The Precision T5600 Is Still At The Top Of Dell's Workstation Portfolio
I believe it's easier to review workstations than most gaming-oriented desktop PCs. There's a lot of choice in the professional world; Dell makes its Precision T5600 available with 18 different combinations of Xeon E5 CPUs in single- and dual-socket configurations. But if you're adding somewhere between $168 and $3683 for something above the base-line Xeon E5-2620, then you're also probably in tune with why you'd need to spend so much more in the first place. Some professional apps use all of the processing resources thrown at them. Others are less taxing, and simply need to run stably without any downtime. Know your workload and configure accordingly.
Knowing that there are hundreds of combinations of hardware you can find to go into Dell's Precision T5600, this story is less about the performance of our specific setup and more about Dell's system in general. The T5600 is well-designed and compact. It packs a lot of power into a relatively small chassis, even if we're not the biggest fans of the way its two CPUs are cooled (and the noise they consequently make under load). The system is audible from 10 feet away with a television and window-mounted air conditioning unit running at the same time. That's the workstation market for you, though; we've certainly heard servers that were far worse. But we also admire iBuyPower's closed-loop liquid cooler on the P500X, which does its job almost silently.
Another critique is the T5600's lack of space for additional storage. Maxing out at two 3.5" mechanical disks does give you up to 6 TB of capacity, which is pretty gargantuan. But if you're dealing with massive datasets, anything extra is going to require a networked storage device. Even worse, if you want a tiered setup with SSDs and conventional hard drives, the online configurator stops you at one 256 GB SSD and one 3 TB disk. That's it; workstation full. "At least give us another hard drive for backup," we'd ask. Apparently, we weren't the only ones to bring this up, because the newer T5610 adds another drive bay, in addition to employing Ivy Bridge-EP-based Xeons.
Intel's C602 platform is pretty old now, and it never natively supported USB 3.0. So, manufacturers like Dell that want to add this functionality have to lean on third-party controllers. That's why the Precision T5600 only has one compatible port up front and another in the rear. Frankly, that's a lack of I/O you're going to run into on any dual-processor box, at least until Intel updates its core logic for servers and workstations. It's at least nice to see four total USB ports among the T5600's front-panel I/O and six around back.
With those few critical points addressed, Dell's Precision T5600 remains a compelling option for professionals shopping for massive processing power. Yes, Intel's Ivy Bridge-EP-based Xeon E5-2600 v2 CPUs are available now, and Dell does sell a Precision T5610. However, as of this writing, there's only one CPU option: the Xeon E5-2609 v2. That's a quad-core chip far slower than the two octa-core battleships in our T5600. No doubt, more Ivy Bridge-EP-based boxes will emerge soon. But there's a reason we were so bullish on Sandy Bridge-E (and, by extension Sandy Bridge-EP) when it first surfaced: it remains a great architecture that even Intel's latest offerings have a hard time besting.