Fundamental redesign of Dell Workstations enables immersive, AI-driven tomorrow

Dell is stressing that its recent workstations announcement is far more than just the latest feeds and speeds, but is part of a strategy to give customers the massive capabilities, immersive computing, and virtual reality of an AI-driven future that has already started.

Dell Canvas

Dell has rebooted its Dell Precision fixed workstation portfolio, with a major design of their devices to not only ramp up their production, but enable them for tomorrow’s advances in AI and virtual computing. While the lower end of the portfolios is affordable, Dell is calling the higher end, the Precision 7920 Tower, the most powerful desktop in the world. Dell also brought its long awaited Smart Desk design environment to market, with the name of Canvas, and emphasizing how its immersiveness fits into this future vision.

“The biggest piece of the announcement is the new workstation towers and rack machines,” said Rahul Tikoo, Vice President and General Manager for Dell Precision Workstations. “We don’t redesign these machines very often. We update the CPUs and GPUs a lot, but we don’t redesign the products from the inside out. That’s what we have done here now after five generations.”

The three tower models are the Dell Precision 5820 Tower, Precision 7820 Tower, and Precision 7920 Tower, while the Precision 7920 Rack is also available in a 2U Rack form factor.

“What the redesign enabled us to do is put future thinking into the box, instead of just the new Intel architecture and the latest NVIDIA graphics card,” Tikoo said. This will let us be able to support where the industry is going to be five years from now.

The added power and performance leverages the AI capabilities in the new Intel processors and high-end NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards, as well as Dell’s own IP like Dell Reliable Memory Technology (RMT) and Dell Precision Optimizer (DPO).

“These are future-proofed for more power and performance,” Tikoo said. “We will go to AI [artificial intelligence] workstations in this generation, and this will support them, with 28 cores each, a lot of power on the CPU side, three of the highest end compute cards [the NVIDIA Quadro GP100 or Radeon Pro SSG], and more memory than anyone would know what to do with other than most high end users. These are the most powerful desktops in the world, period. You will have supercomputers literally on your desk. You are looking at about 20 teraflops of performance in the Precision 7920 machine.”

By way of comparison, when Dell got into this market twenty years ago, the top machines could do 40 to 60 megaflops of performance.

“The biggest computer then could do 1 teraflop, and it took up a whole room,” Tikoo said. “This has 32,000 times better performance based on CPU. On the systems side, it’s hundreds of thousands of times better. Price per flop has gone down 18,000 times on CPU. Now the entry model starts at $650 and the top end goes up to several tens of thousands of dollars depending on configuration. The Precision 5820 will typically be in the $1300 to $1400 range.”

Tikoo said that work on AI and machine learning in the past has typically used data centres, but being able to do this work on smaller machines was important to enable many more use cases.

Left to right, the Dell Precision 7920 7820 and 5820

“For someone who wants to do more artificial learning on small machines, there has been a gap,” he said. “Those customers don’t want to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in this. They want a simple deskside machine to do that for them. They don’t want to pay $30,000 a month to AWS for R&D. That landed us into the first AI ready workstation in the industry – the Precision 7920 – at a price point which is very attractive to these users. They can buy a whole system at that same monthly price point and use it for three years.

“This enables the right solution for the right use cases,” Tikoo continued. “We had the right solutions in servers for this. We didn’t in client, and now we do with these new AI ones.”

The Dell Precision 5820, 7820, 7920 towers and 7920 Rack will be available for order in Canada beginning October 3. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Dell Precision, Dell has also announced a limited-edition anniversary model of its Dell Precision 5520, Dell’s thinnest, lightest, and smallest mobile workstation.

In addition to the new hardware, Dell is also announcing availability of its Dell Canvas workspace for creative design.

“Canvas was what was originally Smart Desk,” Tikoo said. “We showed the vision of this back in 2013 and 2014 at Dell World. The idea was to get people more immersed at what they are doing. Even with modern tools like Adobe and Autodesk. you have many mouse clicks, and the whole creative process is very cumbersome. You are interacting with the machine rather than creating. This has all been reimagined with Canvas. It is a great example of immersive computing.”

Canvas includes a 27” QHD touch screen, the latest Windows 10 Creator’s Update, and a digital pen. Tikoo emphasized, however, that it is much more than the sum of its parts.

“You have your main screen monitor and workstation, but the desk is a digital desk where you can interact with the tool of your choice, because we have worked with ISVs to enable this,” he said. “Your left hand is for totems. You navigate a wheel. There are no mouse clicks. There is a context-aware menu. If you are painting, it lets you change brush tips or colors. It has a precise pen with a large number of pressure points.”

Tikoo said that Dell worked with Microsoft on the Windows 10 Creators Update, to massively upgrade its functionality.

“We drove that update,” he said. “Microsoft now has an SDK where anyone in the ISV market can write to that SDK and do multi-monitor or wheel or totem support. So this will be across the industry. It’s not just proprietary, because we got Microsoft to do this.”

Tikoo also stressed that this won’t just be for the gaming and entertainment industries.

“We worked with 150 different ISVs in many areas on this – including ones that will be more surprising like finance, retail and oil and gas,” he stated. “They made changes in their products to support Canvas.

Canvas is available now.

“It should be very successful product for Dell and drive the industry forward – away from the 50 year old technology of keyboard and mouse interaction,” Tikoo noted.

Tikoo said that Dell’s strategy here will keep customers on the cutting edge of immersive computing, virtual reality, and AI going forward.

“The future is going to be more social and immersive,” he said. “That’s already upon us today, so this is not a far off future. These things are only going to accelerate even more and carry over into the commercial space. It won’t be just virtual reality and augmented reality, but how you interact with your technology. And all of your products will become smart. AI is the new electricity for this, but it’s changing very fast.”

Dell has built out an infrastructure to support customers on their journey with this technology.

“We are one of the biggest suppliers of virtual reality end to end,” Tikoo said. “We have also created virual reality centres of excellence, and have eight of them worldwide. They are physical spaces, three in the U.S., two in Europe and three in Asia. They have reality gear, peripheral devices, software and subject matter experts, and they give free service to customers around applications and use cases. They are there to help customers understand what they need before they invest in it. Because this is all new, a lot of customers don’t know what they want here.”

Tikoo said that the Dell Technology Partner Program plays an important role here as well.

“A lot of small startups play key roles in augmented and virtual reality,” he stated. “While they are critical, customers are confused about who they are, and don’t understand where to place their bets. The Technology Partner Program is our way of telling customers which solutions we have tested and the key partners we would recommend to make their investment bets with.”

So where does the channel fit in?

“One of the biggest things where the channel can help in this area is the ecosystem surrounding the use cases we are enabling,” Tikoo said. “Dell cannot do everything. With things like headsets, controllers, accessories, and peripherals, the channel plays an important part in enabling the ecosystem around the systems. That adds value to the equation with the hardware and software to make it a valuable solution for our customers.”