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Dell OptiPlex SX270 review: Dell OptiPlex SX270

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The Good Impressive application performance; 11 USB ports; beautifully designed, compact tower; ships with 16MB USB keychain drive.

The Bad Tower gets hot; short monitor cord.

The Bottom Line Dell's latest corporate system is a compact cube warrior with a clever design, strong performance, and a winning warranty.

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8.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Support 9

Review summary

Who says corporate PCs have to be dull? Witness the Dell OptiPlex SX270, a tiny tower built for big business. Its 2.4GHz Pentium 4 processor, Intel 865G chipset, and 512MB of DDR memory make it impressively fast for a business system, and its clever design saves space and upgrade hassles. Plus, what the SX270 lacks in internal expansion, it more than makes up for with its endless supply of USB ports. Factor in Dell's industry-leading warranty, and the OptiPlex SX270 rivals IBM's ThinkCentre S50 as the business PC to beat. Despite its intended corporate audience, the near-$2,000 OptiPlex SX270 would make an excellent home-office system, as well.

The cleverly designed case can be hidden behind the flat-panel display.

Standing just less than 10 inches high and measuring just more than 3 inches wide, the diminutive OptiPlex SX270 packs a remarkable amount of expandability. At the rear, there's a full complement of ports, including serial and parallel, line-in/-out, DVI (for digital flat panels), two PS/2, and four USB 2.0. At the front, the OptiPlex SX270 serves up two more USB 2.0 ports, plus microphone and headphone jacks.

The tower has two access panels, either of which pops right off with the push of a small, green lock switch. As you might expect, there's no room inside for slots of any kind, save for a pair of SDRAM slots, both of which are occupied. The smaller of the two panels reveals the system's 2.5-inch hard drive and a lock switch for the DVD/CD-RW combo drive, which pops out (or not, if you lock it) just like that of a notebook drive. You'll find two plastic covers in the box that can limit or prevent access to the rear ports and the primary lock switch, but you'll need to supply your own standard Kensington lock; Dell doesn't include one.

The OptiPlex SX270's case works with the included 17-inch LCD to save space in cramped cubicles. The UltraSharp 1703FP's sturdy, metal stand doubles as a mount for the tower, which rests directly behind the LCD. At the same time, the keyboard can tuck away neatly below the screen, thanks to the stand's specially designed base. Because the monitor and the PC are clearly designed to sit together, we understand why Dell might have thought it was OK to make the display cable so short--barely longer than a foot, in fact. But if you choose to spread out your equipment, you're out of luck.

The system boasts an astounding 11 USB 2.0 ports: two on the case's front panel (pictured here), four on the back panel, four on the display, and one on the keyboard.

Did you think that there were just 6 USB 2.0 ports on this system? Think again. The monitor provides 4 additional USB ports--2 on the side, 2 at the rear--while the PS/2 keyboard serves up 2 of its own, bringing the system total to 11. That's undoubtedly overkill for a corporate system, but we'll gladly take too many USB ports over too few.

One final note: After a few hours of use, the tower's vented, metal top became very hot to the touch. We have concerns about the stability and long-term reliability of a system that gets this overheated, though we saw no evidence of any actual problems.

Small though it is, the Dell OptiPlex SX270 is abundantly equipped for the rigors of corporate environments, and it's plenty powerful for most home-office and small-business applications. Its 2.4GHz Pentium 4 doesn't clock in anywhere near today's top-speed CPUs, but it leverages Intel's 865G chipset to achieve performance on a par with that of 2.66GHz systems.

The OptiPlex SX270 also includes 512MB of DDR SDRAM and a 5,400rpm, 40GB Hitachi notebook-class (read: small-size) hard drive. Dell doesn't offer any larger capacities, but you can install a second 40GB drive in the tower's lone modular bay, supplanting the combination DVD/CD-RW that came with our system. You'll have to use the same bay for a floppy drive: the OptiPlex SX270 doesn't have one (it's a $29 upgrade), but Dell supplies a 16MB USB keychain drive for fast and easy file shuttling. The module bay lets you swap out drives while the system is on, so you can interchange optical, floppy, Zip, or hard drives, all of which Dell lists as options on its online configurator.

The SX270 has a module bay in which you can swap drives. Our test system included a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive.

The OptiPlex SX270's Intel Extreme Graphics 2 chip improves dramatically over the previous generation of integrated hardware, meaning games are fair game, so long as you steer clear of higher-end 3D titles. We loaded Star Trek: Elite Force II, ran it at a comfortable, 1,024x768-pixel resolution, and enjoyed very smooth gameplay.

Dell's UltraSharp 1703FP monitor, a 17-inch LCD, lends itself well to games and movies, to say nothing of everyday software. Text looked crisp at its native 1,280x1,024-pixel resolution, and colors appeared vibrant and evenly saturated across the display. The monitor has adequate height adjustability but limited tilt range.

The OptiPlex SX270 features a built-in speaker that's adequate for business audio, but Dell supplied a pair of Altec Lansing speakers with our test system, a $20 upgrade option. The built-in speaker immediately cuts out when you plug in the Altecs or a pair of headphones--no need to disable it manually in the BIOS or the control panel.

Dell offers various versions of Microsoft Office for an added cost, but our review system came with a sparser software bundle: CyberLink PowerDVD for watching DVDs; Roxio Easy CD Creator 5.0 for burning CDs; LegacySelect 2.0, a fairly useless port-management tool; and OpenManage Client Instrumentation, an IT configuration and support package.

Application performance
Business systems rarely break performance records, but the Dell OptiPlex SX270 held its own during testing. Thanks to its Intel 865G chipset and new 2.4GHz Pentium 4 processor with an 800MHz frontside bus (FSB), it outperformed other machines with faster processors. For example, the OptiPlex SX270 ended in a statistical dead heat with the IBM ThinkCentre S50 and the Systemax Venture LP U26R on SysMark2002 tests. Both featured speedier 2.66GHz P4's but with slower 533MHz frontside buses. We can especially see the difference in SysMark2002 office-productivity results, where the OptiPlex SX270 outpaced the ThinkCentre by more than 5 percent. Clearly Intel's next-generation chipset is a significant improvement over that of the previous generation, giving the OptiPlex SX270 more than enough muscle for today's business applications.

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