With a case that's half as voluminous as a standard tower system's, the sleek, space-saving Dell Dimension 4600C is a likable midrange system--as long as you're not the type who harbors future expansion plans. With Intel's new 865G chipset and a 2.8GHz Pentium 4, plus a slim-line optical drive, a large 120GB hard drive, and two PC Card slots, Dell manages to shoehorn adequate processing power and multimedia abilities into limited real estate. Formerly code-named Springdale and the mainstream version of Intel's high-end 875 chipset (a.k.a. Canterwood), the 865G chipset integrates a number of features that previously required separate expansion cards, including Intel's new Extreme Graphics 2 technology. Compared with other mainstream systems of normal stature and similar feature sets, the 4600C is only slightly more expensive, making it a good fit for space-conscious home users, small businesses, and students in cramped dorm rooms. With the Dimension 4600C, Dell introduces a new slim-profile case that's especially handy for those in crowded offices and cramped cubes. Measuring 12.7 inches by 3.8 inches by 14 inches (HWD), the 4600C's case is undeniably stylish, with its rounded edges and black-and-silver color conceit. Dell extends the visual theme to the mouse, the keyboard, the monitor, and even the speakers, making for an attractive setup. The case itself is good-looking and compact, but it does force you to make a few trade-offs.
|There are eight USB 2.0 ports in all, including two located up front for your convenience.|
Borrowing the hinged-case concept from the standard, full-sized Dimension towers, the system features a push-button release on both the top and the bottom of its case. Flip the case on its side, press the two buttons, and the whole thing swings apart, giving you laughably easy access to everything inside. Replacing some of its components, however, is another story. The 4600C's optical drive, for instance, is a slim-line (read: notebook) drive that has a proprietary Dell chassis attached to the case's side panel. You'll have to go through Dell if you decide later that you want a different sort of optical drive. The hard drive is also attached securely to the inside of the case, rather than resting in a traditional desktop 3.5-inch drive bay. It too is difficult to swap out.
|Half the card it used to be: the 4600C's compact chassis allows for only half-height expansion cards.|
The hard drive and the optical drive are not easily replaced.
The system does offer an unusual desktop upgrade path in the form of two PC Card slots located on the front of the case, right beside dual USB 2.0 ports. These slots give the system a notebook's ability to add industry-standard, small-format components, such as a four-in-one media-card reader. Six additional USB 2.0 ports and one four-pin FireWire port are located on the back panel.
|It's not a notebook, but the 4600C has two PC Card slots on the front panel.|
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|DVDs looked fine on the included 17-inch E171FP flat panel, but text was a bit blurry.|
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|Keyboard: good. Mouse: bad.|
In terms of performance, the integrated graphics solution just can't compete with dedicated cards, but it is a step up from the previous iteration of Intel Extreme Graphics. (The only dedicated card Dell sells with the 4600C is a half-height GeForce4 MX card.) The machine's 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor delivers enough oomph for any mainstream task you can throw at it, but Dell decided to outfit the 4600C with a processor version that works on a 533MHz frontside bus (the path between the processor and system memory) and not the faster 800MHz speed that the 865G chipset was built to support. The company told us that it will not be offering 800MHz frontside bus processors at launch in the 4600 series. The 4600C does take advantage of the chipset's new dual-channel memory support, which boosts access to data stored in the system's 512MB of system memory (arranged in two 256MB DIMMs).
The slim-line DVD/CD-RW combo drive (the kind normally found only in notebooks) is located in the front of the machine, situated vertically and paired with a roomy 120GB, 7,200rpm hard drive inside. DVD playback looked very sharp and smooth in our anecdotal testing using the included 17-inch E171FP flat-panel display, but text looked a bit out of focus, even at its native resolution of 1,280x1,024. And the icons were very small at this resolution; users with poor eyesight will want to consider a CRT or a smaller-resolution display.
In our tests, the Dimension 4600C sounded sharp, thanks to its SoundMax audio chip integrated onto the motherboard and the three-piece Harman Kardon speaker set bundled with our test system. Dell doesn't offer a dedicated sound card for the 4600C, but the 865G chipset supports 5.1 sound should you choose to upgrade the speaker selection on Dell's online configurator. For listening to music and managing your playlists, Dell includes its own branded version of MusicMatch Jukebox. Similarly, you'll find Dell Picture Studio for editing and organizing your digital photos. Our test system also included some non-Dell apps, such as Office XP Small Business and Roxio's Easy CD Creator.
We absolutely love the keyboard Dell has begun shipping with its systems. This black-and-silver unit includes full Internet buttons and a nifty audio-control center in the upper-right corner, complete with a large, intuitive volume wheel. Now, there's no need for a separate control unit to adjust your speakers. We recommend, however, that you spend the additional few dollars to upgrade to a hassle-free optical mouse, rather than a roller-ball mouse, such as that of our test system, which will inevitably give you trouble later on as it collects dust. Application performance
The Dell Dimension 4600C is one of the first systems we've tested using Intel's new 865 chipset (formerly code-named Springdale), which replaces the 845 chipset for mainstream PCs and features an 800MHz frontside bus (up from 533MHz) and support for dual-channel DDR400 memory. The Dimension uses the 865G chipset, specifically, which is one of three 865 variations and includes integrated graphics. Although the 4600C uses a processor that supports only a 533MHz frontside bus, the chipset does support 800MHz, and there is a forthcoming version of the 2.8GHz P4 that will support an 800MHz frontside bus.
That said, for a midrange system, the 4600C performed quite well. Typically, a midrange system is not designed with performance foremost in mind, but the 4600C held its own during testing. The 4600C trailed the other 865 chipset-based PC in the bunch, the Velocity Micro Vector VX-W, because the 4600C uses a 2.8GHz P4, whereas the Vector VX-W uses the new 3GHz P4, which is not only 200MHz faster in raw clock speed, but also supports the 865's faster 800MHz frontside bus. Compare the 4600C with systems that have the 845G/GL chipset, and you can see that the 865G provides a significant boost from Intel's previous-generation chipset, the 845G/GL. The bottom line is that Intel's next-generation chipset is a significant improvement over the last one, and it will be more than adequate for today's applications.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
Integrated graphics solutions don't usually provide the level of 3D graphics performance needed for applications with demanding 3D graphics requirements. That said, the 865G's integrated graphics are well ahead of the 845G/GL integrated graphics. Alas, that doesn't say much. Although the Quake III scores nearly doubled, 41.3fps will not suffice for any recent games. If games are your thing, you should look at systems with larger cases that can accommodate a full-sized, dedicated graphics card.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.
3D gaming performance in fps (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Dell Dimension 4600C
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Intel 865G 64MB; Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm
Dell Dimension 8300
Windows XP Home; 3GHz Intel P4; 1024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD2000JB-75DUA0 200GB 7,200rpm
IBM NetVista A30
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB; IBM IC35L120AVVA07 120GB 7,200rpm
IBM NetVista S42
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz Intel P4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; integrated Intel 845G/GL 64MB (shared memory); IBM IC35L040AVVA07 40GB 7,200rpm
Systemax Venture LP
Windows XP Professional; 2.66GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 64MB; Samsung SP8004H 80GB 7,200rpm
Velocity Micro Vector VX-W
Windows XP Home; 3GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD2000JB-00DUA0 200GB 7,200rpm Dell offers excellent service, starting with 24/7 toll-free tech support for the life of the system and an extremely thorough online-support site, featuring an interactive help service, driver downloads, FAQs, and countless user message boards. As with all of its systems, Dell includes a clearly written printed user guide specific to the 4600C.
You can select up to four years of warranty support, which includes onsite service. The standard warranty is the industry average one-year parts-and-labor coverage, which was the policy included in the price of our test system. Dell also offers its $59 CompleteCare Accidental Damage Service, which adds coverage for the length of your warranty. In addition, you can opt to receive Express Tech Support, home installation of your new system, and even an online training package.