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When it comes to desktop PCs, black -- with a hint of silver -- is clearly the new beige. It's taken a while for some OEMs to realise that beige is by far the dullest colour for a PC, but one vendor that's had it right pretty much from the beginning is Dell. The Dimension 3100 is mostly black, with silver trimmings, and shouldn't embarrass even the most fashion-conscious user.
It's designed with plug-and-play firmly in mind -- there's a memory card reader up front that supports all of the major formats, as well as two USB 2.0 ports and a headphone jack. Yet peripheral junkies shouldn't be alarmed, as there's a further four USB 2.0 ports around back. It's unfortunate that the machine lacks a Firewire port, albeit the standard is arguably on its way out anyway.
It's important to note that the memory card reader takes up the system's only 3.5-inch drive bay, so those that require a floppy disk drive will have to either forego the card reader or make do with an external drive.
Dell builds its computers to order, so technical specifications can vary wildly depending on how much money you've got to spend. We were specifically looking for a sub-AU$1500 system, so our model came equipped with an Intel Pentium 4 630 (3GHz) processor, 512MB DDRII-533 memory and a 160GB hard drive.
This is fairly substantial for a system of this price, but there are a few facts to keep in mind. Firstly, the machine's processor is a single core model -- as opposed to the dual-core offerings that have risen to ubiquity over the past six months -- so multi-tasking and system intensive applications such as video editing are at times sluggish. Additionally, the system uses both integrated graphics (Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900) and integrated sound (2-channel), so don't expect tantalising gaming or DVD playback performance.
The lack of decent graphics and sound hardware is odd considering the fact that the machine uses the Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 operating system, but again this is largely due to the sub-AU$1500 price tag. Also limiting its media centre abilities is the fact that the 3100 isn't Viiv-certified as yet.
Despite the sub-standard graphics and sound hardware, the 3100 does boast some hallmarks of a high-end system, such as a 160GB hard drive (as mentioned above) and a 16x DVD+/-RW drive. Dell is even generous enough to throw in a USB keyboard and optical mouse into the mix, as well as a set of basic stereo speakers.
Software-wise, the 3100 is quite bare, bundling Microsoft Works 7.0, Sonic MyDVD and Sonic Digital Media. Of course, applications such as Microsoft Office can be included with the system at an additional cost.
The 3100 performs as expected for a PC in its price range. In our SYSMark 2004 SE tests its score was virtually identical to the similarly priced Optima WorkPro 7000T. It's great for basic office productivity tasks and some multimedia applications (such as occasional DVD viewing), but don't expect performance that's anywhere near that of a high-end machine.
BAPCo SYSmark 2004 SE performance rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Its 3DMark06 scores were predictably dismal thanks to the integrated graphics solution. Note that while the Optima machine produced a score that's three times faster than the 3100, neither machine is realistically suitable for even casual gaming, let alone hardcore use.
3DMark2006 performance rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
If your PC lives in your bedroom, you'll be pleased to hear that the 3100 is virtually inaudible. That's not to say that it offers inadequate cooling, but rather the case has been designed in such a way that airflow is efficient enough to keep the system cool using only a few larger, slow spinning fans.
Finally, the machine comes with a one year limited warranty with next business day onsite service and standard phone support. It also includes Dell's PC Restore software should you get hit with a nasty virus.
For users on a budget, the Dimension 3100 has most of its bases covered despite there being alternatives -- such as the Optima WorkPro 7000T -- that provide superior value for money.