Dell's midrange jack-of-all-trades workstation

Dell Computer designed its Precision WorkStation line of dual-processor systems for high-demand CPU and memory applications and to offer an alternative to proprietary and expensive RISC and UNIX computers. I reviewed the Dell Precision WorkStation 410, which comes equipped with two 550MHz Pentium III processors, 256MB of Error-Correcting Code (ECC) Synchronous DRAM (SDRAM), a 9.1GB Ultra 2/Wide SCSI hard disk, a Diamond Fire GL1 2X Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) graphics card with 32MB of SGRAM, and a 17" monitor.

Dell claims that the 410 is suitable for single-component computer-aided engineering (CAE) applications, as a financial-trader workstation, or as a medical imaging workstation. Median levels of CAD, Display Data Channel (DDC), Electronic Design Automation (EDA), and software development also fall within the 410's province.

The review unit came with Windows 2000 (Win2K) beta 3, so I didn't run the usual AIM Technology and Viewperf test suites. Instead, I installed Adobe PhotoShop 5.0 and applied CPU-intensive filters to a 9.8MB TIFF test image. The results were impressive. When I applied a Gaussian Blur filter to the test image, the 410 finished in 4.2 seconds, which was about 33 percent faster than a 500MHz Pentium III processor SGI 320 workstation's score. An Unsharp Mask filter test yielded similar results; Dell's workstation performed 38 percent faster than the uniprocessor-equipped SGI.

Setting up the system is simple. Dell packs getting-started instructions just inside the box, and the icons on the computer's rear panel guide you to the correct connections. The system manual was particularly helpful in instructing me how to open the midtower case. The case doesn't have screws or apparent locking tabs, so the manual pointed me to a small button on the front that releases the side panel.

The tower has four externally accessible bays, and the 3.5" disk and CD-ROM drives occupy two of them. Three additional bays exist within the case, and the SCSI hard disk sits in one of these. The power supply restricts access to the external bays and overhangs the four DIMM sockets. To solve this problem, Dell lets you unlatch the power supply so that it can swing up and out of the way without you having to remove it or disconnect any devices. Dell currently offers as much as 56GB of hard disk space, and the 410 accepts as much as 1GB of RAM. In addition, Dell integrated an Adaptec Ultra 2/Wide SCSI interface, Crystal Audio sound components, and a 3Com 10/100 network interface on the motherboard. The Fire GL1 card uses the AGP slot; however, for board expansion, you can still use the shared slot, 64-bit PCI slot, and three 32-bit PCI slots.

Dell provides toll-free 24 x 7 technical support. I called the support staff about an error message, and they accurately diagnosed the cause of this message in less than 3 minutes. Dell's standard Precision WorkStation warranty includes 1 year of Windows support and 3 years of on-site, next-business-day service for parts and labor.

Good system design and strong support and warranty policies are hallmarks of Dell's systems. The 410 doesn't mar that reputation—it's competitively priced for a dual-processor environment, and the 410 outperforms similar workstations.

Dell Precision WorkStation 410
Contact: Dell Computer * 888-560-8324
Web: http://www.dell.com
Price: $4518
System Configuration: Dual 550MHz Pentium III processors, 256MB of Error-Correcting Code Synchronous DRAM, Seagate 9.1GB Ultra 2/Wide SCSI hard disk, NEC 466 40X CD-ROM drive, 1000HS (1025DM) 17" monitor, Diamond Fire GL1 graphics card with 32MB of SGRAM, Adaptec 7890 Ultra 2/Wide interface, 3Com 10/100 network interface, Crystal Audio business sound