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Dell XPS 630 review: Dell XPS 630

Dell XPS 630

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
7 min read

We have a feeling that Dell is going to sell a lot of XPS 630 systems. This new midrange desktop brings over many of the features we like about Dell's XPS 720, but in a more manageable size. The price starts at $1,249 at launch, and for that you get the sleek angled case, a well-organized interior, a quad-core CPU, and a fast 3D graphics card. Bump the price to $1,619 and you get our review system, which includes a second graphics card for even better gaming power. Compared to other systems in its class, the XPS 630 did very well on our benchmarks, which sealed the deal for us. This system was built for strong gaming bang-for-the-buck, and Dell most definitely achieved that goal, making this system an Editors' Choice winner.


Dell XPS 630

The Good

Fastest gaming performance in its price category (mostly); distinctive chassis; lots of expandability; Nvidia software makes overclocking easy.

The Bad

Large case.

The Bottom Line

With its second full-fledged gaming PC, Dell shows that it understands the mainstream gaming desktop as well as the high-end. The Dell XPS 630 delivers everything a gamer would want in a sub-$2,000 PC, from its components, to its case, to its powerful software. We've seen no better system in this newly competitive category.

The XPS 630 combines familiar characteristics of a few desktops we've reviewed recently. Like the Gateway FX7020 and the Uberclok Ion, the XPS 630 is a sub-$2,000 gaming PC with a quad-core processor, respectable gaming capabilities, and a spacious 500GB hard drive. Velocity Micro's ProMagix E2055 is also similar to this Dell system in price, although it has dual-core CPU with a faster clock speed. When you compare the Velocity system with the XPS 630, it becomes apparent that the Dell is a more well-rounded PC, despite the fact that the Velocity has the edge in a few component categories.

  Dell XPS 630 Velocity Micro ProMagix E2055
Price $1,619 $1,499
CPU 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 3.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
Memory 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 3GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3850
Hard drives 500GB, 7,200 rpm 500GB, 7,200 rpm
Optical drive Dual-layer DVD burner Dual-layer DVD burner, DVD-ROM drive
Networking Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium Windows Vista Home Premium

The biggest differences between the two systems, configuration-wise, are in their processors and their graphics cards, although the memory matters also. The CPU difference is especially interesting, because it represents something of a philosophical gap in desktops right now. Would you rather have a faster dual-core CPU, which will give you lots of speed on most current applications, or would you prefer a slightly slower (although similarly priced) quad-core processor, to the benefit of the few multithreaded programs and games out there right now, and with the promise of more to come in the future? Dell will let you configure the XPS 630 with an array of Core 2 Duo CPUs shortly after launch, so if you like the idea of an XPS 630 with a dual-core chip, you'll have that option soon. For our money, even though the Velocity Micro desktop wins out on a few benchmarks, we'd still go quad-core, largely for the future-proofing aspect.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell XPS 630

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell XPS 630

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell XPS 630

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Uberclok Ion
Dell XPS 630
Gateway FX7020

Even though the CPU might be up for grabs, the Dell has the clear graphics card advantage over the Velocity Micro, and indeed, any of the three desktops we've mentioned so far. The XPS 630's pair of GeForce 8800 GT cards dominates on our benchmarks to the point that it's a little embarrassing for Velocity Micro. Even if you opt for the Dell with a single 8800 GT, that's a vast improvement in 3D capability over the Velocity's lower-end Radeon HD 3850 card.

For the most part, the gaming scores speak for themselves, but we should point out the Unreal Tournament 3 chart, specifically the differences between the Dell and the Uberclok. On that test, the Dell and its pair of 3D cards wins out on the more demanding 1,920x1,200 test, but it lags behind on the Uberclok on the 1,280x1,024 test. The reason is that SLI is able to flex its muscle at higher resolutions, but as you drop the resolution down, CPU speed begins to make more of a difference. The Uberclok has only a single 3D card, but an overclocked Core 2 Quad Q6600 chip, the same one as in the Dell. The good news for you is that not only can you overclock the Core 2 Quad Q6600 yourself, Dell even provides software that makes it easy.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920 x 1,200  
1,280 x 1,024  
Dell XPS 630
Uberclok Ion
Gateway FX7020

Crysis (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high quality)  
1,280 x 1,024 (medium quality)  
Dell XPS 630
Gateway FX7020
Uberclok Ion

The software in question comes thanks to Nvidia's new Enthusiast System Architecture program, ESA for short. Basically, ESA involves bringing all of your PC components under the control of a unified Windows software package that lets you monitor settings, make changes to the BIOS, and overclock your CPU and other hardware. You make the settings changes through a dedicated menu item in Nvidia's Control Panel (where you currently tweak the video settings), and you can monitor the health of various components through the Nvidia System Monitor, an Apple Front Row-style icon carousel that displays CPU temperature and other important info, depending on the component. The XPS 630 is the first desktop we've seen with the full ESA implementation, and we love the way it makes overclocking and other tweaks much more accessible. Just be sure to take it easy with those settings, so you don't cook your CPU.

The Nvidia System Monitor included with the Dell XPS 630 lets you keep an eye on the health of your overclocked components.

There's more to the Dell XPS 630 than its configuration, of course, which brings us to its case. The silver-and-black, aluminum-and-plastic chassis (also available in silver and red) is basically a scaled-down version of the XPS 720 case, itself an attractive, if large, enclosure that debuted in 2006. The XPS 630 comes in at a smaller 19.5 inches high, 7.5 inches wide, and 21.5 inches deep. That's more in keeping with the average full-size desktop, although it's still larger than any of the other systems in this comparison. Like the XPS 700 case, the XPS 630 has LEDs on the rear side and the front that illuminate the external ports, but despite this enthusiast tweak, the XPS 630 is not overly garish. It's imposing, but we always like gaming PCs whose looks you don't have to apologize for.

Dell took almost as much care inside as it did with the XPS 630's exterior. The cables could be better organized here and there, but for the most part, they're wrapped and bound well. The removable hard drive cages face outward, and Dell even went so far as to add Serial ATA cables and dangle the free cable ends in front of the empty drive bays. We take for granted little touches like that in Velocity Micro or Falcon Northwest systems, but it still feels fresh when Dell does it. Between those little signs of polish and larger ones like the Nvidia ESA compliance, Dell makes a convincing argument that it really does get what it is that gamers look for in their PCs. For further proof, the XPS 630 Windows desktop is blessedly free of icon clutter and trialware. The only addition to the standard Vista icons is a shortcut to a Roxio DVD authoring program. That's it.

Unlike Gateway, which no longer customizes desktop options, Dell offers an array of options for the XPS 630. You can't configure with the same highest-end CPU and 3D cards as you can the Dell XPS 720, but you do get options for extra hard drive storage, more memory, and upgraded mice and keyboards among the usual peripheral and software add-ons. The 500GB 7,200 rpm hard drive in our review unit is on a par with that of other systems in this price range, although we're starting to see 3GB of RAM in more systems lately, compared to the 2GB here. Look back up at the Gateway FX7020's Crysis scores and you'll see where that extra memory can have a big impact. We'd rather have the second video card in the Dell over an extra 1GB of RAM, but if we were to make an upgrade, either before purchase or after, we'd look to boost the memory first thing.

Because it's an XPS system, the XPS 630 links you in to Dell's specialized XPS service program, which gets you faster call response on the toll-free 24-7 hotline, staffed by a heartier breed of customer service representative. Results may vary. The standard warranty includes one year of parts and labor coverage, as well as a year of in-home service, a relic of the past that we're glad to see hanging on somewhere. You also get the now-typical array of online support tools, including support chat and other resources, e-mail notification of driver updates, and other features.

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System configurations:

Dell XPS 630
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Q6600; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics cards; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

Gateway FX7020
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.3GHz AMD Phenom 9600; 3GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

Uberclok Ion
Windows Vista Home Premium (tested); Windows XP Professional SP2 (second partition); 3.2GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

Velocity Micro ProMagix E2055
Windows Vista Home Premium; 3.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500; 3GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3850 graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive


Dell XPS 630

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Support 8