• Price When Reviewed: 1051

  • Pros: Small but capacious and well-designed case; very low cost; excellent graphics card.

  • Cons: Single drive reduces performance.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

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In contrast to the hulking CAD2 Vision DQX-SE, HP’s latest workstation is a svelte tower, no larger than a traditional office computer. Even for a single-processor model, the xw4600 has a dinky chassis that will slip under even the smallest desk – and it’s well-designed, too.

The xw4600’s design isn’t about aesthetics – its mix of dull grey and black wouldn’t look out of place on an accountant’s desk. Where it excels is in the sheer amount that HP has managed to cram into its shell. The chassis has three external 5.25-inch bays, four internal 3.5-inch bays and an external 3.5-inch bay. Our test model had a 16x DVD±RW drive, a single 500GB hard drive, and a media card reader in the external drive bay – so you could easily add three more hard drives, or five if you converted the two spare 5.25-inch bays.

This is excellent compared to Dell’s rival Precision T3400, which is equally petite but has two fewer bays. HP has achieved this by positioning the drives sideways from the front, which makes it easier to add or remove drives. The whole system is screwless too, which makes changing drives a breeze.

You can add more fast storage using the eSATA port, and there are numerous USB 2.0 ports, too.
Our test xw4600 included a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Q6600 processor, which is not a new chip. We reviewed CAD2’s Imagine X64, which had the faster 2.66GHz version, back in November – but HP does offer the 2.93GHz Core
2 Extreme as an option.

In our Cinebench R10 rendering test, the xw4600 performed as we’d expect considering the chip – producing a score that was about fourper cent slower than the Imagine X64.

The xw400’s slower performance was more noticeable in our After Effects test, where its single, 7,200rpm hard drive was at a disadvantage against the X64’s 10,000rpm system drive and separate media drive.

The slower drive system is also the reason the xw4600 trails the X64 in our Photoshop test, even though they both have 4GB RAM. Even so, the quad-core processor is a powerful beast, and few creatives will complain about its performance.

The ATI Fire GL V5600 is a more powerful 3D card than the X64’s nVidia Quadro FX 1700, as the results of our real-time 3D tests in Cinebench and Maya bear out. The V5600 outperformed the 1700 in both simple scenes and more complex ones, so it’s a winner for motion graphics and 3D.

We were also very impressed with the xw4600’s price. Next to the Imagine X64 price tag of £1,465 plus VAT, our xw4600 is an absolute bargain. If you’re on a tight budget, this is an excellent choice – and with more powerful components, it has the potential to really shine.