As we enter a new era of 4K resolution and beyond, your editing system—designed to handle HD footage—might be struggling to keep up. 4K video editing requires massive resources and computing power. Fortunately, HP has a lineup of desktop workstations built to handle such requirements. This article focuses primarily on the top end models—the Z420, Z620, and Z820—and will examine the benefits that HP workstations offer and how to configure them for 4K post-production work.
Before we take a look at the HP workstations, it’s important to first consider what’s required for 4K video editing. For a more thorough and in-depth look, I suggest reading our article on 4K post-production hardware. What this article makes clear, and a point that I will re-emphasize here, is that in order to determine the system requirements for 4K editing, you need to consider your own post-production workflow.
When considering your 4K workstation needs, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself. What type of work are you doing? Someone working mostly with highly compressed, lower-bitrate 4K formats, such as XAVC S, won’t need the storage and processing power as someone working with uncompressed raw 4K. Will you be editing multi-camera video or doing VFX work? If the answer is yes, then you’ll need even more computer power.
Another thing to consider is if you’ll be editing and delivering full-resolution 4K video, or if you’ll be using lower-resolution proxy files for 2K or HD delivery. System requirements for proxy workflows will be significantly lower than they are for working with the native 4K footage, but since this article is geared toward systems capable of handling 4K video, we’ll keep the discussion pointed in that direction.
Listed below are the main computer hardware areas you’ll need to consider when configuring your HP workstation:
Again, I point you toward the previously mentioned article on 4K post-production hardware for a more thorough discussion of each area. So, let’s take a look at HP’s Z-Series workstations.
The Z-Series workstation lineup encompasses both desktop and mobile models, and even a powerful all-in-one. The workstations are designed for high performance with extreme expandability. Thanks to tool-free chassis designs, each model can be easily configured and upgraded with minimal effort. For 4K video editing, we’ll focus on the top desktop workstations, the Z420, Z620, and Z820.
The Z420 is a great place to start for intermediate 4K video editing. It supports a single CPU, offering your choice of Intel® Xeon™ E5-1600 v2 or E5-2600 v2 series processors, with base clock frequencies of up to 3.7GHz and the new Intel C602 chipset. With support for up to eight cores of processing power, your system and applications should run smoothly. Now, while the Intel E5-2600 processor series supports dual processors, the HP Z420 does not. For dual-processor configurations, you’ll need to move up to the Z620 or Z820. The flagship Z820, with dual Xeon E5-26000 v2 series processors, supports up to 24 physical cores and, if you turn on hyper-threading, up to 48 cores.
Now you’ll need to feed all of those cores with RAM. With 8 DIMM slots, the Z420 supports up to 64GB (8x8GB) of DDR3 memory with the 600W power-supply chassis, and up to 32GB (8x 4GB) with the 400W power-supply chassis. The Z620 provides 12 DIMM slots on each CPU (in dual CPU configurations) for up to 192GB of RAM. The Z820 pushes this even further to 16 DIMM on each CPU, for a massive 512GB of RAM.
Generally speaking, the more system memory you have, the more you can divide that memory between multiple applications. If you’re running RAM-intensive programs, such as Adobe After Effects, while also editing 4K video, then it is definitely worth adding more RAM. And since RAM has become relatively inexpensive, going for more probably won’t break your budget. However, sometimes more isn’t always better. Some software is optimized to work best with a specific amount of RAM. As always, you should check your software’s system requirements before deciding how much RAM to install.
Since most applications support GPU acceleration, you’ll definitely want a good
graphics card for any serious 4K work. Here, the Z-Series offers a wide range of NVIDIA and FirePro professional card options, from Pro 2D to high-end 3D, up to the NVIDIA K6000 with 12GB of dedicated memory. While a single graphics card with 3 or 4GB of memory may be suitable for compressed 4K video, for high bitrate and raw you’ll want more of the highest-end graphics cards you can afford, and more than one. Another consideration when determining your graphics card is if your software needs a CUDA-enabled NVIDIA card or an OpenCL-enabled AMD card for its GPU acceleration. CUDA is more widely used, so mostly likely you’ll want an NVIDIA card. For more information on CUDA, read this B&H Explora article .
With 4K footage come larger files sizes which, ultimately, require more storage capacity. The Z420 provides space for up to four 3.5-inch 7200 rpm SATA drives and four 2.5-inch SATA or SAS drives. The Z820, with its bigger chassis, has room for more. You’ll want to store your media and project files on separate drives from your programs and operating systems. For faster system boots, having your programs and operating system on SSDs is beneficial, while I prefer to store my media on fast (at least 7200 rpm) HDDs, since they are most cost effective and reliable. A RAID 0 configuration of three or more disks helps ensure the data speed needed for 4K files. The integrated 6-channel SATA controller and optional SAS controllers in the Z420 lets you set up your drives in various RAID configurations.
Externally, you can add additional RAID drives and connect them via eSATA, USB 3.0, or via Thunderbolt by adding HP’s optional Thunderbolt 2 PCIe card. 4K video, especially uncompressed and raw formats, takes up a huge amount of space, so you’ll need to invest in external storage. To be safe, data should also be backed up in several locations, further adding to storage costs.
Where the HP towers really shine is in their expandability. The Z420 and Z620 provide two PCIe Gen3 x16, one PCIe Gen3 x8, one PCIe Gen2 x8, and 1 PCIe Gen2 x4, and one legacy PCI slot. The Z820 adds an additional PCIe x16 slot (available in dual CPU configurations) for adding an additional graphics card. The PCIe slots gives you plenty of room for expansion, including adding additional video cards, RAID cards, I/O cards for ingesting, or dedicated 4k monitoring cards—depending on your personal needs. Certainly adding additional graphics cards will see a huge boost is GPU acceleration—which is the key to working with 4K footage.
For intense 3D VFX or color-grading work, two or three graphics cards might not be enough. Here is where you can add a PCIe expansion chassis, such as the Cubix Xpander. The expansion chassis uses a host card that is installed into one of the PCIe slots on your motherboard, and is equipped with its own power supply and will provide additional PCIe slots for adding additional graphics cards. You simply slot the host card into one of the PCIe slots on your motherboard. Additional peripherals can also be added via a Thunderbolt connection by adding the optional Thunderbolt 2 PCIe card, although its bandwidth isn’t suitable for additional graphics cards.
An important factor to not forget is a monitor. You’ll want to see what you’re editing, after all. For color-critical work, HP’s DreamColor Displays are color calibrated and, with the use of supporting software, can be instantly switched from a variety of pre-set color spaces such as sRGB, Adobe RGB, Rec. 709, and DCI-P3. The 24" version features 1920 x 1200 resolution, while the 27" model features a 2560 x 1440 resolution. For a discussion of 4K monitoring, read our B&H Explora article on monitoring in 4K .
In short, 4K editing requires a massive amount of computing power. Luckily, the HP Z-Series workstations are here to give you systems that are up for the challenge. From the single-CPU Z420 for intermediate 4K work, to the Z820 for an uncompromising processing machine, you can easily customize and configure the system that best suits your workflow needs as you make the leap from HD to 4K.