A sub entry-level workstation designed to turn the heads of PC users, but crying out for a lower specification processor to give it the price point a machine like this deserves, writes Greg Corke.
For years, workstations from the Tier One vendors have come in three sizes: entry-level, mid range and high-end. Entry-level workstations feature a single processor, mid-range workstations pack in two processors in a compact chassis and high-end workstations boast two processors and capacity for huge amounts of storage and memory.
Last year everything changed. Acknowledging that many CAD users continue to use desktop PCs instead of dedicated workstations, Dell, HP and Lenovo all helped create the sub entry-level workstation. Sporting entry-level processors, graphics, and storage, plus limited upgrade options, these compact machines are much like standard desktop PCs, but earn their workstation spurs through professional graphics cards and ISV (Independent Software Vendors) certification for leading CAD applications including AutoCAD.
Dell’s offering in this market is the Precision T1500, which features a comprehensive range of processors (including the Quad Core Intel Core i7 and i5, and the Dual Core Intel i5 and i3) — plus a choice of three entry-level professional CAD graphics cards — the ATI FirePro V3750, Nvidia Quadro FX 380 and FX 580.
Our test machine shipped with Intel’s Core i7 870 (2.93GHz), a mid-range chip, which equipped itself well under our standard CAD test and with its four cores also put in a respectable score in our multithreaded rendering benchmark. The strain began to show under some of our other tests with the machine delivering sporadic results. On further investigation, we found it was occasionally hitting the 3GB memory limits of the 32-bit Operating System, which slowed things right down. Matching the system with Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) would have removed this bottleneck as it would have been able to take advantage of the final 1GB from its 2 x 2GB DIMMS.
For graphics AMD’s 256MB ATI FirePro V3750 showed its limitations in our 3D CAD benchmark. However, it should be noted that under more CPU limited combinations of applications and datasets the V3750 has proven in the past to be a good performer.
For a machine that is pitched as a sub entry-level CAD workstation we were not particularly excited by the price tag of £999. However, this is mostly down to the choice of processor. Swapping out the Core i7 870 (2.93GHz) for the Core i3-540 (3.06GHz) Dual Core chip will save you £191 from the off. And with a higher clock speed it will arguably give a slight performance boost for pure CAD as well. Opting for one, instead of two, 320GB hard drives will also shave off a cool £66 and help give it the sub entry-level CAD workstation price a machine like this deserves.