New Dell Precision workstations review: first look

IMAG0090-462x260Dell has unveiled a new line of Precision desktop machines, and we’ve been hands-on with its latest range of workstations – systems that the firm’s vice president of computing, Kirk Schell, described as “customer inspired” thanks to the “two billion conversations” the firm claims to have with its consumers on an annual basis.

Precision engineering

dell071-462x618Top of the line is the T7600, which boasts a range of sensible touches that mark it out from the average business PC. Build quality is beyond reproach, and a switch on the front of the chassis allows the meshed panel to swing open. Rather than fans or metal panels, that reveals a range of vertical hard disk bays that can be slid out of the system for easy access, with four 3.5in and four 2.5in enclosures included. The latter can be swapped for a single optical drive.

Remove the side-panel and the T7600 continues to impress. Dominating the interior is a pair of large heatsinks, which indicate the amount of power available – top-end T7600s come packaged with a pair of Intel Xeon E5-2600 processors, with up to eight hyper-threaded cores available in each.

Each of those chips is paired with eight quad-channel DIMMs, and each bank of memory is hidden beneath a plastic shroud designed to ensure each DIMM is adequately cooled. That’ll be a prime consideration if you’ve ordered a machine with the maximum amount of RAM: a ridiculous 512GB.dell04-462x819

Delll hasn’t done things by halves when it comes to graphics, either. The T7600’s proprietary motherboard can take up to three high-end professional GPUs, with the range topped off by Nvidia’s Quadro 6000 cards and the firm’s Tesla boards.

The T7600’s motherboard is positioned in the middle of the chassis, with the room behind the board used to house the hard disks and, crucially, the power supply. The PSU is exciting in its own way, too: narrower and longer than the average unit, and removable with a simple tug. Replacing the unit takes seconds, with cables emerging from a daughterboard inside the machine rather than the PSU itself.

Those hard disk bays can be locked with an interior switch, and the memory — which adheres to ECC regulations — is also monitored by Dell’s Reliable Memory Technology, which flags up DIMMs which have bad sectors and isolates them to prevent them causing crashes. Dell has specifically placed its USB ports further apart to cater for large memory sticks, and there’s a small recess on the roof for accessories. The machine can even be turned on its side and slotted into a rack like a server.

Under the hood

The range of specifications is also encouraging. Intel’s E5-2600 Xeon chips are used throughout and, as well as the full range of Windows 7 installations, the T7600 is also available with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Graphics options range from the high-end Quadro 6000 to the more modest Quadro 600, with ISV certification available on most chips and AMD FirePro cards also available.


That should be enough to put paid to the most demanding professional applications, but those Xeon chips are based on Sandy Bridge technology rather than the freshly-launched Ivy Bridge platform. Those 22nm processors might have been released for consumers, but there’s no official word on workstation chips: when questioned, Dell representatives kept quiet. Rumours abound that Ivy Bridge-based Xeons will appear later this year, and we’re sure Dell will offer these chips when it can.

Hard disk options extend from traditional hard disks and SSDs to server-style 10K and 15K disks — drives that, as the names suggest, run at faster speeds than the 7,200rpm of consumer drives. The traditional drives offer up to 3TB of storage per disk, the 10K disks provide up to 900GB of storage, and the 15,000rpm spinners provide up to 146GB of space per drive. SSDs, meanwhile, top out at 256GB.

The T7600 will be available in May, with the low-end specification costing £1,479, but we reckon the top-end machines will cost plenty more: a single top-end Xeon E5-2690 costs around £1,500, and Nvidia’s Quadro 6000 graphics card is double that figure.

The rest of the range

IMAG0125-462x819Sitting pretty underneath the top-end model is the T5600, which offers a similar specification: a pair of Xeon E5-2600 processors, high-end Nvidia Quadro graphics, and the same range of hard disks. The same broad choice of operating systems is available, although you’ll also have to make do with “only” 128GB of RAM,

With prices starting at £1,249 exc VAT, though, some compromises have been made. There’s no sign of the sliding hard disk bays or power supply: storage is kept in a couple of side-facing caddies, and the power supply sits at the bottom of the chassis like a traditional unit, although it still slides out just as easily.

The T3600 makes do with just one of those powerful Xeon chips, a maximum of 64GB of memory, and just two high-end professional graphics cards rather than three, but it’s cheaper still, with prices starting at £759 exc VAT.

These machines boast the admirable build quality of the T7600, but both also have to compromise on chassis size and features. Hard disks are stored in side-facing caddies rather than the removable hard-disk bays, for example, and the power supply doesn’t sit behind the motherboard, but rather at the bottom of the chassis – although it still slides out just as easily.

Dell’s low-end Precision, the T1650, is designed for those making their first leap to workstation ownership. We can’t tell you too much about this diminuitive workstation, though — the firm’s staff wouldn’t let us take photographs of its interior and wouldn’t talk about pricing or specifications, only telling us that it’ll launch at the end of May.

That’s the new Precision range, then — what do you think? Do these new workstations look the business, will they tempt you to upgrade or change from your usual supplier, or do these systems leave you cold? We’ll be giving the T7600 the full review treatment as soon as we can but, until then, let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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