG 7.9.18

Review: HP DreamColor Z31x studio display for cinema 4K

By Mike McCarthy

Not long ago, HP sent me their newest high-end monitor to review, and I was eager to dig in. The DreamColor Z31x studio display is a 31-inch true 4K color-critical reference monitor. It has many new features that set it apart from its predecessors, which I have examined and will present here in as much depth as I can.

It is challenging to communicate the nuances of color quality through writing or any other form on the Internet, as some things can only be truly appreciated firsthand. But I will attempt to communicate the experience of using the new DreamColor as best I can.

First, we will start with a little context…

Some DreamColor History
HP revolutionized the world of color-critical displays with the release of the first DreamColor in June 2008. The LP2480zx was a 24-inch 1920×1200 display that had built-in color processing with profiles for standard color spaces and the ability to calibrate it to refine those profiles as the monitor aged. It was not the first display with any of these capabilities, but the first one that was affordable, by at least an order of magnitude.

It became very popular in the film industry, both sitting on desks in post facilities — as it was designed — and out in the field as a live camera monitor, which it was not designed for. It had a true 10-bit IPS pane and the ability to reproduce incredible detail in the darks. It could only display 10-bit sources from the brand-new DisplayPort input or the HDMI port, and the color gamut remapping only worked for non-interlaced RGB sources.

So many people using the DreamColor as a “video monitor” instead of a “computer monitor” weren’t even using the color engine — they were just taking advantage of the high-quality panel. It wasn’t just the color engine but the whole package, including the price, that led to its overwhelming success. This was helped by the lack of better options, even at much higher price points, since this was the period after CRT production ended but before OLED panels had reached the market. This was similar to (and in the same timeframe as) Canon’s 5D MarkII revolutionizing the world of independent filmmaking with its HDSLRs. The combination gave content creators amazing tools for moving into HD production at affordable price points.

It took six years for HP to release an update to the original model DreamColor in the form of the Z27x and Z24x. These had the same color engine but different panel technology. They never had the same impact on the industry as the original, because the panels didn’t “wow” people, and the competition was starting to catch up. Dell has PremierColor and Samsung and BenQ have models featuring color accuracy as well. The Z27x could display 4K sources by scaling them to its native 2560×1440 resolution, while the Z24x’s resolution was decreased to 1920×1080 with a panel that was even less impressive.

Fast forward a few more years, and the Z24x was updated to Gen2, and the Z32x was released with UHD resolution. This was four times the resolution of the original DreamColor and at half the price. But with lots of competition in the market, I don’t think it has had the reach of the original DreamColor, and the industry has matured to the point where people aren’t hooking them to 4K cameras because there are other options better suited to that environment, specifically battery powered OLED units.

DreamColor at 4K
Fast forward a bit and HP has released the Z31x DreamColor studio display. The big feature that this unit brings to the table is true cinema 4K resolution. The label 4K gets thrown around a lot these days, but most “4K” products are actually UHD resolution, at 3840×2160, instead of the full 4096×2160. This means that true 4K content is scaled to fit the UHD screen, or in the case of Sony TVs, cropped off the sides. When doing color critical work, you need to be able to see every pixel, with no scaling, which could hide issues. So the Z31x’s 4096×2160 native resolution will be an important feature for anyone working on modern feature films, from editing and VFX to grading and QC.

The 10-bit 4K Panel
The true 10-bit IPS panel is the cornerstone of what makes a DreamColor such a good monitor. IPS monitor prices have fallen dramatically since they were first introduced over a decade ago, and some of that is the natural progression of technology, but some of that has come at the expense of quality. Most displays offering 10-bit color are accomplishing that by flickering the pixels of an 8-bit panel in an attempt to fill in the remaining gradations with a technique called frame rate control (FRC). And cheaper panels are as low as 6-bit color with FRC to make them close to 8-bit. There are a variety of other ways to reduce cost with cheaper materials, and lower-quality backlights.

HP claims that the underlying architecture of this panel returns to the quality of the original IPS panel designs, but then adds the technological advances developed since then, without cutting any corners in the process. In order to fully take advantage of the 10-bit panel, you need to feed it 10-bit source content, which is easier than it used to be but not a forgone conclusion. Make sure you select 10-bit output color in your GPU settings.

In addition to a true 10-bit color display, it also natively refreshes at the rate of the source image, from 48Hz-60Hz, because displaying every frame at the right time is as important as displaying it in the right color. They say that the darker blacks are achieved by better crystal alignment in the LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) blocking out the backlight more fully. This also gives a wider viewing angle, since washing out the blacks is usually the main issue with off-axis viewing. I can move about 45 degrees off center, vertically or horizontally, without seeing any shift in the picture brightness or color. Past that I start to see the mid levels getting darker.

Speaking of brighter and darker, the backlight gives the display a native brightness of 250 nits. That is over twice the brightness needed to display SDR content, but this not an HDR display. It can be adjusted anywhere from 48 to 250 nits, depending on the usage requirements and environment. It is not designed to be the brightest display available, it is aiming to be the most accurate.

Much effort was put into the front surface, to get the proper balance of reducing glare and reflections as much as possible. I can’t independently verify some of their other claims without a microscope and more knowledge than I currently have, but I can easily see that the matte surface of the display is much better than other monitors in regards to fewer reflections and less glare for the surrounding environment, allowing you to better see the image on the screen. That is one of the most apparent strengths of the monitor, obviously visible at first glance.

Color Calibration
The other new headline feature is an integrated colorimeter for display calibration and verification, located in the top of the bezel. It can swing down and measure the color parameters of the true 10-bit IPS panel, to adjust the color space profiles, allowing the monitor to more accurately reproduce colors. This is a fully automatic feature, independent of any software or configuration on the host computer system. It can be controlled from the display’s menu interface, and the settings will persist between multiple systems. This can be used to create new color profiles, or optimize the included ones for DCI P3, BT.709, BT.2020, sRGB and Adobe RGB. It also includes some low-blue-light modes for use as an interface monitor, but this negates its color accurate functionality. It can also input and output color profiles and all other configuration settings through USB and its network connection.

The integrated color processor also supports using external colorimeters and spectroradiometers to calibrate the display, and even allows the integrated XYZ colorimeter itself to be calibrated by those external devices. And this is all accomplished internally in the display, independent of using any software on the workstation side. The supported external devices currently include:
– Klein Instruments: K10, K10-A (colorimeters)
– Photo Research: PR-655, PR-670, PR-680, PR-730, PR-740, PR-788 (spectroradiometers)
– Konica Minolta: CA-310 (colorimeter)
– X-Rite: i1Pro 2 (spectrophotometer), i1Display (colorimeter)
– Colorimetry Research: CR-250 (spectroradiometer)

Inputs and Ports
There are five main display inputs on the monitor: two DisplayPort 1.2, two HDMI 2.0 and one DisplayPort over USB-C. All support HDCP and full 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second. It also has an 1/8-inch sound jack and a variety of USB options. There are four USB 3.0 ports that are shared via KVM switching technology between the USB-C host connection and a separate USB-B port to a host system. These are controlled by another dedicated USB keyboard port, giving the monitor direct access to the keystrokes. There are two more USB ports that connect to the integrated DreamColor hardware engine, for connecting external calibration instruments, and for loading settings from USB devices.

My only complaint is that while the many USB ports are well labeled, the video ports are not. I can tell which ones are HDMI without the existing labels, but what I really need is to know which one the display views as HDMI1 and which is HDMI2. The Video Input Menu doesn’t tell you which inputs are active, which is another oversight, given all of the other features they added to ease the process of sharing the display between multiple inputs. So I recommend labeling them yourself.

Full-Screen Monitoring Features
I expect the Z31x will most frequently be used as a dedicated full-resolution playback monitor, and HP has developed a bunch of new features that are very useful and applicable for that use case. The Z31x can overlay mattes (with variable opacity) for Flat and Scope cinema aspect ratios (1.85 and 2.39). It also can display onscreen markers for those sizes, as well as 16×9 or 3×4, including action and title safe, including further options for center and thirds markers with various colors available. The markers can be further customized with HP’s StudioCal.XML files. I created a preset that gives you 2.76:1 aspect ratio markers that you are welcome to download and use or modify. These customized XMLs are easy to create and are loaded automatically when you insert a USB stick containing them into the color engine port.

The display also gives users full control over the picture scaling, and has a unique 2:1 pixel scaling for reviewing 2K and HD images at pixel-for-pixel accuracy. It also offers compensation for video levels and overscan and controls for de-interlacing, cadence detection, panel overdrive and blue-channel-only output. You can even control the function of each bezel button, and their color and brightness. These image control features will definitely be significant to professional users in the film and video space. Combined with the accurate reproduction of color, resolution and frame rate, this makes for an ideal display for monitoring nearly any film or video content at the highest level of precision.

Interface Display Features
Most people won’t be using this as an interface monitor, due to the price and because the existing Z32x should suffice when not dealing with film content at full resolution. Even more than the original DreamColor, I expect it will primarily be used as a dedicated full-screen playback monitor and users will have other displays for their user interface and controls. That said, HP has included some amazing interface and sharing functionality in the monitor, integrating a KVM switch for controlling two systems on any of the five available inputs. They also have picture-in-picture and split screen modes that are both usable and useful. HD or 2K input can be displayed at full resolution over any corner of the 4K master shot.

The split view supports two full-resolution 2048×2160 inputs side by side and from separate sources. That resolution has been added as a default preset for the OS to use in that mode, but it is probably only worth configuring for extended use. (You won’t be flipping between full screen and split very easily in that mode.) The integrated KVM is even more useful in these configurations. It can also scale any other input sizes in either mode but at a decrease in visual fidelity.

HP has included every option that I could imagine needing for sharing a display between two systems. The only problem is that I need that functionality on my “other” monitor for the application UI, not on my color critical review monitor. When sharing a monitor like this, I would just want to be able to switch between inputs easily to always view them at full screen and full resolution. On a related note, I would recommend using DisplayPort over HDMI anytime you have a choice between the two, as HDMI 2.0 is pickier about 18Gb cables, occasionally preventing you from sending RGB input and other potential issues.

Other Functionality
The monitor has an RJ-45 port allowing it to be configured over the network. Normally, I would consider this to be overkill but with so many features to control and so many sub-menus to navigate through, this is actually more useful than it would be on any other display. I found myself wishing it came with a remote control as I was doing my various tests, until I realized the network configuration options would offer even better functionality than a remote control would have. I should have configured that feature first, as it would have made the rest of the tests much easier to execute. It offers simple HTTP access to the controls, with a variety of security options.

I also had some issues when using the monitor on a switched power outlet on my SmartUPS battery backup system, so I would recommend using an un-switched outlet whenever possible. The display will go to sleep automatically when the source feed is shut off, so power saving should be less of an issue that other peripherals.

Pricing and Options
The DreamColor Z31x is expected to retail for $4,000 in the US market. If that is a bit out of your price range, the other option is the new Z27x G2 for half of that price. While I have not tested it myself, I have been assured that the newly updated 27-inch model has all of the same processing functionality, just in a smaller form-factor, with a lower-resolution panel. The 2560×1440 panel is still 10-bit, with all of the same color and frame rate options, just at a lower resolution. They even plan to support scaling 4K inputs in the next firmware update, similar to the original Z27x.

The new DreamColor studio displays are top-quality monitors, and probably the most accurate SDR monitors in their price range. It is worth noting that with a native brightness of 250 nits, this is not an HDR display. While HDR is an important consideration when selecting a forward-looking display solution, there is still a need for accurate monitoring in SDR, regardless of whether your content is HDR compatible. And the Z31x would be my first choice for monitoring full 4K images in SDR, regardless of the color space you are working in.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.


Lenovo intros 15-inch VR-ready ThinkPad P52

Lenovo’s new ThinkPad P52 is a 15-inch, VR-ready and ISV-certified mobile workstation featuring an Nvidia Quadro P3200 GPU. The all-new hexa-core Intel Xeon CPU doubles the memory capacity to 128GB and increases PCIe storage. Lenovo says the ThinkPad excels in animation and visual effects project storage, the creation of large models and datasets, and realtime playback.

“More and more, M&E artists have the need to create on-the-go,” reports Lenovo senior worldwide industry manager for M&E Rob Hoffmann. “Having desktop-like capabilities in a 15-inch mobile workstation, allows artists to remain creative anytime, anywhere.”

The workstation targets traditional ISV workflows, as well as AR and VR content creation or deployment of mobile AI. Lenovo points to Virtalis, a VR and advanced visualization company, as an example of who might take advantage of the workstation.

“Our virtual reality solutions help clients better understand data and interact with it. Being able to take these solutions mobile with the ThinkPad P52 gives us expanded flexibility to bring the technology to life for clients in their unique environments,” says Steve Carpenter, head of solutions development for Virtalis. “The ThinkPad P52 powering our Virtalis Visionary Render software is perfect for engineering and design professionals looking for a portable solution to take their first steps into the endless possibilities of VR.”

The P52 also will feature a 4K UHD display with 400nits, 100% Adobe color gamut and 10-bit color depth. There are dual USB-C Thunderbolt ports supporting the display of 8K video, allowing users to take advantage of the ThinkPad Thunderbolt Workstation Dock.

The ThinkPad P52 will be available later this month.


Boxx’s Apexx SE capable of 5.0GHz clock speed

Boxx Technologies has introduced the Apexx Special Edition (SE), a workstation featuring a professionally overclocked Intel Core i7-8086K limited edition processor capable of reaching 5.0GHz across all six of its cores.

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Intel 8086 (the processor that launched x86 architecture), Intel provided Boxx with a limited number of the high-performance CPUs ideal for 3D modeling, animation and CAD workflows.

Available only while supplies last and custom-configured to accelerate Autodesk’s 3ds Max and Maya, Adobe CC, Maxon Cinema 4D and other pro apps, Apexx SE features a six-core, 8th generation Intel core i7-8086K limited edition processor professionally overclocked to 5.0GHz. Unlike PC gaming systems, the liquid-cooled Apexx SE sustains that frequency across all cores — even in the most demanding situations.

Featuring a compact and metallic blue chassis, the Apexx S3 supports up to three Nvidia or AMD Radeon pro graphics cards, features solid state drives and 2600MHz DDR4 memory. Boxx is offering a three-year warranty on the systems.

“As longtime Intel partners, Boxx is honored to be chosen to offer this state-of-the-art technology. Lightly threaded 3D content creation tools are limited by the frequency of the processor, so a faster clock speed means more creating and less waiting,” explains Boxx VP, marketing and business development Shoaib Mohammad.


Review: The PNY PrevailPro mobile workstation

By Mike McCarthy

PNY, a company best known in the media and entertainment industry as the manufacturer of Nvidia’s Quadro line of professional graphics cards, is now offering a powerful mobile workstation. While PNY makes a variety of other products, mostly centered around memory and graphics cards, the PrevailPro is their first move into offering complete systems.

Let’s take a look at what’s inside. The PrevailPro is based on Intel’s 7th generation Core i7 7700HQ Quad-Core Hyperthreaded CPU, running at 2.8-3.8GHz. It has an HM175 chipset and 32GB of dual-channel DDR4 RAM. At less than ¾-inch thick and 4.8 pounds, it also has an SD card slot, fingerprint reader, five USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, Intel 8265 WiFi, and audio I/O. It might not be the lightest 15-inch laptop, but it is one of the most powerful. At 107 cubic inches, it has half the volume of my 17-inch Lenovo P71.

The model I am reviewing is their top option, with a 512GB NVMe SSD, as well as a 2TB HDD for storage. The display is a 15.6-inch UHD panel, driven by the headline feature, a Quadro P4000 GPU in Max-Q configuration. With 1792 CUDA cores, and 8GB of GDDR memory, the GPU retains 80% of the power of the desktop version of the P4000, at 4.4 TFlops. Someone I showed the system to joked that it was a PNY Quadro graphics card with a screen, which isn’t necessarily inaccurate. The Nvidia Pascal-based Quadro P4000 Max-Q GPU is the key unique feature of the product, being the only system I am aware of in its class — 15-inch workstations — with that much graphics horsepower.

Display Connectivity
This top-end PrevailPro system is ProVR certified by Nvidia and comes with a full complement of ports, offering more display options than any other system its size. It can drive three external 4K displays plus its attached UHD panel, an 8K monitor at 60Hz or anything in between. I originally requested to review this unit when it was announced last fall because I was working on a number of Barco Escape three-screen cinema projects. The system’s set of display outputs would allow me to natively drive the three TVs or projectors required for live editing and playback at a theater, without having to lug my full-sized workstation to the site. This is less of an issue now that the Escape format has been discontinued, but there are many other applications that involve multi-screen content creation, usually related to advertising as opposed to cinema.

I had also been looking for a more portable device to drive my 8K monitor — I wanted to do some on-set tests, reviewing footage from 8K cameras, without dragging my 50-pound workstation around with me — even my 17-inch P71 didn’t support it. Its DisplayPort connection is limited to Version 1.2, due to being attached to the Intel side of the hybrid graphics system. Dell’s Precision mobile workstations can drive their 8K display at 30Hz, but none of the other major manufacturers have implemented DisplayPort 1.3, favoring the power savings of using Intel’s 1.2 port in the chipset. The PrevailPro by comparison has dual mini-DisplayPort 01.3 ports, connected directly to the Nvidia GPU, which can be used together to drive an 8K monitor at 60Hz for the ultimate high-res viewing experience. It also has an HDMI 2.0 port supporting 4Kp60 with HDCP to connect your 4K TV.

It can connect three external displays, or a fourth with MST if you turn off the integrated panel. The one feature that is missing is Thunderbolt, which may be related to the DisplayPort issue. (Thunderbolt 3 was officially limited to DisplayPort 1.2) This doesn’t affect me personally, and USB 3.1 has much of the same functionality, but it will be an issue for many users in the M&E space — it limits its flexibility.

User Experience
The integrated display is a UHD LCD panel with a matte finish. It seems middle of the line. There is nothing wrong with it, and it appears to be accurate, but it doesn’t really pop the way some nicer displays do, possibly due to the blacks not being as dark as they could be.

The audio performance is not too impressive either. The speaker located at the top of the keyboard aren’t very loud, even at maximum volume, and they occasionally crackle a bit. This is probably the system’s most serious deficiency, although a decent pair of headphones can improve that experience significantly. The keyboard is well laid out, and felt natural to use, and the trackpad worked great for me. Switching between laptops frequently, I sometimes have difficulty adjusting to changes in the function and arrow key positioning, but everything was where my fingers expected them to be.

Performance wise, I am not comparing it to other 15-inch laptops, because I don’t have any to test it against, and that is not the point of this article. The users who need this kind of performance have previously been limited to 17-inch systems, and this one might allow them to lighten their load — more portable without sacrificing much performance. I will be comparing it to my 17-inch and 13-inch laptops, for context, as well as my 20-core Dell workstation.

Storage Performance
First off, with synthetic benchmarks, the SSD reports 1400MB/s write and 2000MB/s read performance, but the write is throttled to half of that over sustained periods. This is slower than some new SSDs, but probably sufficient because without Thunderbolt there is no way to feed the system data any faster than that. (USB 3.1 tops out around 800MB/s in the real world.)

The read speed allowed me to playback 6K DPX files in Adobe Premiere, and that is nothing to scoff at. The HDD tops out at 125MB/s as should be expected for a 2.5-inch SATA drive, so it will perform just like any other system. The spinning disk seems out of place in a device like this, where a second M.2 slot would have allowed the same capacity, at higher speeds, with size and power savings.

Here are its Cinebench scores, compared to my other systems:
System OpenGL CPU
PNY PrevailPro (P4000) 109.94 738
Lenovo P71 (P5000) 153.34 859
Dell 7910 Desktop (P6000) 179.98 3060Aorus X3 Plus (GF870) 47.00 520

The P4000 is a VR-certified solution, so I hooked up my Lenovo Explorer HMD and tried editing some 360 video in Premiere Pro 12.1. Everything works as expected, and I was able to get my GoPro Fusion footage to play back 3Kp60 at full resolution, and 5Kp30 at half resolution. Playing back exported clips in WMR worked in full resolution, even at 5K.

8K Playback
One of the unique features of this system is its support for an 8K display. Now, that makes for an awfully nice UI monitor, but most people buying it to drive an 8K display will probably want to view 8K content on it. To that end, 8K playback was one of the first things I tested. Within Premiere, DNxHR-LB files were the only ones I could get to play without dropping frames at full resolution, and even then only when they were scope aspect ratio. The fewer pixels to process due to the letterboxing works in its favor. All of the other options wouldn’t playback at full resolution, which defeats the purpose of an 8K display. The Windows 10 media player did playback 8K HEVC files at full resolution without issue, due to the hardware decoder on the Quadro GPU, which explicitly supports 8K playback. So that is probably the best way to experience 8K media on a system like this.

Now obviously 8K is pushing our luck with a laptop in the first place. My 6K Red files play back at quarter res, and most of my other 4K and 6K test assets play smoothly. I rendered a complex 5K comp in Adobe After Effects, and at 28 minutes, it was four minutes slower than my larger 17-inch system, and twice as fast as my 13-inch gaming notebook. Encoding a 10-minute file in DCP-O-Matic took 47 minutes in 2K, and 189 minutes in 4K, which is 15% slower than my 17-inch laptop.

Conclusion
The new 15-inch PrevailPro is not as fast as my huge 17-inch P71, as to be expected, but it is close in most tests, and many users would never notice the difference. It supports 8K monitors and takes up half the space in my bag. It blows my 13-inch gaming notebook out of the water and does many media tasks just as fast as my desktop workstation. It seems like an ideal choice for a power user who needs strong graphics performance but doesn’t want to lug around a 17-inch monster of a system.

The steps to improve it would be the addition of Thunderbolt support, better speakers, and an upgrade to Intel’s new 8th Gen CPUs. If I was still working on multi-screen theatrical projects, this would be the perfect system for taking my projects with me — same if I was working in VR more. I believe the configuration I tested has an MSRP of $4,500, but I find it online for around $4100. So it is clearly not the cheap option, but it is one of the most powerful 15-inch laptops available, especially if your processing needs are GPU intense. It is a well-balanced solution, for demanding users who need performance, but want to limit size and weight.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.


Review: Custom-built workstations from Mediaworkstations.net

By Brady Betzel

While workstations that optimize the tools you use in the media and entertainment industry are easily accessible, what if you wanted to drill down even deeper?

What if you wanted a workstation built specifically for Adobe Premiere Pro editing of 4K RAW Red R3D files? Or if you are working in Blackmagic’s Resolve, and want playback of 4K RAW Red R3D files? What if you also wanted to dabble in Adobe After Effects?

While the big workstation manufacturers allow customization, that can only go so far online. If you want more personal support and micro-customizations, you will need to find a smaller company that builds very niche computer systems. Mediaworkstations.net is one of those companies.

MediaWorkstations.net’s offerings are custom built computers focused on the media and entertainment professional working in high-end applications like Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Maxon Cinema 4D, Foundry Nuke and many more including realtime renderers like Octane. When you call MediaWorkstations.net you will talk to a real person, like founder Christopher Johnson, who has extensive knowledge about the media and entertainment industry as it relates to hardware configurations.

Customization
To get started, I had a phone call with Christopher to go over my needs in a system, how much of a budget I had to work with and what I thought I would want to be doing in the future. We talked about how I am currently an online editor who does some color correction and grading. For editing, I primarily use Avid Media Composer but I am using Adobe Premiere and Blackmagic’s Resolve more often these days. I also like to jump into After Effects and Cinema 4D to do some basic stuff but without a slowdown. And, finally, I wanted to stay under $10,000 in price.

Following along on the website, Christopher directed me to the i-X series workstation they configure. He ran through some of my CPU options and explained why I would need one processor versus another processor. He suggested putting 128GB of DDR4 2800 SDRAM, which I went with but I considered changing that to 64GB — I would save a little less than $1,000, and it’s something I could always install more down the road.

Christopher had me throw in a 512GB Samsung 960 Pro SSD for the OS drive, a RAID-0 asset drive and the cherry on top was the 800GB Kingston DCP1000 PCIe for another asset drive. The Kingston DCP 1000 is a beast of a drive that I was super excited to test. You can check the specs out here, but essentially Kingston says it can read up to 6,800MB/s and write up to 6,000MB/s (that is megabytes not bits!). Without giving away too much, this drive is the fastest drive I have ever tested. Unfortunately, at the moment you can’t include it in the online configuration to get a price, but it seems like it retails for anywhere from $1,100 to $1,900.

For GPU power Christopher suggested three Nvidia GeForce 1080 Ti 11GB cards, which seem to retail for $979.99 each, according to Amazon and NewEgg. On MediaWorkstations.net that upgrade will run you an extra $4,149 over the standard Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB. Quite the difference in price, but you are paying for full configuration and support.

Beyond the configuration, Christopher took time to explain why I could benefit from three or four 1080 Ti’s as opposed to only two — apps like After Effects would only take advantage of 1 GPU where typically Premiere can harness the power of 2 GPUs and Resolve can handle 10 or more but for my case I wouldn’t see an exponential increase in power if I went above 3 or 4. In the end, the configured system totalled $12,095, which is a full 20% higher than the $10,000 budget I had mentioned. To knock that down I would probably cut the memory from 128GB to 64GB, get rid of a GTX 1080 Ti and bump up the CPU to the Intel i9 7920X, which adds a few cores and cache. This gets me to a total of about $8,828 before adding the cost of the Kingston DCP1000, which I assume would get me around $10,000. However, for this review I was sent the original configuration.

After talking with Christopher for over 30 minutes, I got the feeling that he knew what each part of a computer does and how I could use each component to its full potential. We focused on trying to build as much of a future-proof system as we could for around $10,000. Christopher mentioned that these systems will play RAW 4K Red R3D files no problem, and possibly 6K and 8K. That immediately caught my attention, especially when conforming and coloring the R3D files with all of their added benefits.

You should try to build a system for yourself on the Mediaworkstations.net and check out their other offerings like their Enterprise offering called the i-XL which allows for components like dual Xeons or increased memory like 1TB of ECC RAM. They also offer an i-X2 model, which is more like the i-X but with added Xeon processors as well as the a-X which offers AMD Threadripper processors. You can even call them and dial in exactly what components you will need for your specific needs.

Testing the System
So the i-X from MediaWorkstations.net arrived and boy is it loaded with high-end components. Right off the bat, I opened the side panel and started fiddling with the internal components. One of the more impressive parts of the build is the Fractal Design Define XL R2 case. It is easy to open and even has a layer of dense audio dampening material on the inside, which seemed to significantly reduce noise on the outside. You can check out specs on the case at their website.

Also, the power supply is a beast — I immediately noticed the power cable supplied with the system. The power cable is so thick I thought they sent me the wrong one. It definitely makes you feel like you are plugging in a high-end system. You can check out the EVGA SuperNova 1600 T2 power supply here.

Here is a list of the rest of the components that make up the MediaWorkstation.net’s i-X system:

1. Fractal Design’s Define XL R2 Black Silent EATX Full Tower
2. Intel Core i9-7900X Skylake X 13.75M Cache 10-Core CPU
3. Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo CPU Cooler
4. MSI X299 XPower Gaming
5. Corsair Dominator Platinum 128GB (8x16GB) DDR4 2800
6. 512GB Samsung 960 Pro Internal SSD (OS drive)
7. Two 512GB Samsung 960 Pro Internal SSD (Asset drives – RAID 0)
8. 800GB Kingston DCP1000 PCIe asset drive
9. 3 – ASUS GeForce GTX 1080 ti 11GB Turbo Edition GPU
10. EVGA SuperNova 1600 T2, 80+ titanium 1600W power supply
11. Windows 10 Professional, 64-bit
12. Fractal Design FD-FAN-SSR2-140 2nd front internal fan
13. Two Prolimatech 140mm slim fans

That is a hefty build for any system.

MediaWorkstations.net sells this build at a retail price of $12,095. Besides opening the case right away and messing around with the internal components, I also needed to find out what the premium MediaWorkstations.net is charging on their systems.

I consider myself a pretty advanced user and can build my own computer systems, so what if I wanted to build this myself? Would it be worth it or should I just pay someone else to do it? A great place to build a custom PC from various websites and to find out the cheapest prices is www.pcpartpicker.com. If you want to follow along at home you can find the build I created with some prices here.

There are some caveats when using PC Part Picker: The prices can change, so it may not be 100% accurate, although it is typically pretty close and includes rebates. Also, you must add shipping and tax yourself. And, finally, I had to manually add some parts that I couldn’t find through PCPartPicker. I got my build to $9,387.68 without tax or shipping, this also included $60 in rebates. I would say that we could safely add about $250 in taxes and shipping.

So, if I assume the cost to be about $9,600 MediaWorkstations.net is adding about $2,500. In my opinion that isn’t a bad markup considering someone else is putting in the hours to build and test the system with the applications you use like Resolve, Premiere, Media Composer and many others. In addition to the standard one-, two- or three-year warranties, they offer a 24/7/365, as well next business day warranties available. You may have to add another $500 to $600 for a 24-hour-a-day-warranty, but it’s worth it.

Alright enough tech specs and pricing nerdiness and on to the testing. To be clear, I had a short amount of time to test the performance of the i-X, so I only dove into the basics. This system is very fast. However, I wasn’t able to playback Red RAW R3D files higher than 4K in realtime at full debayer quality in either Premiere or Resolve 14.3.

When I was first asked to review the i-X, I was told it should be able to playback Red RAW R3D files up to 8K in part because of the new Kingston DCP1000 SSD. While this drive was extremely fast, I wasn’t able to playback anything in realtime above 4K resolution. There are a few factors in this that could affect performance, such as whether they were 9:1 or 1:1, but I was told it would work and it didn’t.

On the bright side I was able to color and playback RAW Red R3D files in true 4K resolution. It was pretty amazing that I could add a few nodes and do live grading on 4K resolution Red R3D files without a dropped frame. I also tried exporting the same 18-second 4K Red R3D file in a few different scenarios.

In the first scenario I placed the RAW R3D file on the blazingly fast Kingston SSD and exported it back to itself. Initially, I exported the file with no effects on it other than a simple one-node color correction. I exported it as a 4K DPX sequence, and it took 30 seconds. When I added Temporal Noise Reduction it took 39 seconds. On top of that I then added a serial node with Gaussian Blur that took 40 seconds to export.

I quickly thought that these speeds were a little slow considering the power I had under the hood of this beast. I then exported the same file to the RAID-0 made up of the two Samsung 960 Pro 512GB SSDs, which confirmed my suspicion. With just a simple color correction, the 18-second  Red RAW R3D file took just 10.5 seconds, around 45-48fps to export. With Temporal Noise Reduction it took 38.5 seconds, but with Temporal Noise Reduction and a Gaussian Blur it took 39 seconds. In my testing, I turned off all caching and performance mode improvements.

While I didn’t have the system long enough to test as I would have liked, I was able to get a good taste at how fast the new Intel i9 processors run and how multiple 1080 ti GPUs can help with rendering resizes, noise reduction effects, or even blurring. In the first part of my review, I mentioned that I would likely have swapped out half the RAM and one of the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti’s for a higher-end processor, which would have kept the price down. I didn’t see any improvement in performance because of the the third GPU, but I also didn’t do any testing in After Effects or Cinema 4D, which may have harnessed that extra GPU energy.

Summing Up
Check out the Mediaworkstation site for yourself and maybe even compare those prices with a duplicate build on PCPartsPicker. If you are within a $1,000 or so, then going through MediaWorkstations.net is a great deal. If nothing else, having one single warranty through one company is worth hundreds of dollars in time, money and shipping costs instead of having to manage multiple warranties from dozens of companies.

For peace of mind, I would heavily consider the next–business-day or 24/7/365 warranty instead of the standard one-day warranty simply because waiting for your system to be fixed could leave you without a machine for days or even weeks.


Review: HP’s zBook x2 mobile workstation

By Brady Betzel

There are a lot of laptops and tablets on the market these days that can seemingly power a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch and landing. If you work in media and entertainment like I do, these days you might even be asked to edit and color correct that Falcon 9 footage that could have been filmed in some insane resolution like 8K.

So how do you edit that footage on the go? You need to find the most powerful mobile solution on the market. In my mind there are only a few that can power editing 8K footage (even if the footage is transcoded into manageable ProRes proxies). There is Razer, which offers a 4K/UHD “gaming” laptop with its Razer Blade Pro. It sports a high-end Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU and i7 processor; Dell’s high-end Precision 7720 mobile workstation allows for a high-end Quadro GPU; and HP offers high-quality mobile workstations via its zBook line.

For this review, I am focusing on the transforming HP zBook x2 mobile workstation, complete with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 32GB memory, Nvidia Quadro and much more.

The zBook x2 allows you to go laptop-style to tablet by removing the keyboard. If you’ve ever used a Wacom Cintiq mobile tablet, you’ve likely enjoyed the matte finish of the display, as well as the ability to draw directly on screen with a stylus. Well, the zBook x2 is a full touchscreen as well as stylus-enabled matte surface compatible with HP’s own battery-less pen. The pen from HP is based off of Wacom’s Electro Magnetic Resonance technology, which essentially allows for cable- and battery-free pens.

In addition, the display bezel has 12 buttons that are programmable for apps like Adobe’s Creative Cloud. For those wondering, HP partnered with Adobe when designing the x2, so you will notice that Creative Cloud comes pre-installed on the system, and the quick access buttons around the bezel are already programmed for use in Adobe’s apps. However, they don’t give you a free subscription with purchase — Hey, HP, this would be a nice touch. Just a suggestion.

Digging In
I was sent the top-of-the-line version of the zBook x2, complete with a DreamColor UHD touchscreen display. Here are the specs under the hood:

– Windows 10 64-bit
– Intel Core i7 8650 (Quad Core — 8th gen)
– 4K UHD DreamColor Touch with anti-glare
– 32GB (2×16 GB) DDR4 2133 memory
– Nvidia Quadro M620 (2GB)
– 512GB HP Z-Turbo Drive PCIe
– 70Whr fast charging battery
– Intel vPro WLAN
– Backlit Bluetooth Keyboard
– Fingerprint reader
– One- or three-year warranty, including the battery
– Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
– HDMI 1.4 port
– USB 3.0 charging port
– SD card slot
– Fingerprint reader
– Headset/microphone port
– External volume controls

The exterior hardware specs are as impressive as the technical specs. I’ve got to be honest, when I first received the x2, I was put off by the sharp edged-octagon design. I’m so used to either square shaped tablets or rounded edges, so the octagon-edged sides were a little strange. After using it for a month, I got used to how sturdy and well built this machine is. I kind of miss the octagon shape now that I had to ship the x2 back to HP.

In addition, the zBook x2 I received weighed in at around 5lbs (with the bluetooth keyboard attached), which isn’t really lightweight. Part of that weight is the indestructible-feeling magnesium and aluminum casing that surrounds the x2’s internal components.

I’ve reviewed a few of these stylus-based workstations before, such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Wacom’s mobile Cintiq offering, and they each have their positives and negatives. One thing that consistently sticks out to me is the kickstand used to prop these machines up. When you use a stylus on a tablet you will have a height and angle you like to work at. Some tablets have a few specified heights like the Wacom offering. The Surface Pro has a somewhat limited angle, but the zBook x2 has the strongest and best working built-in stand that I have used. It is sturdy when working in apps, like Adobe Photoshop, with the stylus.

HP’s Wacom-infused stylus is very lightweight. I personally like a stylus that is a little hefty, like the Wacom Pro Pen, but don’t get me wrong, HP’s pen works well. The pen has a similar pressure sensitivity to the Wacom’s pens many multimedia pros are used to at 4,096 levels and includes tilt sensitivity. When using tablets, palm rejection is a very important feature, and the x2 has excellent palm rejection. HP’s fact sheets and website all have different information on whether the pen is included with the x2 or not, but when ordering it looks like it is bundled with your purchase. As it should be).

One final note on the build quality of HP’s zBook x2: the detachable Bluetooth keyboard is excellent. The keyboard not only acts like a full-sized keyboard, complete with numerical keypad (a favorite of mine when typing in specific timecodes), but it also folds up to protect the screen when not in use.

If you are looking at the zBook x2 to purchase, you are probably also comparing it to a Microsoft Surface Pro, a Wacom Cintiq mobile computer and maybe an iPad Pro. In my opinion, there is no contest. Te x2 wins hands down. However, you are also going to be paying a lot more for it. For instance, the x2 can be purchased with the latest Intel 8th gen i7 processors, an Nvidia Quadro GPU built into the tablet —not the keyboard like on the Microsoft Surface Book systems — it has the ability to be packed with 32GB of RAM as opposed to 16GB in all other tablets. And most importantly, in my opinion, this system offers a color-accurate UHD 10-bit-HP DreamColor display. As I said, it is definitely the beefiest mobile workstation/tablet that you will find out there, but will cost you.

One of my favorite practices that HP is starting to standardize among its mobile workstations is the use of quick charging, where you can charge 50% of your battery in a half an hour and the rest over a few more hours. I can’t tell you how handy this is when you are running around all day and don’t have four hours to charge your computer between appointments. When running apps like Blackmagic’s Resolve 14.3 with UHD video, you can drain the battery fast — something like four hours — but being able to quickly charge back up to 50% is a lifesaver in a lot of circumstances.

In the real world, I use my mobile workstation/tablets all the time. I surf the web, listen to music, edit in Adobe Premiere Pro or color correct in Resolve. This means my systems have to have some high-end processors to keep up. The HP zBook x2 is a great addition to your workstation lineup when you need to take your work on the road and not lose any features, like the HP DreamColor display with 100% Adobe RGB color accuracy. While it’s not a truly calibrated work monitor, DreamColor displays will, at the very least, give you a common calibration among all DreamColor monitors that you can rely on for color critical jobs on the run. In addition, DreamColor displays can display different color spaces like BT. 709, DCI-P3 and more.

Putting it to the Test
To test the x2, I ran a few tests using one of the free clips that Red offers to download from: http://www.red.com/sample-r3d-files. It is the Red One Mysterium clip with a resolution of 4096×2304 and runs at 29.97fps. For a mobile workstation this is a pretty hefty clip to run in Resolve or Premiere. In Premiere, the Red clip would play at realtime when dumbed down to half quality. Half quality isn’t bad to work in, but when spending $3,500 I would like to work in a better-quality Red files. Maybe the technology will be there in a year.

If you are into the whole offline/online workflow (a.k.a. proxy workflow — a.k.a. transcoding to a interframe codec like DNxHR or ProRes — then you will be able to play down the full 4K clip when transcoding to something like DNxHR HQ. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a 10-bit DNxHR HQX clip to play at realtime, and with the sweet 10-bit display that could have been a welcome success. To test exporting speed I trimmed the R3D file (still raw Red) to 10 seconds and exported it as a DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime (in the files native resolution and frame rate) and highly compressed H.264 at around 10,000mb/s.

The DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime took 1 minute and 25 seconds to export. I then added a 110% resize and a color grade to really make sure the Quadro GPU kicked in, and unfortunately the export failed. I tried multiple times with different Lumetri color grades and all of them failed, probably a sweet bug.

Next, I exported an uncolored 10,000mb/s H.264 MP4 (a clip perfect for YouTube) in 2 minutes and 41 seconds. I then resized the clip to 110% and performed a color grade using the Lumetri tools inside of Premiere Pro. The MP4 exported in 1 minute and 30 seconds. This was pretty incredible and really showed just how important that Nvidia Quadro M620 with 2GB of memory is. And while things like resizing and color correcting will make sure your GPU kicks in to help, the HP zBook x2 was relatively quiet with the active cooling fan system that kicks all of the hot air up and out of the magnesium case.

Inside of Resolve 14.3, I performed the same tests on the same Red clip. I was able to play the Red clip at about 16fps in 1/16 debayer quality in realtime. Not great, but for a mobile tablet workstation, maybe it’s ok, although I would expect more from a workstation. When exporting the DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime took 2 minutes and the same clip resized to 110% and color graded also took 2 minutes. The H.264 took 2 minutes and 33 seconds without any color grading and resizing, but it also took 2 minutes and 33 seconds when resized 110% and color graded. I had all caching and performance modes disabled when performing these tests. I would have thought Resolve would have performed better than Premiere Pro, but in this case Adobe wins.

As a bonus, I happen to have Fusion, GoPro’s 360 video camera, and ran it through Fusion Studio, GoPro’s stitching and exporting software. Keep in mind 360 video is a huge resource hog that takes lots of time to process. The 30-second test clip I exported in flat color, with image stabilization applied, took an hour to export. The resulting file was a 1.5GB – 4992×2496 4:2:2 Cineform 10-bit YUV QuickTime with Ambisonic audio. That’s a big and long render in my opinion, although it will also take a long time on many computers.

Summing up
In the end, the HP zBook x2 is a high-end mobile workstation that doubles as a stylus-based drawing tablet designed to be used in apps like Photoshop and even video editing apps like Premiere Pro.

The x2 is profoundly sturdy with some high-end components, like the Intel i7 8th gen processor, Nvidia Quadro M620 GPU, 4K/UHD HP DreamColor touchscreen display and 32GB of RAM.

But along with these high-end components comes a high price: the setup in this review retails for around $3,500, which is not cheap. But for a system that is designed to be run 24 hours a day 365 days a year, it might be the investment you need to make.

Do you want to use the table at the office when connected to a Thunderbolt 3 dock while also powering a 4K display? The x2 is the only mobile table workstation that will do this at the moment. If I had any criticisms of the HP zBook x2 it would be the high cost and the terrible speakers. HP touts the Bang & Olufsen speakers on the x2, but they are not good. My Samsung Galaxy S8+ has better speakers.

So whether you are looking to color correct on the road or have a Wacom-style table at the office, the HP zBook x2 is a monster that HP has certified with companies like Adobe using their Independent Software Vendor verifications to ensure your drivers and software will work as well as possible.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.


Dell makes updates to its Precision mobile workstation line

Recently, Dell made updates to its line of Precision mobile workstations targeting the media and entertainment industries. The Dell Precision 7730 and 7530 mobile workstations feature the latest eighth-generation IntelCore and Xeon processors, AMD Radeon WX and Nvidia Quadro professional graphics, 3200MHz SuperSpeed memory and memory capacity up to 128GB.

The Dell Precision 7530 is a 15-inch VR-ready mobile workstation with large PCIe SSD storage capacity, especially for a 15-inch mobile workstation — up to 6TB. Dell says the 7730 enables new uses such as AI and machine learning development and edge inference systems.

Also new is the 15-inch Dell Precision 5530 two-in-one, which targets content creation and editing and features a very thin design. A flexible 360-degree hinge enables multiple modes of interaction, including support for touch and pen. It features the next-generation InfinityEdge 4K Ultra HD display. The Dell Premium pen offers precise pressure sensitivity (4,096 pressure points), tilt functionality and low latency for an experience that is reminiscent of drawing on paper. The new MagLev keyboard design reduces keyboard thickness “without compromising critical keyboard shortcuts in content creation workflows,” and ultra-thin GORE Thermal Insulation keeps the system cool.

This workstation weighs 3.9 pounds and delivers next-generation professional graphics up to Nvidia Quadro P2000. With enhanced 2666MHz memory speeds up to 32GB, users can accelerate their complicated workflows. And with up to 4TB of SSD storage, users can access, transfer and store large 3D, video and multimedia files quickly and easily.

The fully customizable 15-inch Dell Precision 3530 mobile workstation features eighth-generation Intel Core and next-generation Xeon processors, memory speeds up to 2666MHz and Nvidia Quadro P600 professional graphics. It also features a 92WHr battery and wide range of ports, including HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt and VGA.

Review: Lenovo’s ThinkStation P910

By Brady Betzel

With so many options out there for building and/or buying a workstation, how do you confidently choose where to spend thousands of dollars? From the big-named computer companies to the DIY build-your-own systems, there are dozens of subset options to take your multimedia work to the next level. While not yet as common in the M&E workplace as an HP, Dell or Apple, Lenovo has some serious workstation offerings at great prices, with all of the same guarantees that the big dogs offer.

I was sent the ThinkStation P910 workstation — the top-of-the-line Lenovo desktop — but as I was finishing up this review they released the P920 version. For this review, I will keep my focus on the P910 as there are only a few differences in the products, which are faster memory speed, increased memory capacity and an overall upgrade in hardware, such as CPU cores and speeds.

Keep in mind the critical difference between workstations and standard desktop computers: workstations are meant to be consistently run over a long period of time without breaking down or failing. Your run-of-the-mill desktop system purchased from Best Buy, or the like, is not guaranteed to run 365 days a year and 24 hours a day in a critical environment.

What’s Inside
Under the hood of the P910 are dual-Intel Xeon E5-2620 v4 processors equaling 16 cores at 2.1GHz; Windows 10; an Nvidia Quadro P6000; a 24GB, 1TB SSD M.2 PCIe NVMe Opal boot drive; 2x16GB DDR4-2400 ECC totaling 32GB; four USB 3.0 ports; four USB 2.0 ports; and and other features like the standard audio and networking ports.

In addition to the specific components, the Lenovo ThinkStation workstations have a few unique or interesting features: the patent pending tri-channel cooling, which pushes fresh air to both the processors and memory compartments; the chassis are designed to be as tool-less as possible when replacing or upgrading parts with only the CPU heatsink needing a screwdriver; and, finally, a front-facing Flex connector that can be swapped for different connections such as an external PCI x4 connection.

With workstations, you typically get certifications that the system will perform with certain professional software efficiently. These ISV certifications (certifications from independent software vendors) include Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro. There are many other software vendors that are compatible, but Adobe and Avid are the ones that I personally encounter the most frequently. You can check out a list of these ISVs for the P910 or any other model on Lenovo’s website.

Workstations also typically come with in-depth warranties, and because these systems are not meant to fail, the warranties are made to be executed quickly with little downtime. Lenovo supplies a three-year On-Site Warranty, which is surprisingly hard to find specifics on. After about 20 minutes of searching the Internet and Lenovo’s website I decided to stop searching. Other than that I can’t provide too many details, unfortunately.

Working primarily with multimedia applications, I typically need a workstation that not only works all the time but also one that will chew threw high-resolution 4K, 6K or even 8K video files while editing and color correcting. To really push the boundaries, I like to use the Blackmagic Resolve color correction app to color and add noise reduction to high-resolution Red camera files. When working with these Red files you need a lot of muscle, especially when adding post production effects like noise reduction and blurring, and when you are finished, exporting.

Unfortunately, Lenovo doesn’t have Resolve listed under the ISV certifications, but maybe they could add it in the future with Resolve’s heavy presence in M&E projects. One big leg up that the P910 has in the multimedia world is the Nvidia Quadro P6000 with 24GB of RAM, and the crazy expandability from 32GB of ECC RAM to up to 512GB with the 16 DIMM slots when filled with 32GB sticks.

Testing
To test the P910, I ran a few benchmarking apps as well as some of my own tests in Resolve Studio 14.3. First I ran the AJA System Test a few times. I set the resolution to 3840×2160 4K Red HD, 16GB file size, the codec type as 12-bit RGBA and Target Disk being the system drive — it gave a read speed of 2871MB/s and write speed of 1742MB/s, which is pretty good and one I was expecting with the speedy NVMe system drive.

Next, I ran Maxon’s Cinebench, which is a benchmark that is designed to test real-world 3D scenarios against your systems hardware. It tests CPU and GPU abilities, and the higher the resulting numbers the better. The Thinkstation P910 scored very high on multiple CPU testing and the Open GL GPU testing. However, in the single CPU testing it fell the fourth place behind systems that had much higher single-core clock speeds. I noticed the rendering on the multiple CPU tests was very fast. It was faster than most of the other systems I ran this test on, not to mention the Nvidia Quadro P6000 really earning its place at the number one position — it chewed through the test.

Finally, I wanted to test the rendering speed on some high-resolution Red files in Resolve 14.3. There were a couple of tests I wanted to run, so I downloaded one of the many sample R3D files that Red offers: http://www.red.com/sample-r3d-files. I downloaded an 11-second, 6K, 23.98fps R3D file, imported it into Resolve 14.3, added two serial nodes (color correct node and color grade node) and rendered it to a DNxHR HQX file.

For those counting at home, I disabled any caching, and unchecked Performance Mode. Second, I wanted to add a third serial node of Temporal Noise Reduction. I initially wanted to simply play down the clip at full debayer quality but it stuttered and played at about 5fps, unfortunately not a full 23.98 fps. I was only able to get the playback to 17fps using 1/16 debayer quality. With just two color correction nodes I exported the 11-second clip as a DNxHR 444 12-bit QuickTime. It took 52 seconds. When I added the third node with Temporal Noise Reduction set to three frames, Motion Estimate set to Better and Luma and Chroma Thresholds set to 25, it took one minute and 42 seconds to render the same QuickTime. I then duplicated the clip in a sequence to make a one-minute long sequence; without noise reduction it took 10 minutes and 30 seconds to export, and when I added the Temporal Noise Reduction it took 11 minutes and 30 seconds. Overall, it really didn’t add too much time with the noise reduction, which was a nice surprise. I want to give some heavy credit to the Quadro P6000.

Summing Up
The Lenovo Thinkstation P910 is a phenomenal machine with the guts to chew through all of the bandwidth-hogging media we use today. When building the system out, I wasn’t able to price the P910, however I built a similar P920, which came out to $8,278. You are getting a few higher-end features, but essentially it is the same computer. That price is high, but the Nvidia Quadro P6000 is a top-of-the-line GPU and that is adding an additional $4,150 to the system’s total.

While the P6000 is incredible, you may want to consider something a little less beefy like the P4000, which adds a mere $580 and gives you a much more reasonable total of $4,128. Either way, you are getting a great workstation that is as easy to repair and replace parts as it is to boot up. I opened the side door and was able to easily pull out and replace almost every internal part with ease, and the best part was the system booted up on first try!

Check out Lenovo’s top-of the-line workstations at their website.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.