I was recently invited to take a tour through the HP Workstation labs in Fort Collins, CO. Since this is such a unique opportunity I knew I couldn’t turn it down. So I quickly jumped at the opportunity. For the most part I am going to let videos do the talking for me. So sit back, relax, grab some popcorn, and enjoy several hours of great video as we tour through the HP workstation Labs (make sure you watch these in HD for the best quality).
The day started with all the participants gathering at HP office in one of their conference rooms where we got a lengthy introduction to HPs workstation lineup and a description of what we were going to see on the tour. The first person to talk to us was Jim Zafarana. He is the Vice president and General Manager of the Workstations Global Business Unit. He talked about the machines from a marketing perspective, and also how many of the machines are used, and how well sales are for them.
Next we heard from Terry Pilsner. He is the Vice President of Research and Development for the Workstation Global Business Unit. He talked a bit more about the technical aspects of the machines and how they are designed and built.
After Jim and Terry finished speaking we began our tour. Our first stop was the Hardware RnD Lab. Unfortunately, I was only allowed to video the last half of this tour so I am instead going to show you two videos that HP provided (they play back to back). In the RnD Lab HP tests everything from new motherboard designs, displays, power, hard drives, RAID, memory, full system performance, and reliability. If customers have problem this is also where they will rebuild machines to the customer specs, test, and attempt to reproduce the problems. If they cannot, then they will often have the customers send back the specific machine and it will be tested at the lab.
One of the things that caught my attention the most is just how far they will go to diagnose problems that customers are having. Even if the problem is a user error, or with a 3rd party component they work with the customer until the problem is solved. Take into account that this kind of support comes at a price and is only available with Workstations. For example, they had one customer that was having a problem with a video card. They first tried duplicating it in house, but when that failed they captured one of the customers machines (this means they had the customer send the machine back). Even then they still could not duplicate the problem. So they sent an engineer out to the customer site and found that the customer was putting an old video card into the machine, but when they sent the machine back they would take the card out. However, HP didn’t leave it at that, they wanted to know the root cause, which means they took that old card back to the labs and ran tests on it until they discovered it was a driver problem, then they worked with the customer until the issue was completely resolved.
The next stop is the HP workstation museum. Here they have product examples starting from their very first desktop computer (a calculator) all the way to their latest (the Z800). They even have some really cool custom machines they made for GM, a gold colored machine, and several really old (and big) graphics cards.
Next is the 10 Meter room. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to record anything in this room because of the sensitivity of the equipment. The antenna in this room are so sensitive that if a single cell phone tried to make or receive a call it would cause over $100,000 in damage (not a bill I wanted to responsible for). However, HP was nice enough to provide their own video of this room. In this room HP tests the energy output of each machine to make sure it meets government standards. Having this on-site allows them to do their own testing and allows them to get out to market a lot faster.
After this we visited the Z-SAV room. Here HP keeps parts for all their system all the way to 8 years. This way if a customer has a problem (like the one I mentioned above) with a machine HP is able to rebuild the machine for internal testing. They keep a total of 24 full machines (12 in parts and 12 fully built) in stock at all times.
Next we visited the HP model shop. In this room HP can prototype parts for their machines before they ever go into production. This way they can test to see if their design has flaws.
The next stop is the recycling center. This is not the most exciting stop, but it is nice to see that HP is doing their part to keep waste out of the landfills.
Next we visited the Hardware test center. Here they test the machines for environmental robustness, including temperature, humidity, static electricity, shock, and they even blast each machine with high power RF to see how it will react. I’m not sure why but they didn’t allow us to record in the main room, we only got to record the Dynamics lab where they do drop, and vibration tests. To make up for not being able to record, HP again supplied us with their own video that covers the topic. The video below starts with the HP video and then cuts to my own recording.
The second to last area we visited on the tour was the Material Sciences Lab. Here they have x-ray machines, Electron microscopes, and other cool gadgets that are used in diagnosing problems before and after they happen. Here we got to hear about another customer that they helped buy testing the equipping and solving the problem. In this instance the customer (a school) was using the machines in a jewelery shop. The machines were suffering from an unusually high power supply failure rate. So the had some power supplies sent back to HP for testing. In the Material Sciences Lab they used their investigative skills and discovered that there was a lot of silver dust in the power supplies. This silver dust was causing the power supplies to short out. After sending an engineer out to the site they discovered that even though the workstations were physically separated from the jewelery cutting area, the students would get the dust on their clothes and when they worked on the computers the dust would get sucked into the power supplies.
Just before we visited the last area, we stopped in a small room for water and snacks. In that room HP had a nice looking motorcycle. Here are a couple pictures so you can drool over it like I did.
The last area we visited was the demo room. In this room Dan Bennett gave us a tour of how they give demos, and also the power of each machine. We saw examples of the machines rendering Ray-tracing in real-time and how some rendering programs are starting to take advantage of GPU power instead of just CPUs.
I was very impressed with the amount of testing that goes into the workstations at HP. They really are concerned about making sure the customers get the best experience possible.