Should you spend $3,555 on a piece of hardware that blends desktop and monitor in the same unit? Is it upgradeable? Can you repair it by replacing parts yourself? What can you do with this machine? We tried to find answers to these questions.
Power users and creative people are gradually waking up to the reality that they need real computers to do their jobs. According to a recent IDG report, the PC market is finally recovering and stabilizing as the iPad will kill the PC fad is over.
Major players have started to cater to these users. Microsoft came out with Surface Studio AIO to attract creative professionals. Apple has pulled iMacs out of hibernation and by the end of the year we will have the first iMac Pro. Dell launched their top tier all-in-one, Dell Precision 5720 All-in-One. Interestingly, Dell also decided to offer this AIO with Linux, making it the only high-end AIO available for Linux professionals.
Dell was generous enough to send me a review unit of Dell Precision 5720 All-in-One. I have been using this system for a few days now and I’m ready to share my findings.
Watch my review of Dell 5720 All-In-One on YouTube
Quick overview of hardware specs
Dell pioneered the concept of customizing the specification of your system before you buy it. There is no standard config for this AIO, you can pick and choose components.
The unit that Dell sent, features these components:
- Intel Xeon Processor E3-1275 v6 (Quad Core HT 3.8Ghz, 4.2GHz Turbo,8MB)
- 64GB (4x16GB) 2133MHz DDR4 ECC
- 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD Class 50
- 1TB 2.5″ SATA (7,200 RPM) Hard Drive x 2
- AMD Radeon Pro WX 7100 w/8GB GDDR5
- 27” 4K touchscreen display
- 2xHDMI ports, USB 3.0, SD card slot and 3.5mm jack.
This config costs around $3555, and if I get servicing support I can add something between $170 – $400, depending on the kind of service I may need. I am looking at a ~$4000 system.
When I opened the box and tried to take the system out, I realized it was super heavy. At roughly 17Kg, it’s almost twice as heavy as the latest iMac 27” and Microsoft Surface Studio.
Once it’s on your desk, the weight really doesn’t matter. It’s not meant to be portable. You are not going to carry it in your backpack, or bring it to the kitchen to check recipies or bring it to your bed trying to win a twitter war as your significant other is trying to sleep. It’s a desktop PC. It belongs on a desk.
Dell’s AIO is as big as a typical 27” HiDPI monitor. When I installed it on my desk everyone thought it was just a monitor. “Where is the PC?” they asked. That’s when I discovered the sheer beauty of the device. I can’t explain it in words, a picture is worth a thousand words.
In comparison to this AIO, my PC takes up the same space on the desk for the monitor, plus it takes up a lot more space for the desktop unit on the floor and there is a huge mess of HDMI cables, USB cables, power cords, audio cables and much more stuffed behind the desk.
This AIO gets rid of all that mess and that adds aesthetic value to my office.
One monitor, one wire. Period.
5720 is a high-end, top tier aluminum finished beast that looks great from every angle. It’s as thick (or thin for that purpose) as my 4K TV. The system features six speakers in the front, two of those are tweeters.
There’s a sound bar at the bottom of the display with four extra speakers. As a result, these 10 speakers produce a very crisp and rich sound that’s ideal for sound editing. It does lack base, but this system is not meant to be a $4,000 entertainment box to watch YouTube videos.
The back of the unit has 6 USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB Type-C ports, a HDMI port, one Displayport, audio out, Ethernet port and a port for the power cable. That’s a lot of ports, but they are hidden behind the articulating stand. It’s not easy to access them. I wish Dell took some cues from Apple and offered fully accessible and exposed ports. Thankfully, the SD Card slot, an audio jack and one extra USB port is on the side of the panel for easy access.
This is a touch screen version that comes with an articulating stand. I can convert it into a tabletop PC and use digital pen for sketching, editing images or design objects in 3D modelling software.
OMG! That glossy screen sucks!
As expected, it features a glossy screen that’s extremely reflective. Some people may argue that Dell should have used a non-glossy or matte screen to cut down that reflection. I fully disagree. A glossy screen means there is nothing between you and the display, just pure glass without any treatment. When you treat that glass to cut down reflection, you are putting something between your eyes and the display which affects sharpness and color accuracy. That’s the last thing you want to do if you work on film or images in a professional capacity.
We have been using glossy CRT monitors in editing rooms for almost half a century now and no one ever complained about the gloss. This whole glossy vs matte debate started after the popularization of laptops that people used outside in bright sunlight or in offices. It’s really hard to work with reflective screens, that’s why companies are trying to cut down reflection on consumer devices. Some people want to bring that unsubstantiated debate to professional monitors. Please don’t.
There is a reason why all high-end, super expensive professional monitors (including Dell’s own $5,000 8K monitor) have glossy screens. Both Microsoft Surface Studio and iMac Pro have glossy screens. It’s a no brainer. I am sticking with glossy screens.
Why AIO and not a desktop?
You are looking at one hell of a machine. It’s the most powerful and the most gorgeous machine that ever sat on my desk. But the bigger question is why should you buy a $4,000 AIO instead of a desktop, which gives you the option to upgrade components as you go?
I use laptops and iPad Pro for writing writing my stories. For all heavy lifting work, I have been building desktop PCs since 2005 as they give me total control over components and upgradability. You can get the same performance with AIO, but you do risk losing the upgradability. If you buy Microsoft Surface Studio, there is nothing except for the hard drive you can upgrade in that system. Apple’s new iMac is relatively better as it does allow a user to upgrade memory and CPU.
That’s not the case with Dell. With Dell 5720 all-in-one, you get almost desktop-grade upgradability. Dell has done an incredible job at documenting how to replace or upgrade parts in a 100 plus page manual. You can replace and upgrade everything including, but not limited to, CPU, memory, wireless chips, SSD drive, hard drive, power-supply…you get the idea. Only components, that you may not be able to upgrade is mother board as I am assuming it’s custom built for the form-factor. But you can still remove it from the unit, if you need to RMA it or get it replaced.
This is the most upgradable all-in-one I have ever come across. With maxed out specs, this system is future proof for the next couple of years and yet you still have the option to upgrade.
The unit comes with Dell keyboard and mouse, but I prefer my Logitech M750 Trackball / Kensington Orbit Trackball mouse and Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Wireless Desktop Keyboard.
The operating system
Dell 5720 AIO comes with an OEM version of Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. I hit a BIOS related bug in Ubuntu that fails to detect the WiFi card after first set-up. I informed Dell, and Canonical succeeded in reproducing the issue and they are working together to debug it. This is a great example of why open source works so well, I hit a bug, informed the company and they are already ‘working’ on fixing the issue. I must commend Dell’s Linux team for being so proactive.
Since Ubuntu is moving away from Unity, I went ahead and installed Ubuntu 17.10 that comes with Gnome 3.24. Everything worked great but there were many rough edges since it’s still a work in progress. I went ahead to install my favorite distribution,openSUSE. Unfortunately, Tumbleweed refused to boot and install on it; it won’t even show up in the BIOS.
In the meantime, while I was trying to find a solution for Tumbleweed, I tested Debian 9, elementary OS, Fedora 26 beta and Linux Mint. Everything worked out of the box, except for openSUSE Tumbleweed that refused to work with this machine.
I also tried Windows 10, to test a complex video editing project. What I found funny was that Windows didn’t detect wireless or bluetooth. I had to download drivers from Dell to get networking to work. On the contrary, every single Linux distribution that I tried on the system detected wireless and bluetooth out of the box.
In the end, I settled down with openSUSE Leap that installed without any issues. Initially I used Gnome, but I could not get the optimized setting for this gorgeous 32” 4K display. I opened YaST and installed Plasma as it offers more control over the desktop, including customizable scaling. Now I have 4 windows snapped together allowing me to work on 4 applications at the same time and each window is as big as my Dell XPS 13 screen. No need for the second monitor.
The beauty of this system is that wiping Ubuntu and installing your own distribution on it won’t affect the hardware warranty. Even if Ubuntu and RHEL are officially the supported distributions, Dell support teams will do their best to assist you with your distribution.
What’s RHEL doing on this system?
This system came with Ubuntu 16.10 pre-installed, but you can also get RHEL subscription with it. You may wonder what’s RHEL or Linux doing on a multimedia system? It might be news to you, but Linux dominates the silver screen. Movie studios have moved from SGI to Linux systems and often go with RHEL. A few months ago Pixar open sourced their 3D rendering technology and they gave a demo on System76 laptop running Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
Unfortunately, desktop Linux has failed to gain any traction in the consumer space and as a result you don’t see consumer multimedia applications for the platform. It all boils down to the economy. There are not enough paying customers for companies to port their applications to desktop Linux.
However, it’s an entirely different story on the industrial side where studios create their own in-house software for animation and other such needs. It gives them total control over the software stack so they are not relying on vendors for features or fine tuning. Linux fits in perfectly as unlike macOS or Windows, studios get total control over the platform to tweak it as they need. That said, there are many high-end solutions like Mudbox, Blender, Maya… available for both RHEL and CentOS.
Jared Dominguez of Dell tell me that they sell workstations (and servers) to many of the large film and special effects studios. He has personally helped a few large studios with questions about running RHEL and Ubuntu both on Dell Precision and Dell PowerEdge. The upcoming blockbuster Spiderman: Homecoming was created on Dell hardware.
Now you know why Dell is offering RHEL with this machine. The AIO is an ideal machine for such multimedia professionals who can get out-of-the box support for Linux to run their animation workloads.
Who can tame this beast?
It’s a beast of a machine. The hardware is great. The software support is great. Now, the $4,000 question is, who is it for? The short and correct answer is: it’s suitable for anyone who needs raw horsepower in a very appealing form factor. I think it’s a great system for these people:
IT professionals: This is an ideal system for software developers like Linus Torvalds or Greg Kroah-Hartman who need massive amount of computing power and memory for compiling software.
Architect/designers/engineers/scientists/researchers: These communities deal with extremely resource intensive data and applications that require raw horsepower, and this machine creates a perfect blend of affordability and compute power that these professionals need.
Power users: I am not a developer or a professional artist/architect/designer. I am a tech journalist who dabbles into complex film-editing projects. I run many operating systems in virtual machines to test and write about them. I need a really powerful system to perform all of those tasks. This is a perfect machine for professionals like myself..
Multimedia professional: If you are a filmmaker, video editor or sound engineer you need a massive amount of computing power, a professional monitor for color correction and a great sound system for sound editing. With this machine, you can go as high as Xeon E3 1275, Quad Core, eight thread processor and AMD Radeon Pro WX 7100 w/8GB GDDR5. It has one of the best monitors that I have ever used and the speakers are amazing. A perfect machine for multimedia workload.
Let’s put this beast to work
Since Linux doesn’t have any high-end film editing software, I booted into Windows 10. I used Adobe Premier Pro CC for a complex project that comprised of 4K footage from my DJI Mavic Pro drone. I created five different video tracks and four audio tracks with multiple video effects. The footage took around 8 hours 58 minutes to render on my 2013 MacBook Pro. My desktop PC, running last year’s quad core i7 CPU, took around 3 hours and 30 minutes. The same project was rendered in under 2 hours and 40 minutes on Dell AIO. That’s a noticeable difference to influence my purchase decision.
One of the biggest advantages of this machine is that it comes with Precision Optimizer that fine tunes the system to get maximum performance out of it. I installed the optimizer and added a profile for Adobe Premiere Pro CC and there was minute improvement; the rendering was a few seconds faster. However, I am assuming relative improvements when you are using an even more complex application with an even more complex workflow. Optimizer is no magic, it just allocated system resources like CPU, GPU, memory and storage in a more efficient way. Sadly, the optimizer doesn’t support Linux, because none of the supported professional applications are available for Linux.
Dell Precision 5720 All-In-One is a great machine for professionals from different walks of life. It can also be a great machine for an average Linux user who wants a no muss, no fuss experience with desktop grade upgradability. You can easily get a decent configuration for under $2,000. But if you are planning to use it for some serious work, I will suggest getting the most powerful CPU, GPU, memory and the fastest nvme SSD with at least 1TB of hard drive. You are good to go.
Will I buy it?
To me, a desktop is a workstation for resource intensive tasks. I use a laptop and iPad Pro for writing but I use my desktop for any resource intensive work, including video editing, 3D modelling and testing multiple operating systems in VMs. I am heavily into VR/AR space and own PSVR, Samsung Gear VR and Google DayDream. I avoided Oculus Rift and HTC Vive because I don’t want the mess of cables that come with desktop based virtual reality. However it may change with 5720, which is VR ready. I can finally experience the desktop based virtual reality.
When it comes to buying an AIO, I never considered Microsoft Surface Studio due to the fact that it’s not user upgradable. Apple got my attention with the new iMacs, but Dell stole the thunder with this system.
Dell has sold me to the concept of fully user upgradable all-in-one that comes with Linux support. I am never going back to bulky, cumbersome and messy desktop PCs again. Dell Precision 5720 AIO is my next PC purchase!