Dell 2.53GHz Precision Workstation 340
Single-processor racehorse is a good value, nice flat panel, too

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Dell Precision Workstation 340 2.53GHz P4After watching the newest, fastest Athlon dual-processor machines blowing away everything else we've tested here at the Midwest Test Facility, Dell decided it was time to leap into the fray with one of its Intel-processor equipped workstations. We welcomed their entry into the quick-box derby, and expected the Texas company to send its fastest, most powerful machine. But no. The Dellians are cocky. They didn't send a dual-processor 2.4GHz Xeon monster, but a single processor Pentium 4 workstation running at 2.53 GHz with a 533MHz front-side bus. And it was quick like a bunny, too. Here's our review.

When I unpacked the machine, all I could think of was that goofy guy in the TV commercials telling me, "You're gettin' a Dell!" But hey, I don't mind getting a Dell, because setting up this machine was quite pleasant, with everything falling into place easily.

Dell Precision 340 with dual monitor setupAlong with the machine came a nicely-designed 20" flat panel display, to which I immediately took a liking. Once I had everything plugged in, I fired up the machine and took a look at that monitor in action. I was extremely impressed. Even when compared side-by-side with a $6000 IBM T210 flat panel display, the thing was super-crisp and looked every bit as good as the IBM panel. Granted, the IBM monitor is capable of higher resolution than this (2048x1536 compared to the maximum 1600x1200 of the Dell) and has a higher pixel count, but that doesn't translate into much difference to the eye, especially for video editing.

Even so, the $1599 price of this display put me off a bit at first, but considering that its quality is as good as that IBM monitor, and I could buy about four of them for the same price, I was highly impressed. I had plugged in the display, and suddenly realized that we happened to have another 20" flat panel exactly like it lying around from a different system we're testing here. So I went ahead and set the two monitors up in a dual-monitor configuration, an easy task using the NVIDIA Quadro4 550 XGL AGP 64MB graphics card, that can be equally happy with either the analog VGA setup I used or a digital (DVI) hook-up. There was only one factor I could say would improve these displays for dual monitor use: Their frames are too wide. When sitting side-by-side, there's almost two inches between one screen and the next. But cranking up the resolution on each monitor to its maximum 1600 x 1200, I was quickly reminded that using two monitors to create digital content is by far the best way to go.
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Inside the Dell precision 340
(Click graphic for enlargement) Dell's Precision Workstation 340 opens like you crack open an egg. No tools are needed.
Thoroughly satisfied with the monitoring situation, I then took a look inside the machine. Not being familiar with Dell's latest "tool-free" case, I was a bit perplexed at first, wondering how to open it. Being sometimes spatially challenged for some reason, I actually had to look at the instruction manual to figure out how to open it. But once I found the secret in Dell's well-organized handbook, it was an easy thing: There are two buttons, one on the top and the other underneath (didn't see that one), and when you push both, the whole thing cracks open like an egg (see picture). I've never seen anything like it. Once you get it open, it sits there in two halves, at a 90-degree angle to each other. It makes everything easy to get to, and since we like to shift components around a lot here, we like that.

Click for enlargement
{Click for enlargement) Here the fan air director is removed to show the quietest fan arrangement we've ever seen (or heard!).
Taking a look inside, I liked what I saw. Instead of a cooling fan mounted directly on top of the processor, as is the custom with most Athlon configurations, this machine has a huge green fan port positioned over the processor, which leads to one medium-sized fan on the back of the case. And I'll say one thing about that fan -- it was the quietest one I've ever heard in a computer. When the machine was on, it was impossible to tell there was a fan running at all. In fact, this box wins the coveted Quietness Prize -- it's the quietest machine ever to grace our presence in these parts. This feature is important to me, and my estimation of the machine went up about five pegs when I beheld its serene quietude.

Another thing I like about the inside of this machine: It really is tool-free, even when you want to change a card. There's a clamp that holds down the cards, and you don't have to fumble with those tiny screws any more if you want to swap out a card or two. That's a great innovation that I haven't seen yet in other machines.

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