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Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 review: Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5

There's plenty of room inside the tool-less chassis, but getting to it can be challenging. The case pops open easy enough, but the side panel, which holds the storage and optical drives, is fairly heavy and relies on a shaky plastic leg to support it in the open position. The leg appears ready to buckle at any time.

6.0

Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5

Pricing Not Available

The Good

Dual-core processor provides strong multimedia platform; lots of storage; quiet; strong single-player 3D performance at high resolutions.

The Bad

Flimsy, plastic case design; no SLI support for dual 3D cards; no option for fast, 10,000rpm hard drives; Dell won't overclock; multiplayer 3D gamers can find a better deal.

The Bottom Line

It may not be the flashiest system out there, but the Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 will appeal to serious multimedia buffs and certain hard-core gamers.
The $3,999 Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 doesn't have the design polish that you get with competing high-end systems, and by bundling Intel's new dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition 840 CPU, the XPS Gen 5 makes a strange gaming system since there aren't any games out (yet) that put dual-core CPUs to good use. (Likewise, Intel's dual-core processor is also 64-bit capable, but 64-bit games have yet to hit the market.) By incorporating Windows Media Center Edition 2005 and a full complement of multimedia hardware, Dell expands the XPS's mandate into the living room, a task for which the multimedia- and multitasking-minded dual-core CPU is better suited. We think savvy users will look past the XPS Gen 5's flashy presentation to a different system built for either gaming or media duties. But those who feel more comfortable spending money on a name they're familiar with won't be disappointed. The Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 uses the same plastic silver-and-black clamshell case that housed the Gen 4 model, and it includes the same front-panel lighting effects. You can choose among eight different colors (including None) to illuminate the polished silver Dell badge, but you'll have to enter the BIOS setup screen to do it. The upper portion of the front panel features a hinged door that folds away to the side to reveal three optical drive bays and a built-in floppy drive, while a smaller panel hides two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and two audio jacks. Dell plans to incorporate a built-in media-card reader on future models, but for now, you'll have to make do with an external 12-in-1 USB version. Around back, you'll find five additional USB 2.0 ports, two FireWire ports, two PS/2 connections, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack.

That's one flimsy-looking leg on the bottom right.

Once the case is open, the first thing you'll notice is an enormous green shroud covering the dual-core processor's heat sink, which is four inches tall and rises off the motherboard like a miniature skyscraper. The shroud directs airflow to the processor from one of three case fans, and a second shroud covers the hard drive bays. Two additional fans cool the 650-watt power supply, which is housed in a separate chamber at the base of the system. Despite having all these fans churning away, the XPS Gen 5 is remarkably quiet. Noise reduction is always welcome, but we can't recommend that you install this massive case in your living room. Using a wireless media extender (available from Dell's site for an additional $298) to transmit a video signal from the PC to your television is a preferable option.


Despite the array of fans, the Dimension XPS Gen 5 is remarkably quiet.

There's room for two more hard drives and one additional optical drive, and you also get an assortment of available expansion slots, including a PCI slot, an x1 PCI Express (PCIe) slot, and an x4 PCIe slot (although the kind of card you'd put in the latter two remains unknown). Two of the four memory banks are also available.

The centerpiece of the Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 is Intel's recently announced dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition 840 processor with Hyper-Threading and 955X Express chipset. The new flagship of Intel's desktop CPUs, the 3.2GHz Pentium Extreme Edition 840, contains two processors on a single chip, each with 1MB of Level 2 cache and a dedicated pipeline to the 800MHz frontside bus. Also of note: the 840 chip includes Intel's Extended Memory 64 Technology, which means it is ready for the inevitable move to 64-bit computing.

The immediate benefit of dual-core technology for gamers is negligible, but media buffs will appreciate the processor's ability to efficiently and simultaneously run two or more multimedia applications--burning DVDs, recording TV programs, editing video, and such. Multitaskers in general will benefit from dual core as well, and who doesn't multitask these days? With dual-core and Hyper-Threading technologies, the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 has two physical execution units and two logical units, for a total of four independent threads. That means your system won't begin to drag if you have lots of windows running at once. This multitasking prowess might explain why Dell has transformed the once gaming-exclusive XPS line into a gaming and home-entertainment system.

Another exciting fact about Intel's new dual-core CPU: it's the first overclockable chip from Intel in several years. Dell hasn't exactly embraced this functionality as much as vendors like Velocity Micro, who sell their systems overclocked, but Dell at least acknowledges the possibility. Included software in the BIOS lets you jack up the chip to 3.6GHz from its stock 3.2GHz. Thankfully, Dell's warranty will cover clock-speed tinkering. We've seen systems with the same chip overclocked to 4.0GHz, but those systems also had specialized liquid-cooling hardware. As always with overclocking, you'll want to be careful and move in small steps. If the system becomes unstable due to your tinkering, Dell's tech support is familiar enough with the procedure to talk you back down to your original settings.

The Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 uses a Dell-branded motherboard based on Intel's 955X Express chipset, which supports multiple processor and memory types, as well as up to 4GB of system memory and up to 1.2 terabytes of Serial ATA hard drive storage. Our test configuration came with 1GB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM and a pair of 250GB 7,200rpm hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration. The memory is plenty for performance, but true speed junkies know that you want a 10,000rpm hard disk as your primary drive, with a larger-capacity 7,200rpm drive or two for data storage. Unfortunately, Dell offers only 7,200rpm drives for the XPS Gen 5.

More important than fast hard drives, and the key reason why we don't recommend the XPS Gen 5 for high-end gaming, is its lack of SLI support. Nvidia's dual-graphics-card configuration truly raised the bar on gamers' expectations for multithousand-dollar PCs. The XPS Gen 5's 256MB ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition video card is a fast, single-card option, to be sure, but the lack of elite 3D power combined with Intel's dual-core CPU (which simply doesn't play games as fast as AMD's single-core Athlon 64 FX-55) hurts Dell's standing in the high-end gaming sweepstakes. As our performance results show, the XPS Gen 5 is quick, but it can't claim that it's the fastest around.

By turning the XPS Gen 5 into a multimedia powerhouse, Dell at least extends the value of the system. To start, the system uses the Windows Media Center 2005 Edition operating system. A multiformat/double-layer, recordable DVD drive and a separate DVD-ROM drive fill the performance PC's dual optical-drive requirement. The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS card, with the Logitech Z-5500 Digital speakers, will lend audio purity to any game, movie, or music track.

An Emuzed Angel TV tuner card provided a clear signal with no noticeable loss of quality, and since it's a dual TV tuner, you can record and watch two different programs at the same time through the Media Center 2005 console. The Dimension XPS Gen 5 package includes a 20-inch Dell UltraSharp 2005FPW wide-screen LCD monitor, which is ideal for watching recorded TV shows and DVDs, and even better for viewing large spreadsheets and multipage documents. We also liked the screen's PIP (picture-in-picture) feature. The XPS Gen 5 shipped with a Dell multimedia keyboard and a Logitech optical scroll mouse, both of the USB variety.

Aside from the Media Center operating system, the Dimension XPS Gen 5 comes with a decent software bundle, although some of it might feel redundant given the operating system's built-in media features. Highlights include CorelBasic WordPerfect Productivity Pack for office applications, Sonic's RecordNow Basic and MyDVD LE for CD and DVD recording, a six-month trial of AOL, Dell Jukebox for playing and managing music files, a 90-day trial of Norton AntiVirus, and Dell Picture Studio for editing photos.

Application performance
On our standard SysMark 2004 benchmark, the Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 showed off the dual-core Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 840 processor's multitasking capabilities. Its overall score of 230 placed the system among the elite PCs in our test database. The XPS Gen 5 didn't beat the Overdrive PC Torque SLI, which uses an overclocked AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 CPU, or the Velocity Micro ProMagix DCX, with its Pentium Extreme Edition 840 overclocked to 4.0GHz. But the XPS Gen 5 and its stock 3.2GHz Pentium Extreme Edition 840 trumped the ABS Ultimate M6 and its stock, single-core AMD Athlon 64 FX-55. We can't make a straight processor-to-processor comparison with this data. Variations in the systems' chipset, hard drives, and memory throw the playing field off balance. What we can say is that the Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 is an excellent multitasking system, and it will handle single-threaded productivity and general-use applications as fast as almost any system we've seen.

Application performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating  
Note: * CPU and graphics are overclocked.

3D graphics and gaming performance
First, we should say that if you buy the Dimension XPS Gen 5 and throw a game on it, it's fast enough that you should have no problems playing any title on the market at a decent resolution and with high detail settings. We can't fault the raw capability of a PC that scores 54 frames per second (fps) on our demanding 1,600x1,200-resolution Half-Life 2 test. But our benchmarking reveals that you should ask yourself how you want to play.

The ABS Ultimate M6 again provides a strong counterpoint since, like the XPS Gen 5, its components aren't overclocked. With its pair of Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT SLI cards, the Ultimate M6 turned in Half-Life 2 scores of 108fps on our 1,024x768-resolution test--nearly double the XPS Gen 5's score of 68.3fps. If you prefer faster frame rates at lower resolutions, normally desirable when you're playing online, ABS's system is clearly a better bet than Dell's. If you're after the most attractive 3D image, however, the XPS Gen 5's score of 54fps on our 1,600x1,200-resolution test is much faster than the ABS's barely playable 28.8fps. If you spend a lot of time playing single-player 3D games, the Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 is a strong choice.

Half-Life 2 Custom Demo (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4xAA 8xAF  
Half-Life 2 1,600x1,200 4xAA 8xAF  
Note: * CPU and graphics are overclocked.

Dual-core testing
CNET Labs developed a battery of benchmarks to test the capabilities of the dual-core chips that are hitting the market. Since 3D graphics performance isn't at the heart of a dual-core CPU's mission, here you'll see tests that involve multitasking, 2D graphics, and audio and video encoding. Predictably, the Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 turned in similar results to an Intel white box that uses the same Pentium Extreme Edition 840 processor, which is to say that it trailed the white box that AMD supplied with its own dual-core Athlon 64 X2 on each of the four dual-core tests you see here. CNET Labs suspects that AMD's integrated memory controller, which removes the frontside-bus bottleneck of Intel's chip, goes a long way in explaining AMD's edge. Also, the XPS Gen 5's scores are held back somewhat by its Media Center OS, which creates additional overhead. Though it's a speedy system, the XPS Gen 5 trails its chief, dual-core competition. Before we declare AMD the outright dual-core winner, we'll need to test actual, shipping systems with the Athlon 64 X2 chip. The early results, however, point to AMD leading the way with dual core, which must be a concern to an Intel-only vendor such as Dell.

VirusScan and Dr.DivX multitasking test (in seconds)
(Lower times are better)
Velocity Micro ProMagix Dual Core (overclocked) Intel Exteme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
155 
2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processor w/ Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI
182 
3.2GHz Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
201 
Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 Intel Exteme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
219 
3.73GHz Intel Pentium 4 Processor Extreme Edition w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
236 
2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 Processor w/ Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI
301 

Adobe Photoshop CS test (in seconds)
(Lower times are better)
Velocity Micro ProMagix Dual Core (overclocked) Intel Exteme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
126 
2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processor w/ Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI
142 
Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 Intel Exteme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
144 
2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 Processor w/ Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI
171 
3.2GHz Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
171 
3.73GHz Intel Pentium 4 Processor Extreme Edition w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
176 

Apple iTunes 4.7.1.30 MP3 encoding test (in seconds)
(Lower times are better)
2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processor w/ Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI
110 
Velocity Micro ProMagix Dual Core (overclocked) Intel Exteme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
113 
3.2GHz Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
134 
Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 Intel Exteme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
135 
3.73GHz Intel Pentium 4 Processor Extreme Edition w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
158 
2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 processor w/ Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI
176 

Sorenson Squeeze 4.0 video encoding test (in seconds)
(Lower times are better)
Velocity Micro ProMagix Dual Core (overclocked) Intel Exteme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
196 
2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 Processor w/ Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI
206 
3.73GHz Intel Pentium 4 Processor Extreme Edition w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
212 
2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processor w/ Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI
220 
3.2GHz Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
240 
Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5 Intel Exteme Edition 840 w/ Intel 955X Express chipset
244 

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
3.2GHz Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 Intel "white box"
3.2GHz Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840; Intel 955X Express chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Sapphire Radeon X850 XT PCIe; 160GB Seagate ST3160827AS Serial ATA hard drive; Windows XP Professional SP2
3.73GHz Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 Intel "white box"
3.73GHz Intel Pentium 4 Processor Extreme Edition; Intel 955X Express chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Sapphire Radeon X850 XT PCIe; 160GB Seagate ST3160827AS Serial ATA hard drive; Windows XP Professional SP2
ABS Ultimate M6
2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-55; Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB (2) Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT (PCIe, SLI); two Seagate ST3200822AS 200GB 7,200rpm, Serial ATA; integrated Silicon SiI 3114 SoftRAID 5 controller; Windows XP Professional SP2
Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5
3.2GHz Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840; Intel 955X Express chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon X850 XT PE PCIe; two 250GB Western Digital Serial ATA hard drives in a RAID 0 array; Windows XP Professional Media Center Edition 2005 SP2
Overdrive PC Torque SLI
AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 overclocked to 2.8GHz; Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB two overclocked Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra PCI Express graphics cards using SLI; two 74GB Western Digital Serial ATA hard drives in a RAID 0 array; Windows XP Professional SP2
Velocity Micro ProMagix DCX
3.2GHz Intel Pentium Processor Extreme Edition 840 overclocked to 4.0GHz; Intel 955X Express chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Radeon X850 XT PE PCIe; two 74GB Western Digital Serial ATA hard drives in a RAID 0 array; one 400GB Hitachi HDS724040KLSA80 Serial ATA hard drive; Windows XP Professional SP2
Voodoo Omen
2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-55; Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 500MHz; 256MB (2) Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra (PCIe, SLI); two Seagate ST3160827AS 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller; Windows XP Professional SP2 As with previous XPS models, the Gen 5 comes with a limited one-year warranty that covers parts, labor, and online service, but you can extend the warranty to two years ($109), three years ($169), or four years ($259) at the time of purchase. Considering we're talking about a $4,000 system, we think Dell should eat the $169 charge and provide three years of coverage as part of the deal.

Dell's telephone technical support is available 24/7 via a toll-free number or you can use its online chat for a live discussion with a service representative. XPS owners can avoid long telephone wait times by entering their system's express service code. This code gets you to the Dell XPS Support team, which is staffed by a group of support personnel familiar with the ins and outs of the latest 3D games and specifically trained to troubleshoot XPS systems.

You'll find a broad range of troubleshooting tools, driver updates, patches, and software upgrades available on Dell's Web site. The included documentation is comprehensive, as always with Dell's PCs.

6.0

Dell Dimension XPS Gen 5

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 7Performance 6Support 5