Ixnay on Dell's new Quad-core workstation

Ixnay on Dell's new Quad-core workstation

Summary: In my mind, there are basically three classes of people who need all the horsepower they can get out of their desktop or notebook systems.  Obviously, there are the hardcore gamers.

TOPICS: Hardware

In my mind, there are basically three classes of people who need all the horsepower they can get out of their desktop or notebook systems.  Obviously, there are the hardcore gamers. For the purposes of this post however, let's forget about them (or you) so we can stick to the business-class users (if you're a gamer, feel free to pay attention, but forgive me for taking the business angle since that's what we try to do here at ZDNet).

Then, there's the multimedia production workstation user. So, if you're doing lots of image, video, or audio production, horsepower often equates to productivity. There have been plenty of times when I wish the open source audio editor Audacity would encode MP3s a lot faster than it does on my systems. These types of users are becoming more prevalent in businesses as businesses turn to audio, video, and images to help tell their story or train people that are either external or internal to the company. One reason for this is that the cost of producing a decent outcome has dropped dramatically thanks to better software and tools. 

Lastly, there are what I call "the virtualizers." There aren't too many of them now, and of the ones virtualizing, most are developers. These are the people that run multiple instances of various operating systems (or even just one like Windows) that don't interfere with each other even though they're running on the same computer (a technique known as partitioning). Developers like to virtualize their boxes so that they have clients running in some partitions, servers (that the clients can connect to over a network) running in others, and their development "system" where all their software coding and hacking takes place running in yet another. But over time, particularly as software providers do better jobs at demystifying virtual machine management and communicating the benefits of virtualization, I think you'll see average users doing more of it.

But running multiple VMs, as I often do, can really put a load on your system. So, when I dream of a system where all of my VMs are running at even half the bare metal performance of the underlying system, I find myself just wishing for a big honkin' system to do it. This of course could be another impediment to VM usage: big system requirements which equate to big money, relatively speaking.

Moore's Law basically dictates that the investment problem will be a non-issue. But, while we wait, there are those of us dreaming of a bottomless pit of megaflops from the system on or beneath our desks and anytime Dell, being the perennial supplier to businesses that it is, decides to ship a quad-core desktop (note: quad-core's are generally reserved for servers), you can't help but stop to consider whether it isn't just worth gawking at, but also purchasing.

But, if I'm reading Rich Brown's review right, then you shouldn't be wasting your time even gawking at Dell's new XPS 710 (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700), much less considering it for purchase. Wrote Brown in a review he published yesterday:

a $5,000 PC is not supposed to be slower than systems that cost nearly $2,000 less....Outperformed by much cheaper competitors; Dell's long qualification periods for new graphics hardware might mean more reliability, but it also means that other PCs have next-gen hardware today that the XPS 710 doesn't offer.

The good news is that the system looks great (causing me to relive the insult directed at a beautiful 1968 Camaro that I used to own: "That beast is all show, and no go"). 'Nuf said. Even for you gamers. 

Topic: Hardware

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  • That system is targeted at gamers

    Dell's entire XPS line is targeted explicitly at gamers. (Although not many gamers I know would buy a Dell, they tend to prefer building their own systems.) This definitely isn't a business workstation. So your decision to look at this from a business perspective isn't a good one. Plus, the "cheaper competitors" that beat this Dell in performance include a Gateway which is overclocked. Not too many businesses I know buy overclocked computers. The review seems like it was geared towards gamers too, as I don't know many businesses that need to consider performance in a FEAR or Quake benchmark.

    For a quad-core business desktop, check out Dell's Precision line:

    OR HPs new line:
  • Ixnay on Berlind's Incorrect Identification


    The XPS 710 is not and should not be confused with a workstation. Workstations are much more than faster processors, hard drives and graphic cards. A ?workstation,? by industry standards, must (according to IDC and Gartner):

    1) Be specifically designed, configured and marketed to technical markets, including multi-tasking and graphics capabilities.
    2) Configurations must have been certified to run workstation-specific applications and workloads.

    Dell certifies approximately 40 different applications and is compatible with many more to meet specific customer needs.

    The Dell Precision workstation line up has obvioulsy met the needs to true workstation users -- capturing almost 50 percent market share worldwide. Workstation users typically are highly skilled professionals who demand the most scaling performance available. They are creating large scale models of next generation airplanes, looking for oil & gas in depths of the Gulf of Mexico, designing the next big MPOG that your son is going to devote hours too. :-).

    We work closely with independent software vendors like Autodesk, Dessault Systemes, Schlumberger, and Softimage to ensure that users get absolute best in terms of productivty and, reliabilty when they fire up these professional applications on a Dell workstation.

    And yes -- users can take advantage of virtualization on Dell Precision workstations as well. It's all about makeing sure the customer gets the right product. And for workstation users, that right product is either the Dell Precision 390 (support for the Core 2 Extreme quad core), the Dell Precision 490 & 690 (dual socket platforms that support qaud core Intel Zeon processors --that's count 'em eight cores), or the Dell Precision M90 / M65 mobile workstations (obviously no quad core support -- but still the best in class in terms of mobile workstations).
    • For the record..

      to anyone reading that last message, that was Anne Camden who filed that last comment. Anne is with Dell. To her and the first person who commented, I've always found the categorizations of high-performance systems, be they for gaming or looking for oil & gas, to be a bit artificial. The machine in question here, would have eaten alive the best "workstation" on the market a few years back.

      Product positioning is indeed important. But I get questions all the time from businesspeople all the time who are using a product that was targeted at some non-business segment. When you ask why, you generally hear something about price, a discount, or sale. So, cost often causes buyers to cross boundaries (vendor-created ones at that). I'm won't dispute the way Dell positions this product or the extent to which Dell goes to certify other products with the word "workstation" on them.

  • NASCAR vs. Muscle Car

    Thanks for setting the record straight. Yes, I am with Dell (my "TalkBack" name is too long). And I suppose I should apologize for letting my enthusiasm for our workstation products overflow ;-)

    I am however, going to iterate a point I made in my first post. I believe that both Dell and dberlind, as a tech enthusiast and frequent advisor to friends and family buying a computer, must take the time to Do It Right. That means taking the time to ask questions about WHAT the system is going to be used for, what features are required versus "nice to have" (e.g. VT enabled; ability to configure RAID 1,0, or 5; support for 64-bit OS and up to 64GB of memory vs. needing a fast computer that can also kick a** @ high-end gaming) and point users to the right system versus helping them justify snapping up a "great deal" that MIGHT work.

    High-performance desktops and workstations CAN certainly handle many the same activities. But to carry on the car metaphors, I see a workstation more like a NASCAR racer, while the XPS 710 is muscle car. They both have to live up to the expectation of being fast, but one is designed and built for professional level racing, while the other is built for fun (and bragging rights).