The Dell Dimension 5100, like its predecessor, the Dimension 4700, is a well-priced, decently powered option for family-room computing. In addition to a striking new design, the 5100 adds modern essentials such as a BTX motherboard and a 64-bit CPU that should keep you from having to replace your system for a few years. You can configure a Dell Dimension 5100 for less than $700, but our test system included the Media Centerversion of Windows XP, dual TV tuners, two-piece speakers, and a 15-inch LCD, among other upgrades, that bring the price to a still reasonable $1,136. Even so, the Dimension 5100's lack of a dual-core CPU makes the trim 5100C a better option. And if you want the expandability of a midtower case, the AMD-based mainstream HP Pavilion d4100e is a better choice.
With this release, Dell updates the look of its midrange home PC, and we like what we see. The case has been recast in a silver-and-white design, and a removable side panel makes accessing the internal components easier than ever. The insides are well organized, so it's easy to switch components or reach the sole free PCI slot or the two free RAM slots.
The 5100 is a quiet operator, even when performing noisy tasks such as ripping or burning CDs or DVDs on its double-layer, dual-format DVD drive. The reason is its BTX motherboard and what Dell calls its QuietCase technology, which provides better air circulation through a novel cutout section behind the front panel.
Our test system used Intel's 3.0GHz Intel Pentium 4 531 processor, giving the midpriced PC a 64-bit capability. With its not quite cutting-edge CPU, the Dimension 5100 turned in predictable, if uninspiring, performance scores. Its compact cousin, the Dimension 5100C, also has a 3.0GHz CPU, but that one is a dual-core Pentium D 830, which gave the 5100C a 17 percent advantage in CNET Labs' BAPCo SysMark 2004 benchmarks. The single-core AMD-based HP Pavilion d4100e, powered by a 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 4000+ CPU, had the same 17 percent edge.
(Subsequent to our testing, Dell stopped offering the Pentium 4 531 as an option. The closest current option is the Pentium 4 630, which offers double the L2 cache (2MB) and the same 3.0GHz clock speed and 64-bit capability.)
The supplied ATI Radeon X300 SE video card is underpowered for serious 3D gaming, although you can upgrade to the Radeon X600 SE for only $23. To its credit, the Dimension 5100 was able to run Half-Life 2, while our 5100C test system (with integrated Intel 950G graphics) could not. Still, 13.4 frames per second (fps) isn't what you'd call playable. Dell's top-of-the-line Dimension, the 9100, uses an Nvidia GeForce 6800 to churn out 64.5fps on the same test.
Our test system also featured a 160GB SATA hard drive, 512MB of 400MHz DDR2 SDRAM, and a dual TV tuner. The 160GB drive seems skimpy for a Media Center, and at 250GB, even the largest hard drive offered is really too small for a PC that will be recording lots of television shows. (Though our test system featured Windows XP Media Center, you can configure the system without a TV tuner and choose XP Home or Pro.) We were pleased to see a multiformat media-card reader included as a $15 upgrade option, but on such a seemingly versatile mainstream PC, we wish Dell would offer it as standard equipment. It's easy to overlook in the Dimension 5100's lengthy online configurator.
The system offers seven USB 2.0 ports--two on the front and five on the rear--and our custom Dell multimedia keyboard offered another two; however, you won't find a single FireWire port, which strikes us as bizarre. More bizarre: a FireWire card isn't even listed as an option. The slight software bundle includes Musicmatch Jukebox Basic and Corel Photo Album Starter Edition.
Dell's standard limited-support option could be called "extremely limited support," because it offers only a 90-day limited warranty and 90 days of tech support and onsite service (which Dell calls at-home service). An additional $275 gets you up to four years of support; you should at least spring for the 12-month plan, which will cost an extra $22. Dell's Web site offers a variety of user guides, FAQs, and forums. Phone support is available 24/7, but be prepared to wade through endless menus. As we've noted in other Dell reviews, most manuals come preinstalled on the hard drive, which makes them harder to reference in a pinch.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|BAPCo's SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4XAA 8XAF||Half-Life 2 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF|
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Dell Dimension 5100
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.0GHz Intel Pentium 4 531; Intel 945G chipset; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon X300 SE; Maxtor 6L160M0 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Dell Dimension 5100C
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 3.0GHz Intel Pentium D 830; Intel 945G chipset; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; integrated Intel 950G; Maxtor 6L160M0 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Dell Dimension 9100
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium D 840; Intel 945GP chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 (PCIe); two WDC WD160JD-75HBB0 160GB Serial ATA 7,200rpm; integrated Intel 82801GR/GH SATA RAID Controller (RAID 0)
HP Pavilion d4100e
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 4000+; ATI Radeon RS480 (ATI Radeon X200 Xpress) chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 (PCIe); Seagate ST3400832AS 400GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Sony VAIO VGC-RA842G
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 3.0GHz Intel Pentium D 830; Intel 945G chipset; 1GB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; Nvidia GeForce 6600 (PCIe); 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA