- Review Price: £3176.00
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.
What’s interesting is that there’s no visible power supply. Dell has cleverly located the 460 Watt unit underneath the motherboard enclosure making it easier to move around the inside of the case.
This cooling system is welcome as Dell has fitted this XPS with a Pentium 4 560. While this means very little to everybody except those who work for Intel it’s actually a Pentium 4, running at 3.6GHZ, with an 800MHz FSB and 1MB of Level Two cache. It’s the highest clocked processor that Intel offers right now, and nothing’s faster save a 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. The motherboard is based on the brand new 925x chipset and the CPU is backed by 1GB of PC4200 DDR2 RAM. This is supplied on two 512MB sticks ensuring that the chipset can run in dual-channel mode.
Incredibly Dell has chosen to fit two 400GB SATA hard disks, the largest drives you can buy. These are hooked up to the RAID 0, a striped configuration and Dell has formatted it as a single partition. This gives the C drive a humongous formatted capacity of 745GB – certainly enough for a game or two. Of course these could be reconfigured in RAID 1 configuration for data security.
The graphics are no less bleeding edge – an ATI Radeon X800 XT. Dell only offers ATI as an option on the XPS, so nVidia lovers will have to look elsewhere. Though Doom III has given nVidia’s 6800 series cards a lot of headlines recently this is still a card that will play that game and any other with consummate ease.
Beneath one of the best graphics cards you can buy is one of the best sound cards – an Audigy 2 ZS. This offers EAX 4 support and can handle 7.1 audio. It also benefits from an excellent signal to noise ratio providing very clean sound.
Of course the best PC in the world can be let down by a poor display but thankfully Dell has supplied a high quality unit. The 1703FP is pleasingly bright, and respectably sharp. It’s also got a smart height-adjustable stand and a rotating screen so you can use it vertically. The monitor also features a USB hub adding another two USB ports to the ones one the system, making a total of ten, which isn’t bad at all. However, for a gaming system the 17 inches of viewable area does seem a little on the small side, especially considering the market this is aimed at. Any self respecting gamer spending a large wodge of cash would probably want something bigger than this.
Finally there’s the keyboard and mouse. The mouse is a rather plain two button and wheel affair and seems somewhat understated considering the high style of the PC. The keyboard is also adequate with its best feature being the integrated controls for the speakers. The speakers are rather dissapointedly just a 2.1 set. This seems an odd choice for a gaming machine, and certainly isn’t the best match for the Audigy 2 ZS sound card.
On the software side we found Microsoft Office 2003 Basic Edition pre-installed. This gives you Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which are the office applications that most people use anyway.
In performance terms one would expect a lot from a system like this and in many respects its right on the mark. This is the first complete PC we’ve seen that uses the latest Intel chipsets so the closest things we can compare it to are recent systems from Armari and Evesham. The former is based on an Athlon FX-53, and in many of the tests the Dell bests it. The XPS’s overall Sysmark score of 209 is faster than the Armari. However, it’s some way short of the 221 we obtained from the 3.4GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition equipped Evesham Evolution.
The Dell’s hard disk performance was impressive with a PC Mark hard disk score of 7,307. This solidly outpaced the Armari but again couldn’t keep up with the Evesham Evolution, kitted out as it was with the low capacity but very nimble Western Digital Raptor’s.
The Dell did however, triumph over both in 3DMark03 at a resolution of 1,024 x 768. though this makes sense at the Dell had the full 16-pipeline Radeon X800 XT rather than the 12-pipeline Pro used in the other systems.
The fact is though that for the money you’d expect more. Though it ouptpaces the Armari and Evesham is some tests, both are several hundred pounds cheaper. While there’s lots to be impressed about in the Dell, we’d like to have seen more for the price. A large monitor would have been a good start, and extras such as integrated wireless wouldn’t have gone amiss while better speakers and a posher keyboard and mouse wouldn’t have been out of place either. While the specifications are excellent and the build quality impressive I wouldn’t be satisfied having parted with over £3000.
The Dell is a very impressive machine that looks great and performs superbly but there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s extremely expensive. For that kind of cash, it needs to be accompanied by better peripherals to make for a truly impressive package. It may have the feel and build quality of a well made car, but at the price you could practically buy a car instead. If you are persuaded to part with your cash make sure you use the Dell E-Value code of PPUK5–D081XR to get the machine at the price supplied to us. For the rest of us, the Dimension XPS will remain a highly desirable but overly expensive luxury.
Score in detail
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