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Advice on whether to get a workstation or powerful desktop (budget=5k)

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April 26, 2012 6:03:55 PM

I am a professional research (academic) who does high-end statistical and geographic analysis. I'm starting a new job and have a research fund that I can use to buy a computer from either HP or Dell. Basically, I'm looking for a machine that will be good for processing very large data files (think 50gb; millions of records) and doing sophisticated mapping analysis. I'd like to keep the total cost (including monitors) under 5k, but my main question is whether it is really worth the extra money to buy a workstation (e.g., Dell Precision) vs. a high-end business desktop (Dell Optiplex 990). I can spec the latter out - with dual 24" ultrasharps - for about 3.5k; a comparable Precision is above 5k. Here's the requested information.

Approximate Purchase Date: next week

Budget Range: (e.g.: 600-800) 4000-5000 (including monitors)

System Usage from Most to Least Important: statistical analysis, geographic analysis, writing, email, internet

Parts Not Required: (e.g.: keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, OS) don't need a mouse or keyboard (already have nice Logitechs)

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: has to be from Dell or HP

Parts Preferences: I need at least 16gb of ram and something powerful enough to efficiently process very large data files

Overclocking: Don't know

SLI or Crossfire: Don't know

Monitor Resolution: I have 2 24" Dell Ultrasharps now (that I cannot bring to my new job); I'd like to have something like that

Additional Comments: No bling; office computer

More about : advice workstation powerful desktop budget

April 26, 2012 7:17:51 PM

Do you necessarily have to have Dell or HP? You could build your own around a Xeon E5-2650 (8 cores, 32 threads) and it'd be far more powerful than anything you could get from either manufacturer, and you don't have to deal with their proprietary cases and form factors so your PC will last far longer than a Dell or HP would.
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April 26, 2012 7:50:02 PM

Unfortunately, I'm wed to Dell and HP (and possibly Lenovo). My new employer has contracts with them.
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April 26, 2012 8:54:59 PM

demographer said:
Unfortunately, I'm wed to Dell and HP (and possibly Lenovo). My new employer has contracts with them.


Ah, OK - I'm normally anti-Dell but if you don't have a choice that's one thing.

For starters I'd say either go with X79 and a Xeon E5-2650 - the large RAM capacities and multiple threads will help with moving large data easily. If you can get that, that would be ideal.
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April 26, 2012 11:36:08 PM

Thanks! It's doesn't look, however, like I can select that processor on either an Optiplex or Precision desktop. Is the i7 2600 any good or are the Xeons much better for data management?
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April 27, 2012 12:45:39 AM

HP workstations are generally a little nicer than the comparable Dells.

If you've got 5K then you should get a workstation. It will be more reliable and have higher quality components.

One thing that is likely driving the costs of the workstation up is the graphics card. Most workstations come with a professional GPU which (e.g. a Quadro). You should determine if the programs you will use will benefit from a professional GPU. If you're using STATA it doesn't use a GPU for calculations. One other thing about professional GPUs is that they don't support as many monitors as consumer GPUs currently do. Therefore, to get four monitors you will probably have to get two GPUs while you could get one consumer GPU (that cost less) and drive four monitors.

Second, workstations normally use ECC memory which is more reliable (less data errors).

Third, the Workstations will most likely have more room for additional hard drives.

Finally, the workstations will have better (and possibly more efficient) power supplies.
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April 27, 2012 1:16:20 AM

Thank you to all of you, this has been really very helpful. I do, in fact, use Stata quite a bit, but also do a lot of work in R and SAS (for data management). I also use mapping software (like ArcGIS) occassionally, but when I do, it's often quite intensive (spatial joins on hundreds of thousands of records).

It looks like Dell is coming out with a new line of workstations next month; I might wait for those.

But this has been really helpful; thank you!
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April 27, 2012 2:51:52 PM

demographer said:
Thank you to all of you, this has been really very helpful. I do, in fact, use Stata quite a bit, but also do a lot of work in R and SAS (for data management). I also use mapping software (like ArcGIS) occassionally, but when I do, it's often quite intensive (spatial joins on hundreds of thousands of records).

It looks like Dell is coming out with a new line of workstations next month; I might wait for those.

But this has been really helpful; thank you!


Here's a link for a review of one of the new dell workstations that's coming out.

http://www.anandtech.com/show/5769/dell-precision-t3600...
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