1TB of storage, dual cores, and overclocking... on a Dell?
When you’re the No. 1 PC manufacturer on planet Earth, it’s hard to make machines that will appeal to Auntie Wendy while fronting an attitude that appeals to gamers and the power user elite.
That’s the predicament Dell faced head-on when it introduced its first power-user XPS machine almost two years ago. That XPS was a well-rounded gaming rig, but it couldn’t out-muscle other hardcore machines of the day.
With the new fifth-generation XPS, Dell hits with both bores. The Gen-5 XPS features Intel’s new dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition 840—essentially a pair of 3.2GHz Pentium 4 Prescott cores. Factor in the Hyper-Threaded nature of these cores and you’re looking at quadruple the processing potential of a traditional CPU. What’s more, you can overclock the XPS from 3.2GHz to 3.6GHz. We ran our test XPS at 3.6GHz for 72 hours under full load without any instability.
Dell paired the Pentium Extreme Edition with a custom Intel 955X chipset motherboard and 1GB of DDR2/667 RAM. An ATI Radeon X850 XT Platinum Edition sits in the motherboard’s x16 PCI-E slot just above a suspiciously empty x16 physical PCI-E slot. Because the 955X chipset doesn’t support nVidia’s SLI, it’ll be interesting to see what eventually fills that second slot. Dell even includes a second PCI-E power plug. Hmmm.
The true surprise inside the XPS, however, are the dual 500GB Hitachi Deskstar SATA 3G drives. A full review of the Kick Ass-award-winning Deskstar is on page 69, but we can summarize here: These drives are freaking fast! A 1TB, two-drive RAID 0 array is pretty exciting. Because the 955X chipset supports Matrix RAID, we could even configure the drives to give us some redundancy in addition to striping.
The icing on this tasty cake comes in the form of Dell’s new 24-inch LCD flat panel. At almost half the price of other monitors of this size, we were concerned that the cut-rate price might mean cut-rate quality; but we were impressed by what we saw of the 2405FPW. A full review of the display will appear in an upcoming issue.
Sadly, few of today’s benchmarks are designed to reveal the multitasking and multi-threading performance benefits that dual-core rigs offer. We know, for example, that the XPS will spank the fastest Athlon 64 or Pentium 4 in DVD Shrink, or any other multi-threaded app, but such prowess is unapparent in Photoshop CS. We did see performance dividends in Premiere Pro, where the XPS was easily 25 percent faster than our zero-point system. SYSmark2004 is also pro dual-core, but we couldn’t get the benchmark to install on the XPS. SYSmark can be especially finicky with OEM installs of Windows. Dell reports a SYSmark score of 240 with an identical machine, which jibes with our expectations of a dual-core PC.
Multiple cores can’t help with games, unfortunately. While perfectly able to play any current game at high resolutions with antialiasing options enabled, the single X850 XT simply can’t hang with the 6800 Ultra setups, and the dual-3.2GHz cores can’t keep up with a single faster CPU. Dell doesn’t actually pitch the XPS as a pure gaming box, though; it’s equipped with Media Center Edition 2005 and a dual-tuner TV card. But these bonus features can’t make us overlook the frame rate gap between this XPS and SLI-equipped Athlon 64 rigs. While we are impressed with the direction the XPS is headed, we’d like to see better gaming and application performance from the next rev of the XPS.
—Gordon Mah Ung
+ BERETTA: Dual-core processor, quiet, and comes with a
24-inch flat panel.
- BARETTA: Needs SLI to be competitive with Athlon 64 machines.