The HP Z420 ($2,768 direct) is a mid-level single processor workstation from HP. It has a good measure of expandability backing up its liquid cooled Intel Xeon processor and Nvidia Quadro workstation-class graphics. It was a speedy performer on our benchmark tests, and should help your artist/architect/engineer rapidly completing their assignments and projects.
Design and Features
The Z420 resides in a full-size tower with utilitarian looks. It’s very close in design to HP’s high-end client PCs, but with a few embellishments like the Z420 logo and an easy to grab handle built into the optical drive bay. It has lots of room for internal expansion, which is one of the main reasons you’d get the Z420 over the current Editors’ Choice HP Z220 CMT ($1,997).
The Z420 is eminently expandable, with space for two more optical drives, one additional hard drive, another PCIe x16 graphics card, two PCIe x8 cards (one PCIe gen2, one PCIe gen3), one PCIe x4 card, and an old-school PCI card slot for good measure. There are four memory DIMM slots free (the system can handle up to 64GB), and seven SATA ports to support more drives than can fit in the chassis. It’s a lot of space, fitting for a mainstream workstation PC. There’s a 600W power supply to run it all. The case lid, card slots, optical drive bays, and the sleds for the hard drives are all tool-less. You won’t need a screwdriver to install most upgrades. On the whole the system is easy to upgrade and service.
The system’s outer I/O ports are also impressive, with five USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports mixed among the front and back panel of the system. There are also two FireWire 400 ports (one front, one back) to support older drives you need to grab data from. A pair of PS/2 ports will support that mouse and keyboard that you just can’t work without. The four USB 3.0 ports are capable of 5Gpbs transfers, over ten times faster than the 480/400Mpbs you’d get from the older USB 2.0 or FireWire 400 technologies.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to find a PCIe Thunderbolt solution if you run a mixed Mac/PC shop, and the same is the issue if you have eSATA production drives in your office. The Z420 lacks Thunderbolt and eSATA, but USB 3.0 should be fast enough for most backup and file transfer uses. Thankfully, the Z420 has a flexible trio of monitor ports on its Quadro K2000 card: two DisplayPorts and a dual-link DVI port. With these ports you’re able to handle up to four displays (ideally four DisplayPort monitors using two splitter cables), which will give your graphics professionals the multitasking multi monitor setup they’ve come to expect.
The Z420 we looked at came with a quad-core Intel Xeon E5-1620 processor running at 3.6GHz stock speed. In addition to the 16GB of system memory, the Z420 came equipped with a 256GB SSD as the primary C: drive and a 1TB 7,200 rpm SATA hard drive as the data storage drive. The SSD helps speed everyday drive operations like opening applications, booting the system, and some file transfers. The data drive will help your graphics or engineering folk create scratch disks or keep large files local for immediate access to current projects.
The Z420 comes with a single Gigabit Ethernet port, you can of course add a PCIe Wi-Fi card or Fibre Channel card in the future if your business uses these transport protocols. HP has a current list of the Z420′s ISV certifications on its website, but rest assured that if you need the certifications you’ll probably find mid level scientific, CAD, video editing, and digital content creation app certifications. The Z420 has a three-year standard warranty, with extensions up to five years available. The Z420 is on a long life cycle, so if you buy a few now, the same or similar configuration should be available in a year or year and a half when your business needs grow.
The workstation’s main reason for being is performance, and the Z420 has buckets of it. Thanks to its SSD and its CPU’s higher clock speed, the Z420 actually outperforms the dual processor Lenovo ThinkStation D30 ($8172.92) and ThinkStation C30 ($3843.95) on the video encoding Handbrake test. The Z420 was also faster than the HP Z220 CMT on the same test. In fact, the Z420′s 33-second Handbrake time is one of the fastest we’ve seen at PCLabs. Likewise, the SSD-powered Z420 led the pack on the day-to-day performance PCMark7 benchmark test.
Other tests were impressive, but less clear-cut. The Z420 was fast at the Photoshop CS6 photo-editing test, to be sure, but it’s slower than the Lenovo D30 and the Z220 CMT. The CineBench test shows the pure raw CPU processing power of each workstation, and on this test, the Z420 lags both Lenovo ThinkStations and the HP Z220. If you need to throw pure data into the hopper for tasks like 3D rendering in software, then the multi-processor, multicore systems are where you should look. While we don’t advocate using the Z420 as a gaming rig, the 3DMark11, Aliens vs. Predator, and Heaven numbers were quite good. This configuration would be well suited for video game development or mid-tier 3D CAD work.
The HP Z420 is a very good, expandable single processor workstation. It’s the one to get if you need more expandability than our single-processor workstation Editors’ Choice, the HP Z220 CMT. However, the Z220 still offers a better value and performance, so it remains our Editors’ Choice.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS
Check out the test scores for the HP Z420
Compare the HP Z420 with several other workstations side by side.
More desktop reviews:
|Primary Optical Drive||Dual-Layer DVD+/-RW|
|Processor Family||Intel Xeon|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 7 Professional|
|Type||Workstation, Business, Small Business|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||1250 GB|
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