Pros: Powerful, robust business-class desktop; virtualization ready; (10) USB ports.
The push is on to lower the Total Cost of Ownership (TOC) and carbon footprint on computer equipment in the American workplace. This directly parallels the drive to move more and move data off the workstation and onto servers and other centralized storage medium via virtualization, turning desktop computers into little more than glorified dumb terminals. Sound familiar?
Dell has been quick to capitalize on the converging trends and offer an ever-changing line of Optiplex business-class workstations that are simple, small-footprint designs that offers high performance and low maintenance. The newest in this line is the Dell Optiplex 960 MT Business Desktop for which the business ordered some (25) in order to test a new virtualized desktop schema for some of outlying branch offices. And we wanted a test-bed for the soon-to-be-released Microsoft Windows 7.
The Dell Optiplex 960 MT is very similar in design to other Dell Optiplex (desktop) computers in the GX series of desktops that proliferate our workspace, such as the two-year old Optiplex GX755 desktops this machine is meant to replace. The two are very similar in functionality as well however; the Optiplex 960 MT offers more powerful processors and support for virtualization that the GX755 does not offer.
The Optiplex 960 is based on Intel vPro technology, which assists with BIOS-level remote management tasks for administrators. Windows Vista Business can be preinstalled on the unit, but an option for downgrading to Windows XP is available.
Dell markets the Optiplex 960 as an eco-friendly PC and to this end Dell purportedly has used some recycled materials to construct the plastic chassis; these parts include the front panel and hard drive holder. But the bulk of the chassis is made of steel.
While switched off, the computer will consume approximately 1.7W of power while it's switched off and less than 50W during normal usage, but peaks at 90W when all of its CPU cores are at in use and at their full capacity.
The Optiplex 960 MT can be ordered in one of (3) configurations, all in flat black and silver; i.e. the Small Form Factor, Desktop, and Mini-Tower. All have the same basic innards with the major difference being the size, configurable options, and of course the weight of the units. We have a mixture of Mini-Tower and Small Form Factor design in the environment.
Basic video configuration for the Optiplex 960 includes an integrated Intel GMA950 graphics card. Other options include a 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3470 Dual Monitor Card, 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 Dual Monitor Card, or 512MB NVIDIA NVS 420 Quad Monitor graphic card.
The Optiplex 960 MT can be ordered with one of six available Intel processors:
o Intel Core 2 Duo processor E8600 running at (3.33GHz, 1333MHz FSB w/6mb L2 cache);
o Intel Core 2 Duo processor E8500 running at (3.16GHz, 1333MHz FSB w/6mb L2 cache);
o Intel Core 2 Duo processor E8400 running at (3.0GHz, 1333MHz FSB w/6mb L2 cache);
o Intel Core 2 Quad processor Q9650 with Intel VT Enhanced SpeedStep technology running at (3.0GHz, 1333MHz FSB w/12mb L2 cache);;
o Intel Core 2 Quad processor with Intel vPro technology running at (2.83GHz, 1333MHz FSB w/12mb L2 cache);;
o Intel Core 2 Quad processor with Intel vPro technology running at (2.66GHz, 1333MHz FSB w/6mb L2 cache);
The Optiplex 960 MT can be configured with up to 16GB of Non-ECC dual-channel DDR2 SDRAM memory giving the computer more than enough power to handle the usual office applications a typical business might throw at it, including Windows 7, which utilizes a much small resource footprint than Windows Vista. But more importantly the extra memory will needed to run Windows XP virtualized desktops under (some) Windows 7 editions. Why is this important?
Because Microsoft (finally) realized that the OS needs to offer true support for legacy applications and that not all software will run under Windows 7. So certain versions of Windows 7—those marketed towards businesses: Enterprise, Ultimate and Professional —will have the ability to run applications inside a Windows XP virtual computer on the Windows 7 desktop. This a cool bit of technology that has been a long time in coming. Virtual computers require real Ram to run, so the more a host computer has the better. More on this below.
The BTX motherboard design Dell wedged into the Optiplex 960 MT is based on Intel's Q45 Express chipset. The board is engineered for more efficient airflow and quieter operation. This is evident in the rather large vents that take up clearly half the back of the computer. And the machine is extremely quiet. The BTX design is a sharp contrast to ATX-style systems, which usually require two or more fans.
Possible hard drive choices include 80, 160, 250, and 350GB SATA units. The computer can also be ordered with a 32 or 64GB Solid State drive. The optical-drive bay can house a single CD-RW/DVD combo drive, but we opted for the DVD-RW burner. The Optiplex 960 MT is fitted with (4) front-side USB ports and two audio jacks, while the rear of the system holds (6) USB ports, (1) E-STA, (1) a gigabit Ethernet port, three audio jacks, and parallel and (1) legacy port.
When the Optiplex 960 MT came in I appropriated one for myself and immediately installed Windows 7 Ultimate RC1. Outfitted with 4GB of Ram and an 80GB SATA hard drive, the computer runs Windows 7 effortlessly.
To see how well the computer would perform with a virtual PC loaded, I downloaded the two components necessary to run a virtual PC under Windows 7; Microsoft Virtual PC RC (Release Candidate) and Windows XP Mode RC. Both products are free from this site (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/download.aspx), and the site walks you through the download and install; trust me it easy.
Once both products were installed I fired up the Windows XP Mode virtual PC and was pleasantly surprised by the implementation. The Windows XP Mode virtual PC looks, feels, and acts just like a Windows XP desktop because it is. The default RAM allocation is 512MB, but that can be bumped up. The Optiplex 960 ran the virtual PC just as fast as the regular workstation OS, so those businesses that want to switch to Windows 7, but need to run legacy applications can do so.
The virtual PC shares all of the “Host computer’s” hardware components and the virtual PC can participate in a network, browse the Internet, download Windows updates, and use the host computer’s DVD/CD-Rom drive to install programs. Nice!!!
The Optiplex 960’s built-in sound card works remarkable well and produces sound comparable to many high end offerings. The built-in speaker however, offers limited fidelity. Space on the front panel containing a lone headphone jack is a welcome convenience, an innovation it has taken PC manufactures over a decade to incorporate into their designs.
The ten USB version 2.0 ports (six in the back, four in the front) are a welcome addition especially the four in the front which are not hidden behind an annoying hinged door. Increasing, the devices that utilize USB ports are portable in nature and having to continually move the Tower in order to access them can become a pain, so I welcome the (4) USB ports in the front of the unit. Note: the desktop and Mini version of the computer have one (2) USB Ports in the front of the unit.
The Dell Optiplex 960 MT Business Desktop is powerful business class workstation that is more than adequate for our primary business computing needs. For the base price of some $645.00 the Dell Optiplex 960 MT is an inexpensive high performance workhorse that more than meets our current computing needs and fits into our network-centric environment with ease where we always have an eye, or two, trained on TOC.
The bonus: the computer supports a virtualized environment and therefore is ready for Windows 7 and its Windows XP Mode virtual PC functionality. In the business arena where this desktop will most likely see the most use, support for virtualization is a huge plus!