Dell Dimension 5150C review

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Considering Dell’s close ties with Intel, it should come as no surprise that a Dimension is one of the first Viiv PCs we’ve seen. In a nutshell, Viiv is Intel’s latest attempt to make the Digital Home concept work: buy a Viiv PC and any Viiv-badged product and they’ll work seamlessly. Allegedly. And in the second half of this year, a raft of entertainment services will boast the Viiv badge of approval too.

Dell Dimension 5150C review

This PC shows the shift towards the entertainment concept, with the most expensive component by far being the luxurious 24in widescreen TFT. Its 1,920 x 1,200 pixels give you a huge Desktop, and the image quality is so good we had no qualms about adding filters and adjusting colour balances on our photos. We did see some jitter in our technical tests, but this wasn’t visible in day-to-day use. It looked great playing back videos, and the speakers are capable of good sound too. Should you want surround sound, the PC’s integrated audio supports 7.1 speakers.

We were surprised not to see a TV tuner as standard, but Dell is still testing tuners for compatibility, and in the coming weeks we expect a hybrid analog/digital TV tuner to become available. This is a common-sense purchase, as Viiv PCs are based on Microsoft’s Media Center Edition and are designed to offer a TV-like experience – you can even switch them on and off instantly with a remote control.

Another sign of this PC’s living-room leanings is its stylish silver finish and size. Based on the BTX form factor, the 5150C is not only roughly the same dimensions as a large packet of cornflakes, but is near inaudible too. And that’s with a Pentium D processor to keep cool.

Cool is overstating things a touch, though. The components in the tiny case run very hot and it’s easy to see why. The air sucked in through the front of the case over the CPU heatsink is blocked from escaping by the hard disk. The tiny 50mm PSU fan is the only way of exhausting hot air, and to keep it quiet it can’t spin very fast and so can’t shift much air.

We found no reliability problems, though; our gruelling benchmarks ran all six iterations over an eight-hour period without falling over. And Dell is confident the components won’t fail prematurely due to running hot. If you’re concerned about reliability, you might want to extend the standard one-year collect-and-return cover to Dell’s three-year on-site Basic At Home policy for £120.

Performance from the small system is adequate, but not exceptional. The 2.8GHz Pentium D 820 is complemented by 1GB of PC4200 RAM and returned an overall score of 0.84. However, Sony’s VAIO VGX-XL100 is faster, and we’re also seeing better scores from Core Duo notebooks such as the Acer TravelMate 3012WTMi. Media encoders might think the Pentium D a better choice, but the Sony’s encoding scores were almost identical, while the Core Duo powered through our Office tests quicker (0.95 as opposed to 0.83).

Dell has no plans for a Core Duo version of the 5150C as yet, with chipset availability and extra expense being the obvious reasons. The motherboard in this system is based around the widely available 945G desktop chipset and custom built to Dell’s specifications. There are two free RAM sockets with the two 512MB sticks already installed, and there’s a PCI Express graphics slot and PCI Express 1x slot visible below the hard disk. Expansion is largely unnecessary due to the range of integrated controllers and the integrated graphics: Intel High Definition Audio is more than adequate, while the GMA950 graphics adaptor is capable of feeding the huge monitor with its native resolution. Only gamers will be disappointed.

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