This year has seen a revitalized Dell aggressively attacking HP on the enterprise workstation front. While HP has been content to recycle last year's models, Dell has made substantial strides in improving their desktop workstation offerings across the board. We had a chance to check out their T3600 this year and found it to be a demonstratively superior offering to the competing HP Z420, and today we have the T1650, a model that updates the lackluster T1600 with a new chassis and some new hardware.

In addition to being our first look at Dell's new entry level workstation, this is also our first look at Intel's new Ivy Bridge based Xeons. While the improvements from Sandy Bridge were underwhelming for enthusiasts and incremental for desktop-using consumers, on the enterprise side the combination of reduced power and thermal envelopes and increased IPC make Ivy Bridge a much, much better value proposition.

Dell outfitted our review system pretty close to as fast as it can get; we have the fastest video card option, the second fastest CPU option, and middle-of-the-road storage and memory options. You can get pretty close to it with their $1,679 top-end preconfigured machine, but our system does have some notable differences.

Dell Precision T1650 Specifications
Chassis Dell Custom
Processor Intel Xeon E3-1280 v2
(4x3.6GHz + HTT, Turbo to 4GHz, 32nm, 8MB L3, 69W)
Motherboard Dell Custom with C216 Chipset
Memory 2x4GB Micron Non-ECC DDR3-1600 (max 4x8GB ECC)
Graphics NVIDIA Quadro 2000 1GB GDDR5
(192 CUDA cores, 625MHz/1250MHz/2.6GHz core/shaders/memory, 128-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) 2x Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 500GB 7200RPM SATA 6Gbps HDD in Striped RAID
Optical Drive(s) PLDS DVD-ROM DH-16D6S
Power Supply Dell Custom 80 Plus Gold
Networking Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC269
Speaker and mic/line-in jacks
Front Side Optical drive
2x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Top -
Back Side PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports
4x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
2x DisplayPort (disabled)
VGA (disabled)
Headphone and mic/line-in jacks
DVI-D (Quadro)
2x DisplayPort (Quadro)
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 64-bit SP1
Extras 80 Plus Gold power supply
USB 3.0
Warranty 3-year parts and 3-year on-site service
Pricing Starting at: $549
Price as configured: $2,790

Our review configuration is on the quirky side (as they often are), but I do want to draw your attention to the Intel Xeon E3-1280 v2. While I'm not a fan of Intel's branding, with the "v2" designating an Ivy Bridge core, it's not really that much more nonsensical than any of their other branding. What we do get is a CPU without an IGP (thus subtracting 8W off of the TDP) but more interestingly, a CPU that actually turbos up to 4GHz on a single core. None of their desktop chips thus far have scraped the 4GHz barrier, but this Xeon can hit it and the next one up on the ladder can even hit 4.1GHz. Ultimately what we have here is what should wind up being the fastest single-threaded processor we've tested and a very respectable one under multi-threaded situations (though undoubtedly inadequate compared to the hexa- and octo-core Xeons we've tested).

The updated C216 chipset brings to the table the same difference Intel brought to consumer desktops jumping from the 6 to 7 series chipsets: USB 3.0 support. All four of the C216's USB 3.0 ports are accounted for, with two on the front of the chassis (along with two USB 2.0 ports) and two on the rear.

Handling graphics duties is the stalwart NVIDIA Quadro 2000, and that's as fast as it gets for the T1650. The system is only designed to support cards up to 75W (meaning no PCIe power connector), and the remaining graphics options are fairly underwhelming. AMD's new GCN-based workstation cards are unavailable; the fastest FirePro available is still using a Turks core. As a refresher, the Quadro 2000 is essentially a cut-down GF106 (GeForce GTS 450); it features all 192 CUDA cores, but the memory bus remains at 128-bit and all of the clocks have been reduced to conserve power.

Dell continues to employ a RAID 0 as a cost efficient means of increasing storage throughput without resorting to SSDs. Our review unit only features a DVD-ROM, but since we never use the optical drive in testing anyhow it's no great loss, and the upgrade to a DVD writer is a moderately inexpensive one.

All in all, the T1650 is as basic as Dell's Precision workstations get, but already I'm a bit uneasy. The chassis definitely has the stylistic improvements of its bigger brothers, but as you'll see in the build section, it seems some corners were cut to get the T1650 down to its low starting price.

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  • secretmanofagent - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Perhaps I'm being naive, but why would you still include USB 2.0 ports if USB 3.0 is backwards compatible? The only thing I can think of is that they don't think four USB ports are enough, and I can maybe buy that, but it means the user has to think about which port they're going to plug into.

    Also, how is 8GB middle of the road for a workstation? I would think the minimum would be 16GB.

    Has HP's reliability gotten any better? I've had horrible experiences with them, and our IT department isn't keen on them either.
  • aicom64 - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    USB 3.0 is only backwards compatible at the hardware level. Without proper USB 3.0 drivers, the ports won't work at all, even in USB 2.0 mode. With Windows 8, I'd expect we'll start to see some motherboards with only USB 3.0, but for now we need some USB 2.0 ports just to get through installation to install the USB 3.0 drivers. On the Apple side, it's not a problem because the keyboard and trackpad are connected via internal USB 1.1 connection even though all external ports are USB 3.0.
  • secretmanofagent - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    Very interesting, I had no idea. Thanks for the reply.
  • Robert Pankiw - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    I know aicom64 posted a great answer, but I just enforce that with, my keyboard doesn't work at startup using USB 3.0, but on USB 2.0 it is fine, even though once I am in Windows, my keyboard works in either port. As aicom64 alluded to, issues (like that) will be solves in Windows 8.
  • Braincruser - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    In addition to that, adding 10 USB 3.0 instead of 4x 3.0 + 6x 2.0 can exhaust the internal bandwidth or will take up too much PCI-E links to operate, and on the other hand, only a few devices benefit from usb 3.0, mostly ones that are data storage and transfers like hard drives. there is no point connecting a mouse and a keyboard to a usb 3.0 when an inexpensive 2.0 will do just the same.
  • augiem - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    If your keyboard doesn't work before you get into Windows, having Windows 8 on your system won't solve anything. The Bios/UEFI would have to support it. Windows 8 preinstalled systems may have this requirement, I don't know, but certainly installing Win8 on your current PC won't help in that regard.
  • softdrinkviking - Friday, August 3, 2012 - link

    Yup. Except that I don't think any mobo companies will bother with usb 3.0 support in any bios. Bios is almost legacy, so they will probably focus on enabling it in UEFI only.
  • IanCutress - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    I would like to add, as I end up installing OSes on different Z77 motherboards every week, that sometimes the chipset USB 3.0 do work on install. I have a motherboard here now that has only USB 3.0 on the back panel, but enough of them work during a USB Win7 install to go through it until we can install the rest of the USB 3.0 drivers.

  • bobj3832 - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    USB 3 has separate transceivers for the USB 2 and 3 parts. USB2 uses 4 pins while USB3 uses 9 because it's the the 4 from USB2 plus 5 more. Another transceiver means more die space on the chip is used and more pins which increases cost.
  • owned66 - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    never ever buy from companies like these
    these desktops wont live long
    the first thing that gonna die is the motherboard just look at it !

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