Lab test: Four Dell and HP workstations

Our system and graphics performance tests show terrific price-performance at the low end of the quad-core workstation spectrum, and awe-inspiring power at the top; HP takes the bantam belt, while Dell is heavyweight champ

The heavyweight champ

Dell's Precision T7400 workstation is everything the HP xw4600 is not: It's big, hot, and noisy. But it delivers truly remarkable processing power. It is driven by two Intel Xeon 5482 chips, running at 3.2GHz -- the current top of the line for x86 processors. These silicon wonders are hooked up to the Nvidia Quadro FX 4600 graphics card, and this combination hits 94.45 on the SPEC ViewPerf benchmark, which is nearly double the graphics performance of the midrange twins (see benchmark results table).

Dell has added another performance bonus: a pair of hard drives wired together to make a single 146GB Serial Attached SCSI disk (SAS) that runs at 15,000 rpm, but benchmarks at 20,000 rpm due to Dell's I/O technology. This apparent rotational speed plus the use of the SAS drive means that the T7400's disk reaches an extraordinary 189MBps data transfer rate with a lightning-fast random access time of 6ms.

Except for adding more RAM (and this system goes up to 64GB with risers to double up the eight DIMM slots currently available), this workstation represents the top of the line or very close to it in the three most important performance areas: processors, graphics, and I/O. In sum, it's the pinnacle of desktop power. And -- this is the remarkable part -- it's available for less than US$8,000. At this price -- US$3,000 more than the midrange machines -- it becomes a suitable choice for users who are not convinced the midrange workstations will have enough power down the road. Large-scale simulations (both in research and industry) and complex rendering of large data sets might be possible applications.

Money and power

Personally, I think many, if not most, workstation use cases can be satisfied with the entry-level xw4600 from HP. This conviction grows if your software cannot take full advantage of eight cores and will do so regularly. Unfortunately, this recommendation is not reflected in the system scores presented at the beginning of this article. This discrepancy is due to the large weighting given to performance, and when this system competes with high-end workstations, it will unavoidably suffer.

Users whose requirements don't fit with the xw4600 probably need the best workstation the market has to offer, barring ridiculous extremes. In such a case, the Dell Precision T7400 definitely fits the bill. The midrange machines -- and, again, either system will do -- fill the gap for those who need somewhat more than the xw4600 and don't want to put out US$8,000 for the high end or don't wish to put up with the noise, heat, and size of the Dell T7400. In essence, the midrange twins are for folks who need a little from either the top or the value end of the workstation spectrum.

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