capsule review

Dell Dimension E310

At a Glance
  • Dell Dimension E310 Desktop - Customizable

    PCWorld Rating

    Inexpensive Media Center PC with TV tuner lacks power but comes with a behind-the-scenes RAID drive array that protects data.

Dell Dimension E310
Artwork: Rick Rizner, Chris Manners

While the Dell E310 lacks the wide selection of ports found on other entry-level Media Center PCs, some of its features--including Dell's optional DataSafe data protection scheme-- should please budget-minded buyers.

Our $988 (as of 3/23/06) test unit came with a TV tuner, a remote control, and a media-card reader; however, it lacked FireWire ports (for importing video from a camcorder) and digital audio ports. The analog audio ports support only 2.1-channel audio, and you'll have to settle for lower-quality analog video signals if you're connecting a TV to the E310--there's no DVI or HDMI connector. An included no-frills Dell keyboard feels sturdy but lacks multimedia controls and programmable buttons. One perk: The E310 is quiet.

Most notably, our E310 test unit came with Dell's DataSafe, which consists of a second hard drive configured with the main drive in a RAID 1 array and a bundled copy of Symantec's Norton Ghost 10. RAID 1 guards against hard-drive failure by writing the same data to both drives. Should one drive fail, the other can operate on its own until the failed drive is replaced. The only interruption that can occur is an error message alerting the user to the failed drive. The bundled copy of Norton Ghost provides automated periodic backups of drive partitions; since the second drive is part of the RAID array, you'll need to write this image to a DVD or an external drive.

DataSafe added $100 to the price of our review unit, which normally comes with one 160GB primary drive. Users with hefty storage needs--especially those recording television programs using Media Center's personal video recorder--may want to forgo DataSafe and simply buy a second hard drive just for extra storage. Dell currently doesn't offer the option of getting two 160GB drives in a non-RAID configuration (as of 4/4/06).

Equipped with a 2.8-GHz Pentium 4 521 processor and 1GB of DDR2 RAM, the E310 posted a score of 78 on our WorldBench 5 applications benchmark, placing it at the low end of the Pentium 4 performance scale, but not too far behind similarly configured systems. For example, the Lenovo ThinkCentre A51 Ultra Small with 512MB of RAM and a 3-GHz Pentium 4 531 processor earned a WorldBench score of 79. Two previous systems--the Amax Kloss i915B and the HP Pavilion A750A--each with a 2.8-GHz Pentium 4 520 processor and 512MB of RAM, earned WorldBench scores of 83 and 80 respectively.

The E310's integrated Intel 915GV graphics produced lackluster scores on our gaming tests, as is the case with many systems with integrated graphics. Its frame rate of 45 frames per second on Return to Castle Wolfenstein and 92 fps on Unreal Tournament, both at 1024 by 768 resolution with 16-bit color, are on a par with comparably equipped PCs.

The E310's black midtower case sports an easy-off cover. The system's roomy interior offers easy access to the one free PCI slot and one free optical drive bay. Unfortunately, both RAM slots are filled, and there's no room for a third hard drive.

A useful setup poster is the only printed documentation. Dell's well-written, helpful user manual can be found on the bundled CD. Dell received average scores in all but one category in our Reliability and Service tech support survey.

Despite some limitations, the E310 is a great entry-level PC for people who aren't doing heavy multimedia tasks or gaming.

Kirk Steers

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Inexpensive Media Center PC with TV tuner lacks power but comes with a behind-the-scenes RAID drive array that protects data.

    Pros

    • Affordable and quiet; includes DataSafe

    Cons

    • Slow graphics performance; limited ports
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