Introducing the Dell Precision T1600

We've spent a lot of time dissecting boutique gaming desktops, but there are entire other classes of hardware that we only rarely put through their paces. Today that changes with the first in what we hope will be many reviews of workstation-class desktop machines, and we're kicking things off with a mid-range workstation courtesy of Dell: the new Precision T1600. Designed for low power and high performance and equipped with an entry-level workstation graphics card from NVIDIA, we'll run it through our usual desktop gauntlet along with a couple of extra tests and see what Dell brings to the table.

Dell's Precision T1600 is pretty unassuming, but workstation desktops are exactly that: they're work horses, not show ponies. But inside this Micro-ATX mid tower is a decent amount of enterprise-grade hardware. Dell has made big strides with their new Precision T1600 series. There's the usual generational hardware refresh: the T1600 sports Sandy Bridge-based Intel Xeon processors along with a GF106-based NVIDIA Quadro graphics card. But Dell (not at all unlike HP) has also added a smattering of ISV certifications to this tower, including Autodesk's AutoCAD, Maya, and 3Ds Max. Strangely there's no certification from Adobe, whose production suite would likely benefit substantially from a system like this one. In fact, the NVIDIA Quadro 2000 card in our review unit is one of the frustratingly few cards actually certified for Premiere Pro CS5's Mercury Playback Engine (although anyone with an NVIDIA graphics card, 1GB of video memory, and access to Google can get MPE to work).

Dell Precision T1600 Specifications
Chassis Dell Custom
Processor Intel Xeon E3-1270
(4x3.4GHz + HTT, 32nm, 8MB L3, 80W)
Motherboard Dell Proprietary Motherboard with C206 chipset
Memory 2x2GB Hynix DDR3-1333 ECC @ 1333MHz (expandable to 16GB)
Graphics NVIDIA Quadro 2000 1GB GDDR5
(192 CUDA Cores, 625/1250/2608MHz core/shaders/RAM, 128-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) 2x Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200-RPM SATA 6Gbps in RAID 0
Optical Drive(s) Optiarc DVD+/-RW Combo Drive
Networking Broadcom NetXtreme Gigabit Ethernet
Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC269 HD Audio
Speaker, mic/line-in jacks for stereo sound
Front Side 4x USB 2.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Optical drive
Top -
Back Side 2x PS/2
6x USB 2.0
2x Ethernet
3x DisplayPort (one disabled)
Speaker, mic/line-in
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 6.89" x 16.99" x 14.17" (WxDxH)
Weight -
Extras RAID 0
ISV Certification
Warranty 3-year basic hardware service with 3-year limited onsite service
Up to 5-year available
Pricing Starts at $629
Review system configured at $2,255

The review unit Dell shipped us is fairly beefy compared to its base spec, upgrading to the second-fastest processor they have available (the E3-1280 is 100MHz and $600 more) and the absolute best graphics card the tower ships with.

If you haven't ever checked out enterprise-class hardware before, a couple of things here are going to be pretty interesting to you. First is the Sandy Bridge-based Intel Xeon E3-1270. This chip is ostensibly an enterprise version of the desktop Core i7-2600, running at a nominal 3.4GHz and capable of turbo-ing up to 3.8GHz, but in this instance the integrated graphics have been disabled completely: if you take the Quadro out of the tower, there just won't be any video output. The flipside is that losing the GPU knocks the chip's TDP down to just 80 watts. The C206 chipset it's strapped to is also the server/workstation equivalent of the desktop H67.

There's also the NVIDIA Quadro 2000, a single-slot video card based off of NVIDIA's GF106 chip. It sports a full 192 CUDA cores and 1GB of GDDR5 strapped to a 128-bit memory bus, but clocks have been significantly curbed to hit the card's 62-watt TDP. The desktop GeForce GTS 450 (built on the same chip) has a nominal core clock of 783MHz (1566MHz on the shaders), while the Quadro 2000 runs at just 625MHz on the core and 1250MHz on the shaders. The GDDR5's memory speed has taken a massive hit, too, going from 3.6GHz down to just 2.6GHz. That said, there are reasons: the Quadro 2000 can be cooled using a single slot, it runs quietly, and more importantly it's optimized for workstation tasks the GTS 450 isn't designed for.

It's also interesting to see a RAID 0 setup come through here, something that's been a bit rarefied. Some enthusiasts swear by RAID 0 (yours truly, for example) while others don't see the point. While this striped RAID is still running off of mechanical drives, it at least provides a tangible boost over running a single disk. That said, it still can't really replace the performance of an SSD, but at least it can beat the capacity for a lot cheaper.

The rest of the system is going to seem fairly uninspiring, but try to remember: this is Dell's entry-level workstation. It doesn't need the biggest and best, it just needs to provide a sensible balance of price and performance for the intended tasks. I'll go ahead and gripe about the power supply, though: 265 watts isn't an issue for a computer like this, but the stated 65% minimum efficiency is frankly dismal. Even under peak load that wattage isn't liable to be a huge problem, but in a business environment every watt counts and that only becomes more and more important as the number of systems deployed increases. Dell is willing to offer an 85% efficient 320 watt power supply as a $50 upgrade, but frankly that seems miserly, especially when Antec sells a 380 watt, 80 Plus Bronze certified power supply for $45. That may be an off-the-shelf consumer product, but the point stands. Dell should simply eliminate the 265-watt PSU option and use the 320-watt model as the default.

Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • TrackSmart - Monday, May 2, 2011 - link

    I appreciate you calling Dell out on the insane pricing structure, but I think even greater outrage was warranted. If Dell wants to add $200/machine to cover the cost of software certifications and support, I'm fine with that. That would be honest pricing. HOWEVER, that's not what they do. Instead they charge $345 to upgrade to a 1GB hard disk, which costs $70 at retail. That's just plain outrageous and *deserves* outrage. Don't be afraid to call it as you clearly see it!
  • Exelius - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link

    Forgive me; I just took a pricing class where the mantra was "your customer is your enemy and your competitors are your friends who you cannot legally talk to." But the reason they do this is because the people who purchase this type of machine are often engineering firms. Revvit files are MASSIVE, so disk space is definitely a priority. But you have 2 types of engineering firms who buy these; large ones who order 25-50 at a time and who will likely be installing a pre-built image anyway, or small firms who are ordering less than 5 machines. The labor to build an image for 5 machines isn't worth the $1500 you'd spend upgrading the disk on those machines directly.

    Customers who aren't willing to pay a high price for more disk space likely aren't willing to pay much of anything for more disk space, as they're just going to install their own disks anyway. So gouge the shit out of the customers who are. The biggest lesson I learned from that class is that these feature prices are very carefully calculated, and cost is only a consideration when the optimal price you can charge is less than the cost of the feature.
  • mariush - Monday, May 2, 2011 - link

    The page titled "Build, Noise, Heat, and Power Consumption" has almost no mention of actual power consumption.

    Just a fleeting mention of 142 watts but it's not clear if you just added up the 80w tdp of the cpu and the watts for the video card to get this value.

    Please get a Kill-a-watt type of device and measure power in idle and when doing something cpu intensive, at least.

    It would also be nice to get the idle power usage and then replace the power supply with another power supply that you know how efficient it is, to actually determine the actual power efficiency of this 260 something power supply Dell provides.

    I have a suspicion that 65% is for maybe 20% load but if the system uses 140 watts when in use, the efficiency should be a bit higher.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link

    Actually, I did use a Kill-a-watt power meter. Those idle and load numbers are exactly how things worked out.
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link

    I'm sorry Dustin, what idle power numbers? I can only see the 142w which I'm assuming is load you measured but don't see any idle numbers. I would also second the request for a quick replacement using an 80+ efficiency PSU and retesting idle/load values.

    Honestly the combination of POS PSU and RAID 0 with no backup for a workstation is downright laughable IMO.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link

    You're absolutely right. The graphs were in the system, just didn't get posted. I've added them.
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link

    Dell are you kidding me? Of all the places where RAID 0 has it's place a workstation is about the worst place I could possibly think of.
  • meorah - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link

    I appreciate the effort that this site is taking to broaden its horizons beyond just gaming/enthusiast systems and appealing more to the IT side of computing.

    That being said, this review contains many pointless graphs that should have been edited out, and just because Dustin was curious about how well this workstation runs CoD and SC doesn't mean you should let him run useless tests. It would have been much more beneficial to have him run the workstation benchmarks on all the boutique builds so he would have a reasonable baseline chart to compare how much better the nvidia 2000 can handle its intended applications than a high-end gaming system.

    And yes Dell charges too much for memory and drives... I don't believe I've ever built a single virtual server host with factory upgraded RAM/HDD. Just base config them and save about $2k per host by buying your own memory and drives.
  • ochentay4 - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link

    im my opinion, the only important benchmarks when testing a workstation are cinebench 11.5 and specviewperf. maybe use pcmark and 3dmark and cinebench 10. why test games?

    the most important thing is to see is how a gaming machine with similar specs compares to this workstation, and this article fails at that.
  • rangerdavid - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 - link

    I realize prices change on a daily basis, but maybe you could take a date-stamped snapshot of prices, and then normalize the scores of some of these test by system price. I think that would be really fascinating, especially for someone like me that edits a lot of video on a budget (as much as one can, dealing with video) - instead of raw x264 encoding speeds, give me [(raw x264 speed) / price].

    At least, maybe provide this kind of graph once in a review, using whatever metric you think works best divided by price.

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