• Price When Reviewed: 2085 . 855

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The xw4100 is HP’s workstation for buyers on a budget. It’s small for a workstation and looks like a high-end games machine. The design doesn’t exude style like Apple’s G5, or power like Dell’s Precision systems, but it’s one of the few workstations you wouldn’t stub your toe on if you tripped over it.

The makeup of the xw4100 is as you’d expect from a workstation going up against Dell’s Precision 360 and IBM’s IntelliStation M Pro. At the high-end of its spec, it competes against our favourite single processor workstation, Evesham’s Acumen Xtreme. There is the usual choice of Pentium 4 processors – though we were disappointed that the xw4100 isn’t available with Intel’s latest Pentium 4 chip, the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. This Xeon-MP-in-a-new-box adds 2MB of Level
3 cache to the basic P4, which allows the processors to deal with large blocks
of information without pause – a task routinely required by creative applications. Dell offers this option with the 360, and the Acumen Xtreme is built around an Xtreme Edition chip.

The 4GB limit is standard for a Pentium 4-based system, and the maximum 500GB of disk space is dictated by the case’s two internal 3.5-inch drive bays. Both ATA/100 and Serial ATA connections are provided for attaching internal storage – and Ultra 320 is available as an option.
The case is well designed for one so small, with easy-to-use latches and levers replacing the dreaded screws. There’s no space for full sized boards, but currently the only full-sized graphics boards are designed for Xeon-driven systems much more powerful and pricier than the xw4100. Fitting the largish NVidia Quadro FX 2000 provided by HP was a doddle. However, FireWire is an option rather than standard. This feels a little cheap, since without it you have a blank, blocked port on the front your machine.

Overall, the xw4100 is a good if unexceptional system that delivers much of what you need at an affordable price. However, the same couldn’t be said for the particular configuration of our test unit. Placing the super-powerful Quadro FX 2000 on a non-Extreme Edition 3.2GHz Pentium with only 512MB of RAM is like placing a Howitzer on a 2CV and expecting it to kick ass in a battle.

The problem is that HP doesn’t offer NVidia’s top-rated mid-range card, the Quadro FX 1100. Nor does HP offer the entry-level Quadro FX 500 card, which would have done the job. The machine is available with the Quadro4 380 XGL, which is a more sensible choice. For almost £2,100 it would have been much better to drop the Quadro FX 2000 down to the reliable old Quadro4 980 XGL and increase the RAM to at least 1GB.