Dell OptiPlex GX280 SFF review

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Dell’s OptiPlex GX270 SFF (see issue 115, p130) not only won last year’s business PCs group test, it also stayed on the A List for seven months. Its successor, the GX280 SFF, continues this fine tradition, and – although beaten by the NEC PowerMate ML7 – it’s a fast business PC with plenty in its favour.

Dell OptiPlex GX280 SFF review

A 2.8GHz Pentium 4 520 and 512MB of RAM will make light work of most tasks, with power to spare for background tasks such as on-the-fly backups or file transfers. In our 2D application benchmarks, it scored 1.77 overall – a good margin ahead of Fujitsu Siemens and HP.

The custom Dell motherboard uses Intel’s latest PCI Express 915G chipset, which means that the GX280 SFF should be easily upgradeable in the future. Network speed won’t be a worry either, thanks to Broadcom’s NetXtreme 5751 gigabit Ethernet chip.

Access to the motherboard is simple. The chassis is brilliantly designed and is easy to work on thanks to the completely tool-less retention mechanisms. Simply by pushing two buttons at the rear, the case opens wide with the drives separated from the rest of the system. Unlike the Fujitsu Siemens and the Acer, the chassis intrusion switch isn’t obvious, making it harder to disable. With the system open, as shown below, only the CPU is tricky to get at – it sits under a cover that aids airflow over the heatsink.

Drives are mounted using tool-less racks and, although there isn’t a floppy drive, it’s possible to add one as there’s a simple blanking plate in the front panel. As it’s a notebook-style drive, it isn’t cheap at £20. The Sony DW-D56A dual-layer DVD rewriter is also a slimline unit. This will probably be overkill for most users, but welcome nonetheless. The hard disk is a more sensible Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 with an 80GB capacity.

Both the keyboard and mouse are USB; there are no PS/2 ports on the rear. The keyboard is a particularly good piece of design – quiet keys and a small footprint make it the best of any of the others on show. Other rear ports comprise parallel, serial and RJ-45. Front-mounted headphone and microphone sockets save you reaching into the inevitable tangle of cables at the rear.

The monitor is another plus point – it may not have the most attractive design but, despite the D-SUB interface, images were pure, bright and crisp. This model is bundled with Dell’s AS500 Soundbar, a set of stereo speakers that offer reasonably good sound.

The built-in Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 is disabled and a 64MB ATi X300 PCI Express card is installed. It’s a strange choice for a business PC, but it makes the GX280 SFF good for after-hours entertainment and also aided the 2D performance – consequently, this was the fastest PC on test. Most people won’t notice this increase in speed in comparison to any of the other systems, though.

In terms of quietness, the Dell was average. In real-world terms, this means that if you were in a totally silent library you’d only just be able to hear it, but 29.9dBA at idle and 35.4dBA while searching the hard disk isn’t going to be noticeable in the average office. Also, like most of the other PCs, the case can be mounted on its end to save space.

The GX280 SFF might not have theÊenvironmental credentials of the Fujitsu Siemens, but there are a number of ways in which it will help to cut down your energy bill. Hibernation is automatic, and turning the machine on from sleep mode takes a snappy six seconds. If you insist that all PCs be turned off, the GX280 SFF can be turned on again via the network, while the BIOS allows a time to be set for powering on each day.

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