Small Form Factor (SFF) workstations are very much in vogue.
But while HP and Lenovo have had these micro machines since 2012, it’s taken Dell a little longer to acknowledge that good things do come in small packages.
And Dell’s new Precision T1700 SFF is tiny. With a compact 290 x 312 x 93mm chassis, it’s significantly smaller than a standard desktop workstation.
It’s also leaner than the competition: Lenovo’s E31 SFF is 337 x 369 x 100mm, while HP’s Z230 SFF comes in at 339 x 382 x 105mm.
In part this is down to an exceptionally clever chassis design, which layers components on top of each other, but also because the T1700 SFF can only fit in a single 3.5-inch drive or two 2.5-inch drives. In contrast, HP’s and Lenovo’s SFF machines support up to two 3.5-inch drives.
The limited storage options in the T1700 SFF won’t be an issue for some users, particularly those who keep their data on a networked Product Data Management (PDM) system.
But it will mean users won’t have the luxury of having a high-performance 2.5-inch SSD and high-capacity 3.5-inch HDD in the same system, a popular choice in mainstream workstations.
Our test machine’s 256GB LiteOn SSD might be a little light on capacity, but it’s very fast storage.
The Precision T1700 SFF boots to Windows in a lightning quick 15 seconds and read / write speeds of 495MB/s and 424MB/sec show it’s no slouch at handling big datasets.
It’s by no means the fastest solid state drive out there but it does make the Precision T1700 SFF feel incredibly responsive when juggling apps and opening and saving files at the same time.
The 2.5-inch drive is housed in a caddy located under the slimline DVD drive, which slides out smoothly simply by pulling on a blue lever.
The caddy needs a bit more encouragement to leave the chassis, but once you understand how the mechanism works, it actually pops out very easily.
Adding a second 2.5-inch drive is pretty straightforward — the major challenge for these fat fingers being attaching the SATA cable to the motherboard. For larger capacity drives, the caddy converts so it can accommodate a single 3.5-inch HDD.
Despite the T1700 SFF’s diminutive frame there’s no trade off in processing power and Dell offers a wide choice of the latest Intel ‘Haswell’ CPUs including Xeon and 4th Gen Intel Core.
Our test machine’s Xeon E3-1270 v3 is fast: one notch below the top-end Xeon E3-1280 v3 so you get good performance without paying the biggest premium.
With four cores running at 3.5GHz it’s ideal for CAD. It also includes support for Intel HyperThreading which is great for multi-threaded rendering applications.
Dell has not scrimped on memory either, with 16GB (4 x 4GB) of 1600MHz non-ECC DDR3 more than enough for mainstream design. The machine has a maximum capacity of 32GB, but you’ll need ECC memory to max it out, which will cost a little more.
The big tradeoff in the T1700 SFF is when it comes to graphics. The low-profile Nvidia Quadro K600 (1GB) is the only real option for 3D CAD here, but its entry-level status means it’s probably best suited for small assembly modelling.
Those who need a bit more oomph will need to look at the Precision T1700 Mini Tower (MT), the big brother to the T1700 SFF. The T1700 MT expands the choice of GPUs to the Quadro K2000, Quadro K4000 or AMD FirePro W5000. It also supports up to two 3.5” or four 2.5” SATA drives so there are more options for storage.
Of course, the beauty of the T1700 SFF is in its incredibly small footprint. It’s practical as well: two fast USB 3.0 ports on the front are nicely spaced so you’re not constrained when plugging in chunky USB memory sticks.
If you work with parts and small CAD assemblies and are in the market for an entry-level workstation the T1700 SFF is an excellent alternative to a standard tower.
In terms of warranty, our test machine includes 3 years of ProSupport, but pay attention if you’re buying the T1700 SFF off spec. Unlike other Dell Precisions, it only comes with 1 year as standard.
Dell Precision Performance Optimizer
Dell workstations now come with a free mini app to help users keep track of their workstation resources.
The Dell Precision Performance Optimizer (DPPO) presents dials for memory, CPU, storage and GPU that show how each component is being utilised at any one time or over a set period.
This info can then be used to identify where bottlenecks occur, which components might benefit from an upgrade, or how workflows could be adjusted.
Of course, this is all possible with diagnostic tools like Microsoft Process Explorer, but the neat thing about DPPO is that it’s all presented in one easy to understand UI.
There are some other features, including application profiles that tune the system for specific tools, including DS SolidWorks and PTC Creo. However, this appears to be mostly about enabling / disabling CPU cores, HyperThreading and power saving, so will probably appeal more to novice users.
The software can also be used to update, software, drivers and firmware and these can be scheduled for times when your workstation is idle.
Overall, DPPO is an interesting little tool very much in the same vein as HP’s Performance Advisor.
»Quad Core Intel Xeon E3-1270 v3 ‘Haswell’ CPU (3.5GHz)
» 16GB (4 x 4GB) 1,600MHz DDR3 Non-ECC memory
» Nvidia Quadro 600 (1GB DDR3) graphics
» 256GB LiteOn LCS-256M6S SSD
» Dell motherboard (Intel C226 chipset)
» Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
» 3 year ProSupport and Next Business Day On-Site Service
(secs – smaller is better)
CAM (Delcam PowerMill 2010) – 1) 154 2) 233 3) 334
CAE (SolidWorks 2010 Simulation) – 84
Rendering (3ds Max Design 2011) – 203
(bigger is better)
CAD (SolidWorks 2013 – SPECapc graphics composite) – 2.30
CAD (Creo 2.0 – SPECapc graphics test) – 2.45
Quad Core Intel Xeon E3-1270 v3 ‘Haswell’ CPU (3.5GHz)
16GB (4 x 4GB) 1,600MHz DDR3 Non-ECC memory
Nvidia Quadro K600 (1GB DDR3) GPU (310.90 driver)
Dell motherboard (Intel C226 chipset)
Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
3 year ProSupport and Next Business Day On-Site Service