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Dell XPS 8500 review: Dell XPS 8500

The Dell XPS 8500 offers too much solid-state drive and not enough raw horsepower for its price.

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
10 min read

This $1,999 XPS 8500 embodies a familiar problem for Dell. It wants to perpetuate its high-end desktop range, but its mainstream configurations keep it from offering good performance value. Dell does make effective use of a fast storage access technology from Intel in this PC. A fat 3TB hard drive may also hold appeal. Those features are welcome, but too many PCs from smaller, speed-oriented vendors surpass the XPS 8500 in application and gaming performance. If you agree that raw horsepower is the primary reason for the continued existence of expensive midtower desktops, it's hard to recommend the XPS 8500 over its competition.


Dell XPS 8500

The Good

The <b>Dell XPS 8500</b> moves to Intel's new third-generation Core i7 CPUs and features fast boot times and file access thanks to an onboard solid-state drive.

The Bad

With limited ability to tweak this configuration, you're forced to choose an expensive SSD that throws off this PC's price-performance equation.

The Bottom Line

Dell makes a game effort to set the XPS 8500 apart from other performance PCs, but it overshoots with a pricey SSD, making the price hard to justify given this system's average overall performance.

Dell has used the XPS 8000-series tower design since 2009. It continues to offer a clean, unique look, although Dell has streamlined this newest model. Where previously Dell hid the front-panel USB and audio ports behind a finicky plastic cover, now the USB ports simply sit, uncovered, on the front of the unit. They're a minor disruption to the XPS 8500's aesthetics, but the benefit of easier access makes up for it.

In terms of its configuration, the XPS 8500 is based on Intel's new, third-generation Core i7 chips, aka Ivy Bridge. The new chips offer few performance gains over the older, second-generation Core i7 family. Their primary advantages are updated embedded graphics technology and better power efficiency because of a more efficient manufacturing process.

The embedded graphics cores bring longed-for 3D gaming capability to lower-end systems, but in PCs like this one that have discrete graphics cards, the embedded video core in the CPU doesn't have much to do. Greater power efficiency is nice, and a necessary step on the way to faster chips in the next generation, but it's not the most compelling selling point for consumers.

Intel also introduced a new motherboard chipset with its new CPU. One of the best features of the Intel H77 circuity is that it brings Intel's Smart Response Technology to more-affordable motherboards than when it debuted on the Z68 chipsets.

Smart Response Technology (SRT) enables vendors to connect a solid-state drive (SSD) directly to the motherboard. The drive then acts as a standalone drive partition that provides faster boot time and speedier access to your most commonly used files. Maingear sent in the first system I ever saw with an SRT drive a few months ago in a Z68 board. Dell is the first vendor to send in a system with SRT via H77, enabled here in the form of a 256GB mSATA solid-state drive.

To get an idea of the benefits of an SRT hard drive, I tested the Dell XPS 8500's boot time against that of the Origin Genesis, a $3,399 system with two standard SSDs as its primary partition.

Dell XPS 8500 boot time (three-run average): 34.8 seconds Origin Genesis boot time (three-run average): 39.93 seconds

The XPS 8500 boots fast enough that you will notice, and it's a great feature. The problem is that this system lacks the general processing punch I expect from a $1,999 desktop.

Dell XPS 8500 Velocity Micro Edge Z55 Origin Chronos
Price $1,999 $2,299 $1,199
Motherboard chipset Intel H77 Intel X68 Intel Z68
CPU 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770 4.9GHz Intel Core i7-2700K (overclocked) 4.5GHz Intel Core i5-2550K (overclocked)
Memory 16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB AMD Radeon HD 7870 (2) 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti
Hard drives 256GB SRT solid-state drive, 3TB 7,200rpm Seagate (2) 60GB Intel SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi 750GB 7,200rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/DVD burner combo Blu-ray/DVD burner combo Dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Its price puts the Dell XPS 8500 between two recent Editors' Choice Award-winning desktops, the $2,299 Velocity Micro Edge Z55 and the $1,199 Origin Chronos. The Origin system provides a bigger price gap, and is ultimately the system that's most damning for this Dell.

Per usual, Dell loses the performance competition because it does not offer overclocked processors. Both Origin and Velocity Micro do. Those systems don't defeat the Dell on every performance test, but they win more often and arguably on the most important benchmarks.

If you want to take a more holistic view of the Dell's relative value, you might suggest that the onboard SSD and the massive 3TB storage drive make up for what the Dell lacks in speed with faster file access and boot times, as well as more storage capacity.

I would argue against that assessment. Hard drives that are 3TB aren't terribly exotic. You can find them for less than $200; mSATA SSD hard drives are more expensive. A 256GB model like the one in the Dell will run you about $500 to $600 purchased at retail. Perhaps that accounts for the Dell having a higher price than the Origin, but I'm not sure that's the best way to spend $600 on a PC component.

You could spend $300 and see generally faster (or at least, as fast) boot and file speeds with a standard 256GB SSD, for example. A 128GB mSATA SSD also goes for about $300, and would offer similar performance but with only marginally less storage space. It's a moot point since you can no longer configure internal hardware components on Dell's Web site. That means, at least for this high-end XPS 8500 build, you're stuck with the 256GB mSATA and its heavy cost burden.

The extra boot and file access speeds are useful, but they primarily benefit you during occasional wait times for file or level loading. As prices drop, I expect we'll see more systems with onboard SSDs like that in the XPS 8500. Until they do, bear in mind that raw processing horsepower has a bigger impact on the overall user experience, particularly for the gamers most likely to buy desktops like this one.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  

None of this is to say that the Dell is slow in absolute terms. In the grand scheme of desktops, it offers reasonably fast performance, particularly when it can flex its 2GB of graphics memory and all eight of its CPU processing threads. The fact that for the most part it lags behind the $1,199 Origin Chronos hurts, though. That you get so much more speed for just $300 more with the Velocity Micro system also works against the XPS 8500's cause.

Crysis (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280x1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  

Far Cry (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  

Metro 2033 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,560x1,600 (DirectX 11, very high)  
1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)  

3D Mark II combined test (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Extreme (1,920x1080)  
Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)  
Entry level (1,680x1,050)  

The gaming charts tell a similar story. The high-resolution Metro 2033 test is our most demanding benchmark, and while the Dell XPS 8500 outperforms the Velocity Micro system at 2,560x1,600 pixels, the frame rates for these PCs are all under 20 frames per second. That makes the 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution scores more relevant for this class of $2,000-ish desktop. At that resolution, both the Velocity system and the more affordable Origin PC offer a better gaming experience, the Edge Z55 in particular.

Post-purchase expansion options for the XPS 8500 are limited to a few 1x PCI Express slots and a spare hard-drive bay. The design of the Dell's in-facing hard-drive cage makes adding or replacing a drive arduous. Dell says it has a redesign in the works, but that won't help owners of this PC.

For connectivity, the XPS 8500 offers what I expect to find in a system like this. You get an assortment of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 jacks, DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort outputs on the graphics card, as well as S/PDIF and 7.1 audio ports. I can't ask for more for now. I'm curious to see what will happen when Thunderbolt becomes more common at the end of this year, but then all indications I get from the various PC vendors are that the limited ecosystem of Thunderbolt peripherals will make the standard a tough sell to most consumers.

Juice box
Dell XPS 8500 Avg watts/hour
Off (watts) 0.20
Sleep (watts) 2.07
Idle (watts) 41.79
Load (watts) 176.43
Raw (annual kWh) 266.25
Energy Star-compliant Yes
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $30.22

One criticism I've had of Intel's new Ivy Bridge chips is that they don't offer a dramatic CPU performance leap. This isn't a surprise given Intel's chip release schedule (years like this bring a design efficiency boost, the next year offers a new, usually faster architecture), so at least Intel can say that it offers big power efficiency gains. There's no apples-to-apples comparison here since all of the other PCs in this chart are overclocked, but the fact that Dell can at least stay in the same performance ballpark with half the power draw is a testament to Intel's chip design improvements.

Should you need to service the XPS 8500, you'll find Dell's on-paper service and support policies compare well with those of its mainstream competition. You get 24-7 phone support, a one-year parts and labor warranty, a variety of support resources online, and various diagnostic tools on the system itself. Phone support quality, of course, varies from support rep to support rep.

I appreciate that Dell is trying to add a less-than-common feature in the XPS 8500 with the mSATA solid-state drive. Unfortunately, Dell's inflexible configuration tool forces you to make a rather expensive commitment to the 256GB model. A more affordable version of that drive would offer similar speed benefits but at a price more befitting its vanilla performance. If fast file access is a top priority, you might be able to talk yourself into this XPS 8500 configuration. Otherwise you're better off shopping for products from other vendors that can offer more raw performance and better configuration flexibility.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Dell XPS 8500 (Core i7-3770, May 2012) Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770; 16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB AMD Radeon HD 7870 graphics card; 256MB 3TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Digital Storm Ode Level 3 (Core i7-2600K, spring 2011) Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600K (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 graphics cards; 128GB Intel solid-state drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

Origin Chronos Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.69GHz Intel Core i5-2550K; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.28GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 560 Ti graphics card; 750GB 7,200rpm hard drive

Origin Genesis (Intel Core i7-3770K, April 2012) Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770; 16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB AMD Radeon HD 7870 graphics card; 256GB mSATA solid-state drive; 3TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Velocity Micro Edge Z55 (Core i7-2700K, February 2012) Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.9GHz Intel Core i7-2700K (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics cards; (2) 60GB Intel solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive


Dell XPS 8500

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 5Support 7