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Dell Studio XPS 7100 review: Dell Studio XPS 7100

Dell Studio XPS 7100

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Rich Brown
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Rich Brown

Executive Editor / Reviews - Home and Wellness

Rich moved his family from Brooklyn to Louisville, Kentucky, in 2013 to start CNET's Appliances and Smart Home review team, which includes the CNET Smart Home, the CNET Smart Apartment, and the Appliances Review lab. Before moving to Louisville, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D-printed guns to Z-Wave smart locks.

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The savvy choice of components in the Dell Studio XPS 7100 makes this PC one of the best midrange gaming desktops we've seen all year. A $1,149 configuration (available at this price through the end of July) built on an all-AMD platform, this new six-core Dell might not be the fastest all-around PC at its price, but its overachieving gaming performance and strong feature set will appeal to value-oriented gamers, or anyone looking for a capable desktop for home entertainment.

8.1

Dell Studio XPS 7100

The Good

Best value among midrange PCs for its features and gaming performance; Blu-ray drive; wireless networking card.

The Bad

Limited upgrade path; clunky hard drive configuration; relatively slow application performance.

The Bottom Line

Dell configured the all-AMD Studio XPS 7100 squarely at gamers, throwing in a powerful 3D card to offset the slow six-core AMD CPU. The result is a fast gaming PC with well-rounded features for an affordable price thanks to a two-month-long special offer. Get it while you can and enjoy fast PC gaming at a great price.

On the outside, the Studio XPS 7100 looks almost the same as the Intel-based Studio XPS 8000-series. The only difference comes down to the 7100's dark gray front panel, in contrast with the all-black 8000 series. Lighter shades notwithstanding, we still like Dell's midtower design, particularly the upswept media card reader and the USB-equipped device tray on the top of the case. A drop-down panel on the front is a bit clunky, especially as it only conceals an unoccupied 3.5-inch bay and a pair of USB ports. Otherwise, there's little for us to complain about on the exterior.

Inside things get a bit messier. We wouldn't want Dell to lose the double-wide 3D card, but to keep it stable in shipping, Dell has tacked a mounting bracket on the card that connects to one of the spare hard drive spots. To improve your drive storage options, Dell has added an internal drive cage that can hold two drives, but it also missed an opportunity to face the drive cage outward for convenient drive swapping, or, even better, allow the drives to slide in through the front of the system. The latter might require a case redesign, so for now Gateway, Origin, and a few others are unique in offering front panel hard drive access. Let's hope Dell is paying attention for its next system revision.

The Gateway in question, the $1,299 FX6831-01, also competes directly against the $1,149 Studio XPS 7100. In addition to its more stylized and innovative system design, The Gateway boasts a quad core Intel Core i7 CPU, and 8GB of DDR3 RAM, which help push the Gateway past the Dell on our application tests below. In Dell's favor, the Studio XPS 7100 has a faster 3D card, the ability to play Blu-ray discs, as well as wireless networking, and a more affordable price tag. You might want more from the Dell as an upgrade platform, but out-of-the-box this configuration offer the best value for its features in its price class.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Velocity Micro Edge Z30
19,473 
4,734 
Maingear Vybe
18,088 
4,237 
Gateway FX6831-01
16,926 
4,136 
Dell Studio XPS 7100
15,924 
3,684 

Our only real reservation with the Studio XPS 7100 comes with its application performance, and even that isn't terrible. Among this recent batch of midrange performance desktops, the six-core Dell comes in last, so you can certainly find a better desktop in this price range for getting work done. It's also worth noting that while the Phenom II X6 1055T is a decent six-core chip, it's still not fast enough to power the Dell past quad-core Core i7-based PCs, even on tests that use all available CPU cores like our multithreaded Cinebench test. We suspect Intel's HyperThreading technology that doubles the number of physical cores with virtualization might provide some explanation there. Even if it trails on our application tests by a small but noticeable margin, gamers might be willing to forgive the Dell its slower application scores in exchange for its 3D performance.

Crysis
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (4x aa)  
1,280 x 1,024 (4x aa)  

Far Cry 2
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440 x 900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  

The Studio XPS 7100 shines best on our Far Cry 2 test, where it effectively ties with the $1,499 Velocity Micro Edge Z30. That result suggests that this system will handle any PC game on the market at high resolutions with little difficulty. Like the Velocity Micro, if you get into 30-inch displays, or multiple monitors with very high resolutions you might want a second card. And, also like the Velocity system, that's not an option with the Dell and its single graphics card slot. For traditional 24 and 27-inch displays or smaller, the Studio XPS 7100 is one of the best deals going.

The lack of a second graphics card slot isn't uncommon in this price range. Of the five systems in our charts above, only the Maingear Vybe can accept two graphics cards, and even with that system you'd need to add a more robust power supply, driving its price up. Still, perhaps due to its smaller size, the Studio XPS 7100 has an uncommonly spare upgrade path. With the graphics card and the Wi-Fi card in place, and all four RAM slots occupied, that leaves you with a single, standard PCI slot for adding internal components. That leaves the door open for a sound card or a TV tuner, but you'll need to be selective.

You get a bit more flexibility with the Dell's external connections. Dell has stuck to fairly traditional set of inputs and outputs on the motherboard. You get four USB 2.0 jacks, 7.1 analog audio, a single eSATA input, and a single optical S/PDIF digital audio input. There's no FireWire of any sort, nor do you get any still-new USB 3.0 jacks. The graphics card offers some flexibility in its outputs as well, featuring two DVI jacks, an HDMI output, and a DisplayPort output. The card can support up to three monitors simultaneously, as well.

Juice box
Dell Studio XPS 7100 Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.44
Sleep (10 percent) 1.9
Idle (25 percent) 82.12
Load (5 percent) 257.2
Raw kWh 444.07068
EnergyStar compliant No
Annual energy cost $50.40

Annual power consumption cost

The Studio XPS 7100 falls right in the middle of our power consumption chart for this price class. Even though its CPU is not the fastest, and thus consumes less power than its competition, we suspect its high-end Radeon HD 5870 card is a major contributor towards its overall power draw rating. You'll pay just over $4 a month to operate this PC, a reasonable amount compared with others in its price category.

Dell's service and support is more or less the same as that of its major retail competition. You get 24-7 phone support, a yearlong parts-and-labor warranty, and a variety of support resources online and on the system itself via various diagnostic tools.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Dell Studio XPS 7100
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.8GHz AMD Phenom II X6 1055T; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5870; 1.5GB, 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

Dell Studio XPS SX8100-1986NBC
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.67GHz Intel Core i7 860; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5770; 1TB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive

Gateway FX6831-01
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5850; 1.5TB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive

Maingear Vybe
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.2GHz AMD Phenom II X6 1090T; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5830; 640GB, 7,200 rpm Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive

Velocity Micro Edge Z30 (Intel Core i7 875K)
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3.3GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7 875K; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5850; (2) 500GB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive

8.1

Dell Studio XPS 7100

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 7Support 7