Ken Musgrave

January 30, 2013

3 Min Read
Workstations Get a Facelift

Workstations are high-performance computers that are used for the most intensive computing tasks, such as creative design and engineering, computer modeling and analysis, and animation. They're employed by some of the most sophisticated and demanding users to do inspiring work. I was recently asked to redesign the Dell Precision(TM) workstation line from the ground up, because the design hadn't been modified for a couple of generations.

Typically, when beginning a computer design, you might think to first look at the size of the system, the material of the chassis, or the placement of the CPU. We actually started with the vents. While they might not initially seem significant, they're central to what high-performance computers are most essentially about -- the effective movement of cool air to keep the components, such as the high-end Intel(R) Xeon(R) processors, operating at peak performance. With this philosophy, we developed a patented front panel in the form of an extruded diamond design that's become the face of all our new fixed workstations.

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Like many good designs, this diamond bezel looks simple but is deceptively challenging. The vent pattern wraps smoothly around the inside corner of the grill, maximizing airflow while visually hiding the interior components. Wrapping the diamond pattern around the curve of the chassis required changing the geometry on the inside, and it also required a patentable new tooling technology that allowed mold action on several unconventionally intersecting planes at the same time. The tooling for this part was the most complex ever created by Dell or its molding partners. The result was not only beautiful, but functional, because it enables better airflow into the system to cool the Xeon(R) processors and other components, which all lead to better performance while staying quieter.

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While system performance was, of course, prominent in our mind during the design, we also recognized that end users need workstations that are easier to service, deploy, and use on a daily basis. Some great innovations came to life as a result of this design philosophy.

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Deciding what to leave out was just as important as deciding what to put in, because our customers demand workstations that are serviceable and deployable; not 300-lb. behemoths. We could always increase performance by adding more hardware, but great design should deliver more with less. With our new design, we created a clean and clutter-free "split-interior" which separates areas more commonly accessed by users, such as memory and hard drives, from more service-accessed components, such as wiring harnesses and fans, simplifying tasks and reducing time required for service or upgrades. We also made it lighter than the previous generation.

Ultimately, we had the rare opportunity to design the products we get to use on a daily basis. We've been happy with the results and getting some recognition, as well. The Dell Precision Line won an iF Product Design Award in 2012 and Product of the Year from Videomaker.

Intel, the Intel logo, Xeon, and Xeon Inside are trademarks or registered trademarks of Intel Corporation in the US and/or other countries.

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