Dell XPS 27 review: Almost everything you could want in an all-in-one

Connections, performance, and battery
Our $2,099 review unit included a standard DVD drive, a slot-loading model accessible from the right side of the display, and a more-expensive $2,599 configuration trades up to a Blu-ray drive. Besides plenty of USB 3.0 ports, I especially liked that the XPS 27 (similar to some other all-in-ones and even a few larger-screen laptops) includes an HDMI-in jack. That means you can plug a game console, Blu-ray player, or even a set-top cable box into the back of the system and just use the screen as a 27-inch display. Input switching is done via a touch button on the front bezel, although there's also no way to control the volume on the built-in speakers when inputting an external video source.

Sarah Tew/CNET

One complaint: Many of the ports and connections are awkwardly hidden behind the large hinged arm that supports the screen, making them harder to get to than they should be.

The least-expensive XPS 27 is a $1,599 model that has a Core i5 CPU and only Intel's integrated graphics. For $1,799, you get the Nvidia GeForce 750M GPU (also found on the more-expensive configurations), plus a hard drive that includes a 32GB solid state cache. I'd say that second model is the best bang for your buck. Our $2,099 model ups the CPU to a Core i7 and doubles the hard drive to 2TB with the same 32GB SSD cache, while the $2,599 ups the RAM to 16GB and adds the previously mentioned Blu-ray drive.

The Intel Core i7-4770S CPU in our review unit is one of Intel's fourth generation of Core i-series chips, also known by the code name Haswell. I'm pleased that Dell has updated this model to the newest CPUs so quickly, especially as so many otherwise excellent PCs are still waiting for Haswell refreshment. That said, it may not be much a game changer in an all-in-one desktop. The fantastic battery life we've seen in Haswell laptops and tablets isn't going to help the XPS 27, beyond general power efficiency, and while we've seen modest application performance improvements and better integrated graphics from the latest Intel chips, it's not something you're likely to notice in everyday use.

As expected, the XPS 27 felt fast and responsive whether editing in Photoshop, streaming HD videos, or Web surfing, not that we'd expect anything else from a current Core i7 processor. Honestly, you could probably trade down to the Core i5 version and still have a very similar experience.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Besides the massive high-res screen, the other big highlight is the Nvidia GeForce 750M GPU. It's rare to find an all-in-one with serious discrete graphics, and while this isn't the highest-end card you can get, for a mainstream home PC, it's pretty good. (Apple offers the older but still good 600-series GeForce GPUs in the 27-inch iMac.) The XPS 27 is as close to a "gaming all-in-one" as you're likely to find.

The XPS 27 ran our Bioshock Infinite test at 1,920x1,080 with high quality settings at 19.3 frames per second and Metro: Last Light at the same resolution and high quality settings at 9.0 frames per second. Both those are challenging tests, and by dialing back the detail levels in Bioshock, we got more than 43 frames per second at the same 1080p resolution. Anecdotally, games such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Skyrim ran decently, even cranked all the way up to 2,560x1,440 resolutions, although you may need to use medium detail settings.

It's a shame that so few Windows games are adept at taking advantage of the touch screens found in so many Windows 8 PCs. Not even XCOM, a game that feels like it should work great with touch, pulls it off. Besides that caveat, I found the XPS 27 to be a great general-interest gaming machine, and more than powerful enough for mainstream gamers who don't want to build a dedicated gaming desktop.

Conclusion
Much as my colleague Rich Brown said about the previous version of the XPS 27, this is simply the best all-around Windows 8 all-in-one you can buy. Others have special features, such as the Lenovo Horizon's built-in battery and lie-flat hinge, or the iMac's thinner, cleaner design, but it's tough to match the combination of higher-res display, touch screen, and Nvidia graphics in the XPS 27, all wrapped up for a very reasonable price.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test
(In seconds; shorter bars indicate better performance)
Multimedia multitasking test (iTunes and Handbrake)
(In seconds, shorter bars indicate better performance)
CineBench 11.5 scores
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs
Rendering Single CPU

System configurations

Dell XPS 27 (July 2013)
Windows 8 (64-bit) 3.1GHz Intel Core i7 4770S; 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT750M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon
Windows 8 (64-bit) 1.8 GHz; Intel Core i5-3427U; 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT620M graphics card; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Apple iMac 27-inch (December 2012)
Apple OS X Mountain Lion 10.8; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive, 128GB solid-state hard drive

Asus Transformer AIO
Microsoft Windows 8 (64-bit); 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-3350P; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 730M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Dell XPS 18
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.8GHZ Intel Core i5-3337U; 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; Intel HD Graphics 4000 embedded graphics chip; HD1 32GB SSD HD2 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive

Dell XPS One 27 (2012)
Microsoft Windows 8 Pro 64-bit; 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-3770S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive

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