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Dell Dimension XPS Desktop Computer review: Dell Dimension XPS Desktop Computer

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The Good Fast, cutting edge; great service and support; plenty of room for expansion, accessories, and storage.

The Bad Cluttered interior.

The Bottom Line The Dell Dimension XPS is fully stocked with the cutting-edge components you'd expect in a high-end gaming box, but it lacks some of the polish found in systems from smaller vendors.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Support 8

Review Sections

Dell's first foray into the luxury gaming-PC market with the Dimension XPS doesn't come as a great surprise. Enthusiasts inevitably want a host of customization options when configuring their dream system, which is a task that Dell is more than capable of handling, with its built-to-order business model. Also known for its customer support, Dell is making a significant investment in the new line by adding an XPS-specific support team. But despite its blazing performance and a top-notch features list--including Intel's new 3GHz Pentium 4 and 875P chipset, along with ATI's new Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card--the XPS lacks the craftsmanship exhibited on gaming systems built by boutique PC shops, such as Falcon Northwest and Hypersonic. At more than $4,000, the XPS is priced closer to its competitors than we had expected, based on Dell's otherwise aggressively priced Dimension PCs. The XPS will certainly get the job done for gamers, just not with as much style as others in its class.

Blue and black plastic encase the XPS.
Dell trades in the staid, two-tone, gray Dimension tower for the big, black-and-blue case found on the Dimension XPS. Where other vendors of luxury boxes offer automotive paint jobs and internal fluorescent lighting, Dell's two nods to modern design on its Dimension XPS are a front-mounted, faux-brushed-aluminum plastic plate and a small flip door on the front panel that hides two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and a headphone jack. To keep up appearances, Dell has added a hinged panel that hides the optical drives. This adds up to a case that is slightly jazzier than the standard Dimension's, which Dell hopes will catch the eye of gamers. We're not completely sold on the case design--inside or out--after recently seeing comparably priced, custom-painted, painstakingly crafted systems from Falcon Northwest and Hypersonic, but we do know that it's the largest desktop from Dell that we've seen in recent memory.

Indeed, there is plenty of space inside. At 19.5 by 8.5 by 19 inches (HWD), the interior can accommodate three 5.25-inch drives and three 3.5-inch drives. The power supply and two of the four system fans are contained in a closed unit upon which the rest of the system sits. This creates room in the case for the massive, green-plastic shroud used to help cool of the 3GHz Pentium 4 processor. As an added bonus, because the power supply is situated at the bottom portion of the system, the power cord dangles more manageably that if it were it positioned toward its traditional spot at the top of the box.

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Behind a small door on the front panel there are USB 2.0, FireWire, and audio ports.
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Green quick-release levers make removing or adding drives a snap--if you can get past the mess of wires.

The rest of the layout isn't so tidy. True, the expansion slots, the drive bays, the ribbon cables, and almost every other interior part you'd want to adjust or replace has tool-less pull tabs. It's just that you may need a machete to actually get at them. With seemingly little thought given to the placement of wires and cables, the clamshell opening mechanism makes matters worse by stretching out the connectors to the various drives from the motherboard and the power supply. Compared to other interiors we've seen, in some of which you could perform surgery, the Dimension XPS is an extremely cluttered case.

Three drives in two: a combo DVD-RW/CD-RW drive and a DVD-ROM drive.
Dell has yet to capture the nuance of design found in the custom-built systems from boutique shops, but the configuration of the Dimension XPS shows that the company retains its grasp on what's needed to build a powerful PC. Among the latest and greatest parts are the Intel 875P chipset, the 3GHz Pentium 4 processor, the 128MB ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card, and a pair of 120GB Seagate Barracuda Serial ATA hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration. The new 875P chipset, formerly code-named Canterwood, is perhaps the most significant inclusion; it features a number of built-in technologies that facilitate the system's overall fast performance. With support for DDR400 memory and a maximum frontside-bus speed of 800MHz, the 875P chipset can accommodate the next generation of Intel CPUs and speedy dual-channel 400MHz system memory. Native support for USB 2.0 and Serial ATA drives means faster access times for hard drives and peripherals, and a variation of the chipset will include built-in RAID support, although this particular unit used a Promise RAID controller PCI Card instead.

Other features include a combo DVD-RW/CD-RW drive (writes to DVD-R discs at 4X speed, writes to CD-Rs at 16X speed), a 16X DVD-ROM drive, a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 sound card, and the outstanding Logitech Z-680 5.1-speaker set. The included Dell 1800FP 18-inch LCD display maintained a vivid image during general use, game playing, and DVD watching.

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Bold and beautiful: Dell's 1800FP flat-panel display.
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Rattle the walls with Logitech's Z680 speaker set.

Gamers will be disappointed to learn that Dell doesn't bundle any games with the system. You get a host of other apps, though, including Office XP Small Business, Quicken 2002, Roxio Easy CD Creator, Encyclopedia Brittanica 2003, and two Dell-branded media-editing apps: Dell Picture Studio and Dell Movie Studio.

Application performance
The Dimension XPS marks Dell's arrival in the high-end gaming PC market. Look inside its large case, and you'll see leading-edge PC technology, including dual Serial ATA hard drives, plus Intel's new 875P chipset and a 3GHz Pentium 4 processor. (This P4 differs from the 3.06GHz P4 introduced last fall in that it supports the faster 800MHz frontside bus of the new 875P chipset.) The result of this technology is outstanding application performance. The XPS, which is nearly identical to the Dimension 8300, eked out slightly better application scores, though both are more than capable of handling any of today's apps.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 rating  
SysMark2002 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark2002 office-productivity rating  
Dell Dimension XPS (3GHz Intel P4, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Dell Dimension 8300 (3GHz Intel P4, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Alienware Area-51 (3GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Gateway 700XL Digital Film Maker (3GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Motherboard Express Glacier P50 (3.06GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
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
Like any gaming PC worth its weight right now, the Dell Dimension XPS uses ATI's leading Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card, and it turned in outstanding 3D-performance scores. When we first received the machine, Dell had enabled the vertical sync (v-sync) setting for OpenGL. This kept the frame rates on our Quake III benchmark--an OpenGL game--at an even 60 frames per second (fps) because it synchronizes the graphics card's refresh rate with that of the monitor, which in the case of an LCD is 60Hz. According to a Dell representative, the company "made the decision to enable v-sync on the Dimension 8300 and the XPS systems that utilize the 9800 or the 9800 Pro based on customer feedback. Disabling v-sync, while it allows for an increased frame rate, has a tendency to create tearing or screen artifacts on some games." At the last minute, perhaps wary of receiving seemingly low benchmarks on its first high-end gaming PC, Dell decided to disable the v-sync setting for the XPS. With v-sync turned off, the system turned in the ridiculously high frame rates that you'd expect from a system with a Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card. Though Dell decided to disable v-sync in the end, you can easily enable v-sync via the Display Properties window if you begin to notice screen artifacts.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (16-bit color)  
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (32-bit color)  
Dell Dimension 8300 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Dell Dimension XPS (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Alienware Area-51 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Gateway 700XL Digital Film Maker (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Motherboard Express Glacier P50 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
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)
Quake III Arena  
Dell Dimension XPS (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Dell Dimension 8300 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Alienware Area-51 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Gateway 700XL Digital Film Maker (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Motherboard Express Glacier P50 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
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:

Alienware Area-51
Windows XP Professional; 3GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; two Seagate ST312002AS 120GB 7,200rpm, Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER Serial ATA RAID controller

Dell Dimension 8300
Windows XP Home; 3GHz Intel P4; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD2000JB-75DUA0 200GB 7,200rpm

Dell Dimension XPS
Windows XP Professional; 3GHz Intel P4; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; two Seagate ST3120023AS 120GB; Promise FastTrak TX2000 S150 TX2 SATA controller 7,200rpm

Gateway 700XL Digital Film Maker
Windows XP Home; 3GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; two Maxtor 6Y200P0 200GB 7,200rpm

Motherboard Express Glacier P50
Windows XP Professional; 3.06GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB; Western Digital WD800JB-00-00CRA1 80GB 7,200rpm; integrated Promise FastTrack 376 RAID controller

Already known for its excellent technical support and documentation, Dell is well positioned to handle what are likely to be demanding support needs of customers who purchase XPS systems--these are the same customers who are likely to tweak the configuration via software or upgrades. To that end, the standard three-year parts-and-labor warranty with one year of included onsite service applies, and XPS customers will received a dedicated number for telephone tech support, staffed by technicians who have been trained specifically to give XPS help. And, as usual with Dell systems, in addition to the requisite operating system, component driver, and system restore CDs, a system-specific manual is also included.

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