During the past few weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time with HP – at one of its primary facilities and with one of its new products, the HP Elitebook 8740w mobile workstation. What follows are our impressions of both.
I live in Colorado and for some time have wanted to visit HP’s desktop workstation operation in Fort Collins, CO. Well, during the first week of October I finally got my chance. Along with several of my peers, as well as my boss and publisher of MCADCafe, David Heller, we spent a day at the HP Workstation Labs facility and saw a number of things that impressed us.
Today, HP’s workstations are used to design everything from running shoes and race cars to animated characters and deep-sea submersibles, as well as to manage research labs, mission-critical IT environments and billions of dollars of tradable securities. HP’s workstations are designed to meet the needs of some of the most compute-intensive industries, including animation, graphic design, CAD, architecture, photography, high-definition video, manufacturing, finance, scientific imaging and oil and gas exploration.
Not all that long ago, four key players manufactured traditional workstations: Silicon Graphics, Sun, IBM and HP. Today, HP is the only surviving and thriving workstation vendor of those four. In just a few years, HP has climbed from a distant second in the market into a virtual dead heat with Dell, according to Jon Peddie Research (JPR’s December 2009 workstation report).
In February 2010, industry research firm IDC reported that HP is statistically tied for the top spot in the desktop workstation category in market share in the fourth quarter of 2009. HP's share showed strong growth during past quarters, culminating with a 43.3 percent share worldwide, according to the IDC Worldwide Regional Workstation Tracker, February 2010.
In the engineering sector, namely MCAD, HP leads and also qualifies more engineering applications than any other vendor. Some aspect of most cars, buses and trucks on the road today was designed on an HP Workstation. Interestingly, AutoCAD, is developed primarily on HP hardware. Additionally, more than 100 other Autodesk products use HP hardware extensively in development.
The HP Workstations Hardware Turn-on Lab
After some introductions and a walk-though of HP’s workstation business, we were led on a three-hour tour of the facility that was as entertaining as it was enlightening. What follows are just some of the things we saw and experienced.
The Hardware Turn-on Lab is set up in functional expert-areas where engineers test a wide range of components.
In the first area, experts test mechanics, thermals, and acoustics. The results of these tests provide HP customers with lower acoustics and ultimately higher performance.
Down the next row was the displays compatibility testing area, where engineers validate HP performance and other vendor branded displays on HP Workstations to ensure compatibility for customers.
In the power test area, experts test all power supplies and converters to maximize performance, stability and reliability under the most stressful conditions.
In the mass storage area, HP tests hard disc drives and optical disc drives. This testing allows HP to ensure high quality drives to customers for every configuration.
In the Energy Star test area, HP conducts Energy Star configuration testing. This testing allows HP to provide customers with the latest Energy Star requirements, many times ahead of schedule.
The motherboard test areas are where HP tests initial and subsequent revisions of motherboards to qualify them for products. Extensive motherboard testing allows HP to squeeze out the maximum performance from industry-standard parts and increase user productivity through higher system performance.
Further down is the BIOS debug test area. You have hardware, you have software: here’s where HP gets them to work together.
One of the HP signature areas is the total customer experience and quality customer escalation center. This is where the HP Workstation support team tests customer-reported issues. Here, HP has the ability to recreate any problem the customer is experiencing and, as importantly, fix it in a timely manner.
In the rework and prototype build area, engineers rework motherboards and build prototype systems to identify potential mechanical issues for the design team before the release of a product.
The graphics test lab ensures graphics hardware and software operate like customers expect them to. The tests conducted were developed over 25 years of graphics testing, dating back to when HP developed its own graphics cards. This testing is performed on all HP Workstation platforms and graphics cards and provides customers with higher quality components that ultimately provide greater performance.
In the system integration test area, experts work to identify possible hardware, driver, operating system and BIOS issues. Combined, this test team has more than 55 years of testing experience. The testing done here provides customers with trouble-free operation between hardware, operating system and drivers and higher reliability by design.
The last area in the Hardware Turn-on Lab is the QA and Windows hardware qualification lab. Here HP ensures a positive out-of-box experience for its customers.
The 10-Meter Electromagnetic Compatibility Chamber
National regulatory agencies around the world require electronic equipment manufacturers to ensure that their products do not interfere with licensed communications, such as radio, television, air traffic control and police communications, to name a few.
The 10-Meter electromagnetic compatibility chamber is a shielded room, consisting of a 65-by-52-foot steel box with a 30-foot ceiling and special doors with electromagnetic seals. This keeps outside radio signals from interfering with measurements. The chamber gives HP the ability to do on-site development, debugging and certification, which allows for fast and accurate verification of specifications.
The HP Workstation Z-SAV
The Z-SAV is the system archival vault where HP organizes and stores an inventory of components and options representing all possible customer shippable configurations of the Z workstations. This impressive system enables customer service to quickly find solutions to virtually any customer issue.
The Model Shop
The model shop is key to HP workstation innovation, product performance, quality and customer responsiveness. Staffed with two master machinists, the shop is used by the engineering team to evolve and tune their designs for everything from custom mechanical fasteners to industrial design concepts. Having this model shop on-site allows for more design iterations, which enables design optimization while meeting customer’s demands.
The HP Workstation Hardware Test Center
The hardware test center focuses on ensuring HP workstations can not only survive, but thrive in the outside world. Here HP subjects its workstations to extreme high and low temperatures, blast high power RF at working systems and conduct shock, drop, and vibration testing. This testing ensures that the workstations will survive the extreme conditions of shipping and climates around the world.
The HP Workstations Materials Science Lab
State-of-the-art chemistry and physics tools are used in the materials science lab to help the engineers solve complex issues during the development, manufacture and use of HP Workstations. HP’s testing ensures that technologies used in HP Workstations are constructed properly, meet industry standards and will provide customers with a quality product. This lab is also helps HP meet its stringent environmental goals, many of which become standards for the broader electronics industry.
All in all, this was a day very well spent for all the great HP people we met with and the insight we got that demonstrated HP’s commitment to its products and customers.
Inside HP's Ft. Collins Workstation Test LabBy David Heller
It’s a good thing I wore my most comfortable shoes during my recent visit to HP’s test lab in Ft. Collins, Colorado. If I hadn’t, my feet and legs would still be sore today. I joined a small group of reporters at the lab and spent 3 hours walking miles through this huge facility stopping at each specialized test lab for very in-depth guided tours.
We toured the Hardware Test Center, which I call the “Shake & Bake Lab,” where workstations and other hardware are physically stressed to the max; The Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) labs where hardware is bombarded with radio frequency waves to gauge how susceptible the units are to the effects of RFI; the Model Shop where the future is imagined; the RF testing area where hardware returned from the field is investigated to identify the cause of the failure; to a demonstration room where we learned about HP’s latest and greatest new hot stuff; and to the Material Science Lab, which is the focus of this installment.