• Price: 2945 . 3449

  • Company: HP

  • Pros: Very powerful 3D graphics using two NVidia boards.

  • Cons: Extra power not worth the cost. Processors don’t match up.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

HP released the xw9300 workstation over a year ago, but this version is the first model we’ve seen to offer two Quadro FX 3450 graphics cards, using NVidia’s SLI technology.

SLI enables two graphics cards to be connected to certain motherboards via two PCI Express slots. This is designed to boost 3D graphics performance to a level not available using any single card. It only works with NVidia cards, though ATI has a similar technology called Crossfire.

You don’t get a magical doubling in frame rate performance with SLI. To gain the most from it, applications have to be tuned – and DirectX tools get a different level of performance improvement to OpenGL-based tools.

The new version of our usual 3D test application, the OpenGL-based Cinebench 9.5 (www.cinebench.com), showed an improvement in the hardware-based lighting test from 3900 with only one card in the workstation to 4306 with both installed. This translates as a noticable but not outstanding boost in 3D power, and for most users it’s not worth the £800 the extra card costs.

SPECapc (www.spec.org) tests 3DS Max’s DirectX and OpenGL modes. Again, the xw9300’s results were disappointing – under OpenGL, the dual set up was only slightly faster. Performance under DirectX was better, but not great.

The xw9300 is undeniably powerful, but this configuration wastes its potential. The unit we looked at includes two 2.6GHz AMD Opteron 252 processors, which performed adequately in our LightWave render tests. However, if you can afford the two graphics cards, you’d expect dual-core processors. The 4GB of ECC PC3200 RAM and 146GB SCSI hard drive are good choices though, and the unit is quiet and well organized inside.

Some high-end animators and artists will consider the extra power offered by this dual-card system to be worth the extra cost, but most won’t find it justified.