Peeking Inside the New Precision Line

Dell held a press event in San Francisco, California on Friday, April 20th to unveil their revised Precision line-up and featured guest speakers from both the mechanical engineering industries and the motion graphics industries as well as guests from NVIDIA and Intel. The new Precision line is a very big deal to Dell, and it's clear they went back to the drawing board after their last generation. When a big company like Dell is genuinely hungry for marketshare, the end users always benefit the most, and that seems to be the case with these new towers as Dell tries to claw more customers away from HP.

It's very easy to be cynical about a product launch where the vendor talks about how powerful their new system is, because in the strictest sense it's not really their hardware: it's the combination of hardware from other vendors that is so powerful. Fundamentally vendors use what's available, and what's available from Intel and NVIDIA right now is impressively powerful. That's especially true when you're talking about leveraging six- and eight-core processors based on Intel's Sandy Bridge-E architecture, and NVIDIA's Maximus and SLI technologies.

Where Dell is scoring big with the T3600, T5600, and T7600 towers is in the chassis design and in their Reliable Memory Technology secret sauce. Dell still doesn't have anything like HP's Performance Advisor on the software side, but RMT is arguably more valuable since uptime is in some cases even more critical than raw performance.

Each of the towers sports the same fundamentals in the chassis design. There are two large aluminum handles that make it easier to carry, but the top can also be removed and have rails attached so that the towers can be installed in a rack-mounted orientation. There's a direct front-to-back airflow design that takes advantage of tower-style coolers on the processor, allowing the system to be acoustically and thermally efficient while remaining stackable.

The interiors are also much, much cleaner than the previous generation, and drive bays are now toolless along with, get this, a toolless power supply. The PSU appears to be fundamentally modular but also a proprietary design (with all the pro's and con's associated with that); if the PSU in a system fails, you can actually pull it out of the back of the system then slide a new one in and have the system back up and running in under a minute, no rewiring required. While on the one hand this leaves you at Dell's mercy for getting replacement units, on the other hand the tremendous value in retained uptime and lack of service time may very well make up for it. Besides, when you're paying for enterprise class workstations, features like this are what makes a design better than the competition.

Recognizing that optical drives are becoming less and less important, Dell specced the new line with slimline drives instead of full-sized 5.25" drives. They maintained the 5.25" drive bay, though, and that allows the end consumer the flexibility of configuring the system with either an optical drive, a quad of 2.5" drive bays, or whatever else they might need in that bay. It's a nice touch.

Finally, as I mentioned on the previous page, Dell has their own patented technology called RMT, or Reliable Memory Technology, which maps and isolates bad memory pages whenever there's a page fault, allowing the end user to continue using the rest of the DIMM and thus maintaining precious system uptime. Only when a DIMM has seven or more faults will the system suggest that you outright replace the stick.

The differences between the four Precision lines (T1650, T3600, T5600, T7600) really can be broken down simply. The T1650 is the entry level, single-socket, average-powered system. The T3600 is the first step up; it supports the fastest graphics cards available as well as running dual GPUs, but remains a single-socket system. The next step up is the T5600, which switches over to a dual-socket configuration, offers four DIMM slots per socket, and is able to support two PCI Express graphics cards (or theoretically a GPU and an NVIDIA Tesla card for Maximus). Finally, the big daddy is the T7600, which features two sockets and eight DIMM slots per socket, with support for up to three PCI Express cards should end users choose to run SLI and/or Maximus.

Introducing the Dell Precision T3600 System Performance
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  • mfenn - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Nice to see some of the technology from their server line make its way into the workstations. Reply
  • cjcoats - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    As the user of a previous-generation Dell T7500 forced on me by the bean-counters, I was appalled at the lack of potential storage--a max of four 3.5-inch drives (which is unheard-of for such a full-tower case).

    Some of us do real storage-intensive tasks on our workstations, and this is simply unacceptable (a typical single run of what I'm working on generates about 2 TB of output, and there's no way I can do even two-way comparisons in the space available.

    Is the T7600 likewise crippled?
    Reply
  • blackbrrd - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    So, 4 hdd spaces of 3tb set in RAID 1 gives you 6TB space, enough to do a two-way comparision with 2TB of space left over. There are 3TB drives available... Reply
  • oynaz - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    He wrote typical. that presumably means that some runs are larger. Reply
  • cjcoats - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Foundation (input) files take up space.
    Other projects take up space.

    Model-calibration does multi-way comparisons, and wants at least 10 TB, but 6 TB was the most Dell would put in the machine.

    My original spec had 16 TB, and was ignored by the bean-counters, because Dell could/would not put more than 6TB in the machine. (Which was delivered 3 months late, btw., and without the right monitor-cables.)
    Reply
  • TheTechSmith - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Clearly you have a special need, and the machine is meant for a broader audience. Consider using an external RAID enclosure with as many bays as you need, perhaps connected via eSata. Reply
  • sphigel - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    First of all the T7500 isn't really that big of a case. It is large compared to most modern desktops but accommodating 4 hard drives is perfectly reasonable for a case of its size. Secondly, if you need more than 4 hard drives in your system and aren't custom building your desktops you're going to have trouble finding desktops that work for you. It seems like you'd be better off using a high speed external raid enclosure. Also, you should have known the HD capacity of the system before you bought it. It sounds like your problem is with your "bean counters" and not Dell. Reply
  • ZeDestructor - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    I think you need a DAS, or else a GPU-equipped server. The brand new PowerEdge T620 has room for up to 12 3.5" drives or 32 2.5" drives.

    I myself want a taller version of the T620 chassis to build a monster watercooled gamingrig because it has so much space inside and doesn't look too bad either. (assuming you add the bezel)
    Reply
  • eanazag - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Basically, what does the motherboard's SATA count look like? I am guessing cjcoats would be looking at an external storage solution. I think this would likely require a SAS/SATA add-in card. You may be able to go the 4 x 2.5" drive route, but doubt you will be able to get enough free space to work it.

    Stick it to the bean counters with a 10GbE external iSCSI storage. CJCoats will likely have storage issues no matter what workstation they roll with if it is not a a 4U size chassis.
    Reply
  • MichaelD - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    I couldn't help but notice the physical configuration of the CPUs in the dual-CPU models.

    They are one right behind the other, in a line. So with the front-to-back cooling flow, the hot air from CPU0 blows right into CPU1. This is far from optimal in a workstation where cooling performance is attenuated in the name of acoustics. In a server with 1K CFM of airflow it wouldn't matter.

    I know all this gets tested out in product development, and I'm sure the thing would probably run forever in the desert, but it's worth noting.

    Other than that niggle, I feel Dell has done an admirable job with this new line of workstations! I really dig the hotswap PSU (long time overdue IMO) and the move to a slim DVD drive. The article mentions a possible 4x2.5" drive cage in place of the DVD drive. Is that a definite option? That much additional onboard HDD Storage would really add value in this market segement.
    Reply

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