I am new to this forum, and found it when searching for information on HP Z workstations. I thought my adventure in upgrading to a new machine (eventually winding up with an HP Z460 workstation), might be interesting to you folks, and helpful to some in that they can leverage off of what I've done.
My HP Z workstation upgrade adventure:
I have been building my own media PCs for years (since the 1990s), and was looking for a replacement for my Core I7 860 media machine that is getting a bit "long in the tooth". I typically buy used hardware for my upgrades, a generation or two back, but at the high-end. That process has usually given me robust machines that generally last me for about 5 years before I have to start the process over. I do some periodic incremental upgrades in between these major upgrades (usually drives, additional memory, upgraded video card, etc). I also re-use as much as I can from the previous build.
I planned on reusing my:
- 1Tb SSD (bought during the 2020 Amazon Prime Day sale),
- Nvidia GTX 1060 3GB graphics card (bought on Amazon during the 2018 black friday sale),
- 2 4tb Enterprise SAS hard drives that I run as RAID1 (bought in 2017 from Amazon Warehouse Deals for $65 each),,
- HP commercial SAS Raid controller (bought used on Ebay for $25)
- blu-ray writer,
- keyboard and trackball,
- and maybe my ATX case.
I planned on selling the rest:
- The motherboard,
- 2nd gen quad core Core-I7 processor (860),
- 500W power supply,
- usb2 based 8-in-one card reader,
- and 8gb of DDR3 memory.
So I started looking around for the best "bang-for-the-buck" for high-end hardware a couple of generations back so I could avoid having to pay current "new" prices. Since I had a decent graphics card that can easily handle the 4K HDR streaming and 4K HDR blu-ray playback I want, I didn't need to pay for an expensive Core I7 with it's embedded graphics. So I got to looking at Xeon processors that would do what I wanted and settled on the E5-2640 V3 8 core processor (16 logical cores with hyperthreading) that's rated at 90watts. This processor choice requires a Socket LGA 2011-3 server/workstation motherboard.
I started looking at motherboards and processors. The Xeon V3 processors were coming way down in price, but the stand-alone Socket LGA 2011-3 motherboards were still fetching fairly high p
rices. So I started looking for used workstations.
As complete or bare-bones "off lease" used systems, the prices were much lower than buying used CPU, motherboard and power supply. The reason for this is that businesses buy or lease these high-end workstations for 3 years, until the 3 year on-site warranty runs out, and then e-recyclers/resellers sell them for very little on Ebay and Amazon.
Used server RAM (which these workstations use) is also cheaper than used regular non-server RAM. I think this is because there is so much RAM installed in servers and workstations, and companies upgrade their servers and workstations quickly, and so the market gets flooded with used server RAM that cannot be used in "normal" desktop machines. When new, Server RAM is higher priced than normal RAM because it has higher quality specifications and it has embedded error detection and correction circuitry (ECC) and buffering /register circuitry both of which make server RAM more reliable but with a slight (1 clock cycle) speed penalty due to the buffer/register.
At first I focused on Dell workstations, but I then discovered that the HP Z series workstations that sold from 2015 to 2019 were cheaper and often offered as good or better hardware than the equivalent Dell workstations. These HP workstations use a motherboard with the Intel C612 chipset, and support both the V3 AND V4 Xeon processor families and both regular DDR4 and DDR4L server ram.
The Z440 was the lowest priced with bare-bones systems selling on Ebay for around $150 plus shipping, followed by the Z460 selling bare bones for around $250 plus shipping. The Z460 can work with either a single processor or dual processors (with a 2nd processor daughterboard) The Z480s are rarer and are higher priced. These are all commercial grade workstations and are built like tanks -- and so are heavy, so the cost of shipping is usually more than $45 if they have to be shipped any significant distance.
I first found and purchased a Z440 workstation with an E5-2620 V3 6 core processor (12 logical cores with hyperthreading) that had a motherboard Bios issue for $125 on Ebay from an E-recycler about 120 miles away, the only things missing were memory and drives. I found a great deal for 32Gb of slightly used DDR4 server memory -- 4 matching 8gb RDIMMs of InnoDisk
registered ECC server memory for $70 on Ebay, and figured that even if I had to replace the motherboard, I would be looking at a decent machine for less than $250. I would see if I could live with the slower 6 core processor -- if not, a used 8 core E5-2640 V3 could be found for less than $70.
The motherboard wasn't salvageable, but I noticed that the Z440 and Z460 are basically the same motherboard, with the exception that the Z460 has a set of sockets for the daughterboard, and 4 less memory slots (these 4 slots are moved to the daughter board for use with the 2nd CPU). Pretty much everything else was the same except the rear case fan pinouts and the onboard speaker header. (The Z440 motherboard has unpopulated places on the board where these components exist on the Z460.)
I found a Z460 motherboard from a local e-recycler for $59 (local pickup -- so no shipping charge) and was planning on installing it in the Z440, but then happened upon an Ebay listing for a Z460 that booted to BIOS, but had an issue with two of the QPI Links that are used for communication between the 2 CPUs. Since I already had gotten the cheap Z460 motherboard, I thought that maybe, just maybe, the Z460 workstation's motherboard might be okay if used with just one processor, and I might get a fully functioning dual CPU Z460 AND a fully functioning Z440 by installing the new Z460 motherboard into the Z460 workstation, and using the otherwise working Z460 motherboard in the Z440 as a single processor motherboard.
So I bought the "broken" Z460 for $252+$46 shipping, $298 total. It was also not a barebone system and was only missing a hard drive and memory, and did include two E5-2620 V3 6 core processors and the 2nd processor daughterboard .
When it arrived, I added a couple of the sticks of the DDR4 server RAM and a hard drive for testing and confirmed the machine booted into the bios with QPI errors. I then removed the daughter board and the machine booted all the way up! I then installed the new Z460 motherboard I had purchased earlier, and it booted up too. I then crossed my fingers and reinstalled the 2nd CPU daughterboard with a stick of server RAM, and it booted up successfully! I had lucked out, and the QPI issues were on the original Z460 motherboard, and that motherboard worked fine with a single CPU.
There wasn't much risk involved, regardless of how the testing turned out. If this hadn't worked out the way I had hoped, I would have just bought a replacement Z440 motherboard for around $70 on Ebay to make the Z440 functional, or if the 2nd CPU daughterboard was bad, then I could run the Z460 as a single processor system and use the other Z460 motherboard in the Z440 as originally planned.
So, in the end, I have a working Z460 dual processor workstation, AND a working Z440 workstation for less than $400. Both of the Z workstations came with a slim-line DVD re-writer optical drive (basically a laptop drive). I plan to sell the working Z440 to a nephew for $250 for his son's use, which will bring my cost for the Z460 and the memory for it down to around $225. I really don't need the 2nd processor, so I may sell the daughterboard on Ebay -- they are going for over $100 now, which would bring the cost of the Z460 machine down to around $125.
I think this machine will last me for another 5 years or so until I do another major upgrade.
One thing I like about this kind of upgrade strategy is that it is especially eco-friendly. It is fully re-using/re-purposing otherwise obsolete high-end equipment. The power supplies on both of these computers are >90% efficient, so they won't draw anywhere near their full capacity (750watts for the Z440 and 925watts for the Z460) unless the systems are fully loaded and all processors are running at 100% utilization. If I don't run the second processor daughterboard in the Z460, it will draw less power too..... And my existing system parts will be sold and reused as well. Nothing is going into the landfill, and no new hardware was manufactured to make my upgraded system. I love being part of what is now being called the "Circular Economy".
I plan now to resell my existing system as a fully operational Windows 10 Pro machine with a previously used 256Gb SSD, a used 2Tb hard drive, a 1Gb ATI/AMD video card with displayport/HDMI output and a DVD rewriter optical drive. Since it was a top-of-the-line quad Core I7 machine back in it's day (around 2009), it will still be faster than any current Core I3 and some Core I5 machines. Heck, after that gets sold, I may wind up getting the upgraded machine at no cost, or even a little profit!
One other upgrade I am doing will be to replace my existing blu-ray writer optical drive with one that can read the 4K blu-ray discs (they call these drives "4k friendly"). My existing one can't. I found one on Amazon Warehouse Deals for $59, and hopefully can sell mine for $35-$40 to someone who doesn't care about 4K, but wants 1080P blu-ray capability.
There is just one part of this upgrade saga left to tell -- windows activation issues....
In my research into this generation of HP's Z workstations, I found an HP service bulletin that mentioned that there was a known issue with installing the HP Windows 10 Pro OEM recovery image on these machines. The service bulletin mentions that, at first, the windows activation will fail, but to close the window, restart the machine, and then re-attempt activiation and it should work the second time and it will be a Windows 10 Pro for workstations license. I figured that the Z440 workstation must have originally had a windows 7 or 8 or 10 pro license, and so I should be able to download the Windows 10 ISO image from HPs cloud recovery repository, and activate it, since the OEM installation and activation checks the BIOS for validity, and the upgrade from windows 7/8 pro to windows 10 pro was free. I logged onto HP's cloud recovery platform, entered the workstation's model and serial number and was allowed to download the Windows 10 Pro recovery ISO for this workstation.
Well, it didn't work. It installed and booted to windows 10 Pro, but would not activate, even following the instructions on the bulletin.
I called HP support to see if they could help, and a very nice fellow spent quite a bit of time with me trying to resolve it. He verified that the HP serial number and product build byte in the bios was correct and matched the serial number, and had me update the BIOS and try to activate it again, and then told me he would escalate the issue, but that I should try contacting Microsoft support to see if they could help.
I then called Microsoft support, and a very nice fellow listened to the story and had me read him the CD Key and the product key from within windows, and then did some research and told me the error I was receiving was because the corporate license that HP had issued the OEM licenses on for that product key had had too many activations, and that I should contact HP about this, as it was their problem.
Soooo, I called HP support back again, and got another nice fellow to look into this. He listened to what I had done on the previous calls with HP and with Microsoft, and was getting ready to re-escalate the issue, when he had the inspiration to fully "decode" the product build byte in the BIOS, which pointed to the cause of the problem. It turns out that this workstation had been ordered with Linux and not Windows, and that was the reason for the activation error. The reason the activation system thought the CD key had been activated too many times was because a dummy CD key was used for these non-windows machines in the BIOS, that never had ANY activations, and wasn't supposed to activate.
However, HP's cloud recovery ISO system, while it does ask for the system model and serial number, it doesn't burrow down far enough into the original build data for the serial number to check to see whether the system had an HP OEM windows installation or not. Their cloud recovery system sees that it is a valid serial number and then allows you to download the HP Windows recovery ISO image, and that image does install completely. However, once you have installed it, all you get if the workstation didn't ship with OEM windows is an cryptic error code that points both HP and Microsoft support staff in the wrong direction.
I requested the HP support person open a suggestion/complaint with his superiors requesting that the cloud recovery system do a little more thorough checking of the serial number to determine whether or not to allow the Windows recovery ISO to be downloaded, and to give the appropriate message when it determines that an HP OEM license hasn't been issued for that serial number. I also suggested he add some entries in their troubleshooting database to address this issue in the mean-time. I am sure that I am not the first person to run up against this issue, and had either of these suggestions been implemented it would have saved multiple man-hours of wasted time, mine as well as HP support and Microsoft support.
The reason I wanted to try to activate the HP OEM Windows 10 Pro on the workstation was to get the Windows 10 Pro for Workstations OEM license. It offers more of the functionality of Windows 10 Server edition, and allows for more CPUs, cores and memory. At first I thought this was necessary to run a 2nd CPU, but it turns out that the regular Windows 10 Pro already allows for 2 CPUs with multiple cores each, and more RAM than I ever would need.
I wound up transferring one of my existing Windows 7 Pro retail keys to the Z440 workstation, and all is working fine now.
Note, while Microsoft's original "free upgrade" time has elapsed, in fact you can still install and activate Windows 10 using a valid Windows 7 or 8 CD key. This is true for both the retail and OEM versions. However you can only transfer
"retail" keys from one machine to another. "Oem" keys are only valid for the original system and cannot be transferred
The Z460 workstation had an HP OEM Windows 7 Pro key on it, and I was able to install the HP Windows 10 Pro recovery ISO that I had problems with earlier on the Z440 workstation on that machine and activate it using that CD key. So it now has a valid Windows 10 Pro OEM license using that original windows 7 pro OEM cd key.
So ends my Z workstation upgrade saga.
In summary, I think these Z440 and Z460 machines can be a great bargain, and are somewhat futureproof in that they are able to run the V4 processors that are only one generation behind the current Xeons. However, those V4 processors are still selling for failrly high prices. In a year or two I expect their prices will drop sharply and will be available for what the V3 processors are selling for now. The main reason to consider upgrading is that the V4 processors have more cores than the equivalent V3 processors, can access higher speed RAM, and they have some higher "turbo" mode capabilities than the V3s have. The base speed and power useage are about the same as the V3.
I hope this writeup has been both entertaining and informative, and helps some folks who are considering purchasing one of these workstations.
I hope you all are staying safe and healthy during these strange times....