Dell Precision T5600: Two Eight-Core CPUs In A Workstation

Inside And Outside Of Dell's Precision T5600 Workstation

Last month, Intel introduced its Ivy Bridge-EP-based Xeon E5 v2 processors, including the dual-socket-capable -2600-series CPUs. While we've already spent some time previewing the company's latest efforts in Intel's 12-Core Xeon With 30 MB Of L3: The New Mac Pro's CPU? and continue testing the company's latest and greatest in our lab, let's not forget that there are still Sandy Bridge-EP-based workstations out there compatible with the same LGA 2011 ecosystem, and now available at discounted prices.

Dell sent over one such system for us to look at: its T5600, which starts at around $1400 from the company's online store. Of course, as you'd expect, there are copious options to choose from, facilitating truly high-end configurations. When everything was said and done, we ended up with a monster of a machine priced in excess of $8000.

What do you get for just shy of ten grand? Two eight-core Xeon E5-2687W CPUs (the same ones we reviewed in Intel Xeon E5-2600: Doing Damage With Two Eight-Core CPUs), 16 GB of DDR3 memory, a Quadro K5000 card, a SAS-capable RAID controller with a couple of Samsung SSDs hooked up, and Windows 7. Naturally, most of the cost comes from those CPUs, which still sell for almost $2000 each on Newegg. But at $1800, the Quadro card isn't cheap, either.

Dell's Precision T5600 is fairly compact, particularly considering that it houses two 150 W CPUs. It bears the industrial aesthetic a business professional might expect from a workstation, but also isn't just a boring black box, either. Front-panel I/O includes four USB ports, though only one of the is 5 GT/s-capable, audio output, and a microphone input.

Our review sample included one slim 8x DVD+/-RW drive, though Dell does have an option to add a second optical drive in the full-size 5.25" bay next to it.

Up top, in front and in the back, you'll find integrated handle designed to make the heavy machine a little more portable. It's silver on both ends; however, each handle's shape maintains the top panel's lines. Under the front panel's handle, the workstation recesses, and you find a grated cover for ventilation. Around back, there's an exhaust vent directly below the handle, right where most desktop cases blow CPU-warmed air out.

The Precision T5600's enclosure can be used laying flay on a desktop, presumably with a monitor on top, or standing up next to your desk in a pedestal configuration. If you're standing it up, an indentation on the top panel functions as a tray you can use for holding external storage, for instance, or maybe your keys and wallet. Flipped over the other way, you'll see the flat side panel up top with a handle for easy access to the workstation's internals. Not aesthetically pleasing, we'd say, but certainly more functional than a row of screws.

Pop the side of Dell's Precision open for a better look at the system's internals. Whereas our reference workstation from iBuyPower benefits from closed-loop liquid cooling, the T5600 goes traditional with big air-cooled heat sinks. Exhaust moves from right to left, so the waste heat from Xeon E5 number one is largely what cools Xeon E5 number two. The processors are offset a bit, so the far-right one also blows across two memory slots.

Clearly, the principles of building and cooling workstations are different from gaming PCs. That is to say, Dell's setup works the way it should, and both high-end processors run completely stably. But a lot of airflow is required, and the outcome is not a particularly quiet configuration under load (idle acoustics are much more favorable). Granted, with two 150 W Xeon E5-2687W processors, this is as taxing as it gets. Intel's lower-voltage CPUs won't get as hot and, consequently, won't require the same airflow.

Dell's motherboard hosts eight DDR3 slots, or four per processor interface to tap into Sandy Bridge-EP's quad-channel memory controller. The company smartly populates all of them with 2 GB modules to yield 16 GB of ECC-capable DDR3-1333, maximizing memory bandwidth.

Under the processor interfaces and memory slots you'll find peripheral connectivity. Each Xeon offers 40 lanes of 8 GT/s PCI Express, and Dell exposes two 16-lane PCI Express 3.0 slots, one third-gen x16 slot wired for x4 signaling, one second-gen x16 slot also wired for x4 transfers, one single-lane PCIe 2.0 slot, and one legacy 32-bit PCI slot.

Note that the PCI-based FireWire card is not installed in the corresponding slot. Neither is Dell's add-in storage hardware, the PowerEdge RAID Controller based on LSISAS2008 silicon. The eight-lane PCIe 2.0-connected board exposes four ports of SAS or SATA connectivity, and is optionally available with 1 GB of cache on-board for an extra $385. Incidentally, this probably wasn't a necessary upgrade on our workstation sample, which came with two SSDs. Using the card instead of Intel's PCH-based storage controller added $35 of cost and as much as 45 seconds to each boot sequence as the ROM initializes. Because Dell bundled the PERC H310, though, we added some storage-oriented testing to our normal suite.

Despite its dated core logic, which continues to see use in the Ivy Bridge-EP platform, this Precision T5600 offers four USB ports up front and six around back. Unfortunately, only one in each location is USB 3.0-capable. You'll also find audio I/O, gigabit Ethernet, PS/2 peripheral connectivity, and an old-school serial port on the rear panel. The image above shows the workstation with its 635 W power supply option. However, stepping up to the hardware in our machine necessitates upgrading to 825 W. Dell only charges $7.50 for this, so it's fairly inconsequential. The company's configurator will let you know if you exceed the smaller unit's capacity before ordering.

Multiple fans lined across the front of the Precision T5600 are complemented by ducting to force air into the removable power supply and to shroud the CPU heat sinks. The enclosure's compactness and all of this duct work means that room for internal storage is very limited. It'll accept two 3.5" or four 2.5" drives, and again, up to two optical drives. This is plenty for most desktops. However, it's fairly limiting in a professional environment. Presumably, Dell would recommend hooking up to a file server. Otherwise, you're limited to 6 TB of slow mechanical storage when it comes to maxing out capacity.

  • kennai
    Would it be possible for you guys to test this in gaming applications? I was really curious how well these CPU's would do in gaming with high end gaming GPU's, since it's pretty much my dream CPU set up >.>.

    Also, good job on the review as always.
  • tuffjuff
    So here's what I don't get. With ALL that CPU power, why only 16GB of RAM?
  • Am I reading this right, in the SPECviewperf 11 bench graph: the ($480-ish) PNY Quadro 2000 (P500X) beat the ($ 1800-ish) PNY Quadro K5000 by significant margins in the SW-02, as well as some other ones as well. This sure has makes me think twice about wanting to upgrade my 2000 to a K4000.
  • blackjackedy
    11768418 said:
    Am I reading this right, in the SPECviewperf 11 bench graph: the ($480-ish) PNY Quadro 2000 (P500X) beat the ($ 1800-ish) PNY Quadro K5000 by significant margins in the SW-02, as well as some other ones as well. This sure has makes me think twice about wanting to upgrade my 2000 to a K4000.

    It says this right beneath the graph:

    The tests seem evenly split between single- and multi-threaded workloads, and some of them incur little or no hit from AA, which points to something other than the GPU bottlenecking performance. In fact, SolidWorks performs better with AA on. How odd is that?

  • antemon
    You know, why isn't this sexy casing available in non-business models?
  • 11768444 said:
    11768418 said:
    Am I reading this right, in the SPECviewperf 11 bench graph: the ($480-ish) PNY Quadro 2000 (P500X) beat the ($ 1800-ish) PNY Quadro K5000 by significant margins in the SW-02, as well as some other ones as well. This sure has makes me think twice about wanting to upgrade my 2000 to a K4000.

    It says this right beneath the graph:

    The tests seem evenly split between single- and multi-threaded workloads, and some of them incur little or no hit from AA, which points to something other than the GPU bottlenecking performance. In fact, SolidWorks performs better with AA on. How odd is that?
    Correct if I am wrong, but as far as I know the basic S*#tWorks is not optimized for multi-threading (hence I am only running an i7 3820 and anything higher would not benefit the performance). Now SW Simulations and PhotoView360 is a different story.

    I just might run SpecviewPerf 11 on my system to see how it performs. To others it might matter, but in my design, I could care less about AA; I am just happy when SolidWorks does not crash.
  • Draven35
    Yes, several of the tests the P500X's higher CPU speed makes a huge difference. Also, ViewPerf uses Solidworks 2010 code, AFAIK.

    Photoview 360's renderer is written by the guys at Luxology, based on the renderer from their 3d application Modo, and is very well multithreaded.

    Tuffjuff: I asked myself the same question about the RAM. The machine would have performed vastly better in the AE tests with 32 GB, because i could have used all of the physical CPU cores.
  • bambiboom
    A very good and welcome review. The systems compared were, however, not at the same level relative to their categories. More would have been revealed if the P500X used something like a GTX 680 (In other words,about 2nd from the top of their respective lines) rather than a Quadro 2000 which is two generations past and in effect, just a much lower line ancestor of the K5000. I imagine these tests are complex and time-consuming, but it would have provided perspective if at least one direct competitor from HP and/or Lenovo appeared.

    A couple of comments on the T5600 design.

    1. I can understand the trends toward more compact cases, and even the need to pander to styling and branding, but the TX600 series is inexecusably short on drive bays. My mother's 2010 dual-core Athlon X2 in a $39 case, "Grandma's TurboKitten 3000", has more expansion bays. Still, the T5600 situation is better than the impending Mac Dustbin Pro.

    2. The brutalist architecture may have convenient handles, but to me is a clunker, both visually and in features. I don't know anyone in architecture, industrial design, graphic design, animation, or video editing that doesn't keep their workstation vertically, who doesn't also hate vertical optical drives, and also often have two of those plus a card reader. Also, As Jon Carroll mentions, this is short on front USB 3.0 ports. I would question a workstation at this level without at least three USB 3.0 ports on the front. There are never enough USB ports on a workstation. The Precision T5400 has two front, six rear, and two on the back of the (SK-8135) keyboard! USB 2.0 ports and I still have to add a four-port hub on one of the back ports.

    Oh, and Jon, the indentation on the top of the T5600 is not for car keys- that's where you would set your short-cabled USB external drive(s)- and flash drives-if there were enough USB 3.0 ports. My Precision T5400 I think is wearing in an indentation in that exact location from a WD Passport.

    3. As tuffjuff also comments, 16GB of RAM is not nearly enough for this kind of machine. Dual CPU systems divide the RAM equally between the processors- these motherboards have separate slots and special sequences of symmetrical positioning. This means that the test system had, in effect, only 8GB of RAM per CPU or as I like to express it- 1GB per core. There's a reason the T5600 .supports 128GB and the T7600 can use 512GB of RAM- Windows, programs and files are big and in these systems, a lot of programs are running at once. I use a formula of 3GB for the OS, 2GB for each simultaneous application and 3GB for open files. As my workstations often use five or six applications plus a constant Intertubes and Windows Exploder, sorry, Explorer, my new four-core HP z420 has 24GB of RAM (6GB/core). If I had a dual E5-2687w system, given there are so many more cores to feed, I would therefore consider 64GB a reasonable level- 32GB per CPU (4GB/core).

    4. The most worrying comments in the review concerns the noise. Of course, a system with two 150W CPU's and school bus- sized GPU needs good airflow, but this one devotes so much of the facade to the grille that the optical drive has to be in the stupid vertical position, and apparently this openness that lets the air in also lets the noise out. But, in my view, noise from a workstation is close to being a deal-breaker. This is another reason why the vertical drive is so silly- few put their workstation horizontally on the desktop right in front of them because of the noise.

    Dell apparently wants to ease out of the declining PC business, and these kinds of design decisions might help that process. I think though that Dell, plus Autodesk and Adobe that want to force eternal cloud computing subscription fees are going to find many, many workstation users that will object and going to buy AutoCad 2014 and CS6, run them on Precision T7500's, and preserve the DVD's in hermetically sealed containers. I, for one, will never, ever be sending my industrial design files into the ether and onto other firms' servers.

    This assessment is a good demonstration of the way in which workstations and creation applications continue to evolve each other. However, as many workstations applications have become far more capable, especially in 3D modeling and simulation, there is still a vast under-utilization of multiple cores in those applications. It's not accidental that the T5600 review emphasized rendering as that it's an example where the core applications have adapted to the availability of multiple cores and also can take advantage of GPU co-processing. It's an odd thing and a puzzle> make a model in Maya and run simulations in Solidworks or Inventor essentially on a single core, but make a rendering of that model using fourteen cores. I make Sketchup Pro models that when they go over about 20MB become almost unusable without navigating in monochrome and clever, careful, and constant fussing with layers. Rendering is very calculation intensive, but so are thermal, gas flow, atmospheric, molecular biological, and structural modeling and simulations.

    The T5600 review, as it's concentrates on applications that reveal the whole capabilities of the $4,000 of CPU's and $1,800 of CUDA cores also reveals this fundamental engineering hollow in workstation applications > and indeed in another important realm. I'm not a gamer, but on this site I can feel gamers wondering the same thing as workstation wonks > Software companies > there are billions of CPU cores waiting for something to do! Why the hell aren't there more multi-core applications?



    1. Dell Precision T5400 (2009)> 2X Xeon X5460 quad core @3.16GHz > 16 GB ECC 667> Quadro FX 4800 (1.5GB) > WD RE4 / Segt Brcda 500GB > Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit > HP 2711x 27" 1920 x 1080 > AutoCad, Revit, Solidworks, Sketchup Pro, Corel Technical Designer, Adobe CS MC, WordP Office, MS Office > architecture, industrial design, graphic design, rendering, writing

    2. HP z420 (2013)> Xeon E5-1620 quad core @ 3.6 / 3.8GHz > 24GB ECC 1600 > Firepro V4900 (Soon Quadro K4000) > Samsung 840 SSD 250GB / Seagate Barracuda 500GB > Windows 7 Professional 64 > to be loaded > AutoCad, Revit, Inventor, Maya (2011), Solidworks 2010, Adobe CS4, Corel Technical Design X-5, Sketchup Pro, WordP Office X-5, MS Office

  • Shankovich
    My school updated our lab with these. We run CFD or FEA on them mostly, and it's godly.
  • chrpai
    It sure would have been nice to see Visual Studio compile times of Google Chrome.