- Review Price: £1314.00
Dell is, quite simply, a massive PC builder. When Michael Dell pioneered the direct sale model with PCs it was pretty much unheard of, but it turned out that he was right and everyone else was wrong. These days, the name Dell is synonymous with computers, and even people who don’t have the slightest interest in computers will probably have heard of Dell.
That said, bigger isn’t necessarily better, and Dell has made some decisions over the years that have put off many potential buyers. Most significant was the decision to be an Intel only operation and offer no PCs based on AMD processors at all.
If you have a quick look through our PC section you’ll notice that the majority of desktop systems come equipped with AMD CPUs. This is mainly due to the fact that AMD processors are far cheaper and a better overall PC can be built using one. That’s not to say that Intel chips aren’t good, because they most definitely are, but it does mean that if you want to get the most for your money, you’re more likely to go for an AMD solution.
So has Dell produced a machine that’s overpriced and under specified due to the use of an Intel processor? Actually, no. It’s safe to say that Dell has put together a stunning package that should suit almost every type of home user.
The basic specification in this machine is pretty generous. You’ve got a 3GHz Intel Pentium 4 HT processor sitting happily in motherboard sporting an Intel 875P chipset. This isn’t the fastest current Pentium 4 CPU, but it’s not far behind the 3.2GHz chip and it costs a hell of a lot less.. The fact that it’s a Hyper Threading enabled CPU should please anyone that uses multi-threaded software. Backing up the processor is 512MB of dual channel DDR 400MHz memory.
The graphics solution is equally impressive, with a n ATi Radeon 9800Pro filling the AGP slot. This is a great graphics card and should help the Dimension 8300 make short work of almost any 3D game you throw at it. The other half of the display set is an 18inTFT screen with a native resolution of 1,280 x 1,024. The screen is Dell branded and sports both DVI and D-SUB connections. Thankfully Dell provided a DVI cable to connect the monitor to the graphics card digitally for the best possible image. It’s a great screen for Windows use with a bright and vibrant image coupled with a wide viewing angle. It did tend to be a little dark when playing games, but not enough to spoil the experience.
Storage is taken care of by a capacious 120GB Serial ATA hard disk with a spindle speed of 7,200rpm and 8MB of cache. If you feel find that you need to free up some space on the hard disk, that won’t be a problem since Dell has thoughtfully included a DVD writer as well. The black NEC +RW drive will write DVD+R/RW discs as well as CD-R/RW discs. It’s a great addition and these days no PC should be without one.
The sound setup is definitely geared towards a gaming environment with a Creative SoundBlaster Audigy 2 soundcard. This will give you great quality sound and the full range of environmental effects when playing the latest games. The Audigy card also adds a FireWire port to the specification. The speaker set supplied is a 4.1-channel Altec Lansing solution. The overall effect wasn’t bad, but the bass was a bit lacking and tended to distort if turned up too high. However it’s a of a moot point since Dell has told me that this machine will ship to customers with a new speaker solution. Unfortunately the new speakers weren’t available in time to ship with the review system. That said, the 5650 speaker set that will ship is 5.1-channel, so if you want to watch DVD movies on your PC they’re probably a better solution than the 4.1-channel speakers seen here.
The only other expansion card is a 56K modem, with most of the ports you’re going to want hard wired on the motherboard. At the rear there is a full complement of ports including one parallel port, one serial port, two PS/2 ports, a 10/100 network socket and six USB 2.0 ports. There are also ports for the onboard sound chip on the motherboard, but Dell has thoughtfully covered these up so that users don’t get confused. Lifting a flap at the front of the case reveals another two USB 2.0 ports and a headphone socket.
The Dell system case is truly excellent. Pressing a couple of buttons on the top and bottom of the case allows you to split it in half and open the whole case up. All the drive cages lever forward with the front of the case giving you unrestricted access to the system internals. A quick poke around gives you an idea as to why this machine is so quiet. Instead of a CPU fan, there’s a massive heatsink complete with copper heat pipes. This is subsequently cooled by a large 92mm fan, which, due to its dimensions spins slower than a smaller CPU fan, and thus creates less noise.
Since Dell has obviously put so much thought into cooling, it’s a shame that the graphics card fan is restricted by having the soundcard right next to it. This isn’t a big problem, but since there are two empty PCI slots it would have been better to give the graphics card a bit of space to breath.
Because of the custom nature of the Dell case, there isn’t huge scope for upgrades, but that isn’t really what Dell PCs are about. This is a machine that is built to handle anything you’re likely to throw at it now, and to grow old gracefully over the years. If you’re the sort of person who wants to rip out your motherboard every few months and replace it, you’re not likely to be buying a Dell in the first place.
The package doesn’t end there though. Dell has also bundled a printer/scanner combo device. It’s a strange looking beast, finished in black and silver to match the rest of the system, but it does feel a little insubstantial. However, it does do exactly what you need it to do. It’s an inkjet unit with a single colour and separate black cartridge. Print quality isn’t stunning but it’s perfectly acceptable for the majority of uses. Likewise, the scanner isn’t exactly top of the range, but it will happily grab images with reasonable colour accuracy.
There have to be a couple of compromises and in this case it’s the mouse and keyboard. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a mouse with a roller in it instead of a little red light, but I have to say that it still behaved impeccably. The keyboard may be a little basic compared to some of the multimedia beasts around but the action is good and it matches the rest of the system well.
Performance wise the Dell is no slouch. With a SYSmark score of 292 it’s faster than the Mesh Matrix64 3200+ Extreme which is based on a 3200+ Athlon 64 chip. 3D performance is also strong, and again leaves the Mesh behind, although much of this can be attributed to the ATi Radeon 9800Pro graphics card.
Talking of 3D performance, I loaded up Halo on the Dell and set the resolution to 1,280 x 1,024 with all the cool effects turned on. It was truly a joy to play and the 8300 handled even the most enemy infested areas with aplomb. Definitely a good PC for the gaming enthusiast.
There’s no hiding from the fact that Dell has put together a PC with stunning performance and a plethora of features, but what’s most amazing is that it costs only £1,313.65 inc VAT. Considering the components inside this machine, it’s got to be one of the best Christmas bargains you’re likely to find this year.
If you’re thinking of asking Santa to bring you a PC for Christmas this year the Dell Dimension 8300 should definitely be on your short list. It’s got everything you could ask for, great build quality, stunning performance and tones of features, all at a price that will fill you with cheer.
Type in the following e-value code on the Dell website if you’re interested in this system – 200 D53Rev.
Score in detail