Also Unveiled Are New Notebook PCs with Optional PCIe Flash Drives and a Portable USB Monitor

HP unveiled new Z-series desktop workstations with the ability to support up to 36 CPU cores at a press event at its facility in Fort Collins, CO. Also announced were new portable workstations with optional PCIe flash drives and a portable monitor that's powered by a single USB cable.

Yep, that looks like 36 cores, all right.

The new Z840, Z640, and Z440 desktops are more quiet and power-efficient than their predecessors, but the big news was the support for 36 processing cores on the Z840 and Z640. Yes, we all asked if the number was a mistake. HP showed us the system monitor, which displayed a total of 72 threads (doubling the core number via hyper-threading).

Currently the 18-core Intel Xeon CPUs run at 2.3 GHz, but there are lots of other CPU options with speeds ranging from 1.6 to 3.5 GHz and from four to 14 CPU cores. Thunderbolt 2 is available through an add-on card, just like on the previous generation of workstations.

Inside the Z840 are four internal 3.5-inch drive bays. In case you need more drives, HP created an adapter that turns that turns two 3.5-inch bays into four 2.5-inch bays (see what that looks like in the picture at right) for a total of up to 10 internal drives (including the two drive bays that can be used for optical drives or card readers or converted for use with internal hard drives) and the new slim optical drive.

The Z840 can also accept up to an incredible 2 TB of DDR4 RAM. (Editor's note: You would need bleeding-edge 128 GB desktop DIMMs to reach 2 TB in a dual-processor Z840, and those are science projects that haven't reached the market yet. The most RAM you can configure in a two-processor Z840 system that HP actually sells as of November 2014 is 16 16 GB sticks, or 256 GB.) The Z640 tops out at 256 GB of DDR4 RAM.

As far as GPUs, HP is now offering not only the latest Nvidia cards, but also a couple of entry-level and mid-range AMD cards.

For complete specs, see HP's official workstation datasheets for the Z840Z640, and the Z440 [PDFs].

Building a Better Mac?
Jeff Wood, HP's VP of worldwide product management for the commercial solutions business unit, told me this latest workstation release was directly targeting Mac Pro users who aren't satisfied with limitations of the new generation of Mac Pros, including the lack of customization and expandability options and support for a maximum of 12 cores. (Based on industry sources, HP says it believes Mac Pros make up about 10 percent of the workstation market with an installed base of approximately 1 million systems, primarily in media and entertainment and education.) Currently HP sells 2.5 to 3 million workstations a year to all professions, not just the entertainment industry.

Get It to Go
Also announced were new 15-inch and 17-inch ZBook portable workstations, offering new levels of expandability, with built-in Thunderbolt 2 and an optional Z Turbo Drive — a PCIe flash drive that is claimed to be 15x faster than a conventional hard drive. The 15-inch model can have two internal storage drives, and the 17-inch supports three internal drives.

The improved chassis was strong enough for Josh Peterson, director of worldwide product marketing, to stand on (right).

One of the coolest products that was shown was a portable 14-inch (1600×900) monitor, the HP EliteDisplay S140u, that can plug into a laptop to give you a lightweight two-screen edit system. The real beauty of it was that a single USB cable delivered both video signal and power. I can see a lot of editors who go out in the field using this. (The specs are here. [PDF])

In the Labs
The press event also included a tour of HP's giant facility. We saw the labs where prototype parts are made, components are tested, and even whole systems checked for reliability after being dropped by a simulated delivery person.

In the prototype lab, HP tests 80 different hard drives of a given model and size for reliability before that model and size will be used in a workstation.

We also got to see the tier-three tech support area. This is who you talk to when you really have a problem. There, a technician will build an exact copy of your system with the same components to see if they have the same issue and can troubleshoot it. Not surprisingly, given my experience as an owner of several HP workstations myself, they weren't too busy. Even so, it is good to know they are there, and right on the same floor as the R&D engineers that they can consult if needed.

The new Z440 (estimated U.S. pricing starting at $1,299), Z640 ($1,759), and Z840 ($2,399) workstations are scheduled to ship in late October, HP said. The ZBook 15 G2 (starting at $1,499) and ZBook 17 G2 ($1,749) are expected later this month. The HP EliteDisplay S140u USB Portable Monitor ($169) ships later this month.