Apple vs. Dell: Finding the perfect 27-inch all-in-one

Apple and Dell are each selling a high-resolution 27-inch all-in-one desktop. Which one is right for you?

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
5 min read
Dell's XPS One 27 has already claimed a CNET Editors' Choice Award.
Dell's XPS One 27 has already claimed a CNET Editors' Choice Award. Sarah Tew/CNET

This is not a review.

I have reviewed the Dell XPS One 27. The review posted a few hours before Apple announced its new iMacs. I accounted for a potential new iMac while I evaluated the Dell, but that review does not have a direct comparison between the two computers.

I also gave the Dell XPS One 27 an Editors' Choice Award. It makes every other high-end Windows 8 all-in-one look underfeatured. It's the all-in-one I would buy right now if money were no object (along with the Sony Vaio Tap 20).

Apple's new 27-inch iMac.
Apple's new 27-inch iMac. James Martin/CNET

I have not reviewed the new 27-inch iMac. I intend to when it comes out in December. I did get some hands-on time with it at Apple's launch event. I can tell you that it's not slate-thin like Apple made it out to be during the unveiling (a bulge containing the core components protrudes from the back of the screen). It's still a great-looking computer.

I have also not used the iMac for more than 2 minutes, much less run it through our performance tests. All of that will happen when our review unit arrives.

The new iMac isn't quite as thin as Apple made it look.
The new iMac isn't quite as thin as Apple made it look. Rich Brown/CNET

When it does show up, the new iMac could contend for an Editors' Choice Award. Its primary competition will be the Dell XPS One 27.

Perhaps you already have an opinion about which system is better. That opinion might be that "Macs are crap." Or maybe that "the Dell is just another iMac rip-off." You might even think "CNET is in the tank for vendor X." If your thoughts mirror any of the above, welcome. You'll find the comments section at the bottom of this post.

On the other hand, some of you might be looking for some analysis to help you choose between these two all-in-ones. You're also welcome, and you might even want to keep reading.

Again, this is not a review of the new iMac, although I hope you'll come back for that once it's live. Instead, the idea of this post is to help you determine whether you should just buy the Dell now since it's already available, or if you should wait for that iMac review to see how the two stack up.

Following is a chart that maps out the prices and features of a few different configurations from Apple and Dell. One note: The XPS One 27 we reviewed is the $2,099 base model with a Blu-ray drive upgrade. That upgrade won't be available until December.

Apple iMac 27-inch (base) Dell XPS One 27 (base) Apple iMac 27-inch (step-up) Dell XPS One 27 (review unit)
Price $1,799 $1,399 $1,999 $2,299
Display (pixel resolution) 27-inch,
27-inch, 2,560x1,440 27-inch,
27-inch, 2,560x1,440 touch screen
CPU 2.9GHz Core i5 (3.6GHz max) 2.7GHz Core i5 (3.2GHz max) 3.2GHz Core i5 (3.6GHz max) 3.1GHz Core i7 (3.9Ghz max)
Memory 8GB 1,600MHz 6GB 1,600MHz 8GB 1,600MHz 8GB 1,600MHz
Graphics 512MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 660M Intel HD Graphics 4000 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 675MX 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M
Hard drive 1TB 7,200rpm 1TB 7,200rpm 1TB 7,200rpm 2TB 7,200rpm
Optical drive Not included Dual-layer DVD burner Not included Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner combo
Networking  802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
Ports Headphone/digital audio output, SDXC card, USB 3.0 (4x), Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort (2x), Gigabit Ethernet Headphone, microphone, digital audio out, SD card, USB 3.0 (6x), HDMI -in, HDMI-out, Gigabit Ethernet Headphone/digital audio output, SDXC card, USB 3.0 (4x), Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort (2x), Gigabit Ethernet Headphone, microphone, digital audio out, SD card, USB 3.0 (6x), HDMI -in, HDMI-out, Gigabit Ethernet

Here's what stands out for me in this comparison:

Apple core hardware advantages: Thunderbolt port, higher-end Nvidia graphics chip options

For professionals who need to connect to large, high-speed data arrays, or external video-capture hardware, the Thunderbolt port puts the iMac near legitimate workstation territory. Faster 3D graphics processing is always welcome, and arguably even expected in this price range.

Dell core hardware advantages: optical drive with Blu-ray drive option; touch-screen option, HDMI-in and HDMI-out ports

Dell's all-in-one has some high-performance chops with its Core i7 chip (Apple also offers Core i7 as option), but many of its features skew toward home entertainment. The optical drive and the HDMI input mean it's easy for the Dell to serve up a wide breadth of digital media. You can connect an HDMI adapter and an external DVD drive to the iMac, but you'll have to pay extra for them.

An adjustable stand makes it easier to use the Dell's touchscreen.
An adjustable stand makes it easier to use the Dell's touch screen. Sarah Tew/CNET

And no, not everyone wants a touch-screen desktop. Some people might, and between these two computers, the Dell is the one that can meet that need. The Dell's adjustable stand is also a nice touch, although I agree that the stand and the thicker screen hurt the Dell's visual appeal when you compare it with the iMac.

The $1,399 Dell XPS One 27 is a pretty great deal
It doesn't have a touch screen (for many this is a plus), and you might want more than just embedded Intel graphics, but this SKU provides the most affordable way to own an 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution all-in-one. Just note that you can buy a 27-inch standalone monitor with the same resolution for $800.

Apple has a higher ceiling
The most high-end configuration of the XPS One 27 costs $2,599, with 16GB of RAM and a 32GB solid-state hybrid hard-drive upgrade. Apple doesn't list prices for the iMac's options yet, but it will sell a Fusion Drive option (a 768GB solid-state hard drive to add to either a 1TB or 3TB mechanical drive), a CPU upgrade to a Core i7-3770 CPU, along with options for an even faster Nvidia graphics chip and up to 32GB of RAM.

Whatever the price of a maxed-out 27-inch iMac, I expect it will healthily surpass that of the most expensive XPS One 27. Such an iMac would also most certainly outperform the $2,599 Dell.

Remember: not a review
I won't name either system a winner. Each has its advantages in features that might appeal to a specific set of needs. They also might not play out as you'd expect.

A Blu-ray, touch-screen-equipped XPS One 27 might sound like the ideal entertainment PC, but those features won't matter to someone with a large media file library who hates touch input. And if the iMac sounds perfect for digital-media pros, some of you might prefer that $1,399 non-touch XPS One 27 simply for its more affordable 2,560x1,440-pixel display.

Apple is not yet taking orders for the 27-inch iMac, and the ship date on the Apple Store only says, "Available in December." If history is any guide, our review unit won't arrive until the new iMac goes on sale.

When I do get my hands on a new iMac, I'll take a look at performance, display quality, and from there comparative value. If you've already made a call for the Dell, I hope you'll still come back and give the eventual iMac review a read.