Dell's XPS range has been built for gamers and is at the high end for performance and price alike. The XPS 420 is Dell's mid-range XPS, if such a thing exists, and offers some new features within a tried and tested design. Most notable among these new features are the Blu-ray writable drive and the Windows SideShow screen on the front panel.
- BDR-R drive, SoundBlaster X-Fi Extreme card, SideShow device
- Price, limited upgrade space
For its price this machine isn't as strong a performer as we'd hoped, but it is still going to please gamers and editors of video or photos plus the Blu-ray drive is a big bonus.
As is fairly standard with power PCs today, the Dell XPS 420 has an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU running at 2.4GHz. It also includes 2GB of DDR2 800MHz RAM and one of NVIDIA's high-end 8800 GTX with 768MB of GDDR3 memory. This is a fairly standard configuration for an affordable, yet powerful system. What's not part of the standard is the SoundBlaster X-Fi Extreme audio card, which will be enjoyed by all. If you're into entertainment, you'll also enjoy the installed digital TV tuner.
Like most Dell PCs, the XPS 420 uses the BTX form factor, a design intended to maximise cooling over the CPU and expansion cards. This form factor has also allowed Dell to minimise the amount of fans used in the case, keeping noise levels down. The case has been designed for easy maintenance; everything is virtually tool-free and easy to manage.
Each cable has been routed around the hardware to keep things neat and tidy by allowing unobstructed airflow, but the array of cable ties also makes upgrading and re-routing cables difficult. On that note, the precision built PC allows for what this machine includes today, but provides very little physical room to add to the box later. For example, the two 250GB hard drives occupy the only two hard drive bays. If you ever have plans to add more storage you're going to need to replace these drives, rather than add to them.
While we applaud Dell for including a BRD-R (Blu-ray disc writable) drive in this machine, not to mention including a second DVD-RW drive, too, we're yet to find out who will win the high-definition format war. Until that time, should it come, we'd prefer to see combination drives that will play both media, such as in the HP Pavilion Elite m9090a PC (GQ564AA) or the Acer Aspire M5630 AT370. As long as you're happy with Blu-ray, this is a great drive. It will not only burn 25GB single layer Blu-ray disc, but can also burn dual-layer 50GB discs. A 22in screen is included in the price, which offers a maximum resolution of 1680x1050. This is not the ideal resolution for HD movies, but is still a good size.
On the front panel of this machine you'll find composite inputs for importing video. You'll also find a media card reader and both USB and FireWire ports. You'll also find the SideShow device. As far as the user is concerned a SideShow device is just a screen with controls. However, SideShow is a Windows Vista feature that allows you to connect an external device, similar to a media player with its own screen and memory, to the applications running in Windows. This means you can access mail, music and photos among other things, without having to wake the computer from sleep mode. It's got its merits, but is a fairly gimmicky device, especially on a PC chassis.
The Dell XPS 420 scored reasonably well in our tests. On WorldBench 6 it didn't quite perform as well as we'd expect, scoring just 92, but in other tests it did as we'd expect. In our MP3 encoding test it took 68sec to encode 53 minutes worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3 files using iTunes, then 115sec using Cdex (which only uses one core of the CPU).
In our games tests it also did fairly well, averaging 20fps (frames per second) at 1920x1200 in Crysis with all the settings on high. It scored 11,096 in 3DMark 2006 and in Half-Life 2 with maximum quality settings at a resolution of 1920x1200, it averaged a healthy 113fps.
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