• Price: from £1,129, supplied system £5,691 plus VAT

  • Company: Dell

  • Pros: Ultra-powerful. Fully provisioned motherboard with PCI-Express, Ultra320 SCSI and more. Quiet, well-designed and powerful-looking chassis.

  • Cons: Very expensive. No surround sound built-in. Graphics card

  • Our Rating: We rate this 6 out of 10 We rate this 6 out of 10

This Precision 670 is, quite simply, the most powerful workstation we’ve ever seen. If it were a Sci-Fi robot, it would be called Maximillian and would have already turned the Digit staff into cyborgs – and we’d be writing Digit 81 from the other side of a black hole.

For almost six grand though, this is what you expect. You can pick up a basic – and we mean basic – 670 for £1,129, but if you want a unit that justifies the underlying architecture, chassis and motherboard that comprises the 670, you’ll need to spend at least £3,000.

Our Precision 670 is driven by two 3.4GHz Xeon processors, which boost performance through support for virtual processing doubling (Hyper-Threading) and 64-bit operating systems (EM64T). Most major creative applications benefit from Hyper-Threading, but the 64-bit version of Windows is still a way off. The 3.4GHz chips offer the most power without paying for the overpriced and minimally better 3.6GHz chips.

RAM RAIDing

The processors and Intel E7525 chipset at the heart of the 670 enable it to support up to 16GB of RAM – twice as much as an equivalent AMD Opeteron-based system. The motherboard has almost everything you need for a high-end system built-in – including a SCSI RAID controller, PCI Express x16 (for graphics cards) and PCI Express x4 (for other cards). Only surround sound is missing, though a Creative Labs Audigy 2 PCI board adds less than £100 to the price.

The drive configuration places an 80GB Serial ATA drive as the system drive, which is a good money-saving technique as it doesn’t need to be SCSI. Two SCSI media drives provide up to 146GB of online storage, to which external SCSI storage can easily be added. The only downside is that these fill the 670’s three internal drive bays.

The chassis is up to Dell’s usual excellent standard for workstations. It’s spacious, screwless, easy to ferret around in due to its clamshell opening and full of well-thought-out details such as a high-up front USB/FireWire hatch (which is easy to reach even when the unit is on the floor) and a graphics card support. It’s surprisingly quiet considering the 650W power supply, and has a look that says power that’s just as effective on clients as Apple’s graceful curves.

In our tests, the 670 performed as you’d expect, knocking down all-comers in our processing and Photoshop tests – though the NVidia Quadro 3400 is a little lacking in our 3D tests.

However, the Precision 670 is a high-quality workstation that will see you through the next few years at least.

Processor: 2x Xeon 3.4GHz
RAM: 4GB
DIMMs: 6
Free slots: 0
Graphics: NVidia Quadro 3400
RAM: 256MB
Connection: PCI Express
Hard drive type: Serial ATA/2x SCSI
Size: 80GB/2x 73GB
Speed: 7,200rpm/15,000rpm
Bays: 3x 5.25-inch ext, 1x 3.5-inch ext, 3x 3.5-inch int
Free bays: 2x 5.25-inch ext
Removable media drive: DVD±RW drive (12x)
Free slots: 1x PCI Express x4, 3x PCI-X
Dimensions: 504-x-226-x-503mm
Soundcard: On-board Ports: 8x USB 2.0, 2x FireWire, gigabit ethernet, keyboard, mouse, parallel, 2x serial
OS: Windows XP Professional