Many applications demand horsepower beyond what the typical PC can provide. Unfortunately, most workstations — the high-end units required for applications such as computer-aided design, 3D rendering and imaging, among others — are too big to fit on or under a crowded desktop.
That’s where Hewlett-Packard’s Z200 Small Form Factor (SFF) workstation  shines. The system boasts the processing and graphics muscle of a true workstation, yet occupies a fraction of the space, fitting comfortably in a confined area. Despite its small footprint, the Z200 SFF is big on features and benefits.
You certainly can’t judge the Z200 SFF by its size. The workstation is 65 percent smaller than a typical minitower configuration, measuring 3.95 inches high, 13.3 inches wide and 15 inches deep. It sat inconspicuously below the HP ZR24w  widescreen monitor I used in testing, but it could easily be stood on end as a “microtower” or placed under a desk to further reduce its footprint.
The Z200 SFF configuration I tested had a quad-core Intel Xeon X3450 2.67-gigahertz CPU, an ATI FirePro V3800  display adapter, 8 gigabytes of DDR3 1,333 megahertz error correction code (ECC) memory and a 500GB SATA hard drive. It didn’t lack for input, output or removable storage options either, offering a DVD-R drive and a built-in removable storage reader that accommodates CompactFlash, Secure Digital (SD), miniSD, microSD and xD cards; Sony Memory Stick PRO and PRO Duo storage devices; and a USB 2.0 adapter.
Four USB 2.0 adapters on the front of the device and six more on the back add up to 11 USB adapters total — ideal for a system that needs to accommodate a variety of digitizer pads, scanners, printers and USB-compatible engineering and lab devices. There are three internal USB ports as well, plus an optional 1394a FireWire port and an integrated Intel 82578 DM Gigabit Ethernet adapter.
The Z200 SFF can be configured with up to three SATA hard drives (at the expense of the removable storage devices) and up to 4.5 terabytes of total storage. The DVD-R drive also can be swapped for a Blu-ray Writer drive, for even larger removable storage capacity.
The system offers up to 16GB of ECC memory. This, plus its processor power, put the Z200 SFF on par with some servers, making it well-suited to such compute-heavy applications as software development and testing or image and video editing.
On the graphics front, the Z200 SFF capably handles basic 2D and 3D CAD applications. Benchmark testing revealed that the Z200 SFF delivers a price/performance ratio on par with or exceeding that of other, more expensive workstations.
A number of features make the Z200 SFF particularly attractive. Aside from its size, the Z200 SFF boasts a 240-watt power supply rated at 89 percent efficiency. When the proper power management settings are configured, the system consumes a mere 5W of energy in sleep mode.
Maintenance and component swapping are easy as well. The Z200 SFF’s case and drive enclosures can be accessed, without tools, via levers and well-marked internal releases. The power supply pivots upward for seamless access to the internal drive bay. And internal drive connections are cable-free, meaning no fumbling with ribbon cables to reconnect drives following maintenance work.
There are some trade-offs for a smaller form factor and lower price point.
The Z200 SFF isn’t intended for medical imaging and other “heavy-lifting” graphics tasks, for example. Although it can certainly handle some of those tasks, its performance during benchmark tests was generally about 25 percent of the published results of its big brother, the HP Z800 Workstation. That’s not bad, though, given that the Z200 SFF’s price tag is a fraction of the Z800’s.