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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.