Editors' note: This review is part of our 2010 retail laptop and desktop back-to-school roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.
You can blame the midrange Dell Studio XPS SX8100-1408NBC's long name on the fact that it's a fixed configuration desktop available only at retail stores. As a midrange PC, this system comes across as a respectable all-around desktop. Gamers looking for an affordable PC might prefer it if Dell included a faster 3D card instead of wireless networking, but for most consumers this PC will provide a satisfactory combination of performance and features for its $899 price.
The Dell Studio midtower chassis remains one of the more well-designed on the PC market, even if it's getting a little long in the tooth. The smooth, curved lines and glossy black plastic give the SX8100 a sculptural appearance that's more pleasing than the boxy midtowers that make up the majority of retail PCs. The upward sweep to the array of front-panel USB ports and memory card slots makes them easy to use, and you'll likely find the gadget tray depression on the top of the case conveniently placed as well.
|Dell Studio XPS SX8100-1408NBC||Asus Essentio CG1330-05|
|CPU||3.2GHz Intel Core i5 650||2.6GHz AMD Phenom II X6 1035T|
|Memory||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1GB Nvidia GeForce GT220||1GB ATI Radeon HD 5750|
|Hard drives||1TB, 7,200rpm||1TB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless||Gigabit Ethernet|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
The higher-end Asus Essentio CG1330-05 is probably the Dell's closest in-store competition, with only $80 separating the two. The Asus system is larger, and it has a faster graphics card and better multithreaded performance, as you'll see below, but it lacks wireless networking. We can't say we find Wi-Fi a requirement for desktops with a midtower case, but the Dell meets our other expectations for an $899 PC; the wireless card comes across like an added bonus feature. Gamers will be tempted by the Asus system for its faster 3D card, but anyone looking for a well-rounded desktop, even if you have modest PC gaming ambitions, will find this Dell a fair deal.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
Our performance charts provide further evidence of a trend we've noticed among the current crop of midrange desktops. The Asus CM5675-07, the Gateway DX4831-03, and this Dell all come with Intel Core i5 650 CPUs, a desktop chip with two physical cores, that provides four processing threads total through the power of Intel's HyperThreading technology. Presumably by offering only two physical cores, Intel can achieve faster clock speeds in this price range than the AMD chips in the Asus CG1330-05 and the HP Pavilion P6540y, which feature six- and four-core AMD chips, respectively.
That clock speed advantage likely explains the Dell and the other Core i5 650 PCs faster performance on our clock-speed-focused tests, particularly Photoshop and iTunes. But when you get to our Cinebench multithreaded test, which focuses on cores rather than clock speed, the native multicore CPUs pull ahead of the Intel-based PCs, the six core Asus system most dramatically. Thus, if you are considering a midrange PC and you spend a lot of time with programs you know are multithreaded, like more demanding games and many digital media editing apps--like the most recent version of Photoshop, which we don't test with yet--you can get better performance in this price range from an AMD-based PC.
We found the Dell's gaming capabilities reasonable for its price. You'll need to dial down the image quality and resolution settings on more demanding shooters, but with persistence and reasonable expectations, you should be able to find a playable setting for most titles.
If you think you'd like to upgrade the Dell's graphics card, its 350-watt power supply would likely support a more powerful GPU, but we wouldn't venture higher than a midrange card. You will, of course, need to get rid of the GeForce GT 220 currently installed, and at that point you might be better off spending more for a desktop with a faster GPU upfront. The Dell's other upgrade options include a single 1x PCI Express slot as well as a standard PCI slot and a free hard-drive bay. However, all of the PC's RAM slots are occupied.
For external connectivity, the Dell offers DVI, VGA, and HDMI jacks on the current 3D card, giving you lots of display choices. You also get a fair amount of audio options with 7.1 analog audio jacks, as well as an S/PDIF digital audio output. Dell also throws in FireWire and eSATA data outputs alongside the requisite handful of USB 2.0 jacks. We can't think of many other connections we'd like to see on this system.
|Dell Studio XPS SX8100-1408NBC||Average watts per hour|
|Raw (annual kWh)||223.98444|
|Energy Star compliant||Yes|
|Annual power consumption cost||$25.42|
In addition to the multithreaded performance trend we've noticed above, we've also seen a noticeable distinction between the power consumption of similar Intel and AMD-based PCs. We suspect the two trends aren't unrelated. The Dell consumes relatively little energy compared with the other PCs in its price range, while the Asus pulls down nearly twice as much. With a larger power supply, a faster 3D card, and a native six-core CPU, the Asus' more demanding power needs shouldn't be a surprise, but it's worth noting that it makes a dramatic leap ahead in power consumption, while only offering better application performance than the more efficient systems under certain circumstances.
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.
Asus Essentio CG1330-05
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.6GHz AMD Phenom II X6 1035T; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5750 graphics card; 1TB 7,200 rpm hard drive
Asus Essentio CM5675-07
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3.2GHz Intel Core i5 650; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip; 1TB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive.
Dell Studio XPS SX8100-1408NBC
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3.2GHz Intel Core i5 650; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 220 graphics card; 1TB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3.2GHz Intel Core i5 650; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce 220GT graphics card; 1TB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
HP Pavilion p6540y
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X4 830; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics chip; 1TB, 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive