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Dell XPS One 27 (Windows 8) review: Far and away, the best Windows 8 all-in-one

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It was only timing that held back the original XPS One 27 from an Editors' Choice Award. I wanted to see if Apple would unveil a new iMac, and also what might emerge from the PC side in the run-up to Windows 8. Apple's plans will be a mystery for another few hours, but after having seen the new slate of big-screen all-in-ones, I can say with confidence that Dell's updated XPS One 27 is the clear winner among the Windows crowd for its high-resolution 2,560x1,440-pixel display and a still-reasonable price tag.

Dell XPS One 27 (Windows 8)
8.3

Dell XPS One 27 (Windows 8)

The Good

The <b>Dell XPS One 27</b> boasts the highest-display resolution among Windows 8 all-in-ones, and at an aggressive price.

The Bad

A new adjustable display support arm is welcome, but stops short of reclining a full 90 degrees.

The Bottom Line

Updated with a touch screen, a new stand, and up-to-date components, the Dell XPS One 27 leads the inaugural class of Windows 8 PCs.
Dell has informed us that it has increased the price of the $1,999 and $2,499 models of the XPS One 27 by $100. That means the $1,999 model will now cost $2,099, and the $2,499 model will cost $2,599. Our review unit, the now $2,099 model with a $200 Blu-ray drive upgrade, will cost $2,299 when the Blu-ray drive is available in December. The $1,399 and $1,599 units have not received a price increase.

I can see the pricing questions for this review now, so let's get that out of the way. The XPS One 27 starts at $1,399 for the non-touch model. The touch-screen version starts at $1,599. This review unit is based on the $2,099 step-up configuration, but Dell wanted to show off the big display so it included a Blu-ray drive.

The Blu-ray option is not available with the current $2,099 unit, but Dell says it will start offering the upgrade in December for $200. That puts this exact review configuration at $2,299. Other than the Blu-ray drive, it's identical to the $2,099 model that you can purchase today. If you want an XPS One 27 with a Blu-ray drive now, your only option is the highest-end $2,599 version.

At those higher price tiers, the XPS One 27 enters another pricing level relative to competing 27-inch all-in-ones. Vizio's CA27T-A4 starts at $1,219. The Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 starts at $1,470. Even Acer's high-flying Aspire 7600U tops out at $1,899. But none of those systems offers a 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution display, much less with touch input.

Considering that the touch-screen XPS One 27 starts at $1,599, Dell has the best of both worlds with this PC. It offers high-end options for those who want to pay for them, and it also outclasses its competition by offering the same high-resolution screen with its more modestly priced starting models.

Dell XPS One 27 Acer Aspire 7600U Apple iMac 27-inch
Price (at time of review) $2,299 $1,899 $1,999
Display size/resolution 27-inch, 2,560x1,440 27-inch, 1,920x1,080 27-inch, 2,560x1,440
CPU 3.1GHz Intel Core i7 3770S 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 3210M 3.1GHz Intel Core i5 2400
Memory 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M 768MB Nvidia Geforce GT 640M 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6970M
Hard drives 2TB, 7,200rpm 1TB, 5,400rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless
Operating system Windows 8 Pro (64-bit) Windows 8 (64-bit) Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7

Among Windows 8 launch PCs, the Acer Aspire 7600U is the only other model to approach the $2,000 price point. Even if you throw out the Dell's higher-resolution screen, the XPS One 27 is still a strong competitor to the Acer system. Dell includes more memory for the GeForce graphics card, and also offers a faster, higher-end Core i7 chip, and twice the hard drive space.

Acer poured a lot of effort into the design of its new all-in-one, and it probably looks a little slicker than the Dell. It also has a unique support foot that makes it easier to adjust the display than the Dell's double-jointed stand support. Where Acer is mostly attempting to make a "lifestyle" appeal for its new all-in-one, Dell sticks to its price-performance roots. The payoff is clear in terms of features and performance, and for any serious PC buyer, the XPS One 27 is the clear choice.

Comparing the XPS One 27 with Apple's high-end iMac is harder, given the potential for a new iMac announcement later today. If you discount operating system preference and compare against the existing iMac, the Dell offers more onboard storage, a touch screen, and the convenience of its HDMI input and output jacks.

The iMac's primary non-software advantage might be its Thunderbolt ports, which open up the door to fast external storage arrays and other peripherals that leverage Thunderbolt's faster data transfer speeds. Professional users in particular might appreciate that option. Otherwise, and again, operating systems aside, the Dell looks like a more fully featured offering than the existing iMac. An update from Apple can always turn this comparison on its head, and I will revisit this review in the event that Apple announces a new iMac.

[[Note: Apple did indeed announce new iMacs on October 23rd, introducing a new chassis, Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs, Nvidia Geforce 600-series graphics chips, and a solid state/mechanical hard drive storage option Apple calls Fusion Storage. The Dell can still claim touch input and a Blu-ray drive option, but overall your operating system and aesthetic preferences should be the biggest deciding factors in choosing between the two computers.]].

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

Cinebench 11.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  

From a performance standpoint, the Dell is simply the fastest 27-inch all-in-one at its price. Among Windows PCs it has no true speed competition. The Core i5-based $1,599 XPS One 27 (and its $1,399 non-touch equivalent) would also be competitive, if not quite as fast. Our Dell review unit also trounces the existing 27-inch $1,999 iMac. A more expensive iMac with a Core i7 chip would perform better, and a new iMac might also give the Dell a race. Dollar for dollar, though, the Dell XPS One 27 is currently faster.

Moving beyond a pure price-performance calculation, the newest phase of Windows computing aspires for more than simply posting fast benchmark scores. Whether you like it or not, touch screens, lightweight applications, and product design are all ascending. The XPS One 27 excels in most of these aspects as well.

Of these "softer" features, the Dell's touch screen might be its best. Like competing new all-in-ones, the XPS One 27 has edge-to-edge glass, which means you won't struggle to make proper contact with the screen in its corners and along its edges. But more than that, Dell also seems to have put an effort into the responsiveness and the general feel of controlling the system with touch.

Unlike with touch screens on the Acer and the Sony Vaio Tap 20, your fingers glide relatively smoothly along the XPS One 27's screen, with minimal drag. In our test with the Air Hockey app, downloaded from the Microsoft's Windows 8 app store, the Dell also never lost our input with the onscreen paddle. Those other systems, the Acer especially, can't say the same. You don't always need to maintain a continuous, fast-moving connection to the touch-screen on an all-in-one. Dell deserves credit, though, for ensuring that you can.

If I have any major complaint with the Dell, it has to do with its inability to recline the display a full 90 degrees. Both Dell and Acer settle for 60 degrees of movement. The battery-powered Sony Vaio Tap 20 makes 90-degree positioning simple -- you simply lay it down on a tabletop. I agree that you're more likely to use the Sony that way given that you can free it from a power cable, but Lenovo's non-battery-powered IdeaCentre A720 also offers full flat input, thanks to a well-designed stand. Limiting the XPS One 27 to a 60-degree recline feels like stopping short.

The Dell's other features mainly carry over from the original all-in-one. Its screen is huge, clear, and bright. HD video content in particular looks great, and the higher resolution also means that the Dell can fit more text than its competitors into shortcut boxes on the Windows 8 main UI screen. Photo editors and others might balk at the glossy coating on the display, and the high resolution also means that SD video can look particularly blotchy. You might have trouble playing some more challenging games at its native resolution, but Dishonored was smooth and visually stunning at 2,560x1,440 pixels.

As for other details, the slot-loading optical drive is a polished touch. Input arrays on the left edge and along the back provide you with most of what you'd want in a high-end all-in-one, including the aforementioned HDMI jacks, and six USB 3.0 inputs. The ports on the back of the system are a bit cramped behind the display stand, but you can move the screen easily enough that it's not a major obstacle.

Conclusion
It took two years before any Windows vendor found a way to offer an all-in-one with the same 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution as the 27-inch iMac. Now that Dell has figured it out, the remaining 27-inch Windows PCs look woefully under-featured. Dell may have locked up the right supplier to make the XPS One 27, or perhaps it's simply willing to make less profit than its competition. Whatever Dell has done to make this system available, consumers have won. At any of its various price points, the XPS One 27 is the best Windows 8 all-in-one you can buy.

All performance testing conducted by Joseph Kaminski. Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations (at the time of each review)
Apple iMac 27-inch (Spring 2011)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7; 3.1GHz Intel Core i5 (second generation); 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 6970M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Acer Aspire 7600U
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 768MB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Asus ET2700I
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600S; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Dell XPS One 27
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

HP Omni 27 Quad
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2400S; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB Intel HD Graphics 1000 (embedded); 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Lenovo IdeaCentre A720
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M ; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 630M graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive

Vizio CA27-A1
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Dell XPS One 27 (Windows 8)
8.3

Dell XPS One 27 (Windows 8)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 9Support 7