Dell's Precision T3500 entry-level workstation desktop PC offers Nehalem power for a reasonable price. Configuration options suit a wide range of applications but aftermarket maintenance and expansion is more difficult than it needs to be.
Though certainly more attractive then the Lenovo ThinkCentre A62, the Precision T3500 workstation desktop PC is ultimately more about function than how it looks. The mini-tower chassis provides two USB ports and headphone/microphone jacks on the front panel, as well as indicator lights for the Ethernet adapter and disk operation.
There are six more USB ports on the rear panel as well as eSATA, Gigabit Ethernet, PS/2, parallel, serial as well as headphone and microphone ports. The workstation graphics card has two DisplayPort ports and a single DVI output.
Pulling a handle at the rear of the chassis unlatches the side casing easily. The interior is quite roomy, with a significant amount of airflow on both sides of the processor to ensure proper cold air intake and heat extraction. The motherboard is upside down, so that the rear ports take up the lower half of the chassis while the expansions card slots — two PCI-Express 4x slots, two PCI-Express 16x, and two standard PCI slots — are at the top.
The motherboard has a five SATA 2 ports but the chassis fits three hard drives in total. Two of these sit perpendicular to the case on a folding metal tray near the CPU, while a third can fit into an empty 5.25in bay underneath the CD drive. The two drives on the metal plating are held tightly in place by brackets screwed into the metal tray. This prevents vibration during operation, but makes hard drive removal and replacement difficult, as you must first unlatch small tabs on either side of the drive. The memory slots sit near the CPU, so you must unlatch the hard drive tray as well as a plastic cover to access the memory. We can't see much reason for the custom layout of the motherboard, as the position of the hard drives and the memory slots simply makes maintenance and component replacement difficult to accomplish.
A wide variety of configuration options are available on the Precision T3500 workstation desktop PC. There are several Intel Xeon processors available based on the Nehalem X58 platform, ranging from the 2.4GHz dual-core X3500 to the 2.93GHz quad-core X5570 processor, and it can be configured with up to 24GB of DDR3 memory. The Precision T3500 supports two PCIE 16x graphics cards in SLI configuration, but the most powerful (and most expensive) graphics configuration is a single NVIDIA Quadro FX4800 workstation graphics card.
Our tested configuration, quoted at $6444, was equipped with 2.66GHz quad-core Intel Xeon X5550 processor, 4GB of DDR3 memory at 1066MHz, and an NVIDIA Quadro FX1800 workstation graphics card. The configuration was also bundled with a Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP; though it has since been outdated, the display is still excellent and provides comprehensive connectivity for the Precision T3500 workstation desktop PC and other components.
This configuration performed quite well in our benchmark tests. In World Bench 6, it scored 124 points, with key strengths in CPU-intensive rendering and media encoding tasks. iTunes encoded 53min of WAV files to 192Kbps in 51.8 seconds, while Blender 3D rendered our 3D test image in 39 seconds. The NVIDIA Quadro FX1800 worsktation graphics card also managed 9345 points in 3DMark 06. These results aren't too surprising for a Xeon-powered workstation desktop PC but will nevertheless provide sufficient power for CPU and graphics-intensive computing tasks.
The Precision T3500 workstation desktop PC is powered by a 525 watt power supply. Nehalem Intel Xeon CPUs aren't particularly energy efficient, but our test configuration didn't require an exorbitant amount of power. It consumed 78 watts when idle and reached a maximum of 120W when under duress.
If you require power without wanting to break the bank, the Precision T3500 workstation desktop PC is generously priced. Provided ease of maintenance isn't a key concern, this desktop PC is a worthwhile way to get through those number crunching tasks in record time.