There are some people who’ll buy any car because they need to get from A-B, and then there are those who’ll buy a particular car not just because they need to get from A-B but because they love driving. It’s a similar story with PCs. A PC is essentially a tool and most people will buy the one that does what they need for the best price they can get. The more discerning however will want much more than that; they'll want something that makes a statement.
This is where the Dell Dimension XPS comes in. Just by looking at it you know that this is no ordinary PC. Dell is aiming the XPS at the hardcore gaming market, and as such the machine is pretty much armed to the teeth with some of the most cutting-edge technology around.
However, Dell faces some quite stiff opposition in attracting the sort of customer that's willing to spend the £3,100 that it wants for this machine. If Savrow’s bespoke PCs are sophisticated Aston Martin’s and Alienware’s sleek towers are Dodge Vipers - big brash and American; then the Dell Dimension XPS is a Ford Focus RS. Looking at the chassis, you can see that there's a regular Dell in there, but one that though intense overengineering and turbocharging has been turned into a lean, mean and agile performer.
The 'Venice blue' chassis makes the XPS immediately stand out from the rest of the Dimension range. The power button sits impressively in the top right hand corner and moodily glows yellow when switched on. This is emblazoned with 'Gen Three’ on the side, denoting that this is the third generation of Dell XPS. The front fascia is dominated by a silver front piece that sits like a shield protecting the machine. It features the Dell logo smartly embossed on the front and behind it Dell has placed a light that rather neatly can be set to glow in one of eight colours including really posh sounding ones such as amber, topaz, amethyst and diamond. Just think of the possibilities! You can set it to blue when you’re playing Jedi Knight or a red for Doom III. I was quite disappointed however, to find that you have to go into the BIOS to change the light - you can’t do it from Windows.
In the top right of the fascia is a small hideaway flap, underneath which you’ll find two USB ports and one for Firewire. There are also ports for headphones and a microphone. These front mounted connections are pretty much standard on PCs these days, but they’re always a welcome sight. Having quick access to them makes such a difference when you want to connect something to your PC such as a memory card reader, DV camcorder or a pair of headphones.
To the left of this piece is a front panel that swings open to give access to the two optical drives. The top one is a standard 16-speed DVD-ROM drive while the other is a DVD Writer. However, this is DVD+R/RW only - it won’t burn to DVD-R/RW.
Moving round the back you’ll find a collection of no less that six USB 2.0 ports. This is certainly handy but they’re a little crowded together, which could be a problem if your devices are wide and you intend to connect some next to each other. There’s also another Firewire port located on the back plate of the Audigy 2 ZS sound card. In addition there's a Gigabit Ethernet network port while those fond of retro technology will be pleased to find serial and parallel ports as well as a Fax/data modem.
As you might expect for such a design focused PC, gaining access to the interior involves no awkward unscrewing. Pull on the handle two thirds down at the rear, and the whole side comes away. The feel of the side panel is reassuringly solid, much like you’d image the door of a quality car like a BMW, to overuse our automobile analogy. It’s even got a support so that it doesn’t sag under its own weight.
Looks wise, things aren’t quite as impressive inside as out. It’s not overly untidy and most of the cables are routed sensibly round the sides, but it’s not the neatest internals I’ve ever seen. The side door contain a fan that blows air up and over the cards and CPU before being drawn out by the external fan. The CPU is covered by what is probably the largest heatsink I’ve ever seen. This is covered with ducting directing the heat outside rather than keeping it in.