​The ultimate Linux workstation: The Dell 5720 AIO

If you want to do serious Linux programming, why not spend the money to get the best available workstation?

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Want a cheap Linux desktop? Look elsewhere. But, if you want a kick-rump-and-take-names desktop for serious graphics or development work, you want the Dell 5720 AIO workstation.

This take-no-prisoners workstation starts at $1,699, but the model I looked at costs over $3,200. It's worth it.

This model came with a Quad Core 3.8Ghz Intel Xeon Processor E3-1275. In a word, it's fast.

It also comes with 64GB of 2133MHz DDR4 ECC RAM. That's fast, too. The main memory is backed by a 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD and a pair of 1TB 2.5-inch SATA (7,200 RPM) hard drives. Yes, they're really fast, too.

For graphics, the Dell 5720 uses an AMD Radeon Pro WX 7100 with 8GB of GDDR5 video RAM. According to Tom's Hardware, this high-end graphics card speeds along at 5.7 Teraflops, which would have made it a great supercomputer back in, say, 2007. Today, it makes it one heck of a fast graphics engine.

This powers a 27-inch 4K touchscreen display. If, like me, you prefer working with multiple monitors, the Radeon Pro can power up to two additional 4K monitors, thanks to the 5720's HDMI port and a DisplayPort (DP) 1.2 port.

The heavy desktop -- it weighs in at about 35 pounds -- looks great. If you ever lusted for a 27-inch iMac because it looks wonderful on a desk, the Dell 5720 is for you. With its included Dell Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, the entire computer requires only one wire -- its power cord -- to work.

In that desktop, Dell includes six speakers. Four of these are in a soundbar below the display. There's not enough bass in the unit to support open-air music editing for my taste, but it's great for editing podcasts with Audacity.

The model I got came with Ubuntu 16.04 long-term support as its operating system, but that's not your only Linux choice. You can also get the 5720 with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) Workstation 7.3. So, whether you work with the Debian/Ubuntu family or the Red Hat crew, Dell has you covered.

To sum up the good news, the 5720 has all the power you'll need for any Linux project. This really is the ultimate Linux workstation.

Now. to the rest of the news:

In the mixed news department, the workstation comes with four USB 3.0 ports, two USB Type-C ports, an HDMI port, a DP, audio out, and a Gigabit Ethernet port. So far, so good. But it's not easy to get to them, because most of them are behind where the articulated stand joins with the computer.

Only the SD card slot, an audio jack, and one USB 3.0 port are easy to access on the side of the unit. I really would have appreciated all the ports being available on the side. There certainly appears to be room for all of them.

The supplied Dell mouse is a pleasure to use. It's light and has multiple touch sensors. The international keyboard is another matter. I found it chiclet-style keys hard to use and its formatting (e.g. the "\" key is the third key to the left of the "L" key) annoying.

The display, while great in and of itself, is also very glossy. This means it reflects far too much light. I found it tiring to my eyes after a few hours of use. I'd really liked the option of a matte screen.

Finally, there's the bad news: As sent, the computer's Wi-Fi didn't work with Ubuntu. The operating system reported that the Wi-Fi hardware, Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260, wasn't available -- even though the driver was present. After some tinkering, I got it to work by counterintuitively removing the driver using the Additional Drivers Unity program. After I had done this, the system used Intel's default Linux Wi-Fi driver, iwlwifi.

I'm not the only one who's encountered this problem, and Dell and Canonical are working on it. Still, I find it more than a little surprising that Dell, Intel, and Canonical could have released a desktop that wasn't Ubuntu ready.

Still, even with the nuisances, I can't ignore the simple fact that this is easily the fastest Linux workstation I've ever used. If you want real power for your development work, the Dell 5720 is still worth every penny.

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