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Dell Dimension E521
Dell's Dimension E521 doesn't set the field afire with its performance or looks. However, at $489 (as of November 6, 2006), including a 17-inch LCD monitor, this system is powerful enough to handle basic computing tasks.
Equipped with a 1.8-GHz AMD Sempron 3400+ processor and 512MB of RAM, the E521 achieved a modest WorldBench 5 score of 80--adequate for many tasks, such as Web browsing or word processing, but below the typical cheap PC score we've seen recently. The system simply isn't up to running games: In Doom 3, it managed a skimpy (and unplayable) 6 frames per second at a resolution of 1280 by 1024 pixels. It also choked when we tried to play a DVD movie and convert an MP3 file simultaneously; the video became jerky and unwatchable. Our review system came with a 17-inch Dell E177FP LCD monitor. Although we welcomed the inclusion of a small, unobtrusive LCD, the monitor is merely adequate, with undistinguished color.
The E521 comes in a standard silver-and-black Dell Dimension minitower case, whose clean design vents hot air without requiring additional (and potentially noisy) fans. The case provides a reasonable amount of expansion room, too, in the form of two vacant drive bays--one internal and one externally accessible. The former is useful if you decide to add a second hard drive, and the unit's small 80GB hard drive will likely fill up quickly if you use it to store digital photos, music, and videos. You'll also likely want to add a DVD burner someday to the DVD-ROM drive that came with our system. The drive bays and the system's PCI slots don't require you to use a screwdriver to install new drives or cards.
The Dimension E521 is supposed to be Vista-capable, and Dell posts information about upgrading to Vista on its site.
The E521 is the least-expensive system we tested, but it's slow, has a small hard drive, and carries the bare minimum amount of memory you should even consider.
Dell Dimension E521
Cheap PC came bundled with a good 17-inch LCD monitor, but its low performance matches its low price.
- Good feature set for a sub-$500 system
- Includes 17-inch LCD screen
- Performance is limited
- Processor does poorly with multitasking
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