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Which Processor for a Dell Precision T7500 Workstation

I am considering a 64-bit Dell Precision T7500 Workstation, primarily to accommodate video (and audio) processing and working with large Excel spreadsheets. The video and audio is for videos such as narrated PowerPoint presentations or talking heads giving a talk about something. It is not fast-paced action. The spreadsheets can be 50MB files with 50,000+ rows and 40 columns.

I am focusing on the T7500 since the other high-end models have one or more deficiencies (in my view) as listed:

XPS 730x: only 3 memory slots, max 6 GB RAM
Studio XPS 435: 475W power supply
Studio XPS: 360W power supply

Below is the list of optional Intel Xeon processors currently available for the T7500 including the incremental price for each. Which would you choose? Why?

Thank you!

Quad Core Intel® Xeon® Processor W5580 3.20GHz,8M L3, 6.4GT/s, turbo [add $2,000]

Quad Core Intel® Xeon® Processor X5570 2.93GHz,8M L3,6.4GT/s,turbo [add $1,450]

Quad Core Intel® Xeon® Processor X5560, 2.8GHz,8M L3, 6.4GT/s, turbo [add $1,320]

Quad Core Intel® Xeon® Processor X5550 2.66GHz,8M L3, 6.4GT/s,turbo [add $1,200]

Quad Core Intel® Xeon® Processor E5540 2.53GHz,8M L3, 5.8GT/s,turbo [add $900]

Quad Core Intel® Xeon® Processor E5530 2.4GHz,8M L3,5.8GT/s, turbo [add $550]

Quad Core Intel® Xeon® Processor E5520 2.26GHz,8M L3, 5.8GT/s,turbo [add $300]

Quad Core Intel® Xeon® Processor E5506 2.13GHz,4M L3, 4.8GT/s [add $200]

Quad Core Intel® Xeon® Processor E5504 2.0GHz,4M L3, 4.8GT/s [add $90]

Dual Core Intel® Xeon® Processor E5502 1.86GHz,4M L3, 4.8GT/s [Included in Price]
Peter Bye
Peter Bye
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4 Solutions
Spreadsheets are hardly going to chew up processing power, depends what else you plan on run. I would personally go for the Quad Core Intel® Xeon® Processor E5504 2.0GHz,4M L3, 4.8GT/s [add $90].  Even that sounds like overkill but for 90 bucks what the hell.  
Peter ByeRetiredAuthor Commented:
I should provide some further information about the processing I am trying to improve.

At present I use a 3 GHz Pentium 4 machine with 4 GB of RAM (upgraded Dell Precision Workstation 370).

With video editing, some renders and format conversions take anywhere from 20 minutes to 8 hours.

With the large spreadsheets some recalculations (e.g. when adding a column to one of the large spreadsheets) can take ten minutes.

These are examples of what I am looking to speed up.
How much video will you be doing?
If a little now and then, the E5530 with the 8M cache and 5.8GT/s would be nice. Looks like a good split between the 20 and 40
If a lot, you might seriously want to look at X5550 with the 6.4GT/s. Maybe the 5560, but after that the prices start getting more than the small speed gain you get.
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>> At present I use a 3 GHz Pentium 4 machine

snuck info in on me.    ; )

I don't know if Excel can use more than 1 core, but you should be able to drop the speed a little with out losing too much time from what the P4 does.
Peter ByeRetiredAuthor Commented:
Hi coral47,

Sorry for sneaking in some information! I believe what you describe is the case for Office / Excel, especially the 2003 version that I use at present. I've heard that the next version of Office will have a 64-bit version. If so, it ought to provide yet-more improvement.

The amount of video work is an interesting question. At the moment, I limit it due to the slowness. I probably would do more if the processing time came down.


I just checked the Dell XPS 730X service manual. While it only has three memory slots, those slots are compatible with up to 4 GB DDR3 memory modules. So if I equipped it with 6 GB now, there is the option to upgrade it to 12 GB later. The 730X uses the Intel i7 line of processors.

A similarly-equipped XPS 730X is about $3,350 (with the i7-940 CPU) versus $5,400 for the T7500 workstation (using the top-end W5580 CPU). I'm starting to think that the XPS 730X might be a good alternative.
That's almost a no-brainer.
The i7s are just spanking almost everything around. And for video, more memory is a good thing.  : )
>> more memory

referring to the 6 GB
Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
A few thoughts ...

==> First, ANY of the systems you're considering will "smoke" your current system. A Pentium-IV 3.0GHz scores 476 on PassMark's CPUMark -- an excellent measure of CPU "horsepower". A Xeon 5504 scores 3095 (6.5 times your current CPU) ... and a Xeon 5580 scores 5247 (11 times your current CPU). Since the Core i7 was mentioned above, I'll include it -- a Core i7 940 scores 6087 (12.8 times your current CPU). Note, however, that the Xeons you've listed are all Nehalem-based CPU's -- the same architecture as the Core i7s. The performance is slightly lower because the Xeons are designed for lower power consumption and for use in dual processor motherboards. Note the 5504 is an 80w CPU, whereas the Core i7's are 130w CPUs.

The Precision Workstations have more enterprise-class features then the XPS systems, and ship with ECC memory [although it's still -- unfortunately -- unbuffered (in the single CPU models)].

ECC will give you better memory subsystem reliability -- although since it's still unbuffered memory I would NOT recommend installing more than 3 modules ... so your listed "disadvantage" for the XPS system ["... XPS 730x: only 3 memory slots ..."] isn't such a bad thing. But the XPS does not support ECC modules -- that is definitely a disadvantage.

I'd recommend you buy the Precision with an E5504, or if you want a bit more performance the E5520 (PassMark 3480) -- which also supports Turbo mode (the E5504 does not), which gives a substantial boost to performance when running applications that don't use all 4 cores (or even those that do if there is adequate thermal headroom --- depends on the ambient temperature and how well your heatsink works). [Here's an Intel presentation on the Turbo Mode feature: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVvc9nywRtg ]

Note that all of these CPU's (as well as the Core i7s) also support hyperthreading ... so your system will "look" like it has 8 cores.

Finally, if you want the ability to add truly prodigious amounts of memory, you should consider the dual socket version of the Precision -- which not only comes with two CPU's, but also supports registered RAM modules ... so bus loading is not a factor and you can add far more memory. But for your applications, I'd think 6GB is plenty. ... and you can still upgrade to 12GB by either adding 3 more 2GB modules (I don't like using 6 unbuffered modules ... but at least they're ECC modules, so reliability should still be fairly good) or by replacing the 2GB modules with 4GB modules (much better).
You should balance your projected amount of use versus the type of computer you need. You have selected a workstation-class system, using components that are designed to run 24x7 for years at a time. You should ask yourself if this kind of use is necessary, if it isn't, you might wish to considered more pedestrian hardware designed for desktops.

A Core i7 920 processor can be purchased for a few hundred, whereas its Xeon equivalent can cost 3-4x as much. Same goes with triple channel ddr vs triple channel ecc...and they largely offer the same performance...what the workstations/servers offer, is reliability when running applications, using lots of computer resources continuously.

A Core i7 should process video about 15-30x faster than your venerable P4. And if you go 64-bit, start with 6GB, you're likely to find that should be enough (you can fit an entire DVD-Movie in memory with that amount.

Good luck with your shopping.
I agree with RoyChartier - I would recommend an i7 XPS system for speed, and it would cost a lot less than the server equivalent version with ECC memory. Unless you are running a server 24/7, the advantage of ECC is largely unused, as I cannot recall the last time I had a random memory failure on a desktop that I boot up in the morning and shutdown at night.

If you have Excel spreadsheets with 50000 rows and are 50MB in size, you are severely pushing what Excel is designed for. When you get to 10000 rows or more, the application should be in a database, unless it is a one-off application that won't be updated. You might also look into replacing time-consuming VLOOKUP references with MATCH and INDEX formulas, if you use them multiple times in a row. The video rendering will take whatever time it takes, as that process is highly dependent on the cpu.
Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
I agree an XPS is a less-expensive solution and is probably just fine for this application ... it simply depends on how "enterprise-class" the system needs to be.   Unbuffered, non-ECC memory can be very reliable as long as the bus loading is kept to a reasonable level.   But as for the comment "... I cannot recall the last time I had a random memory failure on a desktop ... " ==>  you wouldn't know it was a random memory failure -- I'm convinced many unexplained Windows crashes are in fact caused by random memory errors.     If you use unbuffered memory and limit the installed modules to 2 (for dual-channel systems) or 3 (for triple-channel systems) the system will probably run very reliably.   But even then, ECC memory will improve the reliability by virtually eliminating the random failures -- and of course a buffered RAM system will not only make it far more reliable but will also allow installation of essentially unlimited number of modules (limited only by the number of slots in the motherboard) without concern for bus loading.

I do agree that this new system -- whatever is used -- will be FAR faster than the old 3.0GHz P-IV ... so it's very likely you'll find that 6GB is plenty :-)

Another way to look at this:   You can buy the XPS and have enough $$ left over to replace the 6GB of memory with 3 x 4GB modules when they become readily available :-)
Just FYI, lots of good feedback on the XPS from folks who are PowerPoint/Video/Graphics designers at PPTLive last year.  I got one based on their feedback and am very happy with it (but I don't render video very frequently).
Peter ByeRetiredAuthor Commented:
All your comments are superb and very helpful. A few thoughts and findings:

My current P4 has a PassMark rating of 413 so the improvement will be even larger.

The video garycase suggested on turbo mode was very helpful.

The PC does tend to be on 15 or so hours per day most days although it is not in continuous use. It is used as a PC and not as a server.

I went to dell.com to price out the T7500 using the E5520 CPU garycase suggested. Fascinating result:

T7500, E5520 CPU, 6 GB DDR3 RDIMM ECC memory in 3 DIMMs, 300 GB 10,000rpm HDD, NVS 295 graphics card:  $3,696.

XPS 370X, i7-940 CPU, 6 GB DDR3 in 3 DIMMs (non ECC), 300 GB Velociraptor HDD, Radeon 4870 X2 graphics card: today's price $3,588. (was $3,344 yesterday)

So with the E5520 CPU both systems price just about the same!

Does this affect your recommendations?

Garycase - you mentioned registered memory. Is this the RDIMM in the T7500 configuration? I plead ignorance - what is registered memory and what are the benefits?

Does Dell provide any configurations that use buffered memory?
Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
Yes, the RDIMM is registered RAM. Registered memory IS buffered memory -- the newer FBDIMMs ("fully buffered" DIMMS) also buffer the data drivers in addition to the address and control lines ... but registered modules are fine (the data lines don't have nearly the load that the address and control lines do). I hadn't noticed that you can use either unbuffered or buffered modules in the single-CPU model ... but looking again I see that you have that choice.

Watch item #10 here to see what happens to the signaling when you use unbuffered modules: http://www.corsair.com/memory_basics/index.html

While the XPS system would be fine (and actually a bit faster), the T7500 is a more "industrial strength" system -- Xeon CPU, buffered memory, lower power consumption (thus cooler operation -- which generally means less likelihood of heat-related issues), etc.

Either system will be fine -- the Precision Workstation is clearly a more robust system; but the XPS would actually be a bit faster [But both are FAR faster than what you have now -- and well past the "fast enough" point for your applications :-) ]. I'd definitely get the Precision if you think you may want to add more memory modules -- with the registered modules there are no reliability concerns about adding additional modules, since they're buffered.

Note that in your price comparison above, the XPS does have a faster dual-GPU video card ... but note that (a) you don't really need that and won't gain much from it for your applications; (b) it's a high-end, heat-generating card that I wouldn't recommend unless you're a gamer; (c) the Quadro card in the Precision is a workstation-class card (optimized for OpenGL instead of Direct-X) with plenty of performance for your applications; and (d) you can always replace the card in either system with any video card you want :-)

Peter ByeRetiredAuthor Commented:
Thank you everyone for your superb inputs. Garycase - a special mention - your detailed analyses and insights are amazing.

I'm convinced that both models are excellent. To best meet my own needs, I plan to go ahead with a T7500 using garycase's CPU recommendation. I appreciate the points about the buffered memory, lower power dissipation, expandability, and robust nature of the Precision Workstations.

Heads up: I also plan to initiate a separate question about the choice of graphics card for the T7500! It deserves its own points rather than appending it here.
Thank you much.   : )
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