I don’t often see Intel Core i7-based systems playing in the value-PC little leagues, let alone machines that manage to incorporate Intel’s latest chip while remaining at a sub-$1000 price. And so enters the Dell Studio XPS 9000. At $999 (as of 8/23/09), it’s the least-expensive Core i7-based PC on our Top 10 Value PCs chart, beating the competition by anywhere from $130 to $460. But here’s the real question about the XPS 435: In squeezing as much blood from a stone as it could, did Dell make too many sacrifices in performance and functionality?
The XPS 9000 uses a 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920 processor coupled with 6GB of DDR3-1066 memory. That’s our test machine’s configuration, at least–you can purchase up to 24GB of RAM preinstalled straight from Dell if you’re planning on making the leap from value PC to wallet-buster. The PC’s striped RAID 0 array of two 500GB drives combines speed and performance (along with double the potential for data loss) to reach a total storage capacity of 1TB. Core i7 value PCs are rare; finding 1TB RAID arrays in this category of systems is akin to discovering the Holy Grail.
And the XPS 9000’s performance doesn’t disappoint. Its WorldBench 6 score of 125 is pretty much indistinguishable from the marks of the $1049 Acer Veriton M670G (124), the $999 Velocity Micro Edge Z5 (126), and the $1499 CyberPower Gamer Xtreme XT-K (129), though the category-leading, $1499 Micro Express MicroFlex 95B trounces them all with a score of 148. Dell’s system wasn’t quite as swift on PC World’s gaming benchmarks, netting an average of 61 frames per second in our Enemy Territory: Quake Wars test and 71 fps in Unreal Tournament 3 (both set at 2560 by 1600 resolution, high quality). The XPS 9000’s ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics card is still capable of impressive graphical kung fu, though.
The internal wiring of the XPS 9000 is neat and tidy, a welcome sight in contrast to the disaster zones I’m used to seeing in PCs at this price range. Although the system has room for an additional 5.25-inch device, as well as for three new hard drives, I can’t help thinking that the hulking fan located below the hard-drive bays is just wasting space. Why Dell couldn’t place the fan in the front of the chassis and open more room for device expansion, I’ll never know. None of the upgrading points on this system–including the one free PCI slot, two PCI Express x1 slots, and single PCI Express x8 slot–are screw-less, either. That’s a bummer.
The glossy black and red case of the XPS 9000 has a front panel so well hidden that accessing the two hot-swap drive bays beneath the smudge-prone paneling can be a bit difficult. The rear of the system rocks four USB ports, one FireWire 400 port, one gigabit ethernet port, integrated 7.1 surround sound, an eSATA port, and an optical S/PDIF-out. Minus a fancier next-generation connector such as HDMI or DisplayPort, the XPS 9000 covers the bases just fine. The front of the case could also use at least one additional connection type beyond the four USB ports and the multiformat card reader, though I’m certainly not complaining about things as they are.
Our test machine came with a Dell keyboard that includes function buttons to launch apps, as well as media controls along the top. The bundled mouse sports a back and forward button in the thumb area as well as a middle button/scrolling wheel, a little more variety than what you get from the generic mice of other value PCs.
Simply put, the Dell Studio XPS 9000 is a beast of a value PC. The price is right. More important, however, is that–save for a slight weakness in games–the performance is nearly perfect for what you’ll be shelling out for this system. The solid host of connections combined with the unique system design leaves little room for criticism, and the included 1TB of RAID-array storage is a unique addition for people who want to push their value PC to the edge. To borrow a phrase from the Internet subculture, the XPS 9000 is full of win.