Boom. Boom. Boom. The 800-pound gorilla has arrived. Dell’s latest XPS system, the 720 H2C, packs some serious power and plenty of extras, but its balls-to-the-wall approach doesn’t completely overshadow its proprietary roots.
The 720 H2C certainly doesn’t lack for power. Intel’s 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme QX6800 quad-core processor, overclocked to 3.73GHz, runs alongside a pair of 8800 GTX Ultras and 4GB of Corsair Dominator DDR2 RAM clocked at 1,066MHz, all sitting on Dell’s version of the nForce 680i SLI chipset. That’s one fast gorilla.
But how fast is it? The XPS 720 cranked through FEAR at 168fps, which puts it behind only Overdrive PC’s Core2.SLI (reviewed in August), which scored 173fps, and our Dream Machine, which reached 177fps. In our Quake 4 test, the XPS 720 scored a more than respectable 205fps, right up there with most of the big guys but 10 percent slower than the Falcon Northwest system we reviewed in June, which destroyed all the competition with a score of 226fps.
Dell is serious about making this machine more than just a gaming behemoth, though, and in our multimedia tests, the quad-core 720 H2C was faster than any other rig we’ve tested. It blew through our Premiere Pro benchmark nearly 90 seconds faster than the previous record-holders, June’s quad-core Falcon Northwest machine and the dual-core Overdrive. It finished our Nero Recode bench a full minute faster than the Dream Machine, which held the recoding title for less than two months, and the 720 H2C bested the Overdrive by seven seconds in our Photoshop test.
Rounding out the 720 H2C’s media capabilities are a 2x Philips Blu-ray burner, a 16x LG DVD+/-RW drive, and Dell’s version of the X-Fi XtremeMusic soundcard. Our test system shipped with a 13-in-1 media reader and XP Media Center Edition, although the optional TV tuner and remote weren’t included. Dell says it’ll ship the rig with Vista or XP but won’t support dual boots. That’s a pity because the 320GB dual-Raptor striped RAID and 1TB Hitachi backup drive could easily have accommodated both OSes. You can do it yourself, of course, but for a machine that’s otherwise meticulously put together, it feels like an oversight.
The 720 isn’t all about brawn, though. Dell made this machine easy on the eyes, with a stunning all-black case and four sets of color-changing LEDs (two on the front, one in the back, and one inside the case), which can be controlled separately from the BIOS or, in a nice touch, the included nTune software. They can also be programmed to respond to in-game or program-specific events. Snazzy!
|The H2C cooler dominates the 720’s case, but there’s still room for two 8800 Ultras, an X-Fi soundcard, and a PhysX card.|
Build quality is mixed: Components are solidly in place and the railed hard drive bays are easily accessible, but the wiring was sloppy. The case itself is solid and well made (and nicely Vaderesque), with a beautiful black paint job. The screwless side panel is easily removed.
Dominating the center of the case is the H2C unit, the centerpiece of Dell’s foray into liquid cooling. The large windowed enclosure holds a high-powered pump, coolant lines, a CPU heat exchanger, a Peltier cooler, a fan, and a radiator. Oh, and one of the four sets of LEDs, albeit with fewer color options than the others. The H2C helps the 720 run fairly quietly—most of the time; under a heavy load the fans kick in, and then it gets crazy-loud.
Dell shipped a bushel of extras with our machine, including Razer’s Tarantula keyboard and Copperhead mouse, as well as an Ageia PhysX card, which just seems silly to us. Sure, it’s an optional component and dedicated physics processors may one day be awesome, but until there are PhysX games worth playing, the card just takes up a PCI slot.
We have only a few other quibbles with this machine. First, the front panel is composed of the same flimsy plastic lattice that’s appeared on previous XPS models. Drive bay covers kept falling off their hinges, and the horizontal bars bend easily. Not a huge deal, but in an otherwise solid case, they feel cheap.
Speaking of solid, this machine is heavy. Top-heavy, too—it comes with a stand, complete with backward-swept chrome “wings” to keep it from toppling over sideways.
Our big complaint with this machine is Dell’s use of a proprietary motherboard and power supply. The BTX mobo means upgrading your system will be almost impossible, as Intel stopped development on the BTX standard more than a year ago. The power supply is also proprietary and features a nonstandard power connection, which means you can only use a Dell power cord.
Overall, the XPS 720 H2C marks the first Dell we’ve seen in a while that can stand toe-to-toe with the baddest machines in the business. Its lightning-fast multimedia performance and sick gaming frame rates make it a good choice for gamers and media gurus alike. And with a quad-core processor and 4GB of RAM, it should age well. Just be aware that the BTX formfactor will make it difficult to perform major upgrades. And don’t lose your power cord.
Blazing-fast media and gaming performance. Looks good.
Damn you, proprietary systems! And PhysX? Really?
|Dell XPS 720 H2C
|CPU||Intel Core 2 Extreme Quad QX6800 (2.9GHz overclocked to 3.73GHz)|
|MOBO||Dell 680i SLI
|RAM||4GB Corsair Dominator DDR2 (800MHz overclocked to 1,0066MHz)|
|LAN||Gigabit LAN (Broadcom)|
|HARD DRIVES||Two 160GB WD Raptors (10,000rpm SATA) in RAID-0, one 1TB Hitachi DeskStar|
|OPTICAL||Philips BD-RE BDD1001 Blu-ray burner; LG GSA-H31N DVD+/-RW drive|
|VIDEOCARD||Two 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX Ultras in SLI|
|Dell XPS 720 H2C
|Premiere Pro 2.0||1,417 sec
|Photoshop CS2||134 sec
|Recode H.264||1,171 sec
|FEAR 1.07||168 fps|
|Quake 4||205 fps|
|Our current desktop test bed is a Windows XP SP2 machine, using a dual-core 2.6GHz Athlon 64 FX-60, 2GB of Corsair DDR400 RAM on an Asus A8N32-SLI motherboard, two GeForce 7900 GTX videocards in SLI mode, a Western Digital 4000KD hard drive, a Sound Blaster X-Fi soundcard, and a PC Power and Cooling Turbo Cool 850 PSU.|