Dell XPS 8300 desktop
Dell's XPS 8300 is the first mainstream system we've reviewed to feature Intel's new second-generation (nee Sandy Bridge) Core i7 desktop CPUs. While that doesn't automatically translate to best-of-breed performance, Dell has wrapped a well-balanced, reasonably priced $1,615 configuration around the new chip. We wouldn't recommend this system to dedicated gamers, nor is it the best deal for fast, affordable day-to-day performance. As a media-playing, mainstream-gaming general productivity system, however, the XPS 8300 offers a fair deal for performance-oriented generalists. Just know that for a few dollars more you can get a better-equipped, more cleanly designed desktop elsewhere.
To buy this specific configuration, go to Dell's Web site and click on the first column on the XPS 8300 product page. At least, we think. Throughout the course of this review, Dell suggested we click on another column on that page, where we would find this configuration available for about $1,400. For at least a day, that was true. But when we followed up after a weekend had passed, the column Dell recommended pointed us to a new configuration that couldn't be customized to match our review unit. You may find this system for less than $1,615, but all we can say for sure is that Dell's Web site offers little price stability depending on both the day and the route you take to buy a particular configuration. Perhaps this design is intended to thwart comparison shopping ("What if Dell offers a deal tomorrow?"), but it's frustratingly cryptic.
Purchasing confusion aside, we like this system well enough, even for $1,615. Dell has used this case for the last year or two, and the white, black, and red design offers a welcome alternative to the sea of all-black desktops out there. Dell hasn't moved to the convenient front-access hard-drive bays that we've seen from Acer, Gateway, and many boutique vendors, but the gadget tray on the top of the system is convenient, as are the USB 2.0 and audio ports dotting the rear edge of the tray. We're also glad to see Dell adopt USB 3.0 ports on this system, by way of a single port on the front panel and another around the back.
|Dell XPS 8300||Velocity Micro Z40|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel P67||Intel P67|
|CPU||3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600||4.0GHz Intel Core i5 2500K (overclocked)|
|Memory||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1GB AMD Radeon HD 5870||1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti|
|Hard drives||1.5TB 7,200rpm||1TB 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray burner||Blu-ray/DVD-burner combo|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
We're more or less satisfied with the relative value offered by the XPS 8300. Compared with the Velocity Micro system above, Dell has advantages in its system memory, its hard-drive capacity, and its Blu-ray burning capabilities. We would credit the Dell's graphics card as well, but Velocity Micro is using an overclocked version of the GeForce GTX Ti card, which gives it an edge over the Dell's typically faster Radeon HD 5870. Velocity Micro will also overclock the CPU, which gives the Z40's Core i5 chip a raw clock speed advantage, but the Dell's Core i7 chip still offers advantages due to the HyperThreading technology that effectively doubles the Core i7's four processing threads.
The difficulty for the Dell is that if you go to Velocity Micro's eminently usable Z40 configurator, you can match the XPS 8300's specs for $1,829. For that price, Velocity Micro includes an overclockable Core i7 2600K (compared with the locked Core i7 2600 in the Dell), as well as a beefier power supply, a second graphics card slot, and superior build quality by way of expertly routed and bound internal cables. The gaming-inclined could leave off the Wi-Fi card and settle for a 1TB hard drive and a standard Blu-ray player and come in at just $50 more than the Dell.
We'll grant that Velocity Micro doesn't normally offer the same aggressive discounts that Dell does, so it's possible you'll find this XPS 8300 configuration for a great price, and if so, we would recommend it more strongly. Gamers in particular should understand, though, that with a few minor tweaks, you can get a gaming system with great potential from Velocity Micro (and elsewhere) for a few dollars more than this XPS 8300.
We're introducing a few new tests with this Dell review, an Adobe CS5 benchmark, and a new gaming test by way of Futuremark's 3DMark 11 benchmark suite. The first is our 64-bit Adobe Photoshop CS5 benchmark, the goal of which is to emulate the process of converting and treating a batch of large raw image files. It uses the same workload as our 32-bit Photoshop CS3 test, but we've increased the photo files from 8-bit to 16-bit, in order to provide a challenge to newer systems today and in the future.
We haven't compiled an abundance of CS5 results, but with three similar systems tested, we can draw some early conclusions. First, we tested the Dell with both 4GB and 8GB of memory to see the effect it had on our Photoshop results. As you can see, the Dell took a massive performance hit when it went down to 4GB of RAM. All else equal, it seems that memory can have a significant impact on Photoshop CS5 performance when you're working with large files.
Also note the Velocity Micro's performance next to that of the 4GB Dell. Here the Dell's effectively eight-core 3.4GHz Core i7 CPU seems no match for the quad-core 4.0GHz Core i5 chip in the Velocity Micro. This result suggests that once you have at least a quad-core CPU, raw clock speed matters more than additional CPU cores. That the 8GB Dell was able to outperform the overclocked Velocity system also underscores the importance of extra RAM.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
For the rest of our application tests, the Dell performed as expected given its clock speed, its memory, and the HyperThreaded Core i7 2600 chip. The Gateway claimed minor victories throughout our suite of tests, but those are likely attributable to variations in memory timing, motherboard, and software driver versions. While the Dell was not as fast as the less expensive Velocity Micro Z40 in the majority of our tests, the XPS 8300 did beat the Micro Z40 on our multithreaded Cinebench 11.5 test, which puts all eight Core i7 2600 processing threads to work. None of these PCs are slow, and for day-to-day productivity you should have no difficulty. For media creation, this Dell offers an edge over the competing Velocity Micro system, but keep in mind that you can adjust the Z40 build to match that of the Dell for a similar price.
|Extreme (1,920x1,080)||Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)||Entry level (1,680x1,050)|
Our second new test comes by way of 3DMark 11, a relatively new test from benchmark makers Futuremark. While this test does not represent real gameplay, and as such is what we call a synthetic benchmark, the 3D-rendered scene on which the test is based incorporates many relevant or soon-to-be-relevant features found in newer PC games. The test is based on Microsoft's DirectX 11 application programming interface (API), and also has GPU-accelerated gaming physics, among other features. While we already have a 3D test in Metro 2033 that uses both DirectX 11 and accelerated physics, that game was written to heavily favor Nvidia's graphics cards. Futuremark takes a GPU-agnostic approach, and as such the test is a more even-handed representation of modern game behavior.
3DMark 11 offers a whole suite of gaming tests, but we chose to use only the combined test, which taxes the entire system in one benchmark. We run the Extreme test using the default settings. For the Performance test we adjust the texture filtering to 16x anisotropic filtering, and for the Entry level test we adjust the resolution to 1,680x1,050 pixels.
As you can see from our results, 3DMark 11 is a challenging test, where even on the Entry level setting the systems can't get above 20 frames per second. That seems to track with our Metro 2033 results below, although we run that test only on the highest possible settings. Similar to our Photoshop CS5 testing, we need to gather more 3DMark 11 results before we're able to say how these scores track with real-world performance, but the early returns suggest that it will work like our Crysis test for older games, representing a sort of worst-case gaming scenario. We would expect a PC that posted 30 fps on 3DMark 11 would be able to handle anything else out there with little difficulty.
|1,600x1,200 (high, 4x aa)||1,280x1,024 (medium, 4x aa)|
|1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)||1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)|
|2,560x1,536 (DirectX 11, very high)||1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)|
Despite the low frame rates, all of these systems can play Metro 2033 at slightly reduced settings, and the virtue of modern game design is that even with less demanding image quality, most games still look very good. Just know that none of these systems can play the Metro 2033 well at its highest settings. We wouldn't expect that from PCs in this price range, either. And while Dell has built a competent gaming system here based on its Far Cry 2 scores, the Velocity Micro's overclocked Core i5 CPU and GeForce 560 Ti card prove a more potent gaming combination than the XPS 8300's stock Core i7 chip and its AMD Radeon HD 5870 card.
The XPS 8300 is also hurt by the fact that you can't add a second graphics card, or really much of anything, to it. The Velocity system offers a second 3D card slot, but inside the Dell you have room for only a single 1x PCI Express card. You get a free hard-drive bay from Dell's strange upturned bay design, but other than that you'll need to replace existing hardware to alter the internal components.
The Dell's external connectivity is better, with lots of options for connecting external data and media devices. In addition to the pair of USB 3.0 ports we mentioned before, you get an eSATA port on the back of the system. The graphics card offers HDMI, DVI, and Mini DisplayPort video outputs, and for audio you get a full set of 7.1 analog outs, as well as a separate optical S/PDIF digital audio jack. No Windows PC that we know of offers Intel's Thunderbolt port yet, so for now, this system is as complete as we expect in terms of its connection options.
|Dell XPS 8300||Average watts per hour|
|Raw (annual kWh)||384.16104|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$43.60|
Like most performance-oriented systems, the Dell is not shy about its power consumption, but we can't help but notice a striking difference between the Dell and the Gateway FX6850-51u. The two are very close in configuration, and in terms of power-hungry parts, the Dell's only difference is its AMD Radeon HD 5870 graphics card. The Gateway has a far more modest GeForce GT 440. Apparently the difference between the two cards is high enough to cause the Dell to require more than twice as much power. Technically, though, the Dell meets the requirements of an Energy Star efficiency rating.
Service and support
Dell's service and support compare well with its mainstream competition. You get 24-7 phone support, a yearlong parts-and-labor warranty, a variety of support resources online, and various diagnostic tools on the system itself.
Dell configured this XPS 8300 as a jack-of-all-trades system, available for a reasonable price. You may be in the market for such a PC, but performance-oriented shoppers in particular can find faster, more versatile PCs out there without having to spend much more.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Acer Aspire Predator
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.93GHz Intel Core i7 870; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5850 graphics card; 1.5TB, 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Dell XPS 8300
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 5870; 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GT440 graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit; 3.87GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7 960; 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5870 graphics cards; 80GB Intel X25-M solid-state hard drive; 1.5TB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.7GHz Intel Core i7 2600K (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics card (overclocked); 80GB solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Velocity Micro Z40
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.0GHz Intel Core i5 2500K (overclocked); 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti graphics card (overclocked); 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive