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.
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.
|/sc/21137073-2-200-DT2.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" alt="" />|
|Behind a small door on the front panel there are USB 2.0, FireWire, and audio ports.|
|/sc/21137073-2-200-DT5.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" alt="" />|
|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.
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.
|/sc/21137073-2-200-DT6.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" alt="" />|
|Bold and beautiful: Dell's 1800FP flat-panel display.|
|/sc/21137073-2-200-DT8.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" alt="" />|
|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.
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)
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)
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.
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.