With the Precision R5400, Dell has opted for performance over space savings and cost trimming for its data center-hosted desktop solution. See why there might be an interesting ROI case to be made for all this computing power. 


Dell unveiled its data center-hosted desktop product line on Tuesday. Unlike rivals Hewlett-Packard and IBM, Dell didn’t build its solution on blade servers but instead opted for a high performance system using a 2U box called the Dell Precision R5400 Rack Workstation.

“By not putting the solution on a blade, we were able to add more functionality and high performance OpenGL l graphics cards, to achieve the caliber of performance workstation customers want,”  said Antonio Julio, Director, Dell Product Group.

Dell also announced the new Dell FX100 remote access device, which is a small, fan-less client device that is meant to be used at the employee’s desk to access an R5400. Dell intended for there to be a 1-to-1 ratio between the R5400s and the FX100s, which do PC-over-IP including hardware-based encryption, compression, decompression, and decryption.

Dell Precision R5400 rack workstation plus the Dell FX100 remote access device (view the gallery

R5400 specs

  • Dual-Core and Quad-Core Intel Xeon Processors
  • Up to 32GB Fully Buffered 667MHz ECC memory in 4 DIMM slots
  • Intel 5400 chipset
  • 8MB flash memory for system BIOS
  • Support for 2 PCI Express x16 graphics cards up to 150 watts
  • Support for up to two monitors
  • Up to 2 SATA hard drives with a potential capacity of 2.0TB and RAID 0 or 1
  • Dual Broadcom NetXtreme 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet controllers
  • 2 internal 3.5″ hard disk drive bays; 1 external 5.25″ slim-line optical bay
  • Integrated high definition audio
  • Can be preloaded with Windows Vista, Windows XP, or Red Hat Linux


The R5400 starts at $1869 and the FX100 is $800, so that means it will cost over $2500 per user to deploy this solution. The R5400 is based on Dell’s Precision T5400 desktop solution, which costs about $1500. So you are basically paying a $1000 premium for the ability to host the desktop in the data center.

Customer demand

Despite the cost premium, there appears to be enough customer demand for this solution from IT departments to make it a viable market. Almost a year ago, in August 2007, on the Dell IdeaStorm Web site, user jensvb wrote:

“Dell should make a workstation blade like IBM and HP or Clearcube. I think it has many advantages for administrator and users. Administrators have the computers in their air conditioned server room all together and the users only have a fanless little box where then can connect usb devices, monitors (at least two) and sound.

This would be perfect because if you buy a Precision workstation from dell it is really too loud and noisy. Like at Clearcube you should be able to choose from diffenerent Ports with diffenent features. They also should be able to connect through ethernet cable (Cat5e).

I would love to see that from Dell.”

Bottom line

If Dell could make the price of the R5400 comparable to the T5400 AT $1500 and bring the little FX100 down to $500 or less then this could be a fairly powerful option at just under $2000. Paying $800 for that little FX100 seems ridiculous to me, especially when Dell sells business-class desktop PCs for less than that.

Dell has designed this as full-powered PC solution that doesn’t compromise performance. These machines can even be used for resource-intensive applications like CAD and multimedia editing, while still providing all of the manageability benefits that IT gets from being able to centralize the systems. Some of those benefits include:

  • All data and applications are secured in the data center
  • Takes up less space in user’s work area and makes less noise
  • Users can’t spill liquids on the machine or cause other inadvertent damage
  • IT support has one central location to go to for physical access to machines

In terms of ROI, the most compelling case that could be made for the R5400 solution is that at night the systems can be turned over to a computing cluster and their processing power can be used to execute server loads. If you can run the numbers and use that computing power to save you from buying extra servers then this could become an interesting and potentially profitable ROI story.