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Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC review: Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC

Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home | Windows PCs | Cooking (sometimes) | Woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
6 min read

Editors' note: This review is part of our 2010 spring retail laptop and desktop roundup, which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.


Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC

The Good

Best deal on this assortment of features; its gaming and application performance meet our expectations; has wireless networking.

The Bad

Limited upgrade room; no black-on-white version available at retail.

The Bottom Line

This retail version of the Dell Studio XPS 8100 isn't remarkable in any one area, but its value and its overall capabilities are more than adequate to meet the needs of a mainstream shopper with an eye on gaming and general performance. That it's a pretty good deal doesn't hurt either.

Dell's Studio XPS line has done fairly well in our reviews lately, and we find that the $1,149 Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC is no exception. Although its full model name is a mouthful, this retail-only desktop compares well with others in its price range from both mainstream and smaller PC vendors. We recommend this Dell to anyone looking for a system to handle a wide-range of mainstream productivity and gaming tasks.

Dell offers a Studio XPS 8100 on its Web site as well as in retail stores. You can customize the online version, but with the same parts ordered directly from Dell as our retail review unit you'd pay about $1,360, not including shipping. You can add a few other features on Dell's Web site, including a TV tuner, more RAM, different hard drives, and a faster CPU, but the retail model covers the basics for a performance-oriented midrange system. While some of its components aren't the best available from Dell for this product line, they're only below by a tick or two.

Our one criticism with the design of this system compared with its online counterpart stems from a color variation. The all-black version offered at retail isn't offensive, but it looks like almost every other desktop on the shelf. Online, Dell offers the Studio XPS 8100 with a black front plate and a white body that looks far more distinctive. The physical characteristics of the two versions are identical, the highlight of which is an upswept front panel that makes the media card reader and front side USB jacks easy to access.

  Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC Asus Essentio CG5290-BP007
Price $1,149 $1,199
CPU 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860 2.67GHz Intel Core i7 920
Motherboard chipset Intel H57 Intel X58
Memory 8GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM 9GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5770 896MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 (216 core)
Hard drives 1TB, 7,200rpm 1TB 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)

We went to HP, Gateway, Velocity Micro, and Dell's own Web site and found no real comparison for the Studio XPS 8100-1986NBC. Most systems we custom built came in too expensive when we matched the components. And Gateway's ready-made FX-Series PCs were all too high-end. With no real competition on the market right now, we've opted to compare the Dell with a desktop from Asus that came out last August for $1,200, although it's now available for at a steep discount of $799. As you can see, you don't get many more features for $1,200 now compared with six months ago, the lone major exception is the Dell's wireless networking card. The Dell's performance tells a different story.

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

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC

Multimedia multitasking tests (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Falcon Northwest Talon
Velocity Micro Edge Z30
Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC
Dell Studio XPS 8000

Don't let the Dell's third-place spot on a few of our charts fool you. The Velocity Micro system was overclocked and cost $1,349 at the time of its review, and the Falcon Northwest cost $2,500. Further, the Dell isn't that far behind the Velocity Micro system, and the Dell actually wins on our multimedia multitasking test. Regardless of the standings, the Dell demonstrates solid mainstream performance, and as long as you don't have professional-level video editing in mind, it should be suitable for most consumer-oriented productivity tasks.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (4x aa)  
1,280x1,024 (4x aa)  
Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC

Far Cry 2 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC

The Dell's gaming performance doesn't overachieve, but it meets our expectations for a mainstream gaming PC. It will play Far Cry 2 smoothly at full detail and lower resolutions. As the resolution climbs, you might notice the occasional slowdown, but it should still play and look pretty good, and you shouldn't have to dial the detail settings down too far to overcome choppy frame rates. You might find a few games that give the Dell a workout if you have a 22-inch or 24-inch LCD, but generally, you can expect smooth gameplay.

Because the Dell has a Wi-Fi card and a doublewide Radeon HD 5770 graphics card, you don't get a lot of room for other upgrades--a free standard PCI slot is your only option. You can add a second hard drive, but all four RAM slots are taken, so your memory and storage options are somewhat limited as well. The Dell's connectivity options are a bit more flexible. You get a handful of USB 2.0 ports, eSATA and FireWire for external storage, S/PDIF digital audio and 7.1 analog audio outputs, and DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort video outputs on the graphics card. Short of still uncommon USB 3.0 devices, you should be able to find a port for any contemporary peripheral or accessory on the back of this system.

Juice box
Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC Average watts per hour
Off 0.72
Sleep 2.88
Idle 68.22
Load 181.28
Raw (annual kWh) 342.81384
Energy Star compliant Yes
Annual power consumption cost $38.91

Annual power consumption cost
Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC

Dell has earned itself a good reputation in our lab for its energy efficiency, and this desktop is no different. As you can see in our chart, it's the most efficient traditional midtower in its price range. Granted, the difference between paying $3.25 a month to power the Dell and $5.46 for the Velocity micro system isn't that meaningful financially, but we also shouldn't let the fact that Dell consumes only about 60 percent as much power as the Velocity Micro for comparable performance go unrecognized.

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 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

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 Studio XPS 8000
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.67GHz Intel Core i5 750; 8GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1,762MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 (216 core); 1TB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive

Falcon Northwest Mach V Talon
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.3GHz Intel Core i7-860 (overclocked); 8GB 1,330MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 896MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 275; 80GB Intel X-25M solid state hard drive, 1TB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive

Velocity Micro Edge Z30
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.22GHz Intel Core i7-860 (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 896MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 (216 core); 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive


Dell Studio XPS sx8100-1986NBC

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Support 7