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Dell Dimension 4550 (Pentium 4 2.66GHz review: Dell Dimension 4550 (Pentium 4 2.66GHz

Dell Dimension 4550 (Pentium 4 2.66GHz

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops | Desktops | All-in-one PCs | Streaming devices | Streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
8 min read
Critics often said that there was no role that actor Jack Lemmon couldn't play. The same can be said for Dell's versatile mainstream PC: the Dimension 4550 series. Positioned between the budget 2300 and performance 8250 Dimension lines, the midrange 4550 edges into both territories with its wide range of options. But there are key differences between the three series. Unlike the 2300 line, the 4550 has an AGP slot for better graphics, but it uses DDR SDRAM rather than the faster and more costly RDRAM found on the 8250. Prices range from less than $1,000 to more than $3,000, and our test system fell somewhere in the middle: it included a 2.66GHz Pentium 4, 512MB of memory, a 120GB hard drive, a GeForce4 Ti 4200 card, and a sharp 15-inch LCD. The Dell Dimension 4550 retains the standard Dimension two-tone, gray color scheme. The minitower is on the large side, measuring 16.7x7.1x17.6 inches (HWD), leaving room for two 5.25-inch bays and two 3.5-inch bays. There are two convenient USB 2.0 ports and a headphone jack on the front panel along with four additional USB 2.0 ports on the back.
Six USB 2.0 ports in all.

You'll have to wrestle a bit with the case to open it, but once you're in, it's extremely easy to add or remove components. Unlike your standard sliding-side-door setup, the 4550 forces you to place the case on its side (a large arrow on the bottom shows which way should be facing up) and press a button on the top and one on the bottom to pry open the chassis, which splits open like a book. Because they face straight up when the case is open and are tool-free like the rest of the internal components, the 4550's optical drives are easier to access than those of your standard PC design.

An open book.

Four PCI slots give you room to grow.

An Ethernet card now comes standard on Dell's mainstream desktop series, further proof that broadband is finding its way into more and more homes. Since it is integrated on the motherboard, it doesn't occupy any of the four PCI slots, leaving you more room for expansion. There are four PCI slots in all along with one AGP slot.

As processor speeds continue to rocket towards 3GHz and beyond, yesterday's performance desktops are becoming today's midrange PCs. The Dell Dimension 4550, which sits between Dell's budget Dimension 2300 line and its high-end 8250 line, has more power than most mainstream users will ever need. Only the most serious gamers and video editors will feel left wanting after viewing the impressive list of specs of our 4550 test system: a 2.66GHz P4 processor, 512MB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM, a 120GB hard drive, and an Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 graphics card. If you fall into either of the above two groups, you'll want to consider spending the extra cash for the speedier RDRAM found in the Dimension 8250 line.
Our Dimension 4550 test system could be upgraded, however, to look eerily similar to what you would find in the 8250 line--should you feel the need to purchase the fastest machine you can. You can configure the 4550 to include Intel's current speed leader, a Pentium 4 processor running at 2.8GHz. Cutting-edge graphics are also at your disposal with either the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro or Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 graphics cards.

DVD-ROM on top; CD burner below.
A mainstream desktop should have the ability to play DVDs and burn CDs; our 4550 test system was capable of both tasks with its 16X DVD-ROM drive and speedy 48X/42X/48X CD-RW drive. Those looking to keep costs down can choose slightly slower 24X/10X/40X or 40X/10X/40X CD-RW drives, while digital-video aficionados can opt for a DVD+RW/+R drive. If you add a DVD burner, be sure to opt for Dell's Movie Studio package, too, which provides a two-port FireWire card and MGI VideoWave 4.0 editing software.
Dell bundles its own branded monitors with its desktops, so you know they'll match the case. Our test system included the 15-inch 1504FP flat-panel monitor. Housed in black casing, it provides a wonderfully sharp, bright image. Dell also offers a less expensive, 15-inch LCD and other larger LCDs--up to a 20-inch model. Many CRT choices are available, ranging in size from 15 to 21 inches.
There are only four speaker options with the Dimension 4550: a two-piece set and two three-piece sets from Harman Kardon and a 5.1 Altec Lansing surround-sound package. Our test system included the HK-695s, which are geared toward gamers. We are not a fan of the top-heavy, champagne-flute design of the two satellites, but together with the subwoofer, they offer good sound. If your computer doubles as your DVD player, we recommend that you pony up for the Altec Lansing ADA-995 5.1 speaker system.
Like the speakers, the keyboard and mouse fit into the black-and-gray color scheme. As more PCs find their way into the living room, it's nice to see that Dell has kept aesthetics in mind. Ours had a standard 114-key keyboard and a three-button optical mouse. There are wireless options for both, as well.

Dell Picture Studio.
The Dimension 4550 ships with Windows XP Home or Professional (a $99 upgrade), your choice of Microsoft Office XP or Works Suite, and an introductory version of Norton AntiVirus 2002. The two optical drives in our test system had software to match: Roxio Easy CD Creator 5.2 Basic and CyberLink's PowerDVD. Dell also offers its own software for digital imaging and digital audio (a branded version of the popular MusicMatch Jukebox 7.1). Since these applications essentially duplicate features found in Windows XP, we question their value. Of indisputable value is the six months of free AOL or MSN Internet access that Dell provides with the 4550.

Application performance
You can't always judge a book by its cover, and the Dell Dimension 4550 is an excellent example of this maxim. You can safely assume that this system is exceptionally fast when you see that it sports a 2.66GHz P4 processor under its hood. But what is not immediately obvious is that the 4550's application performance is actually almost as speedy as that of a desktop using a 2.8GHz P4 with 266MHz DDR SDRAM system memory. The 4550's performance advantage comes from a faster DDR SDRAM-based memory subsystem, running at 333MHz and using an Intel 845PE chip set. While the performance difference is slim, it goes to show how memory architecture makes a difference. The bottom line: The 4550 delivers performance that should be more than capable of running just about any application you choose.
Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 Rating  
SysMark2002 Internet Content Creation Rating  
SysMark2002 Office Productivity Rating  
Dell Dimension 4550 (2.66GHz P4)
Dell Dimension 8200 (2.53GHz P4)
Dell Dimension 8200 (2.8GHz P4)
HP Media Center (2.66GHz P4)
IBM NetVista A30 (2.8GHz P4)
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
An Nvidia GeForce4 Ti-based graphics card and a speedy CPU all but guarantee high frame rates with even the most demanding games. The 4550's 2.66GHz P4 processor and GeForce4 Ti 4200 combine to produce high-speed gameplay. Of course, a GeForce4 Ti 4600-based graphics card would be even faster. All but the most hard-core gamers, however, will be satisfied with the level of 3D graphics performance that the 4550 delivers.
3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro (16-bit color)  
MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro (32-bit color)  
Dell Dimension 4550 (2.66GHz P4)
Dell Dimension 8200 (2.53GHz P4)
Dell Dimension 8200 (2.8GHz P4)
HP Media Center (2.66GHz P4)
IBM NetVista A30 (2.8GHz P4)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro. 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)
Quake III Arena  
Dell Dimension 4550 (2.66GHz P4)
Dell Dimension 8200 (2.53GHz P4)
Dell Dimension 8200 (2.8GHz P4)
HP Media Center (2.66GHz P4)
IBM NetVista A30 (2.8GHz P4)
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.

System configurations:
Dell Dimension 4550
Windows XP Home; 2.66GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 64MB; Western Digital WD120JB-75CRA0 120GB 7,200rpm
Dell Dimension 8200
Windows XP Home; 2.53GHz Intel P4; 256MB RDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 128MB; Western Digital WD120JB-75CRA0 120GB 7,200rpm
Dell Dimension 8200
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 1,024MB RDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 128MB; Western Digital WD120JB-75CRA0 120GB 7,200rpm
HP Media Center PC
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.66GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 420 64MB; Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm
MicronPC Millennia TS2
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB; IBM IC35L120AVVA07 120GB 7,200rpm
Dell's standard warranty is merely adequate with its one-year parts and labor coverage. You do get onsite service (at Dell's discretion) and 24/7 toll-free phone support for that one year, but we'd suggest upgrading to the three-year plan. It provides not only the obvious two additional years of coverage but also 24/7 phone support for the lifetime of the system.
More impressive than the standard warranty is the documentation that Dell includes with the 4550. The user manual is clearly written and well organized, and it includes in-depth information specific to the 4550 series. Along with the many illustrated how-tos, you get not one but two sections devoted to troubleshooting, which, for our money, is the most useful part of any user guide.

Dell Dimension 4550 (Pentium 4 2.66GHz

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 9Support 7