Dell Precision Workstation 390 Hands-On: Core 2 Extreme-Packing, Speed-Rocking

Illustration for article titled Dell Precision Workstation 390 Hands-On: Core 2 Extreme-Packing, Speed-Rocking

This morning Intel officially announced its Core 2 Duo processors, and Dell has provided Gizmodo with a blazing fast Dell Precision Workstation 390 just in time for a Day Zero hands-on review. At first glance, the machine doesn't look much different from previous Dell Precision Workstations, but inside is a completely different story.


Our test machine ($3893) arrived equipped far beyond its basic $1050 configuration, powered by the fastest Core 2 Extreme processor, a dual-core 2.93GHz "Conroe" chip. Along for the ride is 2GB of DDR2 533MHz RAM, a workstation-class NVIDIA PCIe Quadro FX 3500 graphics card, and an 80GB SATAII 7200RPM system drive. Then there's a little high-tech jewel, a Raid-0 array with two tiny one-inch 146GB SAS hard drives spinning at 15,000RPM, a brand new piece of technology which gave us remarkable speed test results.

How fast was this monster workstation from Dell? Find out after the jump.

Don't be fooled by that 2.93GHz clock speed, because this is the fastest processor we've ever seen here at the Midwest Test Facility. That's because these Conroe processors have an extra speedy front-side bus design, a 4MB L2 cache and a 64-bit dual core architecture. They're just more efficient all around, and Intel's blather about how they're faster by 50% or more is not really blather, it's all true.

Along with that efficiency comes serene quietude. Dell has always been expert at hushing even its most powerful workstations, and this Precision Workstation 390 is no exception. Of the dozens of workstations we've tested here, this one is the quietest, and a few times we wondered if it was even running, only confirming such by observing its backlit power button on the front. Yes, this speedster is quiet enough to be in "church mouse" territory.

This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.
This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.

Exactly how fast is it? Let's start with that pair of 146GB SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) hard disk drives. This is the next generation of hard disk drives, and these 15,000RPM babies lashed together in a RAID-0 array added $1000 to the price of this configuration, but showed us astonishing speed, tipping our disk speed benchmarks at 160MB per second writing and an even faster read speed of 178MB per second.

The main event? Since this is the workstation-class machine, we ran a suite of benchmarks concentrating on Adobe After Effects compositions, and the Dell Precision Workstation 390 blew the doors off every machine we've ever tested using our suite of After Effects benchmarks. It lags slightly behind an HP dual core dual Opteron machine we tested a few months back on CineBench rendering tests, which demonstrate 3-D graphics performance, but then that dual-core dual Opteron machine costs $1500 more than this one.


Overall, the Dell Precision Workstation 390 performs as advertised, with its Intel Core 2 Extreme 2.93GHz processor delivering speeds on some benchmarks that were nearly twice as fast as a dual-core dual-processor Opteron 280 machine. If you're looking for power, efficiency, and quietude, look no further.

Full review [Digital Video Editing]

Product Page [Dell]



John Laur

There seems to be a lot of emphasis on SAS itself being somehow a lot faster than SATA; however I wanted to point out that it is not the case. Both SATA and SAS are currently churning along with identical wire speeds (3.0Gb/s) with a planned 6.0Gb/s standard upcoming. You have to remember that the wireline commands between host and device for SATA are essentially 100% SCSI. They are in fact so compatible that you can simply attach SATA drives to a SAS controller (though the opposite is not the case due to the logic overhead in SAS)

The simplest way to describe the big difference in SAS vs SATA is to describe the way a host and device set up communication. On SATA, paths are fixed between drives and controllers - one drive per controller port. With SAS, two endpoints negotiate for an open path and then regular old SATA commands are tunneled through the link... So you can have one controller link feeding into an expander and then (theoretically) up to 128 SAS (or SATA) devices on it. In a dual port SAS controller with one drive per port, however, the topology would be identical to the same setup with SATA.

Due to the backwards compatibility, you'll probably see SATA (controllers particularly) sort of phasing out across the board — a good thing, mind you. And since companies are producing SAS parts out of their top-end drive technology like the (admittedly not very new) 15K RPM drives, you suddenly have all kinds of new options for your desktops and workstations.

So in short it's the 15K RPM RAID0 that is really helping out drive speed here, not the SAS.