capsule review

Dell Optiplex 990 SFF: Space-Saving Business Machine Sheds Inches, Keeps Speed

At a Glance
  • Dell Optiplex 990 SFF

    PCWorld Rating

    Dell’s Optiplex 990 SFF manages to squeeze past much of the rest of the Business Desktop category, offering strong general performance at a fair price.

The Dell Optiplex line of desktops is geared toward businesses that need capable number crunchers, backed up by Dell's robust support network. While they're available in all shapes and sizes, we took a look at a smaller model that nonetheless manages to deliver strong performance for the Business Desktop category. The Dell Optiplex 990 SFF starts at $850, but the model we reviewed was fully equipped and is offered at $1920 (as of 7/11/2011).

The Optiplex line has undergone a slight refresh since we last saw them. The Optiplex 990 SFF sports a sleek grill finish, with the "Dell" logo tastefully affixed on a plate at the front. It's a very clean look (though marred by the requisite "Windows 7" and "Intel Inside" stickers) that maintains the feel of the older Dell Optiplex 780 USFF, while offering a new finish for the office. The chassis has been altered ever so slightly, but enough to make it incompatible with the all-in-one stand used in previous generations. You'll still be able to mount the Optiplex 990 SFF behind a display (as was the case with the Optiplex 780 USFF we reviewed a year ago), but you'll need to pick up the new stands to make it all fit.

With a chassis this compact, don't expect to find much room to maneuver once you've popped off the lid. Latches and levers offer tool-free to access to the unit's innards, but the best you'll be able to do is upgrade or replace existing hardware. Though everything is rather tightly packed, the bays slide up and out of the way, which promises to make tinkering less of a chore -- not that you'll spend much time doing so, in all likelihood.

The Optiplex 990 SFF we reviewed is equipped with a 3.4GHz Core-i7 2600 processor, 4GB of RAM, and an AMD Radeon HD 6450 graphics card. Windows 7 Professional is housed on the 500GB boot drive, and you'll also find a second drive for extra storage. A full terabyte of space is well outside the norm for business-class machines, which is great. The Optiplex 990 SFF also offers a Blu-ray/DVD-RW combination drive, a curious albeit welcome addition. DVD-burners are par for the course across all consumer desktop models, but the Blu-ray player is rare -- and should be a nice avenue for post-work entertainment.

When lined up against the consumer-oriented mainstream desktop category, the Optiplex 990 SFF fails to stand out. It earned a score of 152 on our WorldBench 6 testing suite -- excellent in its own right, but dwarfed by similarly priced machines that are generally outfitted with gaming in mind. That said, when lined up against the rest of the business desktops that have come through our labs, it's bested only by the Dell Vostro 460, which earned a 156.

Another key difference between the two: the Vostro 460 relies on integrated graphics, while the Optiplex 990 SFF is equipped with a discrete graphics card. We don't consider gaming performance when looking at business machines, and it wouldn't make sense to do so here -- the Optiplex 990 SFF managed to post playable frame rates on our Far Cry 2 test (37.3 frames per second), but only at the lowest settings. Of greater interest is the fact that the Optiplex 990 SFF can reach a potential resolution of 2560 by 1600 pixels, whereas the Vostro 460 taps out at 1920 by 1200 pixels.

The Optiplex 990 SFF's port selection isn't too exciting. The machine offers a total of ten USB ports -- six at the rear, and four conveniently up front. That's certainly a generous number, but also a lack of variety. Both FireWire and USB 3.0 PCI cards are available as optional extras, but the Vostro 460 includes both USB 3.0 and eSATA connectors. The graphics card offers DisplayPort and DVI connectors. Serial PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports free up your USB ports, and you get a serial port for your legacy hardware. Gigabit ethernet is becoming standard, but the 802.11n Wi-Fi isn't -- a welcome addition, and especially useful in a machine that's intended to be tucked away.

Last, the bundled peripherals include nothing especially exciting, as expected in the business category. The bundled mouse is generic and simple -- two buttons and a scroll wheel. The keyboard, by contrast, offers quite a bit more functionality. Shortcut keys give quick access to browser functions and applications, as well as offering a control for media playback. It's a very simple addition, but one that's nonetheless appreciated.

A substantial price difference exists between the Vostro 460 and the Optiplex 990. But the Optiplex line includes Dell's Pro Support services, which are likely to be invaluable if your business doesn't have robust IT services. That said, if you have your own support backend in place, the Vostro 460 offers marginally better performance and will save you a few hundred dollars. Also keep in mind that both machines can be customized to suit your needs, and you'll save a bit of cash if you opt for a larger chassis. You'll lose out on the space savings that the Optiplex 990 SFF offers, but you will have room inside to make your own upgrades.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Dell’s Optiplex 990 SFF manages to squeeze past much of the rest of the Business Desktop category, offering strong general performance at a fair price.

    Pros

    • Compact chassis saves space
    • Strong general performance

    Cons

    • Limited connection options
    • Limited upgradability
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