Dell Dimension 4600C
At a Glance
Dell's 4600C--a black and silver compact system that can stand horizontally, or vertically using its included T-shaped supporting base--comes with a well-rounded set of features for home entertainment. Foremost among the features on our test unit was its operating system, Windows XP Media Center 2004, a special version of XP designed for entertainment functions; the new version of the OS includes Microsoft's latest interface updates and improvements for navigating through recorded TV and playing back music.
Our test unit came stocked with a series of notebook-style components--including a slimline 2X DVDA+R/RW drive and two PC Card slots (two adapters, one for CompactFlash cards and another for reading SD, Smart Media, and Memory Stick, are included). The use of notebook components is a necessary concession to the unit's small form.
The two slim drive bays--the maximum the 4600C can handle--host a 120GB hard drive and the aforementioned DVD burner. The drives are stacked together and secured in mounting rails with squeezable tabs that are designed to help you release them (sans tools) from their bays for service, repair, or replacement.
The 4600C has eight USB 2.0 ports (two up front, six on the back), as much as you'll find even on full-size towers; the ports help mitigate the system's lack of internal expansion capability. The motherboard has only one PCI slot, but it also has integrated 5.1-channel surround sound, so you can listen to DVDs in all their glory despite the absence of a fancy sound card. You can connect A/V components via S/PDIF, too. Coaxial-in and S-Video out ports let you hook the PC to a TV or set-top box. One FireWire port is up front; another is at the rear.
The E171 17-inch LCD--a no-frills analog display--performed very well in our tests for image quality. As we've said before, we like its rendering of bright colors.
While Dell packs a lot into the chassis, not everything works to good advantage. The hard drive and DVD+R/RW rewritable drive are securely fastened against the inside top of the case, but the left release tab is so close to the edge of the case that's it's very difficult to get at.
Windows XP Media Center 2004 supports receiving FM broadcasts, but Dell hasn't enabled this feature on the 4600C, as its All-In-Wonder 9000 graphics card doesn't have an FM tuner. While the ADA-425 speaker set's two satellites and boxy subwoofer are a good size match for the compact system, they're not the best we've heard. In our audio tests with music and movies, they delivered weak bass notes and thin-sounding trebles. You can improve the audio quality considerably with a set such as the Altec Lansing ADA-995, for $210.
Our review unit used a 2.8-GHz Pentium 4 CPU (with an 800-MHz front-side bus), equipped with 512MB of DDR400 memory--an identical configuration to the standard 4600 in a midtower chassis that we recently tested; that system ran Windows XP Home. In the 4600C with the Media Center OS, the configuration earned a 114 score on PC WorldBench 4 tests, eight points (7 percent) lower than its bigger sibling. The low-rise ATI All-In-Wonder 9000 graphics card has a built-in TV tuner and a remote control for changing channels. This card didn't set any speed records in our graphics tests, but its performance is fine for the LCD's optimal resolution of 1280 by 1024.
The 4600C is a good choice for home users who want a convergence system that will look tidy in their living room.