Every computer company has its top of the line machine, usually dubbed it gaming machine. These machines represent the pinnacle of technology. They have all the best parts, but they also have the highest price tag. The Dimension XPS Gen 5 is Dell’s current top-of-the-line desktop, but it is not just for gaming. This machine supports a lot of media features like recoding TV, authoring and burning DVDs and many other great features.
- Intel® Pentium® 4 processor with HT Technology
- Intel® 955X Express chipset
- Microsoft® Windows® XP
- Front bezel and badge lighting with 7 color options
- 8 USB 2.0 ports (2 front, 5 back, 1 internal) and front headphone jack
- Convenient front flip covers conceal front I/O ports and drive bays
- Clam-shell design provides easy access. Opens with one latch.
- 3 chassis fans for cooling. 2 more dedicated to the power supply.
- 3 – 5 1/4″ external bays
- 3 – HDD bays
- 3 PCI slots, 1 PCIe x 1 slot, 1 PCIe x 4 slot, 1 PCIe x16 (graphics) slot
The Dimension XPS Gen 5, like all dell machines, is completely customizable. It is hard to list all the possible combinations so I will list just those that came with the machine that I am reviewing. The first and most notable is the processor. This machine has a Intel Pentium Extreme Edition Dual Core Processor with HT Technology. The processor is running at 3.20GHz with an 800MHz FSB and 2MB cache. One of the unique things about this processor is that the Extreme Edition processor is user-overclockable in BIOS to 3.40GHz and 3.60GHz. Not only is it overclockable, but you do not void your warranty if you overclock it. The computer does give you a warning that you may reduce the life of the processor by overclocking it. Dell is just hoping that the processor won’t die until after your warranty has expired.
Another BIOS setting that caught my attention was the ability to disable one of the two cores that come with the dual core processor. I don’t know why you would want to do this, but in case you do, then you can.
Another notable feature is the hard drive space. The Dimension XPS Gen 5 can support up to 3 hard drives. This means that if you want you can have up to up to 1.5TB (3 drives x 500 GB) of internal RAID storage. This is an incredible and unprecedented amout of storage for a desktop. Plenty for just about everything you could ever need. The machine that I received has 2 x 250 GB hard drives in a raid 0 configuration. This gives me a total of 500 GB.
This machine also came with a Dual TV Tuner + Remote Control setup. This is very handy — especially in a machine like this. It is perfect for performing PVR functions, especially with the large amount of storage that is possible. With 500 GB of storage I am able to store more than 150 Hours of the best quality video. With 1.5 TB of storage you should be able to store more than 450 hours of PVR video. You will obviously have to subtract the space you use up with the programs that you install, but you should still have more than enough for your videos. Included with the tuner is also a remote. This remote is very useful for accessing all the features of the Media Center. If you plan on having this computer hooked up to your TV you will really enjoy the remote.
Dell sent a 256MB PCI Express x16 (DVI/VGA/TV-out) ATI Radeon 850 XT Platinum Edition video card with this machine. The default is a 256MB PCI Express x16 (DVI/VGA/TV-out) NVIDIA GeForce 6800. Both cards are excellent and you will definitely be able to play any video or game you want. The ATI Radeon 850 XT Platinum Edition is currently the top-of-the-line GPU that the Dimension XPS Gen 5 supports.
The Dimension XPS Gen 5 supports up to 4 GB of either DDR2-667MHz or DDR2-533MHz memory. The machine that I received has 1 GB of DDR2-667MHz memory.
This computer can also be configured with any of the flavors of Windows XP including Home, Media and Professional editions. The computer that I received came with windows XP Media Edition. This edition has full support for the PVR recording. If you get the Dual TV Tuner then I highly recommend that you also get Media Edition so you can take full control of its abilities.
One of the greatest things about a well-built machine is the design. Not only the look of the outside, but also how it is all put together inside. Companies like Dell have the ability to really test out parts and make sure they are compatible and stable together. All the pieces fit together really nicely and they look good together. The only problem with this is that you usually have to buy your replacement parts from the original builder in order to make sure you get the same color and size as your original part.
Lets start by looking at the outside design, then we will look at the inside. The first thing you will notice about the outside design is the large shiny silver badge on the front. It serves no useful purpose except to make the outside look cool. When the machine is turned on the badge will light up with a back-light. This back light can change colors. This change is made in the BIOS and your color options include ruby, emerald, sapphire, amber, topaz, amethyst and diamond.
Another notable aspect of the outside is the door for the drives. This machine hides the CD/DVD, floppy and card reader behind a silver colored door. This is nice because when it is closed it makes the machine look really clean. But it is also a pain to have to deal with opening and closing the door when you want to use your drives. Most people will want to leave this open all the time. Dell made a good choice when they designed the hinges for this door. Unlike most doors, this does not just swing open, but it also tucks in the side of the machine. This puts it out of the way so you don’t bump it or accidentally break it off.
Also on the front of the Dimension XPS Gen 5 is a smaller door just to the right of the large
door. This little door when opened revels a headphone jack, microphone jack, 2 USB Ports and a
The back of the machine is loaded up with the normal plugs and connectors. From top to bottom there is one FireWire port, two PS2 ports for keyboard and mouse, 5 USB 2.0 ports, and a Network cable plug. Below these plugs are all the add in cards that you have like Video, Sound and TV tuners. The back of the machine also houses the 5 fans that cool this machine. Having 5 USB ports on the back is a really good thing. In fact I would almost recommend to Dell that in the next model that they add more. So many devices are starting to use USB and that really eats into those ports. With the setup that Dell sent me, I was using 4 of the 5 ports. This only left me with one more in the back that I could use with another device. The 4 ports were going to the keyboard, mouse, monitor (it has a hub) and the remote IR device for the TV tuners. Granted I still had the 4 ports on the monitor and the two ports on the front of the XPS, but who wants cables coming out of the front of their computer or their monitor?
If everything is working properly you should never have to open the box. But we all know that nothing ever works properly all the time. So if you want or need to open this case you have two options. You can leave it standing up or lay it on its side. Both options do not require the use of any tools. I really recommend that you lay it on its side. This machine is really heavy so brace yourself if you have to lift it. I found that putting it on a raised surface like a counter or table made things easier, because it was at a better height to work on. Once you have it on its side with the back facing you, there is a small sliding latch in the rear that you need to move to unlock the case. After you unlock the case then you simply lift up on the back of the case to open it. It will open on a hinge that is located in the front. It does not open all the way, instead it opens to about a 45 degree angle. This can seem kind of cramped, but it keeps you from pulling the plugs out of their sockets by stretching the cables. When you open it you will notice that it is very clean and open inside. This is probably the most notable thing about this design. Dell does a great job with cable routing. This makes sure that you don’t have cables blocking your access to the guts of the system. It also helps with airflow in the computer which keeps it cooler. If you choose not to lay the machine on its side then when you open the door you will notice that the door rests on a small leg. This leg is not super strong so be careful not to put too much weight on it. I would recommend to Dell that they get rid of the leg and just extend the entire door down so it all rests on the floor.
The CPU is covered by a large Green case. This case routes the air from the fans in the back so they blow directly on the CPU. This allows fans to be larger and spin more slowly, so they don’t make as much noise. This plastic case is removable, but unless you have a reason to open it I don’t recommend that you take it off, because if you don’t get it back on just right, the CPU may not get the air flow that it needs to stay cool. Having it set up this way really does a good job cooling the system and it also makes it much quieter than other computers. In fact most of the time you can hardly hear it. When you are doing CPU intensive tasks then the fans will speed up. At full speed the Dimension XPS Gen 5 can be quite loud. It almost sounds like a miniature jet. Dell may want to consider a water cooled system in one of their future versions of the XPS.
Next to the CPU is the graphics card. You will notice a small brace that comes up from the motherboard and covers part of the graphics card. This prevents the graphics from being removed easily or from falling out of place. I don’t know why Dell decided that the graphics card needs this, because none of the other cards have it.
The door that opened is where all the hard drives and CD/DVD drives are located. There is considerably more cable clutter here then on the motherboard, but this is because each drive needs to be connected to power and to the motherboard. Dell has made this as clean as possible, but it would be nice if all these devices where somehow connected wirelessly. The hard drives are hidden behind a green panel. The panel does not serve any special purpose except to hide the cables and a little of the clutter. The system has slots for 3 hard drives. I don’t know why only 3, because I thought that serial ATA made it possible to have more.
I did notice a couple of strange slots in the back of the machine when it was opened. I don’t know what they are or what purpose they serve, I guess they could be used to keep the area open for air flow but I could be wrong. If any of you know what they are for please post it to the form and let me know.
One interesting thig you may notice is that the power supply is located at the bottom of the case instead of the top back like most other cases. This offers several advantages and one possible disadvantage. One of the biggest advantages is that you can route the power cables more easily from the bottom up rather then having to go across the motherboard. Also because the entire bottom of the box is the power supply, it is a lot thinner than the bulky boxes that we are used to. This saves space on the inside of the box. The one possible disadvantage is that next to the CPU the power supply is probably the biggest producer of heat. Since heat rises, having the power supply at the bottom of the box may add to the overall heat of the system. To help keep this from happening, Dell installed twofans in the back of the power supply which pump out as much heat as possible to keep it from going into the box.
For the most part Dell machines are not speed demons. In fact, I think they are going more for stability than extreme speed. They don’t overclock the graphics cards and by default they don’t overclock the CPU. This means they probably won’t win any awards for the absolute fastest computer in the world, but they are also not the slowest. Personally, I would rather have a fast stable machine than an extremely fast, but unstable machine. I think this is also the case for most consumers.
This does not mean that the Dimension XPS Gen 5 is slow. This is by far the fastest desktop that Dell sells and is very fast in its own right. Because this is not just a gaming machine, it has not been tweaked just for games. The Dimension XPS Gen 5 is a well rounded gaming/media machine and it performs all its functions is plenty of power.
To test the power of the Dimension XPS Gen 5 system I ran a couple benchmarks. I used 3Dmark 2005 to test the graphics and PCMark 2005 to test the rest of the system. Both programs returned very good results. As you can see from the images below the scores are very high.
Because Dell supports overclocking the CPU, I wanted to perform the same tests with the CPU set to 3.6 GHz and see if there was much of a change in the scores. As you can see from the images the scores did increase. I was expecting just the CPU score to increase, but it seems like the whole system benefited from the increased CPU speed.
Numbers like those that come from 3DMark and PCMark are great for getting a feel for the system as a whole, but what gamers really want is to know how the machine will play their favorite games. Two of the most demanding games for a computer are Doom 3 and Half Life 2. So I decided to test those games in addition to the other tests. To test these I created a couple demos of each game and then played them back several times with different resolution settings to see what the frames per second (FPS) would be. First, I played Half Life 2 at 1024 x 768 with 4X AA and 8X AF. Everything else was set to high. At these settings I was able to get 101 FPS. At 1600 x 1200 and everything else the same, I got 66 FPS. Since 60 FPS is the goal, with any game it seems like the Dimension XPS Gen 5 can handle the task. Now on to the Doom 3 tests. With the game set to 1024 x 768, 4x AA and everything else turned on I was able to get 66 FPS. When I turned the resolution up to 1600 X 1200 the FPS dropped down to 38. Even though we were shooting for 60 FPS 38 is still playable. So I have to give it to the system for being able to play games with high FPS.
The ATI Radeon 850 XT Platinum Edition video card that Dell sent with this computer has both analog and digital monitor connectors. Supposedly the digital connector, when plugged into a digital monitor, is suppose to produce a better picture because it does not have to convert the video signal to analog. I tried connecting both the analog and the digital cables to the computer and I couldn’t tell a difference. You are only allowed to connect one of the cables at a time — for some reason when both are connected no signal was getting to the monitor, probably because the card was confused about which connector to use.
Fortunately recording TV does not take up that much memory or processing power. This means that when the machine is recording you can still do normal things like play games, edit movies and surf the Internet. You can see from the images below that recording one or two shows does not take up much memory or CPU. With this particular TV turner you can even record two shows at the same time or watch live TV and record another. This makes having a VCR obsolete for recording TV.
Media center uses its own proprietary format (dvr-ms) to save the TV shows in and before you can edit them, you must convert them to Windows Media Video format (WMV). Something funny I noticed is that Nero DVD authoring software would recognize and burn the dvr-ms format but Windows Movie Maker would not. It just goes to show that sometimes even the operating system cannot recognize its own format. With 500 GB of hard drive space I am able to save over 150 hours of video. Of course you can always reduce the quality of the recording and save more video, but if you are diligent about removing your old videos or burning them to DVD you should never have to worry about not having enough space. At the best quality a 30 minute video takes up about 1.5 GB and a 2 hour video takes up about 6 GB. When you convert the videos to WMV the same videos take about 379 MB and 1.5 GB respectively. Of course converting the videos is quite CPU and memory intensive, so you should make sure you are not doing anything else while you convert your videos.
I did have trouble with the TV tuners. Every once in a while, one or both of the tuners would stop functioning. Usually it was only one, so if the other one was not busy the machine would automatically switch to use the good one. This was only a problem if I was trying to record two shows at the same time. It also only seemed to happen if I left the computer on for several days at a time. To fix the problem I usually needed to restart the computer, but sometimes the computer had to be turned off. For some reason restarting the computer didn’t seem to clear it up every time. I don’t know why the tuner would die, or even if it was hardware or software related, but because it would only happen about once a week it didn’t seem that big of a deal.
Warranty & Service
As with all Dell machines the warranty is dependent on your budget and how much you want to spend. I highly recommend that you get something, even if it is just for a couple years. You never know when you are going to get a lemon. There is no way for anyone, including Dell, to know when one piece of hardware is going to go bad. If your budget is tight you probably don’t need the nights and weekends support and you can get along fine without the accidental damage coverage, unless you have kids.
There is one unique thing about the XPS machines support, you get a dedicated team of professionals who are specially trained to work just on the XPS. This is especially important if you happen to venture into overclocking your machine and you end up crashing or breaking something. These support individuals can help you get back to running normally.
Dell computers also come with the Support Center software. If you leave this software running it will notify you when there are updates for your computer. This can be really useful in making sure your computer has the latest updates so it is as stable as possible.
Overall I am very impressed with this computer. With Dells easy to use website you can configure the price and performance to match your needs and budget. The design is solid and the performance is fantastic. If you use the coupons that are on this site you can even save yourself quite a bit of money. Be smart and don’t overspend, but make sure you plan for future uses because not many people can afford to buy one of these computers every year. I am sure that you will be happy with this computer. If you don’t need the flashy case, you may want to look into getting a Dimension 9100 — it has most of the same features but you can cut off a couple hundred dollars from the price tag. Also note that Dell recently announced a new Dimension XPS 600 that will have support for dual graphics cards using Nvidias SLI techonlolgy. So if you have to get the best then you may want to wait for that to come out.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|