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By | Timothy Prickett Morgan 23rd April 2012 19:34

Dell fuels up Precision workstations with Xeon E5s

Ivy Bridge rocketsled to launch next month

Intel has got its Xeon E5 processors out the door for boxes with one or two sockets and is getting ready to start the "Ivy Bridge" generation of desktop processors, and so it's no surprise Dell is revamping its Precision workstation lineup.

The direct vendor is keeping momentum going in this fast-growing segment of the desktop PC business, where is has about a third of the market, about 8 clicks behind market leader Hewlett-Packard according to estimates by Jon Peddie Research.

Dell is launching four new workstations today, three of which are based on the Xeon E5 processors and one on a forthcoming "Ivy Bridge," or Third Generation Core processor as Intel calls them, in the i5 and i7 series, as well as their Xeon E3 variants, which are also sold in entry servers as well as workstations. None of these machines are available today, but will start shipping in May. That means configuration information is a bit thin.

Dell Xeon E5 Precision workstations

Dell's new Precision workstation lineup: From left to right, the T7600, T5600, T3600, and T1650 (click to enlarge)

Let's start at the bottom and work our way up to the rocketsled you wish your company would pay for but probably won't.

Dell is not saying much about the entry Precision T1650 workstation, except that it will use future Ivy Bridge processors. But if you poke around on the Intertubes, you can see that the machine will offer up to 32GB of DDR3 memory running at 1.6GHz for its single socket, have room for four disk drives, and offer graphics cards ranging from the Nvidia Quadro NVS 300 to the Quadro 2000. You'll be able to put a 265 watt or 320 watt power supply in the T1650's tower chassis, with room for a spare if you want one. The T1650 will ship in May, and Dell will announce full configuration and pricing details for it at that time.

The Precision T3600 is based on two different Intel processors. The first is the Xeon E5-1600, a high-watt, high-clock version of the "Sandy Bridge" chip that comes with four or six cores and that is only certified to run in single-socket workstations, which do not have the same thermal constraints as servers do.

The T3600 can also use the Xeon E5-2600, which is designed for two-socket boxes (either servers or workstations) but which can obviously also be used in single-socket machines. You would go with a Xeon E5 in a T3500 if you wanted more L3 cache memory, more cores, or more threads. The Xeon E5-2687W, which is also only available for workstations, has eight cores running at 3.1GHz and burns at 150 watts, compared to 130 watts for the three E5-1600s, which spin at between 3.2GHz and 3.6GHz.

And that rocketsled is...

Dell Precision T7600 workstation

Dell's rocketsled Precision T7600 workstation (click to enlarge)

The T3600 uses Intel's "Patsburg" C600 chipset, of course, and has four memory slots, supporting up to 64GB of memory using 16GB DDR3 sticks running at 1.33GHz or 1.6GHz. The system has room for two 3.5-inch disks or four 2.5-inch disks, which come in SAS drive, SATA drive, or SSD variants; it uses the integrated disk controller on the C600 chipset. The T3600 has two PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slots, which means you can put in two graphics cards or one graphics card and one Tesla C2075 GPU coprocessor.

The latter configuration, called a Maximum setup by Nvidia, allows for the workstation to do numerical calculations and visualization of those calculations within the same workstation. The Tesla C2075 has 6GB of CDDR5 memory, and 448 cores that deliver 515 gigaflops of double-precision floating point oomph.

At the low end, Dell is supporting AMD's FirePro 2270 and Nvidia Quadro NVS 300 graphics cards for "professional" 2D graphics; AMD FirePro V4900 and Nvidia Quadro 600 cards for entry 3D graphics; FirePro V5900 and V7900 and Quadro 2000 and 4000 cards for midrange 3D visuals; and Quadro 5000 and 6000 for high-end 3D graphics. The base T3600 workstation runs $1,099.

Dell workstation rack

The workstation rack for the T7600s

The Precision T5600 doubles up the processor sockets and is solely based on the Xeon E5-2600 processors. It has twice as many memory slots, and therefore supports up to 128GB across its eight memory slots. The T5600 has the same storage options and the same two x16 slots and supports the same graphics card options as the T3600 above. The base configuration of the T5600, which only has one processor presumably, costs $1,879.

The rocketsled is the Precision T7600, which comes in a slightly larger chassis that allows for more main memory and disk expansion as well as two Xeon E5-2600 processors. This machine has an optional vPro configuration for those companies that want the official Intel business blessing and the management tools that ride atop of the vPro firmware.

The T7600 has sixteen memory slots, for a maximum of 512GB of capacity using 32GB memory sticks. To get to that top-end memory configuration, you can only use 1.33GHz load-reduced (LR-DIMM) DDR3 main memory at 32GB per stick. If you want faster 1.6GHz memory for performance reasons, then your capacity is restricted to 256GB using 16GB sticks.

This T7600 is a rocketsled not because of the processors, but because it has three PCI-Express 3.0 x16 slots. You have to eat one of the slots for a video card, but you can put two more video cards in it or two Tesla C2075 GPU coprocessors to boost the number crunching capacity, or one extra card and one GPU coprocessor.

The same video card options for the T3600 and T5600 workstations are available in the T7600. The chassis has room for four 3.5-inch or eight 2.5-inch SAS, SATA, or SSD drives. The disks are accessible through the front of the unit, just as they are in servers (although they are not hot pluggable as they are in servers). If you want 6Gb/sec SAS or SATA, you need to use an external disk controller because the C600 chipset, which was originally slated to offer 6Gb/sec speeds, tops out at 3Gb/sec. The T7600 is expected to have an entry starting price of $2,149.

All four of the new Precision workstations support Windows and Linux, and Dell says everywhere on its promotional material that Windows 7 is the preferred operating system for the boxes. Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Professional, in either 32-bit or 64-bit versions, are supported on the boxes. So is Red Hat Enterprise Workstation 5.7 and 6.1 in 64-bit versions and, in certain regions, you can get Canonical's Ubuntu 11.10 variant of Linux for the boxes.

And in a blast from the pre-rack server past, the other thing you can get for the T7600 rocketsleds is a rack so you can stack up multiple T7600 workstations if you happen to need a cluster of these to do your visualization work. ®

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