One of the first desktop PCs to use Intel's Viiv platform, the Dimension 5150c offers cool, quiet operation thanks to its tiny BTX chassis. It's not just a pretty face either: it uses a dual-core CPU, has plenty of memory and comes with an optional 24-inch widescreen TFT
The Dimension 5150c is a Media Center PC with a difference. It's one of the first desktop PCs to use Intel's Viiv platform, which indicates it is designed for strong multimedia performance. Fast PCs are usually hot and noisy, but Dell's decision to use a Balance Technology eXtended (BTX) chassis affords the Dimension 5150c cool, quiet operation.
It's not just a pretty face either: it uses a dual-core CPU, has plenty of memory and comes with a 24-inch widescreen TFT. The system spec we reviewed is available from Dell (direct, of course) as a bundle: just quote E-Value code PPUK5-D025C7r1. The bundle comes to £1,349.
So is the 5150c the complete multimedia PC, or does its early adoption of new technology cause more problems than it solves?
The Dimension 5150c is undeniably attractive. Its silver and white colour scheme gives it an almost (whisper it) Mac-like appearance, and its slim, upright chassis gives it the look of a games console. The front panel is very uncluttered, but hit the open button and the top half automatically slides upwards then horizontally along the top of the case to reveal a selection of ports. There are two USB ports, mic and headphone sockets, and an ultra-slim optical drive that was originally designed for laptop use.
The Dimension 5150c's internal layout is very different to that of an ordinary PC. True to its BTX roots, there's a fan located at the front of the case that draws cool air over the processor and motherboard chipset in a very efficient manner.
By using the smallest BTX variant (picoBTX), Dell has been able to cram the components of the Dimension 5150c into a relatively small space. It's just 310mm high, 91mm wide and 363mm deep, so it's just as happy under a desk as it is taking pride of place next to your monitor.
The only drawback of its diminutive stature is that there's very little room for upgrading with internal components. There are vacant PCI Express slots (x16 and x1), but only half-height cards will fit. As a result, the Dimension 5150c can't accept large, powerful graphics adaptors.
The 5150c's laptop DVD±RW drive may also cause problems for upgraders. There's no possibility of adding a second internal drive as there physically isn't room for one, and swapping it for a new one could prove costly, as laptop drives are typically more expensive than their desktop counterparts.
In adhering to the Intel Viiv standard, the Dimension 5150c uses a dual-core CPU and Windows XP Media Center Edition, and has a 5.1-channel audio card. Various processor options are available, but Dell recommends the Intel Pentium D 820, which runs at 2.8GHz. In our review sample, this is joined by 1GB of DDR2 533MHz memory and the Intel 945G chipset. The latter affords the 5150c an integrated graphics adaptor, which in this case is the rather pedestrian ATI Radeon X600 SE.
Despite its poor graphics performance, the Dimension 5150c is a perfectly capable PC in other areas. Its dual-core processor is quick enough to handle intensive tasks like video encoding, and it can multitask without breaking a sweat.
There are five discrete audio ports at the rear of the PC, courtesy of the motherboard's integrated audio card. This features an optical digital Sony/Philips Digital Interface (SPDIF) output port for driving a set of surround-sound speakers using cables that provide the highest possible sound quality. The 2.1-channel speakers provided in the package weren't very impressive but you can always customise your PC with a superior 5.1-channel speaker setup (an extra £70 on the Dell site).
Being a Viiv PC, the 5150c includes the Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system. This lets you access all your digital images, movies and music files via a single, easy-to-use interface.
Its 250GB hard drive provides plenty of space to stockpile over 200 hours of high-quality video. A 500GB drive is available for extreme Napster junkies, but only one internal hard drive can be installed in the 5150c at any given time.
Despite its abundance of disk space and unabashed multimedia focus, the 5150c lacks a TV tuner. This omission is strange in any Media Center PC, but seems even more bizarre considering our review sample comes with a Dell 2405FPW 24-inch widescreen TFT monitor (a £458 premium on a standard 19-inch flat-panel monitor). Dell doesn't offer a tuner as part of the customisation process, but there is one on their Web site available separately for £78, although at time of publication it had seemingly disappeared.
The screen is undeniably impressive and has a height-adjustable base, a swivel function so you can use it in portrait or landscape orientation, and a picture-in-picture (PIP) mode, so you can view two separate video sources simultaneously. It runs at a very high native resolution of 1,900x1,200 pixels, and though it can't quite play high-definition movies at 1,080p -- the highest commercial video resolution -- it'll happily run 720p content.
The 5150c offers impressive performance when running everyday applications. It scored a respectable 3,241 in PCMark 2005, which isn't bad for a mid-range small form-factor PC.
Gaming performance was far less inspiring. Its integrated Radeon X600 SE graphics card racked up a pathetic 587 in 3DMark 2005, and only managed to run Doom 3 at 8fps. If you're a keen gamer, we recommend you look elsewhere.
The speed of the 5150c's optical drive is also questionable. It took approximately 13 minutes to transfer 4GB of data between from a DVD disc and the hard drive -- a fact we attributed to the drive's laptop heritage.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide