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Dell XPS 27 review: Almost everything you could want in an all-in-one

Our favorite all-in-one still has a higher-than 1080p touch screen and gamer-level graphics.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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8 min read

With all the attention being paid to Windows 8 laptops, tablets, and hybrids with touch screens, it can be easy to forget that an all-in-one desktop is perhaps the most natural use of a touch screen in a computer. In fact, years before Windows 8 made touch a near-requisite for all new PCs, these desktop-bound systems had already made big inroads into touch screens, with varying success.

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8.2

Dell XPS 27

The Good

The updated <b>Dell XPS 27</b> is highlighted by excellent performance and features, plus a higher-than-1080p touch screen, Nvidia graphics, and Intel's latest fourth-gen CPUs. An HDMI input lets it double as a display for a game console or cable box.

The Bad

The main benefit of Intel's new chips, amazing battery life, isn't applicable here. The adjustable stand could offer more flexibility.

The Bottom Line

As a big-screen upscale all-in-one with touch and decent gaming chops, the latest version of Dell's XPS 27 is a great all-around home PC that covers a lot of bases.

But the Windows 8 era now gives us a certain conformity across different PC types. Your laptop, tablet, flip-screen hybrid, or desktop all-in-one all share the same tile-based Windows 8 interface and very likely all have a touch screen. We've seen a handful of all-in-one systems, from Vizio, Asus, Lenovo, and others that have managed this Windows 8 transition well, but no one has a kitchen sink product quite like the Dell XPS One 27.

Even in its previous incarnation, released just after Windows 8, this system was a favorite of ours. The latest update keeps the prices steady, at $1,599 to $2,599, but adds Intel's new fourth-generation Core i-series CPUs, also known by the code name Haswell. It also upgrades the dedicated Nvidia GPU to a GeForce 750M, which should be good enough for all but the most serious gamers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The XPS One is packed with notable features, including a higher-than-1080p screen resolution, at 2,560x1,440, and an HDMI input for using the 27-inch screen as a display for gaming consoles, cables boxes, and other devices. That makes the XPS One especially useful for a smaller space where you'd want both a PC and a small television monitor.

At $2,099 for our review configuration, this isn't an inexpensive choice, even by Apple iMac standards. And while being one of the first to add Intel's new CPUs is great, the main advantages -- better battery life and improved integrated graphics -- are lost in a desktop system with a separate graphics card. The latest trend in all-in-one PCs, adding a battery so the screen can be detached and moved around easily from room to room would have been a nice addition, although Dell's XPS 18 all-in-one offers this feature.

Despite those small caveats, the XPS One is well built, looks great, and is just plain fun to use. I'd strongly consider it for a central hub of your household computing, or as a one-stop entertainment device for a den, bedroom, or dorm.

Dell XPS 27Asus Transformer AIOLenovo IdeaCentre HorizonDell XPS 18
Price $2,099 $1,299 $1,699 $1,349
Display size/resolution 27-inch, 2,560x1,440 touch screen18.4-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen27-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen18-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen
PC CPU 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-4770S3.1GHz Intel Core i5-3350P1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U
PC memory 8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM8GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT750M2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 730M2GB Nvidia GeForce GT620M32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000
Storage 2TB, 7,200 rpm hard drive1TB, 7,200 rpm hard drive1TB, 5,400 rpm hard drive1TB, 7,200 rpm hard drive
Optical drive Blu-ray/DVD/DVD RW comboDual-layer DVD burnerNoneNone
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 8 (64-bit)Windows 8 (64-bit)Windows 8 (64-bit)Windows 8 Pro (64-bit)

Design and features

The Dell XPS looks its best head-on. The black bezel under edge-to-edge glass is thick but not unattractive, and the entire 27-inch display seems to float over a rectangular metal base with rounded edges.

Other all-in-one systems have more aggressive designs, to be sure. Apple's razor-edged iMac, the Asus Transformer AiO, and even Dell's own very slim XPS 18, which also doubles as a battery-powered tabletop PC, all show more imagination than the thick XPS 27. The hinged arm connecting the stand and screen is purely functional, like a robotic arm in a factory assembly line.

Sarah Tew/CNET

That arm could also stand to be more easily adjustable. There's no option to tilt the screen back 90 degrees to point directly up in what one might call a coffee-table mode, and even adjusting it along its 60-degree range of motion requires two hands.

But, once you get the XPS 27 set up at a suitable angle, it looks great sitting on your desk and makes at least some of the ports and connections easily accessible along the side edges, with the optical drive (DVD or Blu-ray, depending on your configuration) along the right edge and USB, SD card, and audio ports on the left edge.

Included with the system is a Dell wireless mouse and keyboard set. Both are plastic and won't win any design awards, but the compact keyboard makes good use of limited space, including full-size keys and a full number pad. Multimedia functions on the keyboard are still mapped to the F-keys in an old-fashioned manner, requiring you to hold the Fn key down to, for example, raise and lower the volume. Other PC makers, such as HP, reverse those function-mapped keys so you can adjust volume and screen brightness more easily from the keyboard, although the XPS 27 does have screen brightness touch controls below the right side of the screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The real selling point here is the giant 27-inch display. Unlike most of the 27-inch all-in-one PCs we've seen, the XPS 27 has a 2,560x,1440 native resolution, which is significantly higher than the typical 1,920x,1080 found on higher-end laptops and all-in-ones. The previous-gen XPS One 27 also had this higher-res screen, and it was one of the things we liked the most about it. It's also what you'll find in the 27-inch Apple iMac, although without touch. We've seen similar high resolutions in laptops such as the Toshiba Kirabook and MacBook Pro, but all those extra pixels packed into a much smaller screen is a different, more striking experience.

The XPS 27 screen is bright and clear, if a little glossy. HD video, games, and photos all look fantastic, and even the least-expensive XPS 27, at $1,599, has the same high-res display. Fingerprint marks from the touch screen were minimal, although I found that I ended up using the touch screen less than I expected, perhaps because I placed the large 27-inch display further away than I would a smaller one or a laptop.

Dell XPS 27
Video HDMI-in, HDMI-out, Thunderbolt/display port
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 6 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive DVD burner

Connections, performance, and battery

Our $2,099 review unit included a standard DVD drive, a slot-loading model accessible from the right side of the display, and a more-expensive $2,599 configuration trades up to a Blu-ray drive. Besides plenty of USB 3.0 ports, I especially liked that the XPS 27 (similar to some other all-in-ones and even a few larger-screen laptops) includes an HDMI-in jack. That means you can plug a game console, Blu-ray player, or even a set-top cable box into the back of the system and just use the screen as a 27-inch display. Input switching is done via a touch button on the front bezel, although there's also no way to control the volume on the built-in speakers when inputting an external video source.

Sarah Tew/CNET

One complaint: Many of the ports and connections are awkwardly hidden behind the large hinged arm that supports the screen, making them harder to get to than they should be.

The least-expensive XPS 27 is a $1,599 model that has a Core i5 CPU and only Intel's integrated graphics. For $1,799, you get the Nvidia GeForce 750M GPU (also found on the more-expensive configurations), plus a hard drive that includes a 32GB solid state cache. I'd say that second model is the best bang for your buck. Our $2,099 model ups the CPU to a Core i7 and doubles the hard drive to 2TB with the same 32GB SSD cache, while the $2,599 ups the RAM to 16GB and adds the previously mentioned Blu-ray drive.

The Intel Core i7-4770S CPU in our review unit is one of Intel's fourth generation of Core i-series chips, also known by the code name Haswell. I'm pleased that Dell has updated this model to the newest CPUs so quickly, especially as so many otherwise excellent PCs are still waiting for Haswell refreshment. That said, it may not be much a game changer in an all-in-one desktop. The fantastic battery life we've seen in Haswell laptops and tablets isn't going to help the XPS 27, beyond general power efficiency, and while we've seen modest application performance improvements and better integrated graphics from the latest Intel chips, it's not something you're likely to notice in everyday use.

As expected, the XPS 27 felt fast and responsive whether editing in Photoshop, streaming HD videos, or Web surfing, not that we'd expect anything else from a current Core i7 processor. Honestly, you could probably trade down to the Core i5 version and still have a very similar experience.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Besides the massive high-res screen, the other big highlight is the Nvidia GeForce 750M GPU. It's rare to find an all-in-one with serious discrete graphics, and while this isn't the highest-end card you can get, for a mainstream home PC, it's pretty good. (Apple offers the older but still good 600-series GeForce GPUs in the 27-inch iMac.) The XPS 27 is as close to a "gaming all-in-one" as you're likely to find.

The XPS 27 ran our Bioshock Infinite test at 1,920x1,080 with high quality settings at 19.3 frames per second and Metro: Last Light at the same resolution and high quality settings at 9.0 frames per second. Both those are challenging tests, and by dialing back the detail levels in Bioshock, we got more than 43 frames per second at the same 1080p resolution. Anecdotally, games such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Skyrim ran decently, even cranked all the way up to 2,560x1,440 resolutions, although you may need to use medium detail settings.

It's a shame that so few Windows games are adept at taking advantage of the touch screens found in so many Windows 8 PCs. Not even XCOM, a game that feels like it should work great with touch, pulls it off. Besides that caveat, I found the XPS 27 to be a great general-interest gaming machine, and more than powerful enough for mainstream gamers who don't want to build a dedicated gaming desktop.

Conclusion

Much as my colleague Rich Brown said about the previous version of the XPS 27, this is simply the best all-around Windows 8 all-in-one you can buy. Others have special features, such as the Lenovo Horizon's built-in battery and lie-flat hinge, or the iMac's thinner, cleaner design, but it's tough to match the combination of higher-res display, touch screen, and Nvidia graphics in the XPS 27, all wrapped up for a very reasonable price.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)

Dell XPS 27 (3.1GHz Core i7, July 2013) 180Apple iMac 27-inch (December 2012) 199Dell XPS One 27 (3.1GHz Core i7, October 2012) 202Asus Transformer AIO (3.1GHz Core i5, March 2013) 208Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon 27 (1.8GHz Core i5, May 2013) 272Dell XPS 18 (1.8GHz Core i5, April 2013) 273
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

Apple iMac 27-inch (December 2012) 52Dell XPS 27 (3.1GHz Core i7, July 2013) 83Dell XPS One 27 (3.1GHz Core i7, October 2012) 87Asus Transformer AIO (3.1GHz Core i5, March 2013) 99Dell XPS 18 (1.8GHz Core i5, April 2013) 126Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon 27 (1.8GHz Core i5, May 2013) 127
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance

Multimedia multitasking test -- iTunes and HandBrake (in seconds)

Apple iMac 27-inch (December 2012) 80Dell XPS 27 (3.1GHz Core i7, July 2013) 157Asus Transformer AIO (3.1GHz Core i5, March 2013) 241Dell XPS One 27 (3.1GHz Core i7, October 2012) 255Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon 27 (1.8GHz Core i5, May 2013) 444Dell XPS 18 (1.8GHz Core i5, April 2013) 526
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance

CineBench 11.5 scores

Apple iMac 27-inch (December 2012) 7.49 1.58Dell XPS 27 (3.1GHz Core i7, July 2013) 7.23 1.66Dell XPS One 27 (3.1GHz Core i7, October 2012) 7.03 1.59Asus Transformer AIO (3.1GHz Core i5, March 2013) 5.14 1.35Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon 27 (1.8GHz Core i5, May 2013) 2.49 1.11Dell XPS 18 (1.8GHz Core i5, April 2013) 2.48 1.1
  • Rendering multiple CPUs
  • Rendering single CPU
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Dell XPS 27 (July 2013)
Windows 8 (64-bit) 3.1GHz Intel Core i7 4770S; 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT750M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon
Windows 8 (64-bit) 1.8 GHz; Intel Core i5-3427U; 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT620M graphics card; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Apple iMac 27-inch (December 2012)
Apple OS X Mountain Lion 10.8; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive, 128GB solid-state hard drive

Asus Transformer AIO
Microsoft Windows 8 (64-bit); 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-3350P; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 730M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Dell XPS 18
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.8GHZ Intel Core i5-3337U; 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; Intel HD Graphics 4000 embedded graphics chip; HD1 32GB SSD HD2 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive

Dell XPS One 27 (2012)
Microsoft Windows 8 Pro 64-bit; 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-3770S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive

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8.2

Dell XPS 27

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 9