Dell Precision 650
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 5 (May 2004)

Dell Precision 650

Dell computers have long been dependable solutions for home and office computing. But in the world of high-end workstation hardware, Dell is not the first name that springs to mind. To remedy that, Dell's new line of Precision PCs targets the high-end user. The Precision 650 incorporates top-class components into a PC billed as a digital media workhorse. A decked-out Precision 650 can be an all-around answer to a studio that needs highly functional and adaptive systems to carry out a wide range of demanding chores.

I asked Dell to customize a Precision 650 to fit a budget of $6000, including a high-end display. Built around dual Intel Xeon Pentium 4 CPUs, this Dell housed a 120gb 7200 rpm hard drive, DVD+RW and DVD drives, and 2gb of high-quality DDR RAM, as well as an Nvidia Quadro FX 1000 graphics card. And it packs a heck of a punch.

Forget what you thought you knew about Dell, makers of workstations targeted at high-end users.

Sitting pretty at my desk, the Precision 650 handles all sorts of media content creation. 3D applications, such as Alias's Maya and Discreet's 3ds max, ran smoothly with the Quadro FX card. As a matter of fact, Maya 5 ran on dual screens at 1600x1200 resolution per screen without a hitch, and Adobe's Premiere Pro ran like a champ across both monitors for video editing. I was very pleased to see those applications and all my other content creation applications, such as Photoshop and After Effects, run with stability and fantastic performance. This is no doubt due to the hefty specs of the machine, notably the dual Xeons and 2gb of memory, which are key for such a system.

The system effortlessly multi-tasked Maya 5, After Effects 6, Photoshop 7, and Premiere Pro, all without stopping my train of thought once. It is frustrating to close and launch applications or move to another machine entirely to integrate and visualize your work. Using a single system made for such a great work flow that I transferred a valuable personal project from my meticulously built workstation tower to the Dell by installing the drives into the Dell's case.

The case is well constructed and ex-pandable to accept additional 3.5-inch drives and a 5.25-inch drive, which I used for a removable drive rack—useful for media work. A slightly larger and more accessible case with more open bays and a reset switch up front would have been nice, although most people will never need to enter or expand the system. Dell prefers to build the workstation to your exact specs, so check with them and your warranty before you open the system yourself. Regardless, the Dell worked well with the two drives I installed. It also can easily expand with its multiple FireWire and USB 2.0 ports.

One of the Precision's greatest features is its case. It's easy to open, fairly accessible, sturdy, and amazingly quiet, especially for a monster workstation. With most workstations being as loud as they are, you'd expect the measure of a PC's power to be proportional to how loud it gets, but not so with the 650. Windows XP booted in a blink, media files loaded fast, application windows snapped open, and 3D rendered in the background without slowing. All this amounts to one classy, well-integrated machine.

And if something goes wrong, support has to be there when you need it. Dell provides a separate support number for workstation clients—a relief because regular support can wear out your patience. Twice I manufactured issues on my system at ungodly hours and was met with fast and accurate support, but only if I called the workstation support team directly.

Still, I figured something would eventually crash the Dell or slow it down, but in the several weeks I've had the machine running 24/7, it hasn't lost its edge and needed to reboot only a few times—a remarkable feat when you consider what I put this system through.

The display, an UltraSharp 2000FP, is a 20-inch flat panel capable of 1600x1200 native resolution. It boasts picture-in-picture, multiple input ports, excellent color saturation, and crisp graphics with minimal motion ghosting typical of LCDs.

If you're like me, you need a powerful, stable, and integrated workstation that can take a serious beating without flinching. It has to import DV, run 3D, render memory-hungry scenes, edit video, and burn DVDs—everything to take a project from script to DVD, as well as play some games, if you can find the time to relax. Highly configurable and well supported, the Dell Precision 650 is worth its premium for a demanding user or studio.

Dariush Derakhshani is an effects animator with Sight Effects in Venice, CA, and author of several books. He can be contacted at

Price: $6000 as configured
Minimum System Requirements: N/A