Dell's small-form-factor (SFF) PC, newly revamped and renamed the XPS 210 ($1,844, as configured) might be better off picking a side. On the one hand, you have the likes of Apple and WinBook, whose closed boxes are tiny, feature-packed, generally sub-$1,000 powerhouses whose strengths are basic computing and serving up digital media for those not overly concerned with performance or video quality. In the other camp, you have the larger SFF cases from Falcon Northwest, Shuttle, and others, which although pricier and clunkier, can accommodate full-size desktop components and multiple hard drives, giving them the potential to become smaller powerhouses. Thus, the XPS 210 is something of a compromise PC. It won't blend in with the rest of your home-entertainment gear, but it's still smaller than a normal desktop. You can't turn it into a true performance PC, but it offers some flexibility. If you're looking for a desktop to fill this very specific niche, the XPS 210 is a decent enough performer. But plenty of other PCs on the market pick a position and stick to it, and if you'll recall the 2004 U.S. presidential election, the waffler didn't win.
Our review unit's $1,844 price tag includes the Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 processor, a 20-inch Dell 2007FPW wide-screen LCD, 1GB of 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM, a 320GB hard drive, a TV tuner, a DVD burner, and a 256MB ATI Radeon X1300 Pro (HyperMemory). The CPU is really the only major difference in this model compared to its previous incarnation, the XPS 200. That's a fine configuration for getting most work done, playing music and movies, creating less intensive digital content, and even PC-based digital video recording, thanks to the tuner.
Among the XPS 210's configuration options, Dell offers the full range of Intel's Core 2 Duo chips (minus the Extreme X6800), plus more memory, a larger internal hard drive and a selection of external hard drives, as well as the usual range of software, printers, cameras, and other peripherals. Our chief disappointment is that Dell still doesn't offer a built-in wireless networking option. Both Apple and WinBook include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as standard features in media PCs that are even smaller than the XPS 210. Dell sells all kinds of wireless routers but no internal wireless adapters, which would go a long way toward making the XPS 210 more living-room friendly.
The XPS 210's slim case is roughly the size of a first-generation Xbox. At 12.4 inches high, 3.7 inches wide, and 14.4 inches deep, it should be able to fit almost anywhere. Inside there's room for one hard drive and one optical drive, as well as up to four memory sticks. You only get two expansion slots, though, one x16 PCI Express slot, and one x1 PCI slot.
Even if some of the features and the design aspects of the XPS 210 are lacking, its application performance is strong. Its Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 and 1GB of memory place it just a step behind the higher-end Dell XPS 410 and its 2GB of memory, and slightly faster than the (less expensive) Velocity Micro ProMagix E2010 and its slower CPU. We suspect the Core 2 Duo chip in the XPS 210 helps the Quake 4 scores as well, such as they are. The Radeon X1300 Pro graphics card certainly isn't helping, since it's a HyperMemory card, which means it siphons off some of the system memory to boost its own onboard stash. Still 31.4 is respectable, and for many PC gamers, as long as they can play World of Warcraft, what more do they need? You should be able to play WoW, and any other game that is graphically forgiving, but with the half-height graphics-card limitation due to the slim case, your gaming options will always be limited.
Dell was uphappy with our support rating for its XPS 700, since with the release of that system Dell introduced a new commitment to service, accompanied by a feature called DellConnect. The XPS 700 has bigger problems with its warranty (mainly the duration, considering the system's price), but the XPS 210 is a more mainstream system, so its one year of parts-and-labor warranty coverage and 24/7 phone support are more acceptable. Dell's wide-ranging support Web site has a FAQ and system-specific support features. You can also add all kinds of service options to suit your specific needs for onsite service, extended warranties, and more.
We tried out DellConnect, and we came away impressed. DellConnect is a service that lets you grant a Dell technician access to your desktop remotely. You initiate contact with a standard call to Dell's customer service. You must be connected to the Web over a broadband connection, and your PC must at least be able to boot to the OS. Once you download the small software package (which you can later remove), your technician has multiple options for fixing a problem, but you also get to control how much access you want to allow. Options include football-style onscreen drawings that help you figure out how to make the changes yourself. You can let a tech change a setting for you directly; you can even grant a full system analysis. The software gives you the ability to affirm or deny each step, and you can also cancel out of a session completely at any time. We don't believe any other system vendor offers a comparable service right now, and DellConnect really sets Dell's support apart from the rest of the pack.