Dell Dimension 9200 Gaming

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Dell Dimension 9200 Gaming

Pros

  • Very nice design features.

Cons

  • Lacking in storage.

Bottom Line

Not only is this system versatile and powerful, but is reasonably quiet and has been pitched at a fair price. It will be an effective media centre, play the latest games, run any Office or antivirus programs you might need for personal and work situations, and is Vista capable when you decide to make the switch. Added storage may be necessary for some.

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Taking advantage of Intel's new Core 2 Duo E6700 desktop CPU (Conroe) and paving the way for a new range of Vista Ready PC's, the Dell Dimension 9200 looks stylish and is diverse in its application, but also employs some different design ideas to make this PC efficient and manageable.

It's got the look

From the outside you'll immediately notice some abnormal design features. First, the mostly white case is starkly different to the usual blacks and greys, or waxy blue seen in previous Dell models. A large space, big enough to put your hand through, behind the mid-section of the front panel exposes a 120mm fan, drawing air into the case. A large lever in the top-rear releases the side panel revealing a BTX motherboard and a complex display of shrouding, fans and cables.

To BTX or not BTX

Dell was among the first to adopt the BTX (Balanced Technology eXtended) form factor and using it here gives this unit several advantages. Taking into account the 13-in-1 media card reader, the TV tuner and Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE), it's safe to assume that Dell hopes that people will use this PC as a media centre among other things. As a media centre, both power and silence are essential. Naturally, power generates heat and heat means fans, which in turn means noise. The BTX design places all the hottest components of the computer in the direct path of a front-to-rear air flow. In the case of the 9200, a 120mm fan draws air from the front of the case, which immediately passes over the long fins of a large passive heatsink on the CPU. Before exiting the case via a large vent at the rear, air also passes the system memory, chipset and most importantly the graphics card, providing them with some extra cooling as well.

Combine this quieter cooling system with the powerful, low wattage Core 2 Duo 2.66GHz CPU and you can expect plenty of power with minimal system noise. It's actually the small fan on the graphics card that's the main source of noise in the 9200 when everything is running at peak performance. The extra cooling from the BTX design should help keep the fan rotation down to a minimum, but there's little that can be done during a hefty session of gaming. If you're savvy when it comes to hardware, you might want to consider changing this over to a larger, quieter fan and heatsink combination -- there's plenty of space to do so.

Results

To see if this system, with its 1GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM and Core 2 Duo CPU was up to the job, we put it through WorldBench 5 (WB5) and a number of other tests. In WB5 it scored an impressive 123. This score seems close to normal based on our tests of similarly built systems and will be more than sufficient for any application, including Windows Vista. The 64-bit capabilities of the Core 2 Duo CPU will also allow you to run the inevitable 64-bit applications that will emerge when Vista is finally released.

The GeForce 7900GS is still considered one of the top performing graphics cards on the market. We ran 3DMark 2006, in which it scored 4341 -- an expected result for the specifications and plenty of power for almost all of the latest games. We also ran the FEAR in-game benchmark, which averaged 55fps (frames per second) over the demo sequence on maximum quality settings, a comfortable playable rate.

Leave no cable behind

To maintain an uninterrupted airflow, the Dell 9200 has been meticulously wired to ensure that no cable gets in the way of the main thoroughfare. This involves an ornate series of cable ties, brackets and clips to run cables up against the edges of the case and hardware. This can often make hardware changes difficult, but Dell's implementation leaves the most commonly interchanged components fairly accessible -- though changing your power supply will involve some serious untangling. A variety of quick-release features in the case make upgrades and maintenance easy. A bracket holding all the PCI cards in place unclips and swings open on a hinge, while a sliding release gives you instant access to all forward removable drive bays by detaching part of the front panel.

Storage space

Storage is one thing that this PC is lacking -- a serious oversight for a system with media centre aspirations. The $2527 price tag on our sample machine comes with only an 80GB (7200rpm) hard drive. A 160GB hard drive is the minimum you can select using Dell's online shop, though it may affect the final price. That said, you may wish to make your initial purchase of a 9200 with a large hard drive, as this case only comes with two 3.5in internal drive bays, leaving only one spot left to add more storage on top of your standard drive. A maximum of one terabyte (2x 500GB) is available through Dell. The drive bays face sideways, giving you quick and easy access and are cooled by one small fan drawing air from a grill in the front panel and blowing over the top of the drives.

Connect away

Following the grand-plan design of BTX style systems, the Dimension 9200 provides no PS2 or serial ports, but instead supplies an abundance of USB 2.0 connections, starting with six USB 2.0 ports at the rear of the case. Take away two of these for the mouse and keyboard and you still have four to play with. For quick connections, like USB keys or MP3 players you can use one of two USB ports on the front panel. A headphone jack and microphone port have also been placed on the front panel for easy access. The motherboard uses integrated Sound Blaster Audigy 7.1 HD audio software, with the associated analog ports found at the rear of the case. The Dell TV tuner has S-Video and composite ports available, while the media card reader, located in the front panel of the case, supports a wide range of memory cards including CF I&II/SD/mini-SD/MMC/RS-MMC/MS/MS-Pro/Duo/SM/xD/MicroDrive. A Gigabit Ethernet adapter is available onboard and there's also a 56Kbps modem installed.

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