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In terms of motherboard expansion there a second PCI Express slot for graphics and a x4 slot should any future cards use this. There are also two standard PCI slots.
For performance testing we ran our internal ‘SpodeMark’ benchmarks in both 2D and 3D. For comparison to the older Dell XPS 600 we also ran 3DMark 06 and PCMark 05. The XPS 600 was far faster in 3DMark but it was equipped with two 7800 GTX cards, whereas there’s only a single 7900 GTX in the XPS 700 we were sent. The PCMark score is more revealing as it gives some indication of how far overall PC performance has come in the last ten months – the overall score on the XPS 600 was 5346 – on the XPS 700 it’s 7271 – that’s 36 per cent quicker.
The lack of SLI in the XPS 700 made comparison difficult but in 3D we chose to compare to the Evesham Solar Extreme, which we reviewed a couple of months ago. It also uses a Core 2 Duo, albeit a much faster Core 2 Extreme X6800, but the overall system price is around the same. Remarkably, the price on the Evesham is still the same as it was two months ago. This is unusual for PC technology but goes to prove how cutting edge these sorts of systems are. The fact that the Evesham and Dell are a similar price does ring alarm bells for the Dell though as you get a heck of a lot more with the Evesham - a faster CPU and a second high-end graphics card.
This means that the Dell lags way behind in 3D. For example it has less than half the performance on Call of Duty at 1,280 x 1,024 and even less at higher resolutions. It’s not quite as dramatic in the other games but still considerable - hardly surprising really as there is one less graphics card.
In our range of 2D tests, which include both single and multi-tasking tests, we compared to our reference X6700 system as well as the Evesham Solar Extreme and a Dell Athlon FX-62 based system. In the File Compression and Encryption test the Dell was actually the fastest at decrypting. However, this is easier than Encrypting and the RAID 0 stripe could actually be helping here. It’s the slowest at compressing and encryption though – the slow memory means that it can’t even keep up with the FX-62. In the rest of the tests in comes in third place – our reference system with faster memory is quicker and the Evesham is inevitably faster still.
This makes the Dell something of a mixed bag. We were all very excited by the looks and build quality, and performance should be stellar. However, thanks to some odd choices by Dell it’s not as fast as it could be. If you want to go SLI you need to spend a lot more. Deck this out with SLI and an Aegia card and you'll be pushing three grand.
Do you care about Virtualization support in the future? Do you want to have more than 6GB of RAM when you’re running Windows Vista? For high-end enthusiasts the answer will be yes and they should think twice before buying this system from Dell. Even if the answer is no to both of these, with no support for 800MHz RAM you’re not even getting the best out of the CPU right now.
One possible way round is that Dell is offering the XPS 700 as a ‘Barebone’ system – however that’s only in the US. However, it also comes with the BTX motherboard, which is the root cause of the Dell’s shortcomings so that’s really no help.
No doubt that the Dell XPS 700, is a very fine looking PC – easily the most impressive looking off-the-shelf PC I’ve ever seen, but the issues with it mean that we were a lot less enthusiastic about it at the end of the review than we were at the beginning. It’s also very poor value compared to something like the Evesham Solar Extreme, though admittedly the Evesham’s case is as poor as the Dell’s is impressive. The Dell is just not well thought out enough, or good enough value to earn our respect and ultimately it’s only the because of the case that it gets any attention at all.