Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 11 (November 2004)

HP Compaq nw8000

For a long time, having a powerful graphics workstation and a portable workstation were two mutually exclusive goals. Workstations tend to be big, bulky, and power hungry, whereas laptops are portable, compact power misers. HP tries to bridge this gap with the HP Compaq nw8000 mobile workstation, a fairly powerful system that provides professional-level OpenGL graphics by way of an ATI FireGL chip.

A portable workstation such as the nw8000 lends itself to all sorts of terrific uses. Visual effects directors can use the machine for on-set previews, editors can cut footage in the field as it is shot, and architects can bring their CAD programs with them to the job site. I'm sure this machine will find plenty of demand in these and other fields requiring a powerful, portable workstation.

The HP Compaq nw8000 combines powerful components, not the least of which is ATI's FireGL chip, to offer high-end graphics performance.

The nw8000 is on the large side for a laptop, weighing in at 6.5 pounds. Well constructed, it should stand up to a lot of abuse. Ergonomically, it's thicker in the front than most laptops, making it a little difficult for users to type. The machine offers two pointing devices: a touchpad below the keyboard and a trackpoint in the keyboard. While it is a nice feature for some, I personally never use trackpoint pointers; I would guess this is the case with a majority of graphics professionals. I would have preferred a slightly larger touchpad with a side scroll bar, which many newer laptops now sport.

The nw8000 is richly configured when it comes to input/output ports. It has built-in Ethernet, a modem, and an 802.11g card for networking. Connectivity also can be had via standard serial and parallel ports, Fire-Wire and USB slots, and a Bluetooth dongle that ships with the machine. As concerns storage, the workstation I tested sported a 60gb 7200 RPM hard drive, a CD-RW/DVD drive, and a whopping 1gb of system RAM.

The system's processor is a power-saving Pentium M, which is clocked at 1.8ghz. It may sound slow, but the Pentium M has a different architecture than the Pentium 4, enabling it to achieve much better performance at lower clock speeds. The Dhrystone integer test gave a score of 7769mips, while the Whetstone floating-point test offered up a score of 2763mflops. Its integer score is great for a single-processor workstation, and also when compared to that of a 2.8ghz Pentium 4. The floating-point score came up a little short compared to a current Pentium 4 desktop machine. This figure is certainly one of the trade-offs for a mobile machine; manufacturers are forced to balance such characteristics as raw speed against space- and power-consumption issues.

As for the graphics quality, the nw8000 offers a screen that is large for a laptop— measuring in at 9 by 12 inches—and had very good color reproduction. I liked the fact that it runs at a default resolution of 1600x1200, which supplied me high image quality and plenty of room to work.

A majority of this workstation's power is contributed by the graphics chip. The nw8000 employs an ATI FireGL X2-256t chipset to achieve truly professional OpenGL performance in a small package. ATI is reportedly the first vendor to incorporate its high-end chips into a laptop. A Viewperf 7.1 test revealed a 3ds max score of 13.6, Pro/E score of 25.1, and UGS score of 20.8. These numbers were much lower than the similar ATI FireGL card I reviewed in the HP xw8200 (see August 2004, pg. 54). Again, the speed hit is part of a trade-off between performance and power and space consumption.

Overall, the speed of the nw8000 was perfectly acceptable for most content creation tasks. While on the road for a business trip, I.used it to animate a couple of scenes in Discreet's 3ds max. I experienced absolutely no problems. I also tested it with Adobe's Photoshop, After Effects, and Premiere Pro. All worked great, and editing DV footage was a breeze. Even uncompressed video worked well, thanks to the fast 7200 RPM hard drive.

With all this power under the hood, I expected it to consume power faster than Phoenix in a heat wave. Surprisingly, battery life is excellent. It ships with one battery, but another can be added for nearly six hours of unplugged operation. I found myself leaving it on while I did other things, which I would never do with my own laptop. The nw8000 is a fast and solid performer. Having the ability to take professional-level graphics and power on the road is a huge benefit, and I'm sure this machine will find a solid niche in the world of digital content creation, CAD, and scientific visualization.

George Maestri is president of Rubberbug, a Los Angeles-based animation studio specializing in character animation.

Price: Starts at $2025, as configured $3599
Minimum System Requirements: Not applicable
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