Brushed aluminium side panels and integrated ergonomic handles? Check. Tool-less design with easy access to the components? Check. Designed by an award winning design consultancy? Check.

Ever since it launched five years ago, the HP Z800 has been the company's flagship workstation for a while, one that has been through a number of iterations, all of which used the same chassis. It has since been replaced by the Z820 which adopted the same chassis.

The latter was designed by BMWDesignworksUSA, a company that was so good at what it did (i.e. great designs) that one of its clients, BMW, acquired it and allowed it to work for third parties including Adidas, Nokia, Microsoft, Acer and Coca Cola.

Cool option

The appeal of the 21Kg, 48-litre casing is four-fold. It offers a modular component removal design as well as optional liquid cooling, hides cables in order to maximise airflow and even manages to throw in some spectacular expansion capabilities.

At full stretch, the 1.1Kw 89% efficient power supply unit can push up to 12 CPU cores (for example, two six-core Intel Xeon X5660 processors with 12MB cache each), up to 192GB of RAM arranged in 12 banks of 16GB memory modules and up to 12 hard disk drives (four in its 3.5in bays and eight SAS (presumably 2.5in ones) in its three 5.25in ones) plus the ubiquitous optical drive.

Conducting

Intel's tried-and-trusted 5520 chipset is the maestro in charge of managing the components on the motherboard. When it comes to expandability, an integrated 6-channel SATA and an integrated 8-channel SAS controller, bringing the theoretical total hard disk drive count to 14.

There's six also PCI Express slots plus a lonely PCI one, two GbE connectors (Broadcom 5764), a Realtek ALC262 audio chip, 12 USB ports (none USB 3.0), two Firewire ports, a bevy of audio ports and a pair of PS2 ports.

As expected, you can pretty much put any graphics card you like in this powerhouse including GPGPU boards like the Nvidia Tesla or AMD's FirePro. HP says that it works closely with ISV to ensure that its produces are certified and optimised. Given the company's clout in the workstation market, we wouldn't bet against that.

Apple's new Mac Pro proves that not all workstations have to be rectangular but expandability and flexibility are what the market is looking for, which is why the Z800 has proved to be such a popular workstation.