capsule review

Dell Dimension C521

At a Glance
  • Dell Dimension C521

    PCWorld Rating

The Dell Dimension C521 sacrifices some expansion room to keep its case skinnier than a typical midsize tower PC. Even so, the $729 (as of November 6, 2006) C521 is a good choice if you seek a space-conscious, low-cost system that retains some expansion options.

Set up vertically, the well-designed case has a width of just 4.5 inches (you can also situate it horizontally). Even so, it retains a modicum of expansion room, including three open expansion-card slots--one each for PCI, PCI Express x1, and PCI Express x16. The thin chassis limits you to half-height PCI cards, however. The system's other expansion options are limited to one 5.25-inch externally accessible bay (which a dual-layer DVD burner occupies) and two 3.5-inch bays (claimed by a 160GB hard drive and a five-in-one memory card reader).

Our test system came with Windows XP Media Center Edition installed, but it lacked a TV tuner. In fact, Dell doesn't offer a TV tuner as an option for this model, but you can buy a third-party TV tuner card for about $80.

The C521 configuration we tested packed a 2-GHz Athlon 64 X2 3800+ dual-core processor and 1GB of DDR2 RAM, a combination that powered the C521 to a creditable WorldBench 5 score of 95--more than adequate for tasks like word processing, Web browsing, and even video and image editing. Thanks in part to its ATI Radeon X1300 graphics card with 256MB of memory, the C521 did reasonably well in our games tests, too, managing about 24 frames per second on Doom 3 at a resolution of 1280 by 1024 pixels on the included 17-inch E177FP LCD monitor. We consider Doom 3 barely playable at that frame rate, but the PC would adequately handle less graphically demanding games.

Dell bills the C521 as Vista-capable and offers Vista upgrade information on its site.

Though its performance trails far behind that of more-expensive systems, it's fast enough to make the C521 a realistic choice as a casual gaming system for the kids or as a versatile second PC.

Richard Baguley

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The inexpensive C521 is a solid performer; its compact design makes it a great fit for tight spaces.

    Pros

    • Case mounts horizontally or vertically
    • Reasonable performance for the price

    Cons

    • Limited internal expansion room
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