This year has seen a revitalized Dell aggressively attacking HP on the enterprise workstation front. While HP has been content to recycle last year's models, Dell has made substantial strides in improving their desktop workstation offerings across the board. We had a chance to check out their T3600 this year and found it to be a demonstratively superior offering to the competing HP Z420, and today we have the T1650, a model that updates the lackluster T1600 with a new chassis and some new hardware.

In addition to being our first look at Dell's new entry level workstation, this is also our first look at Intel's new Ivy Bridge based Xeons. While the improvements from Sandy Bridge were underwhelming for enthusiasts and incremental for desktop-using consumers, on the enterprise side the combination of reduced power and thermal envelopes and increased IPC make Ivy Bridge a much, much better value proposition.

Dell outfitted our review system pretty close to as fast as it can get; we have the fastest video card option, the second fastest CPU option, and middle-of-the-road storage and memory options. You can get pretty close to it with their $1,679 top-end preconfigured machine, but our system does have some notable differences.

Dell Precision T1650 Specifications
Chassis Dell Custom
Processor Intel Xeon E3-1280 v2
(4x3.6GHz + HTT, Turbo to 4GHz, 32nm, 8MB L3, 69W)
Motherboard Dell Custom with C216 Chipset
Memory 2x4GB Micron Non-ECC DDR3-1600 (max 4x8GB ECC)
Graphics NVIDIA Quadro 2000 1GB GDDR5
(192 CUDA cores, 625MHz/1250MHz/2.6GHz core/shaders/memory, 128-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) 2x Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB 7200RPM SATA 6Gbps HDD in Striped RAID
Optical Drive(s) PLDS DVD-ROM DH-16D6S
Power Supply Dell Custom 80 Plus Gold
Networking Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC269
Speaker and mic/line-in jacks
Front Side Optical drive
2x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Top -
Back Side PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports
4x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
2x DisplayPort (disabled)
VGA (disabled)
Headphone and mic/line-in jacks
DVI-D (Quadro)
2x DisplayPort (Quadro)
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 64-bit SP1
Extras 80 Plus Gold power supply
USB 3.0
Warranty 3-year parts and 3-year on-site service
Pricing Starting at: $549
Price as configured: $2,790

Our review configuration is on the quirky side (as they often are), but I do want to draw your attention to the Intel Xeon E3-1280 v2. While I'm not a fan of Intel's branding, with the "v2" designating an Ivy Bridge core, it's not really that much more nonsensical than any of their other branding. What we do get is a CPU without an IGP (thus subtracting 8W off of the TDP) but more interestingly, a CPU that actually turbos up to 4GHz on a single core. None of their desktop chips thus far have scraped the 4GHz barrier, but this Xeon can hit it and the next one up on the ladder can even hit 4.1GHz. Ultimately what we have here is what should wind up being the fastest single-threaded processor we've tested and a very respectable one under multi-threaded situations (though undoubtedly inadequate compared to the hexa- and octo-core Xeons we've tested).

The updated C216 chipset brings to the table the same difference Intel brought to consumer desktops jumping from the 6 to 7 series chipsets: USB 3.0 support. All four of the C216's USB 3.0 ports are accounted for, with two on the front of the chassis (along with two USB 2.0 ports) and two on the rear.

Handling graphics duties is the stalwart NVIDIA Quadro 2000, and that's as fast as it gets for the T1650. The system is only designed to support cards up to 75W (meaning no PCIe power connector), and the remaining graphics options are fairly underwhelming. AMD's new GCN-based workstation cards are unavailable; the fastest FirePro available is still using a Turks core. As a refresher, the Quadro 2000 is essentially a cut-down GF106 (GeForce GTS 450); it features all 192 CUDA cores, but the memory bus remains at 128-bit and all of the clocks have been reduced to conserve power.

Dell continues to employ a RAID 0 as a cost efficient means of increasing storage throughput without resorting to SSDs. Our review unit only features a DVD-ROM, but since we never use the optical drive in testing anyhow it's no great loss, and the upgrade to a DVD writer is a moderately inexpensive one.

All in all, the T1650 is as basic as Dell's Precision workstations get, but already I'm a bit uneasy. The chassis definitely has the stylistic improvements of its bigger brothers, but as you'll see in the build section, it seems some corners were cut to get the T1650 down to its low starting price.

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  • Phynaz - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    when are these companies going to learn that you have to use the RED motherboards for reliability.
  • Parhel - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    You need to go work for Dell (dude.) I know that was a joke, and i thought it was funny, but it's really not a bad idea.

    A lot of IT guys are enthusiasts too. They'd like to see a little attention to detail on the inside of the case. I know I would. My home PCs tends to be recycled work Dells anyways.

    It might not win any sales, but at least it would get a few of us at work saying "have you seen the new Dells?" and it would cost them next to nothing.

    Overall, these seem to be quality machines for an entry level workstation. They just need a little attention to detail. Like the author mentioned, what's with the base model power supply? Do you really want to deploy 100 of those at your facility, and have them sucking up power and heating your building for the next 3 years?
  • chris471 - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    The main reason to get a Xeon would be ECC memory, in my case. Testing with non-ECC really seems quirky. OTOH, a great opportunity for you: refit it with ECC and re-run the benchmarks to get the ECC vs non-ECC delta.
  • Grok42 - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    I was thinking the same thing. The main advantage of Xeon is ECC and depending on the board more than 32GB of RAM. Both of these advantages were not exercised on this setup. The reviewer did state the choices on the box were quirky so I'm guessing Dell simply sent him a test box without any input. Cutting corners on memory has always bothered me with manufactures including Apple. I'm about to build a box and decided to "splurge" and put 16GB of RAM in my box for a measly $90.
  • Icehawk - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    God, I hope that price is a typo by $1k (I know workstations are padded but this is nutbar)! I don't get this config or price at all. 500gb in RAID 0? 8gb of RAM? Quadro? Oy. Who on earth is this setup for?

    Doesn't seem like they have made an advance in chassis design either in the last 10 years.
  • Kaldor - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Dell missed the mark here, this workstation is not worth $2700. Not to mention, this machine is complete and total overkill for the average office worker. You know because you need RAID and a Xeon to type in MS Office!

    We run Optiplex 790 Dells at work and Im fairly happy with them. Easy to work on, stable, and inexpensive.
  • Parhel - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    That isn't who the Precision workstations are for. For employees who use their computer just to "type in MS Office" or for e-mail, get an Optiplex. For a Developer or a DBA making $150,000 a year, or an executive for that matter, what's $2700 over 3 years? Not much if it helps them be more productive.

    Any time a corporate model desktop or workstation gets reviewed, there are 10 comments saying "but I could build this on Newegg for half the price!" Sure you could, but try building and supporting 1000's of them and tell me if you've saved money.

    As the review said, these prices are low in light of HP's offerings. Dell will sell plenty of these.
  • Kaldor - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    I never said that I would build from Newegg, at least for a production computer for day to day use. The warranty service and having standardized images is too great a factor. I have built for certain applications, and it usually involves some very proprietary software that needs to run on this computer that I need complete control over what hardware that goes into the PC that is hooked up to a $500k CNC machine.

    This is a problem in the IT industry as a whole Ive found. Sometimes the IT department needs to step up and just say NO or figure out a compromise to make things acceptable without breaking the bank in cases like an exec who wants something. The same goes for DBAs or developers. You reach a point where the IT department needs to have some accountability for their spending and look what they are getting for the money they spend. Personally I could care less if something takes them 1 minute longer. Saving $1000 per computer is more important to me. Get past the "ooh shiny" and actually look at what the return on investment is. These are simply not a good investment.

    The Optiplex 790 I have on my desk is not that much slower that what they are selling here, and we paid a little more than half the cost of the workstation here. Specs: i7-2600k, 8 gigs of ram, 256 gig SSD, 1 TB hard drive, ATI video card. This is the PC we give to everyone, including the engineers using AutoCAD, and I have gotten no complaints that their computer wasnt fast enough when rendering so we back burnered putting in Quadro cards.
  • Parhel - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Consider a top tier DBA making $150K per year. Once you add employer side costs, you're looking at maybe $200K. If a workstation is going to be refreshed every 3 years, $2700 is less than 1/2 of 1 percent of your payroll costs for that employee. I don't think that's out of line.

    You wouldn't give one to someone whose needs are already exceeded by an Optiplex 390. That's a given.

    Also, my understanding is that $2700 is a "rack rate." You may be comparing that to a heavily discounted rate on your 790 (which is pretty damn tricked out I must say.)
  • Kaldor - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Maybe for a company that has alot of money to spend, sure, but even then... :) Im just the type of person that has no issues whatsoever about telling someone higher than me what I think or how something should be done. Its worked out pretty well for me so far.

    In the case of my IT department, we dont have alot of money to spend. I came to the company I currently work for and the IT department was a mess and we are slowly turning it around on a shoestring budget. Previously I worked for a multi-national corporation that had a massive IT budget, so I have seen both sides of the picture.

    The fact remains, IT departments in alot of cases really overspend as a whole. In a big company that makes alot of money its not really an issue. But in a small company that doesnt make alot of money, being able to do what you can for the smallest amount of money, then saving $1000 goes a long ways.

    And yeah, the discount on that workstation would drop the price considerably. Id say about $500 lower would be the discount price. The 790's we use were specced this way for one reason, 5 to 6 year turnaround on the desktops. We looked at what our users do, and this hardware should be fast enough to still serve our purposes in 5 years.

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