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Dell XPS 700 review: Dell XPS 700

Dell XPS 700

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
9 min read
Now that it's blessed with Intel's new Core 2 Duo processors, Dell's new XPS 700 high-end gaming desktop finally brings true revitalization to Dell's boutique-class PCs. From the striking case design to the internal polish to the cutting-edge hardware, Dell can finally compete alongside the likes of Falcon Northwest, Velocity Micro, and Dell's own Alienware subsidiary for the hearts and minds of well-heeled enthusiast gamers. There are still a few rough spots, and the particular $4,005 configuration Dell sent us doesn't offer the best bang for the buck, but the XPS 700 earns Dell some long-absent credibility. If you're in the market for a high-end gaming PC, you need to add the XPS 700 to your list of potential systems. With the ever-increasing commoditization of desktop PCs, design is one of the few remaining ways a PC vendor can distinguish itself. The XPS 700 shows that Dell finally understands that it can't survive on rebates and bundled printers alone, especially in the hypercompetitive realm of high-end gaming PCs. Once you get your hands on it and really start poking around, you might have a few issues with the chassis, but based purely on cosmetics, the imposing XPS 700 simply looks like a powerful computer that's been built with as much care as a system from any of the small shop boutique vendors.

Dell's product manager likened the forward-slanted case design to that of a jet engine, and we don't disagree. Both the aluminum case and the banded red plastic across the front and back panels (it's also available in black) give the XPS 700-case a fighter-jet feel. Red LEDs on the front and the back light up the various ports and drive-panel buttons in the dark--one of the few truly functional applications for lighting we've seen on a desktop. An easy-pull tab and a clever latching mechanism make the side panel easy to remove and replace.


Dell XPS 700

The Good

Striking new case design; clean interior; includes Intel's new Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme chips; Nvidia chipset boosts performance.

The Bad

A few design issues; limited graphics card selection; Dell's support continues to unimpress us for a system in this price range.

The Bottom Line

Dell's XPS 700 high-end desktop lives up to our expectations and delivers a polished, powerful, cutting-edge gaming PC. We still have a few issues, but nothing deal-killing and nothing that overwhelms our positive opinion. Dell can now hold its head high in the high-end gaming space, and this is a PC you should consider.

Inside, Dell has routed the cables neatly, giving you clear air flow and leaving the spare power and the data connect cables immediately accessible to the empty hard drive and optical drive bays. We've asked for this type of build care from Dell for years, and we're glad to see it finally delivered. We're also happy to report that the XPS 700 is one of the quietest systems we've ever heard. This near silence (but for a brief, loud fan surge at start-up) is largely due to the Core 2 Extreme X6800 chip and its forgiving power specs, which require less cooling and therefore less work from the system fans. The Core 2 Duo E6700-equipped Falcon Northwest Mach V system we also reviewed today is equally quiet.

This is not to say that Dell's new flagship PC is without a few design problems. Measuring 22 inches high, 8.75 inches wide and 24 inches deep, the aluminum-clad chassis is a true beast. It's taller than the majority of desktops currently on the market, and it weighs about 57 pounds, so you'll need to be sure you have the room for it. Also, we aren't in love with the plastic hardware on the front panel. The drive bay and the expansion-slot doors feel flimsy. They're recessed slightly from the front of the case, so it's unlikely that you'd accidentally knock them off if they were open, but they don't feel very solid on their hinges. More annoying is the power button. It's a tiny little nub that's hard to push, and even somewhat painful to press long enough to power down the system. And with no reset button, nor a power-supply kill switch, the annoying power nub is your only option for a hard shutdown, short of yanking the power cable entirely.

Dell originally announced the XPS 700 with Intel's previous-generation Pentium D 900 chips. You can still order those models--at significant savings--but we highly recommend that you don't, because Intel's new Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme chips are far superior. The XPS 700 Dell sent to us came with the Core 2 Extreme X6800, which is currently the fastest chip on the market. With that CPU as its foundation, this XPS 700 becomes an elite-level gaming PC, a category Dell has not had success with in some time.

Along with the chip, there's a fairly typical array of high-end hardware. Dell sent us 2GB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; two 320GB, 7,200rpm hard drives; and two 512MB GeForce 7900 GTX cards. Right now, that's about as good as it gets. The only better options might be a 10,000rpm hard drive for faster read/write access (which Dell offers for either $110 or $410, depending on size and number), and an Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2 graphics card--far and away, the best current graphics card--which Dell does not currently offer but expects to add later this summer.

As it stands, the pair of GeForce 7900 GTX cards are technically faster (even faster than the Falcon Northwest Mach V's overclocked 7950 GX2), but they take up twice the internal space and with two cards, you're adding roughly $500 to the cost; Dell doesn't specify the cost of one 7900 GTX. If you've read this far, you might be wondering about Quad SLI. Nvidia is holding things up on that end; its Quad drivers are still in development and aren't expected until the end of the summer.

For the rest of our XPS 700 review unit, there were few surprises. Dell sent us a top-line Creative X-Fi Xtreme Music card for audio. You could also add Ageia's PhysX physics accelerator card for $249, but you'd be paying for a cutting edge game enhancer that doesn't have a lot to do at the moment due to a lack of games that use it. Dell also sent us the now-standard pair of DVD burners, which is the only optical drive option.

If there's a feature aside from the chip that really sticks out, it has to be the XPS 700's motherboard. Dell's long-standing (although perhaps fading) Intel loyalism meant that it nearly always paired Intel's chips with Intel's motherboard chipsets. No longer. Intel allied its Core 2 Duo chipsets exclusively with ATI and its dual 3D card CrossFire technology. In other words, if you want to build a PC with Nvidia's competing SLI technology, you need to use Nvidia's Nforce 590 SLI for Intel chipset that the Dell XPS 700 uses.

As it turns out, the chipset issue is more important that we initially thought it would be. As we said in the features section, the Dell XPS 700 uses Nvidia's new Nforce 590 SLI for Intel chipset. Every competing Intel-based system on our comparison charts used Intel's own 975 chipset. So in addition to the Dell XPS 700 using the fastest current desktop chip on the planet, it also apparently has the fastest chipset as well.
Multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Multitasking test  

Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test  

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

Office productivity test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Microsoft Office productivity test  

There's not really much left to say after looking at these charts. The Dell XPS 700 blew away the competition on CNET Labs' new application tests, including the Falcon Northwest Mach V, whose Core 2 Duo E6700 chip was overclocked to 3.13GHz. If you're looking for a consumer desktop to use as a multimedia workstation, the Dell XPS 700 is the fastest we've seen so far.

The gaming picture is a little different. On all but our lower-resolution F.E.AR. test, the Dell won. Fair enough. Short of Quad SLI, its pair of 512MB GeForce 7900 GTX cards is among the fastest 3D card configurations around. But our issue lies with the margin of its victory. Any 3D card discussion right now is limited by the specter of Windows Vista and DirectX 10. Both ATI and Nvidia have DirectX 10 cards around the corner, which will render the current generation of high-end 3D cards obsolete, so this discussion will alter drastically in just a few months. This is all the more reason why it doesn't make sense to spend nearly $1,000 on a graphics card configuration such as that of today's XPS 700. Dell doesn't disclose the pricing for a single GeForce 7900 GTX card, nor does it offer a GeForce 7950 GX2. But the street price for the latter is roughly $575. This is the card that's in the Falcon Northwest Mach V on our charts, and the performance difference between that system and the XPS 700 is barely perceptible. The Falcon even beats the Dell on the low-end F.E.A.R. test, and although its high-end 1,600x1,200 F.E.A.R. test scores are lower, its 77 frames per second are still well beyond smooth.

3D gaming performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Quake 4 1,600x1,200 4xAA 8xAF  
Quake 4 1,024x768, 4xAA 8xAF  
F.E.A.R. 1,600x1,200 SS 8xAF  
F.E.A.R. 1,024x768 SS 8xAF  
Dell XPS 700
*Falcon Northwest Mach V
AMD Athlon 64 FX-62

Yes, the Falcon's 3D card is overclocked, and no, Falcon doesn't quite offer the overall price-performance benefit of the XPS 700. That actually brings us to our final performance point. Dell doesn't overclock the CPU or the graphics card out of the box, although it makes it well known that it's possible to do. Falcon, however, will jack the clock speeds for you. We wish Dell would, too. The reason is because when a vendor does it, you pay extra, but you have confidence that the fan, the heat sink, and the rest of the thermal design can handle the added performance. When Dell invites you to do it yourself, you have to do the research into whether the parts you have will handle the added heat. We'd argue that if you're comfortable with overclocking, chances are you're building your own system. And yes, it's nice that Dell leaves you the option to do it yourself, but just because you're willing to spend a lot on a high-end PC, doesn't mean that you're interested in learning about all of its ins-and-outs. Falcon Northwest will serve the customer who wants the extra edge. Dell won't.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

Comparison systems:
AMD test bed
Windows XP Professional SP2; Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard; Nvidia Nforce 590 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7900 GTX; 74GB Western Digital 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA hard drive;

Dell XPS X700 (Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; Nvidia Nforce 590 SLI chipset; (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7900 GTX SLI; (2) 320GB Western Digital 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drives; Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)

Falcon Northwest Mach V (Intel Core 2 Duo)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 3.14GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6700; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; Intel 975X chipset; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7950GX2 (PCIe); 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA hard drive;

Intel test bed
Windows XP Professional SP2; Intel Desktop Board D975XBX; Intel 975X chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7900 GTX; 74GB Western Digital 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA hard drive;

Our opinion of Dell's XPS support wasn't great when it was first announced. Unfortunately, as much as the XPS 700 is different, Dell's support remains the same. If Velocity Micro, a company that doesn't do half of Dell's business, can protect its Velocity Micro Raptor 64 DualX with a standard three-year plan, there's no reason Dell can't. Bumping the XPS 700's default warranty to three years costs $189, a borderline insult. At least Dell gives you a specialized XPS service code. With that access, you can call the toll-free tech-support line (open 24/7), bypass the usual long wait time, and speak with an XPS-trained technician. You can also try Dell's online support chat.

Dell XPS 700

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Support 5