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.

Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • Parhel - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Honestly, that seems like a smart route to take. I'm not a hardware guy at all, but I think it makes sense. I would worry about longevity if they were mechanical drives, but with the SSDs, that should be good for the long haul. We just lease all our stuff at my work anyways, so the costs are entirely different.
  • Kaldor - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Leasing is an option, but generally from a financial standpoint buying your desktops and leasing your laptops is the best route. When you lease, you cannot depreciate the hardware yearly. Thats also the reason we run on a 5 year cycle. Write off 20% per year. Cant do that leasing!

    We do lease our laptops, and thats purely from a wear and tear standpoint. Every 3 years we turn them around. But we have far less laptops than desktops.

    The SSD vs HD will always be a debate. I dont feel that a spinning HD dying is a major issue myself. I expect to replace 20% of the drives within the lifecycle of a desktop. Thats why we have networks drives and images. The SSDs are not there to provide durability, but to make the user experience better. I was once asked how we could improve the user experience 4-5 years ago, and I gave them two things, make sure the computer has twice the RAM in it that is really needed, and use an SSD for your application drive. All the rest falls into place after that.
  • Ananke - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    These are like two dozen people at Apple, a dozen at Oracle and Google, etc. .. you get the idea. They don't use desktop workstations anyway, a good laptop - most likely MacbookPro is enough.

    Similar workstations are in use for CAD.
  • Parhel - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    What, the salary? Maybe that was on the high side, but it's not all that unrealistic for a senior level DBA / software architect type job. At my organization, everyone in our development team automatically gets both a desktop workstation and a mobile workstation, from the most entry level guy on up. Even the QA team. And the higher levels guys basically get whatever they ask for. Why be cheap with the tools you give your top talent?
  • Penti - Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - link

    An engineer would need options that just isn't available on the cheapest desktops to begin with. Plus a decent business notebook (not workstation-class) is already 1500-2000 at base value, add in screens and keyboards etc. It's all in all nothing when it comes to the software cost. A Visual Studio seat with Team foundation plus licenses for testing stuff would cost you more then this workstation. Hardware engineers would use much more expensive software will need specialized hardware, add-on cards and so on too. A 5000 dollar workstation is nothing if it allows you to do your job. You might get by on older hardware and software, but you would suffer other limitations from doing that.

    Any way managing your licenses will earn you more saving then skimping on your technical staff and engineers. It's not the office worker, sales staff, warehouse staff and janitors that will sit on workstations. They will have cheap desktops or more expensive business notebooks, depends on how everything is run. Hardware costs aren't a problem when just paying your basic software licenses (Windows, Office etc) will cost you more then a cheap desktop machine. The cheapest machines won't be as manageable and more expensive to serve then stuff made for business too. It's not cost of hardware that is a factor here. It's it environment, service/setup and use. Everybody probably shouldn't use the same machine. Some will cost more.
  • tipoo - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Lol...Who said it was for office workers typing in Office? Not every machine is for everyone.
  • miebster - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Am I missing something?

    What is the point of a computer like this? From dell you can get an optiplex 990 core i5 2500k, 16 gb ram, and 120gb ssd for $1200. Can someone give me a reason to buy the workstation over the optiplex?
  • Parhel - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Compare the prices without all the options, and it doesn't look so bad. The CPU upgrade alone is $1100 over the base price. The GPU is $600. There are specific cases where you might opt for a workstation over a desktop, but the prices you're talking about aren't representative. The options on this review model seem to more to "show off" rather than represent a realistic configuration.
  • HammerStrike - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Workstations are designed for users who have high performance computing needs ( CAD/CAM, engineering, financial modeling, scientific apps, etc. ) Main difference is:

    1. Processors that have more cache on chip (hence the Xeon's). Higher end models alls offer multi-processor support as well.
    2. Beefer motherboard to support Xeon processors - basically server MB's.
    3. Pro grade graphics cards. Main difference here is that they have driver support and are optimized for applications mentioned above. Most of those apps won't really run on a consumer card, and even if you could get them going you wouldn't get any support.

    Higher end work stations will typically support additional memory/types (standard business PC's typically top out around 16GB, while you can get a workstation with 64GB+ of ECC memory), as well as additional storage options (RAID 5, 10, etc, sometimes additional backup options, such as tape drive).

    Admittedly, they probably sell 100 standard business boxes for every workstation, but if you are running a program that needs one you, well, need one. As mentioned above, much of the software that a workstation is designed for wouldn't run on anything else (no driver support), but for the apps that do offer more cross "platform" support the performance boast boast is night and day. It can be the difference of jobs taking minutes vs hours to complete.

    As far as the Dell Precision units are concerned, they also offer some builds that are pre-certified to be compatible with many "workstation" grade applications and perform at a certain level with them. If you have an issue on a workstation that is pre-certified Dells support team will be able to troubleshoot and assist both the hardware and software issue. Depending on the issue, they may need to bring in the software developer, but the Dell team works with them tdirectly. Many companies find a lot of value in that.
  • alxxx - Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - link

    plus space for a full length pcie card/s

    More than 1 pcie x16 gen 3 slot (if needed)

    E5 is the only Intel chip so far to have DDIO.
    Expect to see it in all of them eventually.

    A better comparison would have been with hp z420-E5-1620.
    The one here seems a lot quieter than the z400.

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