First Look Review: Dell Precision 380 Workstation

17 May, 2006 By: Ron LaFon

System delivers solid performance and expandability at a good price

Dell Precision 380 Workstation
Pros: Good price; solid performance; many configuration options.
Cons: None significant.
Price: $2,680


Dell's Precision 380 workstation is based on an Intel Pentium 4 670 microprocessor that runs at 3.80GHz and features a 2MB L2 cache. The supporting chipset for the tested system is the Intel 955X chipset. The system includes 2GB of DDR2 533MHz 4-4-4 Dual Rank ECC RAM (out of a total possible of 8GB) and a 160GB SATA 7200rpm hard drive with DataBurst cache. Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 came preinstalled -- the system is also available with Windows XP Professional x64 Edition and Linux.

An NVIDIA FX3450 16x PCIe graphics card with 256MB of onboard memory provides the graphics for the Dell Precision 380 workstation. We used NVIDIA Windows XP WHQL-certified drivers v77.56 for testing purposes.

Dell Precision 380
The Dell Precision 380 workstation is a scalable entry-level workstation with a broad array of configuration options and lots of room for expansion.

The system is housed in a compact silver and black tools-free mini-tower case with very clean lines. It features a wide, pop-open lever at the top back of the case for easy access. A horizontal desktop version of the case is also available. The tower case measures 6.7" x 17.61" x 18.44" and incorporates two internal 3.5" drive bays, two external 5.25" drive bays and two external 3.5" flex bays that can be used for an optional 3.5" floppy drive or an optional media card reader. (This bay was empty in our review unit.) The system holds a total of eight USB 2.0 ports, two in front and five at the rear, plus one internally. Speaker and headphone connectors are located on the front panel. It includes one serial port, with a second one available as an option, as well as one parallel port and two PS/2 connectors for mouse and keyboard.

In this instance, it didn't use the PS/2 connectors, as the included compact standard Dell keyboard and two-button optical mouse with scroll wheel both have USB connectors. A FireWire connector is available on the front panel, and a network interface card is integrated into the system. Also incorporated in this particular configuration is a 48x/32x CD RW/DVD combination optical drive that includes CyberLink PowerDVD software.

The acoustic engineering on this case is superb and even with the additional fan on the NVIDIA FX3450, the system was remarkably quiet.

On the test bench, the Dell Precision 380 consistently produced a total index score of 143 on the new Cadalyst Labs C2006 benchmark with AutoCAD 2005. With the MAXBench 4 benchmark, the system produced an averaged high/low score of 62.39 using the default video driver, and an averaged high/low score of 107.15 using NVIDIA's MAXtreme 8.00.03 accelerated driver. Finally, the Precision 380 generated a score of 59.78 on the SPECviewperf v8.1 proe-03 test suite.

All these are solid midrange performance scores for the system -- higher numbers could have been achieved on this system using a faster graphics card such as the NVIDIA FX4500, but that would have added significantly to the overall cost of the system.

Priced at $2,680 without a monitor -- the standard pricing for the system before any applicable rebates and discounts -- the workstation includes a Dell three-year Economy Service Plan.

This system capably drove the Dell UltraSharp 3007WFP 30" LCD monitor that was reviewed recently in Cadalyst Daily. Keep in mind that discounts are often available on select Dell displays if you purchase one at the same time you buy a Dell workstation. With a good price, solid performance numbers and many available configuration options, the Dell Precision 380 is attractive on many levels.

About the Author: Ron LaFon

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