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Dell XPS Desktop 8940 Special Edition review: A whole lot of computer in a small space

For content creation, gaming or just a small home office, this flexible desktop is a powerful option for tight spaces.

dell-xps-desktop-special-edition-9
Josh Goldman/CNET

The Dell XPS Desktop 8940 is a great little desktop for a laptop person like myself. Like Dell's premium XPS laptops, the XPS Desktop is attractive and small -- perfect for tight spaces. Unlike the laptops, though, there are plenty of opportunities for upgrades to help you deal with changing needs. 

8.0

Dell XPS Desktop 8940 Special Edition

Like

  • Compact but still roomy inside
  • Plenty of component options
  • Good front, rear port assortment

Don't Like

  • Basic included accessories
  • No rear USB-C ports
  • Design not quite as nice as XPS laptops

From basic to fully loaded

The Dell XPS Desktop starts at about $640 and the Special Edition version with its "Mineral White" case starts around $980. In the UK, the desktop starts at £899 and in Australia it's AU$2,399, however, the Special Edition is currently not available in those regions. Aside from the chassis color, the differences come down to what you can get inside them. 

The standard model's base configuration, for instance, starts with integrated graphics but can be configured with up to a 12GB GeForce RTX 3060 or an 8GB Radeon RX 5700 XT graphics card. The Special Edition, on the other hand, starts with a 6GB GeForce GTX 1660 Super and goes up to an 8GB GeForce RTX 3070, which is what I tested paired with a 10th-gen Intel Core i7 processor. Dell now sells it with 11th-gen processors that go up to a Core i9-11900K. 

Dell XPS Desktop

Loosen two thumbscrews and you're in. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

You can also configure it with up to 64GB of 2933MHz memory but it supports up to 128GB. Similarly, you can get it with up to a 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD and a 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive for storage, but open bays at the top of the case give you room to add more. Dell also offers a choice of a 360- or 500-watt power supply and, if you want, you can top it all off with a Blu-ray burner -- nice to have if you're getting this for content creation or just want an easy option for backups. A DVD burner is standard. Fully loaded it comes to just over $3,000

The exact configuration of my review system is no longer available but a comparable one with an 11th-gen Core i7, 32GB of memory, a 1TB SSD plus a 2TB HDD, an 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070, a 500-watt power supply and a Blu-ray drive for $2,283. Considering current graphics card prices and availability issues, this price is relatively reasonable. At this price, though, it should really come with a better keyboard and mouse. Maybe it's because of my experience with the XPS laptops, but pairing this system with a plain wired keyboard and mouse set just seems wrong. You might think it's not a big deal but when Apple's bundling the iMac with a high-quality wireless keyboard and mouse, it's hard to ignore since this is supposed to be Dell's premium PC line.

It looks good, too 

If you want the performance of a gaming desktop but not the looks of one, this XPS is a good place to start. Although it lacks the stylishness and overall polish of the XPS laptop line, the front is attractive and allows for ample airflow while also being easy to pop off and clean. The rest of the chassis is sort of a basic beige box, but since it's magnesium alloy it's at least lightweight at less than 20 pounds. 

Dell XPS Desktop

There's a nice port assortment on the front. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

There's a lot of clearance around the processor and the graphics card so airflow from its fans isn't restricted. The desktop stays remarkably quiet even when you're rendering a 4K video or hitting more than 150 frames per second with games like Far Cry V in full HD at high graphics settings. The 10th-gen Intel processor in my system performed well, but based on newer systems we've tested with 11th-gen chips, you can expect it to be faster now. Also, I tested the XPS tower with Dell's 27-inch UltraSharp 4K PremierColor UP2720Q monitor, which proved to be an awesome partner for touching up raw photos and color-correcting video. 

The rear panel has plenty of connection options, including four USB 3.1 (Gen 1) ports, two USB 2.0 ports, 5.1 audio jacks and a Killer E2600 Gigabit Ethernet that's a lifesaver if you need to upload large video files fast. There is no Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port, which would also be handy for faster file transfers or running a hub to your desk. There is a USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 1 port on the front for speeds up to 5 gigabits per second, however.

Dell XPS Desktop
Josh Goldman/CNET

When size matters

A small laptop always made the most sense for me because I spend more time commuting and working on buses and trains than I do working at home. Or at least I did until the pandemic hit, and then my years of commuting came to a screeching halt. I suddenly had a tiny desk at home for the first time in more than a decade and was working on an underpowered laptop for my needs that couldn't be upgraded. 

The XPS Desktop 8940 is an excellent complement to an ultraportable laptop like Dell's XPS line. You can get it configured for your performance needs, even if that includes video and photo editing and gaming. It's also a solid pick if you're looking for something small and attractive that can start out with a more modest configuration and be built out as your needs change. It's the flexibility you won't get with a smaller Mac Mini-type computer or an all-in-one but not so big you'll lose a bunch of floor or desk space to it.