By Brady Betzel
Multimedia creators are looking for faster, more robust computer systems and seeing an increase in computing power among all brands and products. Whether it’s an iMac Pro with a built-in 5K screen or a Windows-based, Nvidia-powered PC workstation, there are many options to consider. Many of today’s content creation apps are operating-system-agnostic, but that’s not necessarily true of hardware — mainly GPUs. So for those looking at purchasing a new system, I am going to run through one of Dell’s Windows-based offerings: the Dell Precision T5820 workstation.
The most important distinction between a “standard” computer system and a workstation is the enterprise-level quality and durability of internal parts. While you might build or order a custom-built system for less money, you will most likely not get the same back-end assurances that “workstations” bring to the party. Workstations aren’t always the fastest, but they are built with zero downtime and hardware/software functionality in mind. So while non-workstations might use high-quality components, like an Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti (a phenomenal graphics card), they aren’t necessarily meant to run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. On the other hand, the Nvidia Quadro series GPUs are enterprise-level graphics cards that are meant to run constantly with low failure rates. This is just one example, but I think you get the point: Workstations run constantly and are warrantied against breakdowns — typically.
Dell Precision T5820
Dell has a long track record of building everyday computer systems that work. Even more impressive are its next-level workstation computers that not only stand up to constant use and abuse but are also certified with independent software vendors (ISVs). ISV is a designation that suggests Dell has not only tested but supports the end-user’s primary software choices. For instance, in the nonlinear editing software space I found out that Dell had tested the Precision T5820 workstation with Adobe Premiere Pro 13.x in Windows 10 and has certified that the AMD Radeon Pro WX 2100 and 3100 GPUs with 18.Q3.1 drivers are approved.
You can see for yourself here. Dell also has driver suggestions from some recent versions of Avid Media Composer, as well as other software packages. That being said, Dell not only tests but will support hardware configurations in the approved software apps.
Beyond the ISV certifications and the included three-year hardware warranty with on-site/in-home service after remote diagnostics, how does the Dell Precision T5820 perform? Well, it’s fast and well-built.
The specs are as follows:
– Intel Xeon W-2155 3.3GHz, 4.5GHz Turbo, 10-core, 13.75MB cache with hyperthreading
– Windows 10 Pro (four cores plus for workstations — this is an additional cost)
– Precision 5820 Tower with 950W chassis
– Nvidia Quadro P4000, 8GB, four DisplayPorts (5820T)
– 64GB (8x8GB) 2666MHz DDR and four RDIMM ECC
– Intel vPro technology enabled
– Dell Ultra-Speed Drive Duo PCIe SSD x8 Card, 1 M.2 512GB PCIe NVMe class 50 Solid State Drive (boot drive)
– 3.5-inch 2TB 7200rpm SATA hard drive (secondary drive)
– Wireless keyboard and mouse
– 1Gb network interface card
– USB 3.1 G2 PCIe card (two Type C ports, one DisplayPort)
– Three years hardware warranty with onsite/in-home service after remote diagnosis
All of this costs around $5,200 without tax or shipping and not including any sale prices.
The Dell Precision T5820 is the mid-level workstation offering from Dell that finds the balance between affordability, performance and reliability — kind of the “better, Cheaper, faster” concept. It is one of the quietest Dell workstations I have tested. Besides the spinning hard drive that was included on the model I was sent, there aren’t many loud cards or fans that distract me when I turn on the system. Dell is touting the new multichannel thermal design for advanced cooling and acoustics.
The actual 5820 case is about the size of a mid-sized tower system but feels much slimmer. I even cracked open the case to tinker around with the internal components. The inside fans and multichannel cooling are sturdy and even a little hard to remove without some force — not necessarily a bad thing. You can tell that Dell made it so that when something fails, it is a relatively simple replacement. The insides are very modular. The front of the 5820 has an optical drive, some USB ports (including two USB-C ports) and an audio port. If you get fancy, you can order the systems with what Dell calls “Flex Bays” in the front. You can potentially add up to six 2.5-inch or five 3.5-inch drives and front-accessible storage of up to four M.2 or U.2 PCIe NVMe SSDs. The best part about the front Flex Bays is that, if you choose to use M.2 or U.2 media, they are hot-swappable. This is great for editing projects that you want to archive to an M.2 or save to your Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve cache and remove later.
In the back of the workstation, you get audio in/out, one serial port, PS/2, Ethernet and six USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type A ports. This particular system was outfitted with an optional USB 3.1 Gen 2 10GB/s Type C card with one DisplayPort passthrough. This is used for the Dell UltraSharp 32-inch 4K (UHD) USB-C monitor that I received along with the T5820.
The large Dell UltraSharp 32-inch monitor (U3219Q) offers a slim footprint and a USB-C connection that is very intriguing, but they aren’t giving them away. They cost $879.99 if ordered through Dell.com. With the ultra-minimal Infinity Edge bezel, 400 nits of brightness for HDR content, up to UHD (3840×2160) resolution, 60Hz refresh rate and multiple input/output connections, you can see all of your work in one large IPS panel. For those of you who want to run two computers off one monitor, this Dell UltraSharp has a built-in KVM switch function. Anyone with a MacBook Pro featuring USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports can in theory use one USB-C cable to connect and charge. I say “in theory” only because I don’t have a new MacBook Pro to test it on. But for PCs, you can still use the USB-C as a hub.
The monitor comes equipped with a DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI, four USB 3.0 Type A ports and a USB-C port. Because I use my workstation mainly for video and photo editing, I am always concerned with proper calibration. The U3219Q is purported by Dell to be 99% Adobe sRGB-, 95% DCI-P3- and 99% Rec. 709-accurate, so if you are using Resolve and outputting through a DeckLink, you will be able to get some decent accuracy and even use it for HDR. Over the years, I have really fallen in love with Dell monitors. They don’t break the bank, and they deliver crisp and accurate images, so there is a lot to love. Check out more of this monitor here.
Working in media creation I jump around between a bunch of apps and plugins, from Media Composer to Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve and even from Adobe After Effects to Maxon’s Cinema 4D. So I need a system that can not only handle CPU-focused apps like After Effects but GPU-weighted apps like Resolve. With the Intel Xeon and Nvidia Quadro components, this system should work just fine. I ran some tests in Premiere Pro, After Effects and Resolve. In fact, I used Puget Systems’ benchmarking tool with Premiere and After Effects projects. You can find one for Premiere here. In addition, I used the classic 3D benchmark Cinebench R20 from Maxon, and even did some of my own benchmarks.
In Premiere, I was able to play 4K H.264 (50MB and 100MB 10-bit) and ProRes files (HQ and 4444) in realtime at full resolution. Red Raw 4K was able to playback in full-quality debayer. But as the Puget Systems’ Premiere Benchmark shows, 8K (as well as heavily effected clips) started to bog the system down. With 4K, the addition of Lumetri color correction slowed down playback and export a little bit — just a few frames under realtime. It was close though. At half quality I was essentially playing in realtime. According to the Puget Systems’ Benchmark, the overall CPU score was much higher than the GPU score. Adobe uses a lot of single core processing. While certain effects, like resizes and blurs, will open up the GPU pipes, I saw the CPU (single-core) kicking in here.
In the Premiere Pro tests, the T5820 really shined bright when working with mezzanine codec-based media like ProRes (HQ and 4444) and even in Red 4K raw media. The T5820 seemed to slow down when multiple layers of effects, such as color correction and blurs, were added on top of each other.
In After Effects, I again used Puget Systems’ benchmark — this time the After Effects-specific version. Overall, the After Effects scoring was a B or B-, which isn’t terrible considering it was up against the prosumer powerhouse Nvidia RTX 2080. (Puget Systems used the 2080 as the 100% score). It seemed the tracking on the Dell T5820 was a 90%, while Render and Preview scores were around 80%. While this is just what it says — a benchmark — it’s a great way to see comparisons between machines like the benchmark standard Intel i9, RTX 2080 GPU, 64GB of memory and much more.
In Resolve 16 Beta 7, I ran multiple tests on the same 4K (UHD), 29.97fps Red Raw media that Puget Systems used in its benchmarks. I created four 10-minute sequences:
Sequence 1: no effects or LUTs
Sequence 2: three layers of Resolve OpenFX Gaussian blurs on adjustment layers in the Edit tab
Sequence 3: five serial nodes of Blur Radius (at 1.0) created in the Color tab
Sequence 4: in the Color tab, spatial noise reduction was set at 25 radius to medium, blur set to 1.0 and sharpening in the Blur tab set to zero (it starts at 0.5).
Sequence 1, without any effects, would play at full debayer quality in real time and export at a few frames above real time, averaging about 33fps. Sequence 2, with Resolve’s OpenFX Gaussian blur applied three times to the entire frame via adjustment layers in the Edit tab, would play back in real time and export at between 21.5fps and 22.5fps. Sequence 3, with five serial nodes of blur radius set at 1.0 in the Blur tab in the Color tab, would play realtime and export at about 23fps. Once I added a sixth serial blur node, the system would no longer lock onto realtime playback. Sequence 4 — with spatial noise reduction set at 25 radius to medium, blur set to 1.0 and sharpening in the Blur tab set to zero in the Color tab — would play back at 1fps to 2fps and export at 6.5fps.
All of these exports were QuickTime-based H.264s exported using the Nvidia encoder (the native encoder would slow it down by 10 frames or so). The settings were UHD resolution; “automatic — best” quality; disabled frame reordering; force sizing to highest quality; force debayer to highest quality and no audio. Once I stacked two layers of raw Red 4K media, I started to drop below realtime playback, even without color correction or effects. I even tried to play back some 8K media, and I would get about 14fps on full-res. Premium debayer, 14 to 16 on half res. Premium 25 on half res. good, and 29.97fps (realtime) on quarter res. good.
Using the recently upgraded Maxon Cinebench R20 benchmark, I found the workstation to be performing adequately around the fourth-place spot. Keep in mind, there are thousands of combinations of results that can be had depending on CPU, GPU, memory and more. These are only sample results that you could verify against your own for 3D artists. The Cinebench R20 results were CPU: 4682, CPU (single-core): 436, and MP ratio: 10.73x. If you Google or check out some threads for Cinebench R20 result comparisons, you will eventually find some results to compare mine against. My results are a B to B+. A much higher-end Intel Xeon or i9 or an AMD Threadripper processor would really punch this system up a weight class.
The Dell Precision T5820 workstation comes with a lot of enterprise-level benefits that simply don’t come with your average consumer system. The components are meant to be run constantly, and Dell has tested its systems against current industry applications using the hardware in these systems to identify the best optimizations and driver packages with these ISVs. Should anything fail, Dell’s three-year warranty (which can be upgraded) will get you up and running fast. Before taxes and shipping, the Dell T5820 I was sent for review would retail for just under $5,200 (maybe even a little more with the DVD drive, recovery USB drive, keyboard and mouse). This is definitely not the system to look at if you are a DIYer or an everyday user who does not need to be running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But in a corporate environment, where time is money and no one wants to be searching for answers, the Dell T5820 workstation with accompanying three-year ProSupport with next-day on-site service will be worth the $5,200. Furthermore, it’s invaluable that optimization with applications such as the Adobe Creative Suite is built-in, and Dell’s ProSupport team has direct experience working in those professional apps.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on shows like Life Below Zero and The Shop. He is also a member of the Producer’s Guild of America. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.