Dell XPS 700 review

Price when reviewed

The XPS family may have expanded to include a wide range of PCs and even notebooks, but this offering sticks firmly to the established heritage of Dell’s “extreme” brand: the XPS 700 is all about performance and gaming. As such, the interior is packed with high-end components – just as well when you consider the enormous price tag.

Dell XPS 700 review

A 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E6700 and 2GB of DDR2 RAM will keep any application zipping along with room to spare, whether it’s video encoding, word processing or the latest 3D games. An overall benchmark score of 1.49 is one of the fastest we’ve seen: almost 50% faster in real-world applications than systems based on Intel’s previous mainstream top-end CPU, the Pentium D 820.

It’s also helped by the striped RAID array, consisting of two 250GB Western Digital Caviar SE hard disks, giving 465GB of usable storage. Considering the monstrous power on offer, it’s a sensible configuration – game installations are getting bigger every month, and future-looking applications such as HD video editing are immensely storage hungry too. The only misgiving we have is that they’re stacked one atop the other in a potentially hot area of the case, which is unnecessary when there’s a second set of drive bays available.

Doing the job yourself is easily done, as Dell has included all the wiring for most potential upgrades, including a floppy drive ribbon cable that goes nowhere: should you need to add another hard disk (or indeed a floppy drive), you’ve already got a cable in place to make the installation easier. If only Dell had taken time to make all the cabling neat and tidy – the innards of our review machine are a surprising mess.

Unsurprisingly, this is another Dell PC that conforms to Intel’s BTX case layout. It was thought that BTX would become redundant now that Core 2 Duo had replaced the hot-running Pentium 4, but there are nonetheless some advantages over the ATX standard. With everything geared towards unrestricted airflow over the CPU, RAM and graphics card, the system remains pleasingly quiet even under load. Like any performance PC, you’ll hear a hum after the deafening few seconds of initial startup, but it’s a low, easily ignorable hum.

An ancillary benefit is that the graphics card also sits with its heatsink facing up, further aiding cooling. The GPU in this system isn’t anything too gratuitous – a modified GeForce 7900 GTX with its distinctive and quiet double-height cooler. The 512MB of dedicated graphics RAM is designed to cope with the very high-resolution textures of modern games, and it galloped through both our benchmark tests, even at resolutions of 1,600 x 1,200 and using maximum texture detail. The 50fps average from Far Cry with HDR and 8x AF is more than healthy, while the 39fps in the more challenging Call of Duty 2 with 4x AA and 8x AF is also reassuring: this machine will power through all but the most challenging of games for the next few years. And should it start to stutter, you can add a second, as the custom motherboard is based around the Nforce4 SLI Intel Edition chipset. On the sound front, there are no speakers bundled, but the Creative X-Fi will give game sounds and MP3s consummate treatment, and it supports up to eight-channel sound.

But, at £1,701, the XPS 700 doesn’t offer the best value around. The Hi-Grade Ultis Tachyon has the even faster Core 2 Duo Extreme Edition, the wonderfully powerful Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2 graphics card, and a super-fast Western Digital Raptor as your system drive – all for just £85 more. And while the XPS 700 is impressive, parts of the build quality feel cheap. The Hi-Grade also matches the single year of on-site warranty you get with Dell’s XPS, although the Ultis does only offer Windows XP Home to the XP Media Center Edition of the XPS 700.

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