The $3,999 Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 doesn't have the design polish that you get with competing high-end systems, and by bundling Intel's new dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition 840 CPU, the XPS Gen 5 makes a strange gaming system since there aren't any games out (yet) that put dual-core CPUs to good use. (Likewise, Intel's dual-core processor is also 64-bit capable, but 64-bit games have yet to hit the market.) By incorporatingand a full complement of multimedia hardware, Dell expands the XPS's mandate into the living room, a task for which the multimedia- and multitasking-minded dual-core CPU is better suited. We think savvy users will look past the XPS Gen 5's flashy presentation to a different system built for either gaming or media duties. But those who feel more comfortable spending money on a name they're familiar with won't be disappointed. The Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 uses the same plastic silver-and-black clamshell case that housed the Gen 4 model, and it includes the same front-panel lighting effects. You can choose among eight different colors (including None) to illuminate the polished silver Dell badge, but you'll have to enter the BIOS setup screen to do it. The upper portion of the front panel features a hinged door that folds away to the side to reveal three optical drive bays and a built-in floppy drive, while a smaller panel hides two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and two audio jacks. Dell plans to incorporate a built-in media-card reader on future models, but for now, you'll have to make do with an external 12-in-1 USB version. Around back, you'll find five additional USB 2.0 ports, two FireWire ports, two PS/2 connections, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack.
There's plenty of room inside the tool-less chassis, but getting to it can be challenging. The case pops open easy enough, but the side panel, which holds the storage and optical drives, is fairly heavy and relies on a shaky plastic leg to support it in the open position. The leg appears ready to buckle at any time.
Once the case is open, the first thing you'll notice is an enormous green shroud covering the dual-core processor's heat sink, which is four inches tall and rises off the motherboard like a miniature skyscraper. The shroud directs airflow to the processor from one of three case fans, and a second shroud covers the hard drive bays. Two additional fans cool the 650-watt power supply, which is housed in a separate chamber at the base of the system. Despite having all these fans churning away, the XPS Gen 5 is remarkably quiet. Noise reduction is always welcome, but we can't recommend that you install this massive case in your living room. Using a wireless media extender (available from Dell's site for an additional $298) to transmit a video signal from the PC to your television is a preferable option.
There's room for two more hard drives and one additional optical drive, and you also get an assortment of available expansion slots, including a PCI slot, an x1 PCI Express (PCIe) slot, and an x4 PCIe slot (although the kind of card you'd put in the latter two remains unknown). Two of the four memory banks are also available.The centerpiece of the Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 is Intel's recently announced dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition 840 processor with Hyper-Threading and 955X Express chipset. The new flagship of Intel's desktop CPUs, the 3.2GHz Pentium Extreme Edition 840, contains two processors on a single chip, each with 1MB of Level 2 cache and a dedicated pipeline to the 800MHz frontside bus. Also of note: the 840 chip includes Intel's Extended Memory 64 Technology, which means it is ready for the inevitable move to 64-bit computing.
The immediate benefit of dual-core technology for gamers is negligible, but media buffs will appreciate the processor's ability to efficiently and simultaneously run two or more multimedia applications--burning DVDs, recording TV programs, editing video, and such. Multitaskers in general will benefit from dual core as well, and who doesn't multitask these days? With dual-core and Hyper-Threading technologies, the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 has two physical execution units and two logical units, for a total of four independent threads. That means your system won't begin to drag if you have lots of windows running at once. This multitasking prowess might explain why Dell has transformed the once gaming-exclusive XPS line into a gaming and home-entertainment system.
Another exciting fact about Intel's new dual-core CPU: it's the first overclockable chip from Intel in several years. Dell hasn't exactly embraced this functionality as much as vendors like Velocity Micro, who sell their systems overclocked, but Dell at least acknowledges the possibility. Included software in the BIOS lets you jack up the chip to 3.6GHz from its stock 3.2GHz. Thankfully, Dell's warranty will cover clock-speed tinkering. We've seen systems with the same chip overclocked to 4.0GHz, but those systems also had specialized liquid-cooling hardware. As always with overclocking, you'll want to be careful and move in small steps. If the system becomes unstable due to your tinkering, Dell's tech support is familiar enough with the procedure to talk you back down to your original settings.
The Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 uses a Dell-branded motherboard based on Intel's 955X Express chipset, which supports multiple processor and memory types, as well as up to 4GB of system memory and up to 1.2 terabytes of Serial ATA hard drive storage. Our test configuration came with 1GB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM and a pair of 250GB 7,200rpm hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration. The memory is plenty for performance, but true speed junkies know that you want a 10,000rpm hard disk as your primary drive, with a larger-capacity 7,200rpm drive or two for data storage. Unfortunately, Dell offers only 7,200rpm drives for the XPS Gen 5.
More important than fast hard drives, and the key reason why we don't recommend the XPS Gen 5 for high-end gaming, is its lack of SLI support. Nvidia's dual-graphics-card configuration truly raised the bar on gamers' expectations for multithousand-dollar PCs. The XPS Gen 5's 256MB video card is a fast, single-card option, to be sure, but the lack of elite 3D power combined with Intel's dual-core CPU (which simply doesn't play games as fast as AMD's single-core Athlon 64 FX-55) hurts Dell's standing in the high-end gaming sweepstakes. As our performance results show, the XPS Gen 5 is quick, but it can't claim that it's the fastest around.
By turning the XPS Gen 5 into a multimedia powerhouse, Dell at least extends the value of the system. To start, the system uses theoperating system. A multiformat/double-layer, recordable DVD drive and a separate DVD-ROM drive fill the performance PC's dual optical-drive requirement. The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS card, with the speakers, will lend audio purity to any game, movie, or music track.
An Emuzed Angel TV tuner card provided a clear signal with no noticeable loss of quality, and since it's a dual TV tuner, you can record and watch two different programs at the same time through the Media Center 2005 console. The Dimension XPS Gen 5 package includes a 20-inch Dellwide-screen LCD monitor, which is ideal for watching recorded TV shows and DVDs, and even better for viewing large spreadsheets and multipage documents. We also liked the screen's PIP (picture-in-picture) feature. The XPS Gen 5 shipped with a Dell multimedia keyboard and a Logitech optical scroll mouse, both of the USB variety.