Dell Dimension XPS 600 review

Price when reviewed

The acceptance of SLI has been swift. We certainly didn’t expect such an expensive technology to take on so quickly or so widely. In fact, neither did nVidia: it saw SLI as appealing primarily to a niche market of affluent performance junkies. That even Dell, with its conservative reputation is embracing SLI to such an extent is yet another sign that it’s entering the mainstream.

But it’s the sheer skill with which Dell has put this system together that’s the real marvel. For a start, it’s blissfully quiet: even racing through our tough 3D benchmarks, there was hardly a murmur from the XPS 600. And race through our tests it did, thanks to the twin 7800 GTXs lurking within. These aren’t your normal, run-of-the-mill cards either – Dell fits custom cooling and overclocks both cores from 430MHz to 450MHz. No test proved too tough, no matter how hard we tried. Far Cry with HDR mode at the panel’s native 1,600 x 1,050 with 8 x AF still ran at a perfectly playable 41fps.

It looked all the more impressive on the Dell 2005FPW 20in widescreen TFT. Our technical tests revealed little to be worried about. It’s bright and colour handling is admirable, with even backlighting until the very furthest extremities. At 17in wide, it’s also ideal for viewing two windows simultaneously, and lends itself perfectly to entertainment. DVDs looked superb, with vivid colours and shadows satisfyingly rich and detailed.

Movies also sounded good with the Dell MMS 5650 5.1 speakers fed by the Audigy 2 ZS sound card. And the sheer quietness of the system was again a major bonus, never once distracting us from the slower moments of a film with any hint of fan noise.

Either of the two optical drives will cope with DVD playback, although the writer is a touch slow, only burning dual-layer DVDs at a 2.4x. Unless you’re planning on backing up your hard disk every week, this won’t be much of a problem, and there’s a DVD-ROM handy for burning on-the-fly, or using two apps with validating discs interchangeably.

The 500GB of storage (465GB usable) is constructed from two 250GB disks. Dell uses the MediaShield technology at the heart of the nVidia nForce4-based motherboard to stripe the disks for best performance.

Being a Dell, this is an Intel-based board. But it’s not the standard nForce4 SLI Intel Edition you’ll see elsewhere, as Dell has used an updated north bridge in this custom board. The usual features are still there, most notably the hardware firewall for the Gigabit Ethernet connection. But instead of splitting a single 16x PCI graphics bus between the two slots, each gets it own. In practice, it makes little difference at the moment; even 8x bus widths provide enough for game geometry to be sent to the card quicker than any CPU can create it. However, it’s undoubtedly the future that nVidia has its eye on.

Clocked at 3.2GHz, the Pentium D 840 is about as fast as you’ll get. Again, there’s custom cooling here, using a passive CPU heatsink and cowling arrangement, so it’s all done with minimal noise. It’s remarkable considering the Pentium D is one of the hottest-running chips around, and that the stock Intel cooler sounds like a jet turbine.

The 1GB of PC4300 DDR2 RAM gives enough space for as many applications as you own to run concurrently, and there are still two sockets free on the motherboard should you need more.

Coupled with extra touches like the eight-in-four media card reader, 802.11b/g WLAN USB dongle and the attractive case, the Dell is a tempting system. The 15-month licence for Norton Internet Security 2005 with Anti-Spyware, and the inclusion of XP Professional are also welcome, as is the next-business-day on-site warranty cover. This only lasts for a year, though, unlike Evesham’s two years of on-site cover and third-year return-to-base policy on the Axis Blaze 1800 XL.

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