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Dell Precision Workstation 390: Core 2 Extreme Debut

Conroe-packing workstation fast enough to be our new King of the Hill By Charlie White

Intel today introduces Core 2 line of processors formerly known as Conroe, and coinciding with that, Dell launches its Precision 390 Workstations equipped with these just-shipped dual-core chips. The company sent a Core 2 Extreme-equipped workstation to our Midwest Test Facility for review, and at first glance, the machine looked just like the Precision 380 we tested over a year ago. But when we put the machine on our test bench and ran a few benchmarks, we discovered that the difference between this workstation and its predecessor goes all the way down to the Core.

For this Day-Zero review (meaning this article is being released at 7AM Central Time on July 27, 2006, the moment the press embargo is lifted on the Intel Core 2 line of processors) Dell sent us a Precision 390 Workstation with the top-of-the-line Intel Core 2 Extreme processor on board running at 2.93GHz with a 1066MHz front-side bus and 4MB L2 cache. Our test machine ($3893) came fully tricked out with 2GB of DDR2 533MHz RAM, configured as four 512MB sticks, a workstation-class NVIDIA PCIe Quadro FX 3500 graphics card, and an 80GB SATAII 7200RPM system drive. Along for the ride on the motherboard are integrated audio and network interface cards, and then there's a little high-tech jewel, a Raid-0 array with two tiny one-inch 146GB SAS hard drives running at 15,000 RPM, a brand new piece of technology which gave us remarkable speed test results. More on that later.

Along with the workstation, Dell sent an UltraSharp 2407WFP display ($747), an exquisite 24-inch 1920x1200 pixel display that's a fine complement to this Precision 390 Workstation. My initial impression of that monitor is that I've seen no better display anywhere, and you'll see a stand-alone review of that here on Digital Media Net as well, coming up next week.

Here's a family portrait of the Dell Precision Workstation 390 along with its nicely matching UltraSharp 2407WFP 24-inch widescreen display

When you're looking at these gigahertz numbers of the Core 2 Extreme processors, your first impression might be that those clock speeds seem a bit low. Don't be fooled. These dual core Conroes are using all kinds of fancy tricks to speed up their work, and it's gotten to the point where the clock speed numbers don't mean as much as what's going on inside them. With their extra-speedy front-side bus design, 4MB L2 cache and 64-bit dual-core "Core" architecture, we'll see the proof of these processors' power as we run our benchmarks later in this article. But wait, wait. Don't skip to the benchmarks yet, because there are amazing things between here and there. Stick with us. 

The jaw-dropper here is, the Conroes do all their work without even breathing hard. In fact, when there are lower gigahertz numbers, that's a good thing, because that means the processors run cooler and don't require noisy cooling fans that can intrude on the solitude of your workspace. And that's especially true with this Workstation 390, where Dell has outdone itself with the quietest workstation ever to grace these parts. Dell has always been the most proficient computer manufacturer at keeping its workstations silent, but with this more-efficient Core 2 Extreme processor, Dell has been able to outdo itself -- hardly any fan noise can be heard at all. There were numerous occasions where I was wondering if the machine was still running, with the only indication being its backlit power button on the front. There's a real-time thermal sensor inside that Dell says improves the machine's idle acoustics by 20%. One thing's for sure -- it works. Quiet machines are a must here at the Midwest Test Facility, and this Precision Workstation 390 wins our "church mouse" prize once again. Bravo, Dell.

(Click graphic for enlargement) Here's a look inside the innards of the Dell Precision Workstation 390. Note the two one-inch SAS drives configured as a RAID-0 array with their associated connections at the bottom of the case.

The other improvements to the workstation's case are subtle but useful, nice touches such as additional vents for cooling, a flash memory card reader on the front of the box, a couple of USB ports on the front along with a 1394 port, and microphone and headphone jacks up front. In the back there are numerous USB and 1394 ports, and nothing fancy in the audio department, just on-board audio that sounds good enough for just about any applications short of audio mixing or editing.

Perhaps the best attribute of the case is held over from the Workstation 380 we tested last year, that is its extremely easy-to-open door. It's as simple as pulling up a lever and the door just flops open. It's just as easy to put the door back on, too. That's the way we like it; we find difficult-to-open doors annoying and cheap.

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Related Keywords:Intel Core 2 Extreme, processors, Conroe, Dell Precision 390 Workstation, review, dual core chips, workstation, content creators

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