The Round Rock, Texas-based computer maker today unveiled its first dual-processor capable commercial PC, the OptiPlex GX300.
Until now, PC makers have generally reserved two processors for workstations, which typically are used for compute-intensive applications, such as CAD, desktop publishing, video editing and 3-D modeling. Workstations also generally come with heftier hardware, such as better graphics and system memory, than do PCs.
Dell is leading the movement among PC makers to two processor systems in part due to Windows 2000 Professional's need for more robust hardware to achieve the same performance as Windows NT. The PC maker also realizes Windows 2000 makes fuller use of two processors than does Windows NT, said Steve Yon, Dell's director of OptiPlex marketing. Other PC makers are expected to follow Dell's lead.
A study conducted by Danville, Calif.-based Competitive Systems Analysis (CSA) concluded that to achieve application performance on par with Windows NT, many companies moving to Windows 2000 will need a processor upgrade equivalent to a 15 percent to 20 percent performance boost.
Microsoft lists the minimum Windows 2000 Professional system requirements as a 133-MHz Pentium processor and 64 MB of RAM.
But Dell and some analysts think Windows 2000 needs much more. Unofficially, the company recommends a minimum 400-MHz Celeron processor or better for commercial PCs, and, officially, Dell is telling corporate customers they need 128 MB of RAM.
Market researcher Gartner Group recommends at least a Pentium II-based system with 128 MB of RAM.
A Windows 2000 product manager defended Microsoft's recommended configuration as adequate to run the operating system.
"We have people here who have 64 MB of RAM but they're running it on a PII 200 with completely adequate performance and equal to if not better than they saw on Windows NT," said Craig Beilinson, Microsoft's lead product manager for Windows 2000.
CSA, which is a high-tech market researcher and consultancy, warned that its figures were conservative and that companies taking advantage of Windows 2000's built-in management and security features would need more than a 15 percent to 20 percent performance boost to match Windows NT.
That extra performance could come from taking advantage of Windows 2000's improved support for multiple processors. CSA found the introduction of a second processor improved system performance by 21 percent. By contrast, a second processor had negligible impact on Windows NT performance.
Typically under Windows NT, only software programs written specifically to take advantage of a second processor, such as Adobe Photoshop, demonstrated any performance gains over one processor.
The OptiPlex GX300 could bolster Dell's No. 1 PC position in the United States, but that might come at the expense of its workstation business. If the OptiPlex GX300 is a hit with corporate customers, it could bleed off sales from workstations, which tend to bring in more profits than do PCs.
Dell appears to be betting on volume and the benefits Windows 2000 brings to some corporate users. Dell, with 71,000 units shipped, led the workstation market in the third quarter with 27-percent market share, according to International Data Corp. During the same quarter, Dell shipped 2.12 million PCs--commercial and consumer--the Framingham, Mass.-based market researcher found.
Yon brushed aside concerns that the high-end commercial desktop too closely resembled Dell's entry-level workstations.
"When you look at the workstations and PCs, sure there are some similarities, but they're for different customers, different applications and usage model requirements," he said. "Yes, the OptiPlex could bleed off some workstation sales."
Dell is betting it can sell corporate customers on investment protection. Businesses buying a two-processor capable system could start out with one chip and add the second later. Windows 2000's better use of two processors would mean a significant upgrade without the cost of a new machine, Yon explained.
The OptiPlex GX300 is available today. The two-processor model, which sells for $2,995, includes two 600-MHz Pentium III chips, 128 MB of Rambus memory, 20-GB hard drive, 48X CD-ROM drive, 32-MB nVidia TNT2 M64 4X AGP graphics card and 10/100 networking.
"We're going to be offering all operating systems with the GX300, but with its two-processor capability, Windows 2000 would be the optimal OS," said Jennifer Langan, Dell's product manager for Microsoft operating systems.