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Dell XPS 625 review: Dell XPS 625

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Normally we criticize gaming PCs from large vendors like Dell for failing to keep their specs as aggressively up to date as their boutique competition. But after looking for systems to compare with Dell's new $1,499 XPS 625, it seems as of this writing that the entire desktop market is behind in offering AMD's most up-to-date, DDR3 RAM-supporting chipset. This is a pity, because as Intel brings its DDR3-only Core i7 chips to the mainstream market later this year, we expect that faster memory will be common in PCs in this price range. We've seen it in a few $1,000-or-so desktops already. In the interest of faster memory and a longer upgrade path, you might want to wait a month or two before purchasing any midrange AMD gaming PC. If you're simply after the best deal today, we found Dell's XPS 625 more expensive than competing PCs. And although Dell emphasizes this system's overclockability and its room for aftermarket upgrades, we wish it provided more immediate benefits to offset this desktop's higher price.

OVR
7.5

Dell XPS 625

The Good

Overclockable AMD quad-core CPU; handy AMD overclocking and system-monitoring software; lots of room for expansion, including a second 3D card slot; beefy power supply.

The Bad

Near-identical configuration available from other vendors for less.

The Bottom Line

We expect anyone who purchases the Dell XPS 625 will be pleased with its robust midrange gaming components and the software that makes it easy to overclock them. We just wish Dell had been more aggressive with its pricing and that you didn't have to spend more money to make the most of this system's standout features.

To clarify the AMD chipset issue above, AMD has two versions of its new Phenom II CPUs. The Phenom II chips it launched at this year's CES use the Socket AM2+ motherboard design, which only supports older DDR2 DRAM. Even at launch, though, AMD made plain that it had a Socket AM3 version of the Phenom II right around the corner, which promised support for DDR3 memory at higher clock speeds. Those updated chips and motherboards came out last week.

Had Dell waited to adopt the newer AM3 motherboards, the XPS 625's upgrade problems would be gone. But with 4GB of DDR3 RAM about $125 more than the same amount of DDR2 at retail right now, Dell would be hard-pressed to offer this system for $1,499. Throw in the cost of the upgraded motherboard, and the price of a fully realized AM3 XPS 625 would undoubtedly be higher. Faced with that trade-off, we can see Dell and other vendors' reason for sticking with the older motherboard on midrange systems, for now.

Even if Dell is in lock-step with the rest of the PC industry on the motherboard, we still found the XPS 625 more expensive than similar Socket AM2 PCs from its competition. Maingear's Dash, for example, came in at $1,250 for almost the exact same specs. We also found a competitive Intel-based Gateway FX6800-01e for $1,250 that clocked in almost the same performance four months ago.

Comparing the Dell and the Gateway above helps illustrate our point about DDR3 RAM already creeping its way into the mainstream. You'll notice that the Gateway uses only 3GB of DDR3 to the Dell's 4GB of slower DDR2. You could bring the Gateway up to 4GB post-purchase and still stay under the Dell's $1,499 price tag. With their performance already so close, we expect you'd see that upgrade alone push the Gateway past the Dell, and you'd still walk away with the Gateway's larger hard drive and its own fancy case. What you don't see in our chart in Dell's favor is the XPS 625's overclockability and its beefier power supply, both of which we'll get to shortly.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire Predator
125 

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Acer Aspire Predator
472 

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
17,055 
4,265 
Maingear X-Cube
14,791 
3,969 
Gateway FX 6800-01e
14,380 
3,472 
Acer Aspire Predator
12,255 
3,479 
Dell XPS 625
12,449 
3,387 

Unreal Tournament 3
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920 x 1,200  
1,280 x 1,024  
Dell XPS 625
97 
146 
Maingear X-Cube
237 
267 
Acer Aspire Predator
96 
143 

Crysis
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  
Dell XPS 625
24 
48 
Maingear X-Cube
40 
44 
Acer Aspire Predator
18 
37 

It's interesting just how closely the Dell and the Gateway compare on our performance tests. Despite the Dell's faster CPU clock speed and its larger amount of RAM, the two are effectively tied on almost every test. The Gateway's edge on our multithreaded Cinebench test is likely due to its faster memory throughput. We also suspect the Dell's 4GB of RAM contributed to its advantage on our Crysis benchmarks. You'll notice the Unreal Tournament 3 scores are basically the same, so we're reluctant to name the XPS 625 the superior gaming PC out of the box. In any case, we don't think anyone would complain about the XPS 625's performance, but it's also fair to ask why it can't consistently outperform its less expensive competition.

Were you to put that question to Dell directly, it would likely point you to the XPS 625's software, as well as inside the case. Part of the marketing push behind this system, as well as the new AMD Phenom II X4 inside it, relies on AMD's Dragon platform. Essentially this refers to a PC that uses AMD CPUs, GPUs, and chipsets. Aside of the relative quality of those individual parts, the Dragon platform also gets you two useful programs, AMD OverDrive, and AMD Fusion.

OverDrive is designed to make overclocking your PC simple, and we found that it works well. You'll need to be sure you have the "Black Edition" of AMD's Phenom II chips, which come with an unlocked clock multiplier. To Dell's credit, all of the AMD chips available with the XPS 625 fit that bill.

Given the deviation in overclocking tolerances, we did not test out OverDrive on every component in this PC. The software is fairly powerful, though, letting you overclock things like the graphics card, the 16x PCI Express bus, as well as the HyperTransport multiplier. The software also monitors internal temperatures and provides a benchmarking suite for testing your changes.


The AMD OverDrive software lets you overclock virtually every component in the XPS 625.

We dialed the 3.0GHz Phenom chip in our review unit up to 3.3GHz by moving the clock multiplier to 16.5, and then set the software to test its stability overnight. The system passed with no trouble. As no two pieces of silicon are the same, your tests will vary, but we can say that we're happy with both the method and the reliability of overclocking on our test system. The OverDrive application also effectively replaces the Nvidia ESA software in the XPS 630 that plagued at least a handful of users with inaccurate temperature readings and mistakenly increased fan speeds.

As a complement to AMD OverDrive, you also get AMD Fusion, which acts like a software manager. It appears as a simple dial on your desktop. Turn it on before you launch a game, and it shuts down all of the extraneous applications and processes that sap performance. It comes with three presets, as well as a profile manager for creating your own settings. OverDrive is probably more useful of the two programs, as it's easy enough to manage your background processes by hand. Both of these are worthwhile value-adds, but neither is exclusive to Dell. You'd expect to find them the on the less expensive Maingear Dash referenced above, for example, which also offers overclockable Black Edition AMD chips.

Of the XPS 625's exclusive features, the 750-watt power supply and Alienware's fun-but-gimmicky AlienFX lighting software (change light colors, set lights to blink with new e-mail) are about all it can claim that truly set it apart. The Maingear Dash has only a 650-watt power supply, and the Gateway FX6800-01e has a paltry 500-watt PSU. The 750-watter in the Dell gives you plenty of headroom to add one or even two faster 3D cards, even after overclocking. You get less of a cushion in the Maingear, and basically none in the Gateway. That extra room may indeed provide more value. Of course, you have to shell out even more money to put it to use.

In addition to the power supply, Dell provides you with a fair number of slots and bays in the XPS 625 as well. You get two PCI Express graphics card slots, two standard PCI slots, and a 1x and 4x PCI Express slot for card expansion. That's a lot. We also admire the hard-drive layout, which features four bays facing outward, each with a removable plastic drive tray and the power and data cables smartly lined up at the ready for expanded internal storage. The external ports feature the standard current stuff, including plenty of USB ports, an eSATA input, and optical digital audio output. Sadly, the $1,499 you pay for this system doesn't get you a media card reader, a common feature of even $350 budget PCs.

Dell's service-and-support policies remain as robust as other top-tier vendors. You get 24-7 toll-free phone support with the XPS 625, as well as a year of parts-and-labor coverage, with plenty of options to add additional coverage should you care to pay for it. Online resources are plenty, with FAQs, links to driver downloads, as well as Dell's ID-based system specific help.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
Acer Predator
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit; 2.83GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550; 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX graphics card; (3) 640GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drives

AVADirect Core 2 DDR3 SLI
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 (overclocked); 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX graphics card; (2) 500GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drives; 150GB 10,000 rpm Western Digital 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

Gateway FX 6800-01e
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.66GHz Intel Core i7-920; 3GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card; 750GB Western Digital 10,000rpm hard drive

Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.0GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards; 750GB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive

OVR
7.5

Dell XPS 625

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 7Support 8