• Price: £1,049 plus VAT (base price); £5,984 plus VAT (reviewed model)

  • Company: Dell

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

The Precision 650 sits at the top of Dell’s workstation range. It sits in a smallish clamshell case, and offers single or dual Xeon processors up to the as-yet unannounced 3.06GHz chip. The Precision 650 sits above the Pentium 4-driven Precision 350 and alongside the 450, which crams Xeon-powered hardware into an even smaller box. The base price for the Precision 650 is £1,049. This gets you a system that won’t benefit from the Xeon’s extra power – and if this is your budget, you’d be better off looking at the Precision 350. Dell lists a sample configuration with dual 2.8GHz Xeons, 2GB of ECC DDR RAM, a 3Dlabs Wildcat4 7110 graphics card, two 36GB Ultra 320 SCSI hard drives, a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, and a 17-inch LCD monitor for £4,539. Our test unit is even more impressive than this. The drives have been boosted to two 146GB Ultra 320 SCSI drives with a PERC RAID 0 controller providing a single virtual drive of around 280GB – plus a 4x DVD burner, and a separate fast CD drive. The monitor has been upgraded to Dell’s excellent 20-inch LCD display, and a set of Harmon Kardon speakers. This drives the price up to a whopping £5,984 plus VAT. The price isn’t extortionate, however. The storage alone (including the RAID card) costs £1,360 over the base drive – and the Wildcat4 7110 adds £1,300 over the base ATI Radeon VE. To justify this card, you’re going to need to be chucking huge amounts of polygons around – though you could stick in the £455-over-base ATI Fire GL X1. The Precision 650 can be configured and bought through Dell’s Web site, though the inability to select a system without a monitor is irksome. As you’d expect, our test machine’s performance is unsurpassed, being faster than the first two dual 2.8GHz Xeon systems – the Armari RX875HT and Max Black’s Storm 3 (reviewed in d 58) – by a noticeable margin. However, our test versions of these systems were just over half the price of our Precision 650. Our only real gripe with the system was the space-saving case. It offers limited bays (though you can add a fourth hard-drive bay with a £10 bracket) and slots – this is especially true with the double-sized Wildcat4 and RAID cards installed, though FireWire and USB 2.0 are integrated into the motherboard. More importantly, though, closing the clamshell is a delicate process with a separation plate that slides too near to the graphics card for our liking. Gripes aside, this workstation can be scaled from an attractively priced, mid-range workstation to a real powerhouse.