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Dell Desktop Opinions

Guys..i am planning on buying a new desktop and want to decide between two...

Dell Dimension 4600 with Pentium® 4 Processor at 2.80GHz w/800MHz front side bus/ HT Technology

&
Dimension 4600
Pentium® 4 Processor at 2.40GHz with 533MHz front side bus

Primary goal is do .NET learning/development along with other standard stuff..I would also like to run Oracle/MS-SQL server.


Have you used the above systems and how would you rate them...the difference between them being $200 which for a student like me is a lot.

Please let me know.

Thanks
Undecided Yet

Undecided Yet
Saturday, June 07, 2003

I wasn't aware that the 2.8GHz processor offered HyperThreading.

Your money is better spent on more RAM and faster disk than it is on a faster CPU, in my opinion.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Saturday, June 07, 2003

BUt adding RAM is trivial compared to replacing a CPU.

www.MarkTAW.com
Saturday, June 07, 2003

I'm doing all my .Net development on a dual P3 800MHz machine with a SCSI bus and 10k RPM drives. It is most definitely faster than my wife's computer which has a 2.4GHz P4 but a 7200 rpm IDE hard drive.

I'd put my money in (in order):
1) RAM. For .Net I wouldn't get less than 1GB
2) Multiple SCSI drives
3) 10k drives (15k if possible)
4) CPU

Philo

Philo
Saturday, June 07, 2003

I'd put CPU over SCSI drives. SCSI really breaks the bank and modern IDE hardware is virtually as good. The Pentium 4 is really underpowered clock-for-clock; I'd get the fastest speed you can afford.

One option to consider is to deal with Dell's business division and get a "Precision" class workstation. The price should be basically the same, but I think buying from their business division plugs you into a much better support network. (I have always gotten quick, competent, native English-speaking tech support on my Dell workstations, contrary to many others' experience). Also the business workstations are probably going to include a lot less annoying preloaded software than a consumer machine.

Dan Maas
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Yeah IDE is much cheaper than SCSI - building my audio workstation, I went IDE because the throughput is very good and it's just so much cheaper.

Why not build your own. =) I had a lot of fun doing that.

www.MarkTAW.com
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Building your own costs about 30% more. The reason is that the cost of assembling a computer is minimal. Dell actually have the time down to a few minutes or less. The savings in bulk buying of components mean you can't compete on price, and buying components from different places means you will find it difficult to pin down responsibilty for used parts.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 07, 2003

In addition, building your own puts you in the potential position of getting some minor hardware or driver conflict that you'll spend a week tracking down.

My last homebuilt system (this one) wasted two weeks of my time because the sound card I'd bought (which stated it was fine for dual proc systems) turned out to be NOT fine for dual CPU systems. In fact, the only thing that got me past the problem was Creative Labs finally coming clean and admitting there were contention problems with the board in dual proc systems.

From now on I'll pay someone else to ensure the system works right.

Philo

Philo
Saturday, June 07, 2003

That's ridiculous. Dell is way overpriced, unless you're buying a refurb. I've yet to see any machine they build that I couldn't hand build cheaper, and end up with a more expandable machine (don't forget that Dell uses proprietary motherboards and cases, so don't expect to be able to swap out the motherboard unless you also willing to invest in a new case).

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Saturday, June 07, 2003

People really don't get SCSI, after twenty years...

"IDE drives are just as good as SCSI drives"
For single-drive systems, they may be comparable. That's why I don't build single-drive SCSI systems. I build 3-drive systems. One drive for the OS, one for applications, one for data.

Remember that the SCSI drive system is intelligent - copying files from one drive to another takes zero CPU cycles, and is damn fast.

I've got two systems in the house with 2.0GHz CPU's and 7200 rpm IDE drives to compare this system against, and like I said - it's the fastest system in the house.

Philo

Philo
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Brad- I've never swapped out a motherboard without rebuilding the entire system. Generally when I get a new motherboard it's because new technologies have reached critical mass and there are a significant number of reasons to do so (new CPU architecture, new memory, new graphics architecture, new I/O, etc)

So that argument doesn't really work for me. The rest of a Dell system is industry standard.

Philo

Philo
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Brad, have you included the price of the bundled software when you claim you can build much cheaper?

Now you may not want the software, but that's another matter.

I don't know about the US but in the UK the cheapest way to buy a PC is to buy one pre-assembled from a secondi tier manufacturer through mail order. I have yet to see the price matched buying parts individually.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Philo; the point about IDE drives is that they are probably the same quality as SCSI and somewhat cheaper, but you don't get the best quality drives in IDE.

For a desktop though SCSI is overkill.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Stephen, it depends on the use the desktop is intended for, true?

For example, for video editing or heavy server-based development... ;-)

Agreed that for playing games or email/web, it's massive overkill - that's why the two other boxes are IDE.

Philo

Philo
Saturday, June 07, 2003

How great is the speed difference?

You must remember the important figure is the sustained speed not the burst speed. And sustained read speeds are well below the carrying capacities of the IDE bus.

With video editing the size of the files are enormous. Do you really want to buy a 40GB SCSI drive just for one movie?

As I said before, if you want the best drives you have to buy SCSI because they don't make them in IDE. I doubt if they are worth it any more for anything but servers (and certainly not file and print servers or web servers either).

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Actually the most important speed is the perceived speed. ;-)

With multi-tasking in Windows, you're dealing with burst speeds, cached speeds, and sustained speeds. But don't forget that with a multitasking system an additional issue (rarely touched by benchmarks that I've seen) is *simultaneous* disk operations - copying a file from one folder to another is the best example of this.

On IDE, you have to read from a section of the disk, switch the interface, then write, then switch back, read, switch, write...

On a well designed SCSI system, if you're copying the file from one disk to another, the OS issues the command and the SCSI system takes over, streaming the data from one disk to another as fast as the drives can muster.

Like I said - I don't ever perceive my hard drives in action. 99% of the time my system simply responds to whatever I do. I do *not* have that perception on any single-drive IDE system, where I am often waiting for a hard drive event to finish.

Pretty much subjective, honestly, but backed up by sound engineering reasoning.

Philo

Philo
Saturday, June 07, 2003

You're absolutely correct about this one, but how often are you copying files from one disc to another?

Now that there are motherboards with four IDE channels, I would have thought you could have got rid of much of the problem by placing the target drive on  another channel.

I had to investigate SCSI versus IDE for a CAD lab at our new training center. The feedback I got was pretty unanimously that IDE was good enough, and that was eighteen months back.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Personally, I think SCSI is still suffering from FUD of 10-15 years ago when setting up a SCSI chain was not exactly easy. It's still not as plug n' play as IDE.

Of course the pricing is the result of popularity...

So what I believe - those who insist IDE is "good enough" are those who were scared of the complexity of the SCSI interface who now feel vindicated that IDE is actually somewhere within the realm of SCSI performance.

And I'll say it again - all I can offer is my empirical experience: three PC's - one is dual P3/800 with a SCSI chain, the other two are P4 2.0+ GHz with a single IDE drive. The box with the SCSI drives "feels snappier" than the other two. In fact, I can generally make the call whether a workstation is IDE or SCSI after just ten minutes of working on it. ;-)

My overarching point - if you're spending money on the system you plan to spend 8+ hours/day on, then spend an incremental amount more for a quality drive system.

Philo

Philo
Saturday, June 07, 2003

I fully understand that SCSI is superior to IDE. It's just so much more expensive it doesn't make sense for low/mid-range workstations (150GB IDE storage = $150, 150GB SCSI storage = $800 disk + $200 controller card = $1000!). That essentially doubles the price of any low-end machine.

With hard disk reliability going the way it is, I'm not building any more systems without a mirrored pair of primary disks. Then it's $300 for IDE vs. $1800 for SCSI (assuming software RAID, if you want hardware RAID, which most motherboards have for IDE, it gets higher). Against SCSI is unquestionably better, just probably not worth the 5x-6x price increase.

Dan Maas
Saturday, June 07, 2003

The people who told me to use IDE drives for CAD were people who had previously worked with SCSI drives.

Frankly the only way I can now tell which machine I use is at boot up; the W2K machine takes ages.

A thing to remember is the decreasing relaltive advantage of speed as absolute speed increases. Let's say Word took a minute to load and you used ti ten times a day. You would spend forty hours a year waiting. Now you double the speed and you've saved twenty hours a year, which even at a low dollar rate of $20 an hour is enough to justify some extra hardware. Now imagine Word takes five seconds to load. You now spend three hours a year waiting for Word to load, and if you doubled the speed you would save one and a ahlf hours a year. Except you are no longer loading Word ten times a day because you have loads of memory so you just fire it up with the first document and then leave it in the taskbar, so in fact the total time per year is twenty minutes, and your savings by doubling the speed ten minutes. Your productivity would be increased much more by a more silent fan than a double speed CPU.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 07, 2003

In the audio realm where I hang out, most people go with IDE - and this is for 16+ tracks of uncompressed 10 megabyte per minute CD-quality audio, or sometimes DVD audio which is closer to 20mb per minute.

If your needs go beyond what IDE can give you, you can bump up to RAID cheaper than SCSI. RAID writes at the same speed, but reads much faster since it can read different bits from either disc.

www.MarkTAW.com
Saturday, June 07, 2003

I think the original poster was wondering if .4ghz, 800 mhz fsb and hyperthreading was worth $200. 

If $200 is a big deal, I'd personally save it and spend a little on ergonomic input devices and ram.  It's likely your incremental builds will take < 1sec no matter what, whereas you'll have docs, a vid, filesharing, etc running while compiling.  You definitely do not want a crappy monitor, mouse with a ball that sometimes jerks, a keyboard with a bad feel, or hitting swap.

g'vich
Saturday, June 07, 2003

"I think the original poster was wondering if .4ghz, 800 mhz fsb and hyperthreading was worth $200. 

If $200 is a big deal, I'd personally save it and spend a little on ergonomic input devices and ram.  "

But in 6 months when he has another $200 to spend he can buy that RAM and that trackball... A monitor, or CPU are going to be more expensive to begin with and you can't add so much as replace them, so you throw the initial investment away.

So I'd be more inclined to go for the items that can't be added to up front, and then add to the items that can at a later date.

www.MarkTAW.com
Saturday, June 07, 2003

You mentioned that earlier Mark, but what apps does a student have that are cpu-bound?  Compiling small programs is very fast no matter what, especially if you use incremental compiles. 

Of course, to get the best of all worlds, I would probably order the minimum Dell ram and no speakers, and buy those from pricewatch.com.  The difference in price between his 2.8 and 2.4 ghz machines is then $130.  Close to the cpu street price difference.  If he has a university job @ $8/hr, that's about 16 hr of pay.  A little ramen instead of pizza, a few extra hours of work, and it's paid off.

Still, mind the ergonomics.  Display, mouse, keyboard, chair.  More important than .4 ghz and hyperthreading mumbo-jumbo.

g'vich
Saturday, June 07, 2003

If you're going to buy a Dell system and you're limited by a student's budget, you might want to also check out the Dimension 2350 desktop (Pentium 4 2.20GHz with 17" monitor, and it even includes a DVD-burner/CD-burner) for $600 - see:
http://www.dell.com/us/en/dhs/offers/specials_3x_special61.htm

CPU speed is not critical these days - 2.4GHz or 2.2GHz is more than sufficient, and I don't think the 800MHz bus will provide much noticeable increase in speed in real-life use. If you consider the Dimension 2350 model, you should definitely add more memory (512MB [$100 extra] or 1GB [$230 extra]).

[Ignore the discussions about SCSI drives over IDE drives - those arguments are so old and may have been true a couple of decades ago; give me a modern fast, quiet IDE ATA/133, 7200rpm drive over SCSI any day, this century.]

I have never owned a Dell system, so I can't personally rate the quality, reliability, etc.

Philip Dickerson
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Note: I didn't bothering reading the other posts here.

I bought a Dell Dimension 4550 2.6 Ghz PC about 4 months ago simply because of the price. I bought the unit without a monitor and the minimum amount of RAM (128 MB). I purchased additional RAM from www.crucial.com because it was cheaper to do so. Total cost was $640.

Imo, what you need to do is check for deals. Dell has both a business unit web site and desktop unit website. The two groups compete against each other. Don't forget to check for coupon deals -- you will find them advertised all over the web. Just use Google.

Another place to get opinions is on Dell's own support forums. The people there usually know where to find the best deals on particular Dell products.

One Programmer's Opinion
Saturday, June 07, 2003

You're right, I am repeating myself. I just saw no compelling arguments against.

Given that a 3 year old computer reaching the "creak by" point by now, depending on what it is you do with your computer, I always think you should go for the faster computer if the price difference isn't too big.

By the time Longhorn comes out, it'll be designed for 3+ghz systems anyway. As will lots of other things.

This is the difference between getting a 1ghz computer and a 1.2ghz computer, etc. etc. a couple of years ago. It's not a monumental difference, but I'd still rather have the 1.2 today than the 1.0.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, June 08, 2003

Mark, when systems were slower, I used to follow your philosophy of getting the fastest CPU available and skimping on (or waiting a few months for) something else (more memory, larger hard drive, etc). I think this was the optimal approach when choosing between 33MHz and 66MHz; or between 333MHz, 450MHz, and 500MHz; and probably even between 800MHz and 1.0GHz.

However, now I personally consider the "knee" price for CPU (that is, the maximum CPU speed before the prices start to take a much bigger jump) when choosing CPU speed. Recently, when I replaced my home system, the price difference between 2.0, 2.2, and 2.4GHz was slight, but the price for 2.66GHz was significantly more than 2.4, and the price for 2.8GHz and then 3.0GHz were dramatically higher (many hundreds of dollars). [The prices for those speeds have come down somewhat since then.] I bought a 2.4GHz system, and I find it to be incredibly fast (and I don't think I would have noticed much difference between 2.0 and 2.4GHz); I use the system for programming (Visual Studio), digital photo manipulation, SQL Server, and Office (specs, presentations), as well as less CPU-intensive uses such as email and the web.

If you're comfortable opening up the system box and installing your own memory, then "One Programmer's Opinion" has a godd recommendation to purchase additional memory from crucial.com. Crucial is currently selling 512MB for the Dell Dimension 2350 for $65. Crucial sells high quality memory (and I have bought memory from them for a few different systems over the years, including my current system); beware of buying the cheapest memory you can find - I did that once and had intermittent problems (crashes, corrupted files, etc) probably because the memory speed wasn't as high as claimed by the seller, I replaced the memory with Crucial parts and all the problems stopped.

Philip Dickerson
Sunday, June 08, 2003

I see what you're saying. The difference between 2.4 and 2.8 is a 0.167% increase in speed and not worth $200. OTOH, the FSB is 50% faster, and has hyper threading.

In several years, the 0.167% difference won't be as big as the difference between a 233mhz and 433mhz machine, so he might as well save his money.

Since the money is a big deal, unless he's a fan of hyperthreading, why not just go for the cheaper machine.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, June 08, 2003

I agree with you on principle Philip but I would say the the CPU began to lose importance well before you say it. My work machine is 2.0Ghz, my laptop is 1.6Ghz and my home machine is 733Mhz and frankly I have never noticed the difference, though I am not a programmer. My old laptop was 366Mhz and I only replaced it because I thought a repair it would need would cost too much.

Memory used to be the real need, but it has got so cheap that it doesn't matter unless you're creating streaming video or validating 10,000 line html pages (which was the only time I ever hit the swap file on my desktop which had 256MB at the time). In fact people are buying much more memory than they need because they still remember when they didn't have enough, just like the sons of  sweat shop workers in Cheetham Hill would keep all lights on in their posh Whitefield homes just because they liked the feel of not having to worry about the cost any more. Last time I went to the computer shop I bought 256 RAM and a new mouse. Guess what cost more!

Gamers go for the fastest CPU's. For normal users the thing to do is to look at the motherboard. If you buy the chip just before the specifications for the motherboard change then you have to change both, but if you buy the first chip that comes in with the new motherboard, then you just wait a few months until a better chip than that $600 chip you thought of goes down in price to about $50 because all the other chips are using the new motherboard.

Changing a chip is simply a hardware change, and is not even all that difficult. Changing a motheboard brings all kind of software problems with it that you are really better off avoiding.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, June 08, 2003

Go for the cheaper machine, and spend the difference on better kit.... more ram, dvd burner, better screen, bigger drives etc.

don't really think you will notice a difference in the raw performance of the machines. At least not a $200 difference.

tapiwa
Monday, June 09, 2003

Thanks for your suggestion guys...
I placed an order for Dell 2.4 GHz, 256 RAM and
30 G HD.
Am gonna gonna buy more memory later.

Decided
Monday, June 09, 2003

Philo: "I build 3-drive systems. One drive for the OS, one for applications, one for data."

I used to do this a few years ago. But, there's no win for putting OS and Apps on separate partitions. When you need to install OS again, you need to install Apps as well.

The only reason would be (probably a minimal) performance win, as it's possible to read from/write to both partitions at the same time.

Enjoy
Monday, June 09, 2003

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