Friday, July 20, 2012

Hands On Review - HP z420 Workstation

Brief Overview

I had a chance to review one of HP’s Z series workstations, the HP z420 Workstation.  The z420 Workstation is a mid-range workstation.  It is a balance between price and performance and at the time of this writing is HP’s best-selling Workstation (per my interview with HP.)  Here is a brief review going over the basics and hitting on what I felt were the most important points.  If you want more detail and a look at my review process keep reading.

Main Specs
The HP z420 Workstation can come in a variety of hardware specifications.  We will discuss those later.  The unit I reviewed had the following major specs:

  • NVIDIA Quadro 4000(1x) Video Card, 1 DVI port, 2 Display Ports (
  • Intel ® Xeon® CPU E5-1620 0 @ 3.60GHz (Quad Core)
  • 500GB ATA Internal Hard Drive
  • 8.00GB RAM, 4 Channel 1600 MHz ECC Memory
  • 600W, 90% Efficient Power Supply, epeat Certification
  • Integrated USB v3.0 (2 front, 2 rear)
  • Convertible Minitower Case
  • SATA SuperMulti DVD+/-RW
  • Windows Pro 7, 64 bit
  • ISV Certifications (Independent Software Vendor)

This unit was not maxed out by any means.  HP said that what they sent me was amongst their most common specifications for AutoCAD based workstations.  This unit was certified to run AutoCAD.

The Good
I was able to use this unit for a week in a full production environment using AutoCAD Civil3D 2011.  It crashed on me one time in that week.  Well, Civil3D crashed, not the computer.  The computer itself never crashed or failed during my review.  It was fast, responsive, and smooth.  It did everything that I asked it to do.  I was very pleased with its performance.  The no-tool case made it easy to inspect the machine, remove/replace internal hardware and it had room to expand.    I was glad to see the USB 3 ports (some in front and some in the back.)  The machine also ran very quietly.

The Bad
No SSD (Solid State Drive).  Boot time was very short nonetheless, but in all of the benchmarks that I ran, the lowest scoring aspect of the machine was the read/write speed of the hard drive.

This is a solid workstation.  I would like to see the price come down a bit but wouldn’t we all?  I tested this z420 with several benchmark programs and thought it would score higher.  These benchmarks are compared to extremely high end machines (often gaming machines that serve a different role than a Workstation) that will cost near to or even over $4000.  That’s not a practical price point for design firms.  HP has designed the z420 to run a three year lifespan and it should do that.  It is well built, performs well, and is easily expandable.  The ECC memory and latest Intel chip sets make it a solid machine.  It is quiet, cool (temperature), and is certified to run several products from Autodesk, Bentley, Dassault Systemes, Aveva, Siemens, and more.

For a standard “workhorse” workstation on a company network, running AutoCAD (or similar design program) it is the machine you want.  It is very versatile.  I would recommend this workstation to any design company.

If you are running a data based CAD system or BIM solution (Revit, Civil3D, etc.) I would recommend beefing up the RAM and maybe even bump up the processor spec a bit (but I always want more power).  If you are creating heavy 3D models/renders then definitely get the higher video card and more RAM.  Not to mention the larger internal hard drive (renderings can take up a lot of room.)  For me, right now, this is the CAD Workstation to beat.  I plan on using this as my standard in which I will compare all others to, including price point.

The HP z420 Workstation comes in six standard configurations ranging in price from $1169 to $2199 (U.S.D.) The retail price from HP’s website for the machine I reviewed at the time of writing this is $1829 (U.S.D.) The higher priced models beef up the cache, cores, memory, and internal storage.

Before you read the in-depth portion of the review, keep in mind that HP sent me this Workstation at no cost of my own.  They were gracious enough to allow me the time needed to really take a good look at the unit.  HP also provided me with a machine that was designed to fit the needs that I pointed out to them.  They also gave me a presentation of the HP Z Workstation line with specific emphasis on the z420.  They provided much insight on their Workstation philosophy as well as details on the z420.  They paid for the shipping of the unit to and from my office.

Full Review

The Review Process
For this review I wanted to make sure that the HP z420 could handle a typical AutoCAD load (meaning complicated 2D work) as well as 3D modeling and rendering.  I also wanted to see how it handled a more complex modeling system and/or database system similar to Autodesk’s AutoCAD Civil 3D.  I ran several off the shelf benchmarks to better quantify the workstation.  I ran one free benchmark, Novabench ( as well as premium benchmarks, PCMark 7 and 3DMark11 (both from Futuremark ( and also ran PassMark (  The HP z420 that I reviewed was running Windows 7 Professional (64 bit) so I have also included the Windows Experience Index ratings.  You can find these results later on in the Compare and Contrast section.  The Workstation was also used in a full production environment running AutoCAD Civil 3D 2011.  Time was also spent creating 3D models and running full photorealistic renderings of the model.

The Specs
The HP z420 Workstation comes in six standard configurations ranging in price from $1169 to $2199 (U.S.D.) but the specs can vary and special configuration orders are available.  The z420 comes in a Convertible Minitower form factor.  Typical configurations come with Windows 7 Professional 64 bit, 32-bit, or Windows Ultimate 63-bit.  It can also come with HP Linux, SUSE Linux, or Red Hat Enterprise Linux.  Available Processors are all Intel Xeon Processors with either Quad, Six, or Eight cores all running either 1066 MHz or 1600 Mhz memory.  Processor speeds range from 2.4 GHz to 3.6 GHz with 10 MB to 20 MG caches.  All configurations come with the Intel C602 Chipset and include DIMM slots up to 64 GB ECC unbuffered DDR3 1600 MHz with 4 channels per CPU.

Storage configurations vary with a wide range of possibilities.  They are:

  • Up to (4) 3.5-inch 7200 rpm SATA drives: 250, 500 GB, 1, 2, 3 TB, 11 TB max
  • Up to (4) 2.5-inch 10K rpm SATA drives: 300 GB, 1.2 TB max
  • Up to (4) 2.5-inch 10K rpm SAS drives: 300, 600 GB, 2.4 TB max
  • Up to (4) 3.5-inch 15K rpm SAS drives: 300, 450, 600 GB, 2.4 TB max
  • Up to (4) 2.5-inch SATA solid state drives: 128, 160, 256, 300 GB, 1.2 TB max
  • Note: The Fourth drive occupies one external 5.25-inch bay

There are options for optical storage which include your choice of a DVD-ROM, DVD+/-RW DL Super Multi, a Blu-ray Writer, and a 22-in-1 Media Card Reader or none of the above.

There are three external 5.25 inch bays, three internal 3.5 inch HDD bays and up to four eSATA bays.  Expansion slots include 2 PCI Express Gen 3x16 mechanical/electrical slots, 1 PCI Express Gen 3x8 mechanical/electrical slot, 1 PCI Express Gen2 x8 mechanical/x4 electrical slot, 1 PCI Express Gen2 x4 mechanical/x1 electrical slot and 1 Legacy PCI slot.

Available graphics for the z420 vary depending on the configuration scheme.  They are:

  • Entry 3D: NVIDIA Quadro 410 (available soon), NVIDIA Quadro 600, AMD FireProTM V3900, AMD FireProTM V4900
  • Mid-range 3D: NVIDIA Quadro 2000, AMD FireProTM V5900
  • High-end 3D: NVIDIA Quadro 4000, AMD FireProTM V7900, NVIDIA Quadro 5000, NVIDIA Tesla C2075
  • Professional 2D: NVIDIA NVS 300, NVIDIA NVS 310 (available soon), AMD FireProTM 2270, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 450

Audio configurations include an Integrated Intel/Realtek HD ALC262 sound card with optional HP Thin USB Powered Speakers.

Networking capabilities are from an integrated Intel 82579 GbE LAN, an Infineon TPM 1.2 controller or with an option Broadcom NIC or optional Intel NIC.

The ports on the z420 include 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, 1 IEEE 1394a standard, 1 microphone in, 1 headphone out, HP 22-in-1 Media Card Reader (optional) on the front.
On the rear there are 2 USB 3.0, 4 USB 2.0, 2 IEEE 1394b ports via optional add-in PCIe card, 1 audio in, 1 audio out, 1 microphone in, 2 PS/2, 1 RJ-45 to integrated Gigabit LAN, 1 serial via optional adapter.  Internally there are 6 USB 2.0, supports up to three HP Internal USB Port Kits (one two-port kit on each 2x5 header).

There are several standard input device options as well.  They are:

  • PS/2 standard keyboard
  • USB standard keyboard
  • USB Smart Card Keyboard
  • PS/2 optical scroll mouse
  • USB 2-button optical scroll mouse
  • USB 3-button optical mouse
  • USB SpaceExplorer
  • USB SpacePilot
  • USB Laser Scroll Mouse

The power supply is a 600-Watt 90% efficiency supply unit.  The dimensions for the tower are (HxWxD) 17.63 x 7.0 x 17.5 in (44.76 x 17.78 x 44.52 cm).

Key Features

  • ISV Certifications
  • Integrated USB 3.0
  • Expandability
  • Long Lifecycle
  • Whisper Quiet
  • ECC memory
  • Multiple Cores
  • 90% efficient power supply
  • Easy Disassembly
  • Xeon Processor
  • 64 bit technology

The HP z420 has several different possible hardware configurations.  These are the main specs for the unit that I reviewed:

  • Intel Xeon CPU E5-16200 at 3.60 GHz
  • 4x2 GB RAM (8 GB total) DDR-1600 ECC
  • NVidia Quadro 4000 video card
  • 500 GB SATA HDD
  • Windows 7 Professional 64 BIT
  • 16x DVD+/-RW SuperMulti SATA optical drive

HP Workstations come with some HP based software.  I did not take the time to test them.  The machine was not bogged down with “bloatware” which was refreshing.  I didn’t have to clean it up before use.  This is refreshing.

Compare and Contrast

I ran four benchmark tests on the HP z420 that I tested.   One test was the free benchmark test Novabench.  The second benchmark was PassMark.  Then I ran two other benchmark tests from Futuremark.  I used the standard all around test PCMark 7 and the 3D graphics test 3DMark11.

Novabench ( is a free all-in-one benchmark testing program that anyone can use at no cost.  That’s why I used it.  Users can download it without cost and compare their scores with others that have shared their scores.

Novabench Score: 1388
System RAM Score:  212
CPU Test Score:  785
Graphics Test Score:  343
Hardware Tests Score: 48

PassMark (PerformanceTest)
PassMark ( is the company that makes and sells the PerformanceTest benchmark.  It is not free but is a premium benchmark and is used by many IT professionals and Technical reviewers.  Here is how the z420 scored in this test.

PassMark Rating:  1901.8
3D Graphics Mark:  1935
2D Graphics Mark:  418.6
Memory Mark:  2388
CPU Mark:  9669.4
Disk Mark:  442.5

PCMark 7
PCMark7 is a benchmark that is produced by Futuremark.  (  This benchmark is used by many reviewers as well.  It is a premium benchmark that also has a limited free version.  Here are the scores for the z420 that I tested. The nice thing about the PCMark7 benchmark is that it provides a “score” but it also provides a list of the measured speeds for each particular process.  (Note: The PCMark7 test stated that it did not recognize the processor.  However, in the test results it correctly lists the Processor.)

PCMarks Score: 3159
Lightweight Score: 2199
Productivity Score: 2103
Entertainment Score: 3352
Creativity Score: 3225
Computation Score: 4780
System Storage Score: 1425

Here is a link to the full score and testing results.

3DMark11 is a 3D Graphics and video card benchmark for Windows 7 PCs that is also produced by Futuremark.  (  This benchmark is used by many reviewers as well.  It is a premium benchmark that also has a limited free version.  Here are the scores for the z420 that I tested.  (Note: The 3DMark11 test stated that it did not recognize the processor.  However, in the test results it correctly lists the Processor.  It also said that the Graphics Card was not on the approved list.  This machine actually had two graphics card, the NVIDIA and the On Board GPU.  I did not use the onboard GPU.)

3DMarks Score: X706
Graphics Score:  620
Physics Score: 8054
Combined Score:  887

Here is a link to the full score and testing results.

Ratings (Windows Experience Index)
The HP z420 review unit had a Windows Experience Index assessed score of 5.9.  The score ranges from a low of 1.0 up to a possible high of 7.9.  It is determined from a master list developed by Microsoft that scores the individual hardware components of the workstation or computer.  Each category is scored and the units overall score matches the lowest scoring component in the unit.  Here is a breakdown of each category, what is tested and the review unit scored:

Component         What is tested                 Score
Processor                 Calculations per second 7.7
Memory (RAM) Memory operations per second 7.9
Graphics                 Desktop performance for Windows Aero 7.4
Gaming Graphics 3D business and gaming graphics performance 7.4
Primary Hard Disk Disk data transfer rate 5.9

This unit scored a 5.9 because its lowest score was that.  The Hard Disk Drive scored a bit slower than one might think but that doesn’t mean it is slow.  These scores are useful in ranking your machine but they are also relative.  They are only relative to what is available now.  Right now an SSD (Solid State Drive) would score higher on the Windows Experience Index than a Hard Disk Drive because they have higher read/write rates.  If you replaced the HDD with an SSD then this score would go up.  The other scores are very high with memory scoring a perfect 7.9 and the Processor scoring a 7.7.  Not too bad.

3D Models/Renderings
I have a standard AutoCAD file that I used for testing the rendering times for the z420 Workstation.  I plan on using this same file on every machine I test.  It’s a 3D model of a kitchen.  There is a hallway, dining area (with a table and chairs) and a sink/wash area.  I created two full photorealistic renderings of different views in the file.

Rendering 1:

This is a 1024x768 JPG file rendered in AutoCAD 2013.  It took 20 minutes and 13 seconds to render.  The rendering was created with full presentation settings turned on.  Here are some stats from the file:
Triangle Count: 23272
Light Count: 12
Material Count: 37
Memory Used: 44738 KB

Rendering 2:

This rendering is also 1024x768 and was also rendered in AutoCAD 2013.  It was rendered with the same Presentation settings as the first image and took 23 minutes and 06 seconds to render. Here are some stats from the file:
Triangle Count: 49254
Light Count: 12
Material Count: 37
Memory Used: 43082 KB

AutoCAD isn’t known for its rendering prowess, but it can render high quality images.  The z420 was more than capable of spitting out these photorealistic renderings in a quick fashion.

The Good

I have to say that working on this machine was a dream.  Its hardware is up-to-date and performed beautifully.  Civil 3D 2011 was smooth and mostly crash free.  I typically reboot my workstation at the end of the day to help keep things fresh, but I left this one running for three days without a reboot.  On the third day is when Civil3D finally came tumbling down.  Many workstations can be loud.  The z420 isn’t.  The case is easily opened up for maintenance and well organized.  Since it only comes in one tower style and one motherboard/chipset, IT departments (and CAD managers) will find maintaining a department of these machines a bit easier.  They will also like the plethora of ports and its expandability.

The Bad

I’m having a hard time really finding the bad in this machine.  I would like the price to come down a bit for the configuration that I looked at.

Wrap Up

The HP z420 Workstation is a great machine and I would recommend it to any design group as a standard workstation.  The standard configuration will fit the needs of most AutoCAD use.  I also found that it ran Civil3D quite well.  The beauty of this workstation is its versatility.  IT departments can start with the basic configuration and add to it, increasing its performance abilities.  This can be done when it is ordered or later on once the workstation has been installed and placed in production.  The z420 comes with the latest Intel processor and chipset making it a great platform to build on.  There are many bays for a variety of drives and video cards.  It can handle up to 64 gb of ECC RAM and has several USB 3.o ports built in.  HP designed the z420 to have a lifespan of three years.  Users can purchase the lower end configuration (in an effort to save money) and add to it as time progresses.  I would venture that users could get at least three years of CAD work and then several more years of general work without worry.


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