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Thanks to dual-graphics-card technologies and the expensive, high-wattage power supplies required to run them, the average price tag of a best-of-the-best PC has ballooned to well over the $7,000 mark. That's why, despite running a still-ridiculous $5,759, the Dell XPS 710 H2C looks like a downright bargain. Dell remains tied to a slightly older motherboard chipset than its competitors, which limits the system's memory bandwidth and gives you a small downtick in performance. Our testing didn't show that to be a dramatic loss, though, and considering Dell's price advantage and its new cooling technology, the XPS 710 H2C is our Editors' Choice winner for high-end gaming PCs.
The main reason we're giving the XPS 710 H2C an Editors' Choice award is because of what you get for the price. For $5,759, you get an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 quad-core processor overclocked to 3.2GHz out of the box--a first for Dell. You also get 4GB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, two 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX graphics cards, and 1TB of hard drive storage between two 10,000rpm 150GB drives and a single 750GB 7,200rpm unit. Virtually every boutique vendor would charge you at least $500 more for a similar configuration.
Standardization vs. bleeding edge
We've called out Dell in the past for not moving quickly enough to the latest hardware, and that problem remains in the XPS 710 H2C, but the value Dell offers in this system makes up for it. Most current PCs with two graphics cards will have a motherboard based on Nvidia's Nforce 680i SLI for Intel chipset. Dell, however, uses its own version of Nvidia's last-gen circuitry, the Nforce 590 SLI. We say "its own version" because Dell has made some changes to it, perhaps most importantly, eliminating support for 800MHz and faster system memory (and this info is finally spelled out on Dell's Web site). Dell says it made this decision, among other reasons, to help standardize customer support calls. Whether or not you appreciate that benefit, our performance tests show that the Dell doesn't lose much because of its slower memory.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
On all of CNET Labs' tests, the Dell XPS 710 H2C performed right alongside others in its category that had similarly overclocked Intel quad-core chips. The WidowPC IX2 SLI has a slight edge on CPU clock speed-bound tests, such as CineBench, and the Velocity Micro Raptor Signature Edition ekes out a win on our multitasking test, thanks to a dedicated PCI Express RAID controller for its hard drives. Those systems both cost $1,500 more than this Dell. We'd rather have a decent second computer or a 30-inch LCD than a six-second boost to Photoshop performance.
|2,048x1,536 (4x AA, 8x AF)||1,600x1,200 (4x AA, 8xAF)||1,280x1,024 (4x AA, 8x AF)|
|2,048x1,536 (4x AA, 8x AF)||1,600x1,200 (4x AA, 8xAF)||1,280x1,024 (4x AA, 8x AF)|
On our gaming tests, the task for which the XPS 710 H2C is presumably primarily intended, its Quake 4 performance lagged a bit more noticeably but not across the board; it still hit 114 frames per second at 2,048x1,536. The Dell was also a little slower on F.E.A.R. at 1,280x1,024, but its scores at the higher resolutions were on a par with those of the other gaming PCs. With all of these scores through the roof for current-generation titles, it's hard to say that the Dell's somewhat slower frame rates on Quake 4 have any real meaning today. And it's certainly possible that the other systems' faster frame rates might have an impact on future Doom 3 engine-based titles (the software Quake 4 was built with). But unless those games come with sweeping changes to the engine, we doubt they would slow down the Dell to the point it would give you a poor gaming experience.
A quiet kind of cool
There's more to the XPS 710 H2C than simply speed, though. The "H2C" in its name refers to a specially designed CPU cooling unit inside the PC that helps keep it superquiet. The H2C cooler uses a combination of liquid and Peltier cooling to chill the processor. The major benefit is that it doesn't involve any fans for CPU cooling, which in turn makes this system exceedingly quiet. Compared to the noisy Velocity Micro Raptor Signature Edition and the WidowPC IX2 SLI, with its annoying side-panel fans, Dell's system stands out for its low noise level.
The rest of the system gives you about what you'd expect from a high-end gaming PC. A Sound Blaster X-Fi Extreme Music sound card, a DVD burner, and a standard DVD/CD-RW combo drive lend multimedia punch. We're surprised that Dell doesn't even offer a Blu-ray burner as an option in this model, though, since it has already extended the next-gen movie hardware to its XPS laptops. You'll also find a media card reader and a floppy disk drive behind a front panel door. Dell also throws in a Razer Tarantula gaming keyboard (not pictured) and a Razer Copperhead mouse, although you can dial down those options to save a little more money.
With the sound card, three hard drives, and four memory sticks, expansion in our review unit was limited. You get only one standard PCI slot, a single hard drive bay, and no available memory slots. Still, it's not exactly surprising to find a system in this price range crammed nearly full with hardware. We'll also add that we continue to admire the XPS 700-series case and the 710 H2C's black model in particular. The combination of the black plastic, the front-panel lighting and the inward slope of the front of the system creates a dramatic depth-perception effect that we expect you'll find as cool as we did.
Visions of Vista
We should mention Windows Vista briefly, as the current ship date for this system is two weeks away, which puts it out after Windows Vista becomes available. You can order it today with Windows XP Home, which will net you a free (excluding shipping and handling) coupon for the 32-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium. We understand why Dell isn't waiting for Vista, as Nvidia hasn't finished its Vista graphics drivers for the GeForce 8800 cards yet. Furthermore, while we believe that the 4GB of memory that comes standard with the XPS 710 H2C will serve you well should you move to Windows Vista, Windows XP will recognize only 2.75GB of RAM.
Dell's service and support for the XPS 710 H2C remains on a par with that of most high-end desktop vendors, which is to say that it's thorough, if stingy: one year parts and labor, which covers the overclocked CPU, by the way; 24/7 toll-free phone support; and a year of onsite service. That's the deal. Every time we mention to Dell (and most other vendors, for that matter) that we find the duration of this coverage to be insufficient, the response is usually, "So wait, do you want the price with three years of coverage?" No. What we want is this price--this very, very high price--to include three years of support. The way it used to be. It appears we'll have to keep waiting for Dell and most of the rest of the industry to come back around. In the meantime, we will give Dell an extra point for its Dell Connect service, the remote-control tech support feature that gives a Dell tech direct control over your PC. Along with HP and Gateway, who have similar features, Dell Connect continues to distinguish the large vendors from their smaller competition in terms of support. Dell's Web site has plenty of self-help resources as well.
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Alienware Area-51 7500
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 (overclocked to 3.2GHz); 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA hard drives (RAID 0); 250GB Samsung 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drive
Apple Mac Pro
OS X 10.4.7; 2x 2.66GHz Xeon 5150; 1,024MB 667MHz DDR2 FB-SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7300GT; 250GB Western Digital 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drive
Dell XPS 710 H2C
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 (overclocked to 3.2GHz); 4,096MB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm serial ATA/150 hard drives (RAID 0); 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive
Polywell Poly i680SLI
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA/150 hard drives (RAID 0)
Velocity Micro Raptor Signature Edition (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 (overclocked to 3.2GHz); 2,048MB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX; (4) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA/150 hard drives (RAID 0)
WidowPC IX2 SLI
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 (overclocked to 3.34GHz); 2,048MB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Serial ATA/150 hard drives (RAID 0); 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive