Dell Precision 3630 Tower Workstation: Affordable Performance

PRODUCT REVIEW: You can buy this entry-level workstation for less than $600, although by the time you get it to where you want it for work, it’ll probably cost more.

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Dell bills its Precision 3630 Tower workstation as having unmatched performance and affordability in a space-saving design. These claims are true. This professional workstation appears to be a squat package mainly because of its diminutive height, although it’s as wide as other workstations, but also because it consumes relatively little space from front to back.

It is, by far, the smallest desktop workstation of all of those we’ve tested, but that doesn’t seem to impact its performance. Like other professional workstations, the Dell 3630 is readily expandable, it’s easy to access, and it provides a lot of flexibility.

But as you’d expect from a workstation where one of the primary selling points is its compact design, there are compromises. For example, there are built-in drive bays ready to accept standard 3.5-inch drives, but only two. Likewise, the number of no-tool components is fewer than with some other workstations, although it appears that the most commonly accessed items are still easy to reach and replace.

And as you’d expect, there’s less space inside the case of this workstation than you’d find inside of a computer that isn’t so focused on being small. This shouldn’t be a surprise, and for many (perhaps most) users it may not matter. Most buyers of these workstations put them into service and never change a thing after that.

Can Be Configured With a Range of Options

On the other hand, Dell has designed the Precision 3630 so that it can be configured with a very wide range of components in an equally wide range of configurations. You can choose processors ranging from an Intel Core i3 to Core i7-8700K and on to a Xeon E-2186G, for example. You can choose memory from 4GB up to 64GB.

The list goes on, from the standard built-in Intel graphics you see on most computers to a pair of Nvidia Quadro P4000s or a Quadro P5000. You can get a standard 500GB hard drive through a range of solid-state drives (SSDs). Basically, this computer can be nearly anything you want it to be, except big.

The test unit was configured with an Intel Core i7 processor with 32GB memory and a 512GB M.2 SSD. Like most workstations, the 3630 had plenty of ports. On the front of the computer there’s a pair of USB 2.0 ports, an SD card reader and two USB 3.1 ports, one of which is Type C and the other Type A.

On the back of the computer are five more USB 3.1 Type A ports, two USB 2.0 ports, PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors, two DisplayPort connectors and an Ethernet connector. Because this computer was configured with the Quadro P4000 video card, there were four more DisplayPort connectors. This computer should be able to support up to four 4K monitors, but we didn’t test that.

Geekbench Scores Better Than Most

The test environment did include a Dell Ultrasharp U2718Q 4K monitor, which is part of our standard test setup. Performance for normal office computing tasks as well as for non-intensive graphics tasks was quite good. The Geekbench 4 scores were better than the other workstations we’ve tested, with an average single core score of 5650 and an average multicore score of 25796.

However, the average compute score of 42707 was surprising considering this computer was equipped with the Quadro P4000. Other workstations with the same graphics card and GPU had scores approximately four times higher. This may be because the GPU was unavailable to the testing software, which indicated that the test was run using the Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU.

One other surprise regarding the 3630 is that the clean modular design that is a hallmark of many of the newest workstations is present only to a limited degree in this computer. You do not, for example, have the clean, nearly wire-free appearance you see elsewhere. You don’t see as many components that simply click into place with a backplane ready to accept them. This is not a problem for normal operations, but if you need to access the internal parts of the computer, it makes things harder.

Operationally, this computer works very well. It’s small, very quiet and well-designed for its intended purpose. It’s also very inexpensive. While there are desktop computers that cost less, those don’t have the flexibility and expandability that the Precision 3630 has.

Dual-Processor Version Probably Not a Big Factor

Normally, this is the place where I’d mention that you can’t get a dual-processor version of the 3630. But the fact is that this doesn’t matter. And as I’ve come to learn, modern processor design coupled with the fact that almost no software can take advantage of dual processors means that having a fast single processor with enough cores, along with a well-thought-out motherboard design and well-chosen components, is a plus.

I was impressed with the Dell Precision 3630. While its current price as tested is slightly above $2,500, you get a lot for this money. All things considered, this is a high-performance bargain.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...