By Joe Greco
The HP Visualize P600C belongs to Hewlett-Packard's latest generation of high-powered NT workstations that are aimed at the CAD and professional digital content creation markets. Housed in the same case used by HP's lower-end Kayak line, the Visualize gets its name from its powerful graphics card, the Visualize fx4+, which is also found in HP's Unix systems.
|The P600C features a front-panel LCD that provides component failure alerts and system diagnostics.|
The system is powered by dual 600mhz Pentium III processors that are based on Intel's latest 0.18 micron Coppermine technology. The motherboard, based on the Intel 440BX chip set, also has two Ultra ATA/33 IDE controllers and a 100mhz front-side bus.
The Visualize fx4+ card features four geometry accelerators, 18mb of frame buffer memory, and an additional 16mb of texture memory with an optional texture-acceleration chip. The card occupies the only 2X AGP slot as well as a PCI slot, and has a stereo port for 3D stereoscopic viewing. According to numbers published by Hewlett-Packard, when running standard benchmarks for Solid Works and Pro/Engineer as well as the standard Indy 3D test, this card consistently performed 10 to 30% faster than 3Dlabs' Oxygen GVX1, which HP also offers as a graphics card option.
One unique aspect of the system is the LCD panel in front that reports on system operations-if there is an error in the BIOS, for example, or if one of the P600C's three fans has stopped working. The LCD also provides information on the system configuration, such as RAM, number of processors, and so forth.
Setting up the P600C is easy, as icons on the back panel clearly identify each port. The mouse is what HP calls a scrolling mouse, because the middle button is actually a roller. This makes it easier to perform a variety of tasks-from scrolling in Mic rosoft Word to zooming in 3D Studio Viz. Besides the standard OS/2 keyboard and mouse port, the unit has two serial and USB ports and one parallel port. Users into music and games can also make use of the MIDI and joystick ports.
Opening the unit was easy, once I located the two levers on the side of the case (after I realized the thumbscrews in the back were not going to do it). There is also a set of keys to lock the case, in order to prevent unauthorized access. There is easy access to the four PCI slots, two of which are available, and two ISA slots.
A clear plastic panel inside the unit, part of HP's Ultra Flow cooling system, covers the power supply. This power supply has to be removed (though it's easily done by undoing four screws and sliding out the supply on its rails) if you want to reach the processors, which are underneath it. Access to the five drive bays and the three memory slots also requires the removal of some internal components.
Currently, the three memory slots can house up to 768mb of standard SDRAM (my system had 384mb), and this will soon double when the new 512mb memory chips come out. All told, up to 72gb of storage can be accessed via four 18gb disks. In addition to a 32X CD-ROM, users can pick from other media options including various CD-Rs, DVDs, and ZIP drives.
I ran several CAD and 3D programs on the P600C. The results were impressive; however, none of the applications is multi-threaded, so the dual processors didn't boost any scores. For instance, when compared to a single-CPU system that I happened to have on hand that has a clock speed approximately 22% faster, the SolidWorks 99 processor benchmark was about 25% slower on the HP system. (See chart for the complete SolidWorks 99 benchmark.)
Most of the other programs I tested had the same processor results, but still ran about 250% to 300% faster than they did on a 350mhz system I used for comparison. Thanks to the fx4+ graphics card, texture mapping in 3D Studio Viz was extremely fast. However, the program didn't load as quickly compared to other computers I have tested that house the next level in SCSI performance-Ultra Fast and Wide.
Altogether, I enjoyed using the HP Visualize P600C, as it is both responsive and expandable. Thanks to the generous amount of texture memory, users doing a great deal of texture mapping in particular will want to take a look at this system.
Joe Greco is a writer, trainer and consultant specializing in CAD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Base price: starts at $2400
Price as reviewed: $6375
Configuration as reviewed: Dual 600MHz processors; 384MB of RAM; 9GB HD, Visualize fx4+ graphics card
Palo Alto, CA