The Dimension 4600 is a capable, midrange desktop line that can be configured to please almost anyone--families, students, budding gamers, or the SOHO crowd. With systems starting at $699, it offers more speed and features than its budget Dimension 2400 cousins, while its top-end model, which costs more than $2,000, nips at the heels of the performance-oriented Dimension 8300 line. Our $1,665 test model included a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of speedy 400MHz DDR memory, an 80GB hard drive, and a high-end ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card. Unless you're a gamer, we'd suggest downgrading the graphics card and getting a DVD-RW drive; our test system included CD-RW and DVD-ROM drives. Dell's flexible online configurator makes choosing easy.
|/sc/30529709-2-200-DT2.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />
The front-mounted USB ports are no longer angled towards the floor as they were in past Dimension cases, making it easier to connect your camera or an MP3 player.
|/sc/30529709-2-200-DT3.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" alt="" />|
|You'll find two open PCI slots below the powerful Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card.|
|/sc/30529709-2-200-DT4.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" alt="" />|
|With dual optical drives, a floppy drive, and a hard drive, the 4600 leaves you only one internal 3.5-inch bay to expand.|
The Dimension 4600's connectivity is more mainstream than progressive. The front panel gives you the standard pair of USB 2.0 ports plus a speaker output, but the ports are easier to access now than they were with previous Dimension models because they are no longer angled down toward the floor. The rear port is packed with legacies, such as a PS/2 keyboard and mouse, plus serial and parallel ports. You also get a generous six USB 2.0 ports, a 10/100 Ethernet port, and another set of audio connections. Our evaluation unit's graphics card offers both VGA and DVI ports for analog or digital displays. There are no FireWire ports, but you could add a FireWire card to an available PCI slot. Nor is there an integrated video port, but a PCI modem card provides a dial-up connection.
Internal expansion is more of a challenge. The hard drive occupies one internal drive bay, leaving only one other free. There are no other external drive bays. Two PCI slots are free. A couple of 256MB PC3200 DDR SDRAM modules occupy two of the four available DIMM slots, but cabling obstructs the remaining slots. The Dimension 4600's motherboard uses the Intel 865PE chipset, supporting Pentium 4 processors with an 800MHz frontside bus. Our evaluation system included 512MB of PC3200 (400MHz) DDR SDRAM, which is adequate for most computing needs. Because the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro includes 128MB of onboard RAM, the main system memory is free to focus on overall system performance. The 9800 Pro is a leading 3D graphics card for computer gaming. If you don't expect to be gaming much, you can save more than $100 by selecting either the older GeForce4 MX or the new budget GeForce FX 5200 graphics card.
|/sc/30529709-2-200-DT1.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" alt="" />|
|Our test system included DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives. We'd prefer to save a little by choosing a lesser graphics card and using the money to upgrade to a DVD burner.|
|/sc/30529709-2-200-DT5.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" alt="" />|
|This Dell-branded 15-inch LCD is sharp, but a bit more cash will net you a roomy 17-inch screen.|
Clearly intended as a jack-of-all-trades, our Dimension 4600 test system includes an NEC 48X/24X/48X CD-RW drive for backups, audio CD burning, and other common activities. It also has a Lite-On 16X DVD-ROM with a Dell-branded version of the CyberLink PowerDVD player for playing DVDs. We were disappointed that a system of this price did not have a DVD-RW drive; adding one costs an additional $170, but it's a worthwhile upgrade if you have a DV camcorder.
The 80GB Western Digital hard drive offers lots of room for games, MP3s, photos, and so on. Videophiles may want to upgrade to one of the larger-capacity hard drives that Dell offers, or you can add a hard drive later in the remaining free internal drive bay. The 1.44MB floppy drive is simply added for worst-case file backup and for sharing with other users. Unfortunately, you can't upgrade the floppy drive to a media-card reader, although you can choose a 16MB USB keychain drive in its place.
The included 15-inch Dell UltraSharp 1504FP flat-panel display was true to its name and offered a sharp image, but we've seen larger LCDs included with a midrange system, such as the HP Pavilion a250e, which costs $100 less than our Dimension 4600 and also includes a DVD-recordable drive. A 2.1-speaker set is standard fare for a midrange PC; our Dimension 4600 test system includes the Harman Kardon HK395 set, which sounded clear. Rounding out the peripherals are a Dell-branded PS/2 multimedia keyboard and a Dell-branded Logitech USB wheel mouse. For software, Dell bundles WordPerfect Productivity Pack, Roxio EasyCD Creator 5.0, and a bevy of Dell-branded multimedia apps, including Picture Studio, Image Expert Standard, and Jukebox (powered by MusicMatch). Application performance
The system's 2.8GHz Pentium 4 processor and its 865PE chipset, along with 512MB of DDR memory and an 80GB hard drive, fall slightly short of making it a high-end gaming box; nevertheless, the Dimension 4600 outpaced every 2.8GHz Pentium 4-based system we've seen. Its SysMark2002 score of 285 was about 4 percent higher than the ABS Awesome 4500's score. Overall, the Dimension 4600 provides a surprisingly powerful computing package for the price.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
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
The Dimension 4600's graphics scores--driven by ATI's leading Radeon 9800 Pro card--were outstanding for a midrange PC. The 9800 Pro is more than capable of playing any of today's games and those of tomorrow, with advanced settings such as antialiasing and anisotropic filtering turned on.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. 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)
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.
ABS Awesome 4500
Windows XP Home; 2.6GHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 128MB; WDC WD1200JB-00CRA1 1200GB 7,200rpm
Dell Dimension 4600
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; Intel 865PE chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD800BB-75CAA0, 80GB, ATA/100, 7,200rpm
Windows XP Home; 2.6GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9600 128MB; Maxtor 6Y080L0 80GB 7,200rpm
HP Pavilion a250e
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; Nvidia Nforce-2; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 128MB; Seagate ST380011A 80GB 7,200rpm
Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200
Windows XP Professional, 2.2GHz AMD Athlon XP 3200+; Nvidia Nforce-2 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 128MB; two Western Digital WDC WD360GD-00FNA0, 36GB 10,000rpm; Highpoint RocketRAID 1520 SATA RAID controller
Sony VAIO PCV-RS320
Windows XP Home; 2.6GHz Intel P4; Intel 865G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; integrated Intel 865G 64MB (shared memory); Seagate ST3120022A 120GB 7,200rpm Dell backs the Dimension 4600 with a standard one-year warranty, which includes onsite service provided by a third-party contractor that can usually get to your home or office the next business day. The warranty can be extended for two years ($99), three years ($169), or four years ($229).
Unlike so many other PCs in the market, the Dimension 4600 includes a professionally printed and bound, 148-page manual that covers setup, use, and troubleshooting topics. Add the large color setup poster, and even the greenest PC user should be unpacked and ready to go in minutes. Dell also throws in three recovery CDs (OS, applications, and drivers/utilities). Dell's site offers help in the form of a knowledge base, FAQs, downloads, and electronic documentation. You can chat online with a customer-care representative for nontechnical questions or e-mail your questions to technical support. Lifetime technical support is also available 24/7 through a toll-free telephone number.