Need to buy a gift for somebody who loves technology but you can’t afford the big ticket items?
Dell XPS 730
A mean machine, but a little lean in the graphics department
- 4GB RAM, quad-core CPU, fast performance, SLI graphics, room for expansion, quiet, Blu-ray player
- Could use faster graphics card options, consumes 66W of electricity even when it's shut down, could use more comprehensive RAID configuration options
Big, bold and perhaps beautiful to some, the XPS 730 is a heavy-duty machine with plenty of heart. It could use faster graphics card options, but its twin-8800GTs should do a reasonable job of satisfying most gaming urges.
Price$ 3,599.00 (AUD)
Much like this year's Boston Celtics basketball team, the Dell XPS 730 is composed of three key elements (the superstars, if you will) and a bunch of good all-round components (the role players). This should make it a prime contender for any user who wants serious processing and above-average game-playing ability.
The three superstars of this system are its Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 CPU, 4GB of RAM and twin GeForce 8800GT graphics cards (which run in SLI mode). They provide a nucleus that's perfect for most computing endeavours, including gaming, and 3-D and video rendering. Our benchmarks reflect this: in WorldBench 6, the XPS 730 scored 108, which means it'll run office applications and photo editing suites faster than most PCs, while in 3DMark06 it recorded a score of 13,641, which is quick, but it's still not enough to smoothly run many of the latest DirectX 10-based games at high resolutions.
As an example, it ran the Call of Jarez benchmark at under 30 frames per second when using a resolution of 1680x1050. If you plan on playing DX10-based games at 1920x1200, then you might be disappointed. Dell doesn't provide an option for a super-high-end GeForce 9800 GX2 or GTX just yet, so you'll have to make do with the 88s.
For multitasking, the XPS 730 is ideal, and its quad-core CPU will also come in handy if you run multi-threaded software — this is highlighted in the Blender 3D benchmark: the machine encoded a workload in just 34sec when processing four threads at time, while the same workload took 2min 6sec when processing only one thread at a time.
You can see that the machine's overall performance is very fast, but it could be even faster if you configure your machine with a two-drive RAID 0 array. We wish Dell offered more RAID options in its configuration page, such as a RAID 5 option for speed and redundancy. In our review unit, a 750GB hard drive was installed. It provided transfer rates of 26MBps, which isn't the fastest we've seen.
As if the fast processing and gaming ability aren't enough, with a 24in LCD monitor and a Blu-ray drive, the XPS 730 is the perfect excuse for spending a not-so-quiet night at home. It displays Blu-ray movies without any problems on the HDCP-capable screen, and DVDs won't look too bad either, as long as you don't sit too close to the screen. It uses PowerDVD DX to play movies — this software could use a more intuitive interface.
Dell has built the machine in a full-sized, upside-down ATX case that towers above most. It looks mean and it's difficult to handle, but it's functional and has some cool features. There are LEDs on the front that illuminate the optical drive trays when they're open, and there are also lights at the back, so you can easily see where all your ports are. The front of the case has two USB 2.0, one FireWire and headphone and microphone ports, and these sit just above the massive grill that facilitates the air intake for the two front-mounted 12cm fans. A large-finned heat sink resides atop the CPU (which is actually at the bottom of the case) and another fan behind this heat sink helps extract the warm air out through the rear of the case. For such a big unit, the XPS 730 won't make too much noise, mostly because it uses such big, relatively slow-moving fans.
The upside-down layout of the case means the expansion cards are located at the top of the PC, and this includes the two graphics cards, as well as a dedicated sound card. A dedicated sound card is always a good idea, especially if you'll be recording audio through a line-in port. All of the motherboard's memory slots are filled with 1GB, 1333MHz DDR3 RAM modules, but you won't be able to use more than 4GB of memory unless you upgrade to a 64-bit operating system. More hard drives can be installed in the machine's three free drive bays and you won't have to figure out any of the cabling, as all the SATA cables are pre-routed to these bays.
Residing at the top of the case is a 980W power supply, so it's definitely got enough juice to drive a full complement of drives, graphics cards, RAM and the powerful CPU. In our tests, the machine consumed up to 273W when running games, and 242W when all four of the CPU's cores were at maximum capacity. For a typical workload of Web browsing and creating office documents, the machine consumed about 215W. It kept consuming power when it was switched off though — 66W — so you might want to think about switching it off at the wall outlet when you're not using it.
All up, if you're after a fast-processing machine for video, photo editing, 3-D rendering and gaming, and you want something that will stand out from the crowd, then the XPS 730 is the way to go. It could use more features, such as a wireless networking adapter and a digital TV tuner, but there's space to add these in later.
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