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Despite our preference for a more purpose-built computer, we actually have a fair opinion of this $1,579 Dell Studio XPS 435 build. It's fast, attractive, and comes with a Blu-ray drive and a reasonably capable graphics card. You could plunk this system in a dorm room or a home office and with a large enough monitor it would satisfy the majority of your productivity and digital entertainment needs. A few absent features and only so-so performance keep it from a higher rating, but for a desktop promising a well-rounded set of features, the Dell Studio XPS 435 lives up to most of our expectations.
Perhaps our favorite aspect of the Studio XPS 435 is its design. A retro-modern, minimalist approach with red highlights against glossy black and white plastic, the case does trend toward the larger PCs out there. Still, we find this design as attractive as it is stylized. We've accused Dell of taking few risks in the past, but the Studio XPS 435 makes an unapologetically bold statement with its looks.
Beyond its visual appeal, the Studio XPS 435 also has a smart feature built into its design by way of a top-of-case gadget tray. These trays have become common in desktops lately and while we don't consider them crucial, they are handy for storing your cell phone or a digital camera while you sync or charge it. Dell has three USB 2.0 ports and analog microphone and headphone jacks situated along the back edge of the tray to facilitate easy cord connections. We also like the side panel, which feels substantial, but also slides on and off easily once you remove a pair of screws.
|Dell Studio XPS 435||Asus Essentio CG5290-BP007|
|CPU||2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920||2.67GHz Intel Core i7 920|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel X58||Intel X58|
|Memory||6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM||9GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870||896MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 (216 core)|
|Hard drives||(2) 500GB 7,200rpm||1TB 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray drive||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigibit Ethernet||Gigibit Ethernet|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
Even if we like its case, we can't argue that the Studio XPS 435 is the best deal out there. The Asus Essentio CG5290 goes for $1,199 at retail, has better performance, and while the Dell has a Blu-ray drive, the Asus has a faster graphics card and more RAM. The Dell beats the Asus on style points, but an almost $400 difference when the components are basically a wash gives Dell a bit of a value challenge. Dell has much more complete and easy-to-use customer service features online, as well as 24-7 toll-free phone service. More robust support and better design won't be worth a $400 premium to everyone, but the style conscious or tech insecure might be willing to pay Dell's higher price tag
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
For the most part, the Dell's performance comes in where we expect it to. It's not quite as fast as the Asus system, but, except for iTunes, which has given Dell trouble lately, few people would notice a difference. In the bigger picture, the Studio XPS 435 is a fully capable desktop that can edit photos and (at least) standard definition video, multitask, convert media between different formats, and generally get work done with little difficulty.
|1,600x1,200 (high, 4x aa)||1,280x1,024 (medium, 4x aa)|
|1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)||1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)|
The gaming scores paint a slightly different picture for the two systems. The Dell actually outperforms the Asus on our lower resolution gaming tests, but falls behind when we get up to 1,920x1,200 on Far Cry 2, which is likely what you'd want to use on a 24-inch LCD. You could argue that for those with smaller displays, the Dell is actually a better gaming choice. We'd counter that for this configuration at least, what's the point of paying extra for a Blu-ray drive if you match it with a suboptimal display? Perhaps if you configure the Dell with a standard DVD burner, the smaller monitor argument holds, especially as the 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870 is the fastest card Dell offers for the Studio XPS 435.
Which is not to say that the Dell won't play games at higher resolutions. You might have to dial down the image quality settings, but we'd expect it to handle most current titles. The bigger issue for serious gamers is the lack of a second graphics card slot. When so many boutique vendors offer PCs in this price range that support two 3D cards, it's hard not to criticize desktops that don't. Perhaps Dell wants to preserve the line between its Studio XPS and more gaming-oriented XPS systems, but this system will frustrate gamers who take their frame rates seriously. It's only a different motherboard and a more robust power supply away from crossing over into true gaming desktop territory.
Nongamers, on the other hand, should find the Dell's upgrade path more than adequate. With three hard-drive bays and six RAM slots, the Studio XPS 435 gives you plenty of room to expand its storage and memory capacities. You also get a pair of 1x PCI Express slots, as well as a 4X PCI Express slot and a single standard PCI card input. Aside from a second graphics card, you'll find few upgrades this system won't accommodate.
The outside of the Studio XPS 435 offers about as much flexibility as the interior. You get the usual array of USB 2.0 jacks, along with a digital audio output and a set of 7.1 analog audio outs. Dell also includes both FireWire and eSATA for external storage connections, which you won't find on some lower-end Dells. The only change we'd really like to see is an HDMI output on the graphics card. Although you likely wouldn't haul a system this big into your living room, more and more standard LCDs support HDMI, and there's no reason why Dell couldn't have elected for a 3D card with HDMI out. Especially for a system with a Blu-ray drive, the absence of an HDMI output feels like an oversight.
|Dell Studio XPS 435|
|Raw (annual kWh)||656.26416|
|Energy Star compliant||No|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$74.49|
We don't have many systems to compare with the Dell's power rating, as its configuration really only puts it in league with the Asus. The Shuttle has a dual-chip graphics card, and the Maingear was designed specifically for power efficiency. Even so, we don't love the fact that the Dell is both slower and more costly to operate than the Asus system. Dell can do better than this.
Even if this Dell is a power hog, Dell's customer service features make Asus look primitive. Dell and Asus have matching one-year parts-and-labor warranties, but the similarities end there. Unlike Asus, Dell has 24-7 toll-free phone support, as well as features we've come to take for granted like online support chat, easy-to-find, system-specific support info online, as well as reasonably useful self-diagnostic software on the Studio XPS 435 itself. If you anticipate needing the helping hand of a vendor in times of system distress, Dell gives you a much sturdier safety net.
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Dell Studio XPS 435
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 2.67GHz Intel Core i7 920; 6GB 1,066 DDR3 SDRAM; 1TB ATI Radeon HD 4870; 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Asus Essentio CG5290-BP007
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 920 (overclocked); 9GB 1,066 DDR3 SDRAM; 896MB GeForce GTX 260 (216 core); 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Dell XPS 625
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit; 3.0GHz AMD Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 2.83GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550s; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce 9800 GT Eco graphics card; 320GB 7,200rpm Western Digital Scorpio hard drive.
Shuttle XPC H7 5800
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 32-bit; 2.93GHz Intel Core i7 940; 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 285; 500GB, 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive.