Today's budget systems are typically leagues ahead of their predecessors in the bang-for-the-buck department, and for the most part, the Dell Dimension 2400 is no exception. Our test system carries a price that's just more than $1,000 and is highlighted by a respectable 2.6GHz Pentium 4 processor and a roomy 120GB hard drive, along with both DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives. In addition, Dell tossed a creditable 15-inch LCD monitor into our bundle. But to keep the cost down, you'll have to put up with an equally underpowered integrated graphics chip and a two-piece speaker set. With no AGP slot on your machine, you'll be left with no hope of upgrading to a more robust graphics solution, though this is still a fine system for families and for more disciplined students. Dell has carried over the 14.5-by-7.3-by-16.8-inch (H, W, D), two-tone-gray minitower case it introduced in the middle of last year for its latest low-end configuration. The Dimension 2400 is diminutive enough to hide almost anywhere, but it's attractive enough that you won't have to tuck it out of sight. One of the consequences of going small, of course, is that your system won't leave much room for upgrades. Our test machine's two 5.25-inch bays were filled with a pair of optical drives, and there's room for only one hard drive in the vertically oriented, 3.5-inch drive-bay enclosure. As has become the trend lately, there is no floppy drive and no bracket to hold one. Opt for an external floppy USB drive if you still have some disks lying around.
No tools are needed to get inside the case, and you'll find easy access to everything once you've removed the side panel. An unfilled memory socket lets you shoehorn a full gigabyte of memory into the Dimension 2400, and with two of the three PCI slots available, you can at least make some card-based upgrades. The tragedy of this motherboard is that there's no AGP slot, which closes off the upgrade path for the woefully underpowered integrated Intel graphics subsystem.
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|The Dimension 2400 gives you room to add a few PCI expansion cards.|
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|But there's little space for adding more drives.|
Along with the usual list of legacy ports, an analog (VGA) monitor connection and three audio inputs adorn the back panel, along with four USB 2.0 ports and an Ethernet jack. All of the above connections are integrated on the motherboard, and the 56Kbps modem is the only part that occupies one of the PCI expansion slots. You'll also find two USB 2.0 ports located conveniently on the front panel, in addition to a space microphone jack.
There's no reason to be ashamed of a system powered by a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 processor. The Dell Dimension 2400's CPU was state-of-the-art not so long ago, and though it has been outpaced by faster chips released since, it remains one of the best bang-for-the-buck processors currently available. Dell also packed our Dimension 2400 test system with 512MB of PC2700 (333MHz) DDR memory and a spacious 120GB hard drive. That's more than enough capability and capacity to handle the bundled software package, which consists of Windows XP Home, , Dell Picture Studio, and other programs for playing movies and music and burning CDs.
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|The halfway-decent 15-inch LDV is just one of the Dimension 2400's highlights.|
Still, this isn't to say that Dell hasn't cut a few corners to hit such an aggressive price. The first corner it rounds is with the system's graphics subsystem. Instead of a dedicated graphics card with its own graphics memory allotment, the Dimension 2400 uses an Intel Extreme Graphics 2 chip built directly into the motherboard, which borrows up to 64MB of the system RAM for graphics tasks. This is a perfectly acceptable solution for running all of the apps in the bundled Works 2004 suite or surfing the Web. The system handles basic photo editing without issue and is adequate for DVD playback, because the CPU is doing most of the work in that case. Just don't think about games. While integrated graphics solutions are improving, the Intel solution found here lacks the oomph needed for the majority of today's 3D games.
Along with gamers, audiophiles will also take issue with the Dimension 2400 (and almost all budget systems). The Dimension 2400's bundled Altec Lansing ADA-215 speakers drip out a mere 1.5 watts (max) per speaker. There's also no subwoofer, so don't twist that volume control all the way up unless you really like listening to treble.
Fortunately, the Dimension 2400 boasts some more-capable components. We were surprised that, at this price, Dell manages to sneak in the optical-drive tandem of both a 16X DVD-ROM drive and a 48X CD-RW drive. Dell's bundled 15-inch E152FP analog LCD also features great color and excellent contrast for both video and graphics. An integrated 10/100 LAN port, a dial-up modem card, a wheel mouse, and Dell's multimedia keyboard with integrated Windows Media Player controls complete the package.
The Dell Dimension 2400 performed as expected for its configuration. Using an older 2.66GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor and Intel's dated 845G chipset, the Dimension 2400 scored a 129 in SysMark 2004, about average in comparison to the results from our other budget-class systems. Average performance in a roundup of budget systems may not be enough for some, however, depending on their needs. The Dell's older components and the fact that it shares memory with the graphics system hurt its performance. By sharing memory, both the graphics system and the overall system performance suffer, though in general, the Dimension 2400 does what it's supposed to do. You should have no problem browsing the Web, checking e-mail, playing movies and music, or running low-intensity productivity software. If you plan to use this machine for digital-video editing, playing games, or other more challenging tasks, you should look for a system such as the at the minimum, since it has a discrete AGP graphics card.
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, 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
The Dimension 2400 is not intended to play 3D games, a fact demonstrated by the unplayable 10.6fps score on our Unreal Tournament 2003 benchmark. This should come as no surprise, given the aforementioned shared graphics memory and the low-end Intel graphics chip on the motherboard. What's more distressing is the lack of an AGP port. Essentially, this means that not only will the system fall short as a gaming system, you will also have very few options for upgrading after purchase. But again, if playing games is not your goal, this limitation will be of little concern.
|Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768|
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests, and are set to 4X and 8X respectively during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal provides an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Windows XP Home; 1.92GHz AMD Athlon XP 2600+; Via KT600 chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440 64MB; Maxtor 6Y080P0 80GB 7,200rpm
Windows XP Home; 2.66GHz Intel P4; Intel 8645G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated Intel 845G 64MB (shared memory); Seagate ST3120026A 120GB 7,200rpm
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated GeForce4 MX 64MB; WDC WD1600BB-00FTA0 160GB 7,200rpm
Windows XP Home; 2GHz AMD Athlon 64 3000+; Via K8T800 chipset; 256MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 7000 64MB; Samsung SP1203N 120GB 7,200rpm
Dell's well-written, well-illustrated user manual, plus the oversize quick-setup page, will answer almost all of your basic questions and get the Dimension 2400 out of the box and on (or under) your desk in no time at all. For more challenging issues, Dell provides 24/7, toll-free tech support. This system carries a one-year onsite parts-and-labor warranty, which can be extended and expanded with a variety of options and upgrades. You would be wise, though, to keep in mind the cost of that maximum extension compared to the $699 price of the system. Also pay attention to Dell's CompleteCare Accidental Damage Service: it's well worth the money if there are younger children in the house.