Ok, first up I should start by saying that this is a replacement pc for an office environment, it was never supposed to be a CAD workstation or a gaming pc – it sits on my desk running windows 7 pro 64 bit and the main things it does are email, managing the Veber VMware infrastructure with the Vsphere client, our other cloud offerings and a bit of remote desktop work – nothing particularly heavy although there are times when I have literally every program open and running.
Due to Dell’s pricing policies and my good relationship with our “account manager” two machines were initially suggested – the Vostro 460 which my colleague has, and the OptiPlex 990 – both of which were coming out to initially about £800-£900 once you’d upgraded the CPU, RAM and added anything essential to the box (simple things like windows 7 pro on the Vostro, a sound card to the OptiPlex). It was suggested that I look at the precision workstation which I initially thought would be way outside my budget – after clicking the relevant boxes and upgrading a couple of items I spoke with my account manager who managed to get the cost of the machine down to a very reasonable £750.
So what would the other machines have come down to if I’d asked? – I did but they didn’t have any sensible discount levels available, that the newer precision t1600 did so the price was very good for such a high spec machine. What did I get for my money? – an upgraded processor – the E series Xeon 1245 – 4 cores with hyper threading, I believe this is the sweet spot of this range currently. Hard drives – most of our data is kept on file servers on the network anyway, but decided to go with an additional 250Gb hard drive and install RAID 1 giving a bit of protection for my data. I also stumped up for the upgraded graphics card – again discounts kick in to enable a £160 add-on to only cost £25 so the fairly reasonable fire pro v4800 which has the option to output to three monitors using its dual display ports and a single DVI.
The Dell Precision T1600 is much like many other Dell machines out there – but being a workstation its a bit more robust than many of the other entry level offerings – it also looks identical to the previous T1500 chassis that was purchased for one of my colleagues a while back. the front panel has the 16 in 1 card reader which is necessary for transferring data to and from compact flash cards (for cisco routers if you must know) and a whole bunch of USB ports including microphone and headphone ports.
Internally, there’s not actually much to see, as with most Dell systems the cables are routed neatly and they’re all the correct size. one big ish heatsink covers the single E series Xeon processor and the exhaust fan is also visible and quite big. the 3.5″ hard drives are installed in a caddy on the bottom of the unit, unlike in years past when they were hung underneath the DVD drive or hidden under PCI cards.
Image Source – Dell Precision T1600 Interior
Where do you start with reviewing something like this in an office environment? Obviously it is a bit overkill for a normal desktop machine, and coming from a 3 year old Vostro 200 with an Intel core 2 duo processor the new machine seems incredibly fast. In daily use I doubt I would have actually seen much difference between this machine and most other current generation i5 or i7 processor machines and writing such a review without pulling in facts and figures was always going to be difficult and nigh on impossible, so what I decided to do is print the windows experience index and talk about the numbers compared with my old machine.
|Vostro 200||Precision T1600|
|Primary Hard Disk||5.9||5.9|
As you can see, most of the scores are very high – the windows experience index only scales up to 7.9, so the precision workstation hits very high in this regard – although what is interesting is that the primary hard disk scores for both machines are the same, at 5.9 – and because the lowest denominator actually determines the score, this means the lowest number is the experience index, on the new machine despite having very fast components this is let down by its hard drive unit.
Once I had noticed this I started to have a play around, to see if I could increase the score for the hard drives. I had specified the RAID1 option but the workstation also has the option to go to RAID0 (striped data – no redundancy but faster). Using the Intel Rapid Storage Technology application I was able to migrate my RAID1 array to a RAID0 array, this was set off and completed overnight so I could re-run the scores the next morning. Unfortunately striping the disks did not bring any increase to the score, but will have increased system performance slightly. It is worth noting that using the Intel Rapid Storage Technology application you can migrate from raid1 to raid0 but NOT from RAID0 to RAID1 – as of writing this review I’m still running the system in RAID0 configuration. The only way to increase the system rating in this instance would be to use either an SSD (solid state disk) or to upgrade the RAID card to something like a SAS6IR controller to allow SAS disks to be installed – either way that would boost the cost of the unit to a non-sensible level – even purchasing a sensible sized SSD would add £200 to the price of the unit.
T1600 Linux? – another little odd one is the Linux workstation – Linux, on a Dell? Really? but only if you’re in the enterprise section of the website which is where I seem to spend my life, curiously the Linux workstation starting price is currently £709 compared with the windows version at £697 – possibly indicating that the licencing cost of windows isn’t actually that bad.
Did I consider any other manufacturer when doing this? The easy answer is yes, I looked very briefly at Apple as I’ve used them a fair amount in the past and quite liked them, but Apple don’t do discounts, their only machine that fits into my budget was the mini, which has almost poverty spec CPU in this age (an Intel Core 2 Duo) a single laptop speed hard drive and only integrated graphics capable of outputting to one monitor. Some of those issues can be overcome for example I could use a matrox dual head 2 go option to drive both my monitors, but this would again boost the price to an unrealistic level. Speaking of unrealistic levels, take a look at the precision T1600’s real competitor is on the Apple side – the Mac Pro – a similarly spec’d up machine with previous generation CPU in comes to over £3000 – note the RAID card on an apple is an add on extra that costs £528 – getting on for the entire cost of the Dell.
What you have in the Dell Precision T1600 is a pretty cheap and well specified workhorse, upgradable and simple to install. Being a windows machine it integrated into our office environment perfectly and makes no noise whatsoever compared with its predecessor. I think I would recommend it wholeheartedly.
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