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Dell OptiPlex GX280 BTX review: Dell OptiPlex GX280 BTX

Dell OptiPlex GX280 BTX

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
6 min read
Need a new PC for the office? How about a hundred of them? Whatever your business's needs, the Dell OptiPlex GX280 offers a compact, versatile design, solid performance, and Dell's renowned service--three years' worth, in fact. Indeed, despite a few minor quibbles, the OptiPlex GX280 ranks among the top corporate PCs in its class.
Our $1,427 review unit's compact desktop case, one of five chassis available for the GX280, can also stand like a tower. Its lattice-work front face is a nice alternative to staid, traditional case designs and is also a function of the OptiPlex GX280's BTX architecture. With a BTX motherboard, the components are laid out in such a way that the hottest-running parts are lined up between a large intake fan on the front panel and an exhaust fan on the back panel. Gone are many of the loud, fast-spinning small fans found inside older ATX-based systems. The result? The OptiPlex GX280 operates in near silence, an advantage that you'll really begin to appreciate if your small office has multiple PCs running alongside each other in a tight space.
We particularly like the four unobtrusive diagnostic LEDs that adorn the front of the system--a smart alternative to rear lights. Designed to assist with help-desk calls, the LEDs can report the status of more than 24 different modes.
Gone is the painful-to-open hinged design of the previous GX280. In its place, a spring-release lid that pops on and off with ease and reveals a largely modular, though cramped, interior. Individual levers free the optical drive, hard drive, and expansion-slot module from their respective bays. The RAM sockets (two available, two occupied) are partially obstructed; adding more modules would require removing the optical drive.
Your only other internal expansion options: two unoccupied PCI slots. As for external expansion, the system serves up a surprising abundance of USB 2.0 ports: six in back, two in front. And while the mouse and keyboard occupy two of the former, our test system's bundled monitor pinched in with two extra USB ports of its own.
The included 15-inch Dell UltraSharp 1505FP may be on the small side, but it's as versatile as any LCD we've seen. It not only tilts, swivels, and raises on its telescoping arm (up to 4.5 inches higher than its standard height), it also rotates 90 degrees for Portrait mode computing. It's the ideal monitor for countertop customer-service environments. It even has both VGA and DVI inputs. We just wish it were a little bigger. (Dell's similarly equipped 17-inch 1704FPV costs $70 more.)
You'll need to add a speaker to the OptiPlex GX280 BTX if your business requires audio capabilities. Fortunately, Dell offers plenty of options, including an internal speaker for just $9. Our test system also featured a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, a two-button optical wheel mouse, and a compact keyboard with an appreciably oversize spacebar.
As for power, the Dell OptiPlex GX280 BTX should have most businesses covered. Its 3.4GHz Pentium 4 550 processor, 512MB of 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM, and 80GB Serial ATA hard drive might actually be overkill for some enterprises, but it's ideal for large databases, heavy multitasking, and other horsepower-hungry applications. Its SysMark 2004 score of 194 is tops among mainstream business PCs we've tested recently. Keep in mind, however, you'll pay a bit extra for its performance. The OptiPlex GX280 costs slightly more than the MPC ClientPro 365, even though it includes a smaller monitor.
ATI's PCI Express Radeon X300 graphics card handles the video chores, and it also gives you dual-monitor support for both VGA and DVI displays. We expected to see higher frame rates on our Unreal Tournament 2003 benchmark, but ATI's budget card will provide more than enough muscle for typical 2D business graphics. And since it includes 128MB of dedicated graphics memory, overall performance gets a boost because main system memory won't be tapped while the system performs graphics tasks.
Software and documentation are decidedly bare-bones. Productivity software such as Microsoft's Works or Office will add to the bill; our test system's price includes only CyberLink PowerDVD for watching movies and Sonic Solutions Record Now 7.0 for burning CDs. Enterprise users can download a handful of free IT-friendly utilities, including OpenManage Client Instrumentation, which provides hardware asset management and alerts, and Local Recovery, a backup-and-restore program. Obviously it would be preferable for Dell to preinstall these utilities, as it could take an IT manager a long time to deploy them on dozens or hundreds of systems.
As always, Dell earns high marks for service. The OptiPlex GX280 BTX includes a three-year warranty with next-business-day onsite service and parts replacement. You also get toll-free, 24/7 phone support. All that's missing is a manual that describes the inner workings of the case, which may not seem obvious to small-business owners who act as their own IT staff.
Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating  

To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, 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). Depending on the class of the system, we may report only the office-productivity or Internet-content-creation portions of SysMark.
3D gaming performance (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768  

To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests and are set to 4X and 8X respectively during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal provides an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).
System configurations:
Dell Dimension 4700C
Windows XP Home SP2; 3.0GHz Intel P4 530; Intel 915G chipset; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB (shared memory) integrated Intel 915G; Seagate ST3160023AS 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Dell OptiPlex GX280 BTX
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.4GHz Intel P4 550; Intel 915G chipset; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X300 (PCIe); ST380013AS 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Gateway E-6300
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.2GHz Intel P4 540; Intel 915G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB (shared memory) integrated Intel 915G; Seagate ST3160023AS 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
HP Compaq Business Desktop dc7100
Windows XP Professional SP1; 3.2GHz Intel P4 540; Intel 915G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB integrated Intel 915G (shared memory); Seagate ST380013AS 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
MPC ClientPro 365
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.2GHz Intel P4 540; Intel 915G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB integrated Intel 915G (shared memory); Seagate ST380011A 80GB 7,200rpm ATA/100