Dell Precision 390 (First Look Review)

5 Aug, 2007 By: Ron LaFon

Intel-based quad-core workstation is well designed and engineered, compact, quiet, and moderately priced.

Dell Precision 390
Pros: Well designed and engineered, compact, quiet, moderately priced.
Cons: None significant.
Price: $3,519 through Dell Small Business; comes bundled with Dell 20" UltraSharp 2007FP widescreen flat-panel VGA/DVI monitor.


In November 2006, Dell announced it would be offering its PowerEdge servers and Dell Precision workstations with quad-core processors. Cadalyst Labs received a Dell Precision 390 workstation based on the Intel Core2 Quad CPU running at 2.66GHz, and we put it to the test.

The Precision 390 is housed in an attractively designed, well-engineered, compact case measuring 17.6" x 6.8" x 18.4" (H x W x D) that includes eight USB 2.0 connectors -- two in front, three in back and one internal. A Firewire connector is available on the front panel with an add-in card. The system is powered by a 375W Dell-branded power supply.

As delivered, the Precision 390 has 2GB of nonbuffered 667MHz DDR2 ECC SDRAM installed, with a total of 8GB supported in a fully RAM populated system. Non-ECC RAM is also supported. Two 160GB SATA had been installed in a RAID-0 configuration, for a total of 320GB of hard drive capacity. The workstation integrates a Broadcom 5754 GbE PCI-Express (10/100/1000) network adapter and Sigmatel STAC9200 two-channel audio, and it includes a 16X DVD+/-RW optical drive. A compact Dell keyboard, which wastes little space, and a Dell USB two-button mouse with scroll complete the package.

Dell Precision 390
The Intel quad-core-based Dell Precision 390 workstation is available as a bundle with the 20" UltraSharp 2007FP widescreen flat-panel VGA/DVI monitor.

The graphics subsystem on the Dell Precision 390 we tested was accommodated by an NVIDIA Quadro FX3500 PCIe graphics card that features 256MB of integrated DDR3 memory and supports resolutions up to 3840x2400. We performed all benchmark testing using the preinstalled WHCL-certified NVIDIA drivers v., although some components of the test also used the NVIDIA MAXtreme 8.00.03 accelerated drivers for Autodesk 3ds Max.

We put the Dell Precision 390 workstation through our normal suite of benchmark tests, running AutoCAD 2005, using our Cadalyst C2006 benchmark. The workstation generated a C2006 total index score of 198. We've noted previously that our benchmarks don't yet provide a workout for multiple-core systems, so performance figures tend to look fairly lackluster on these systems. If you use software that is built to run on a multicore processor, these test scores are suggested as a guideline for day-to-day performance capabilities.

We then tested the Precision 390 using the ProE-04 Viewset of the SPEC ViewPerf 9.03 benchmark and produced a weighted geometric mean score of 35.12. Finally, we tested Autodesk 3ds Max 8 with Service Pack 3 installed, running three different sets of the MAX4 Bench test. First we tested with the integrated OpenGL driver, where we generated an averaged high/low score of 85.02. When we installed the NVIDIA MAXtreme 8.00.03 accelerated driver for 3ds Max, the averaged high/low score jumped to 180. Last, we tested the Precision 390 with the integrated Direct 3D drivers and produced an averaged high/low score of 211.80. These numbers were all fairly in line with what might be expected for a quad-core system that has not been overclocked.

The price for the Dell Precision 390 workstation bundle is $3,519 through Dell Small Business. As delivered, the bundle included the 20" Dell E207FP widescreen flat-panel analog monitor. Currently, Dell is offering the bundle with an upgraded display, the Dell 20" UltraSharp 2007FP widescreen flat-panel VGA/DVI monitor. (Note that Cadalyst typically does not test systems that are bundled with monitors, but the high-quality monitor that was bundled with the Dell Precision 390 workstation for an attractive price proved the exception to the rule.) The price also includes the economy three-year on-site warranty plan with 36/36/36 coverage.

For those who need a quad-core system and a high-quality monitor, the Dell Precision 390 bundle is a good deal. As with all Dell systems, extensive configuration options are available, so you can easily equip a system suited to your specific needs.

About the Author: Ron LaFon

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