capsule review

Dell XPS 400

At a Glance
  • Dell XPS 400

    TechHive Rating

Dell XPS 400
Artwork: Rick Rizner, Chris Manners

Dell's XPS 400 is a versatile Media Center PC, with many configurable options and prices. Less than $1000 buys you a basic media machine with no TV tuner or remote control, and $2594 (as of 2/16/06) gets you the fast, well-equipped system that we evaluated.

Our review system came with some nice, high-end Media Center bells and whistles, including a remote control and a dual-channel TV tuner card. Such a TV tuner allows Windows XP Media Center to display one TV program while recording another or to simultaneously record two programs.

Audiophiles and gamers will like the flexibility and features of Creative's Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic card, which supports 7.1-channel surround sound and offers three specialized modes: gaming, entertainment, and audio creation. The system lacks the optical Toslink or coaxial digital audio-out connector found on most well-equipped Media Center PCs, but you can plug an adapter into the sound card's FlexiJack for digital audio connections.

On the video side, the nVidia GeForce 7800 GTX graphics card with 256MB of RAM produces both DVI and VGA signals as well as S-Video-out. In addition to the standard cable TV connector, the TV tuner also accepts S-Video signals.

The XPS 400 is a good choice for anyone who wants to both create and play multimedia files. With a dual-core Intel 3.2-GHz Pentium D 840 processor, 1GB of DDR2-533 RAM, and two 250GB hard drives striped for faster performance in a RAID 0 array, our review system comfortably handled many demanding games and graphics programs. Its score of 94 on our WorldBench 5 applications benchmark, while substantially slower than systems running on AMD dual-core processors, is the second fastest Pentium D-based system we've seen. Likewise, its frame-rate score of 142 on our Return to Castle Wolfenstein gaming test at 1024-by-760-pixel resolution and 16-bit color eclipsed the scores of two other systems using the same graphics card. One of these systems, Polywell's Poly 916NF4-SLI, even runs on dual SLI GeForce 7800 GTX graphics cards. When informally playing Return to Castle Wolfenstein at the more demanding 1280-by-1024 resolution, I found the performance to be very fast and smooth.

The 19-inch Dell UltraSharp 1905FP flat-panel monitor that shipped with our review unit is a fine display. Games and DVD movie playback looked bright and clearly defined, and reading very small text was easy.

The system's only drawback is in expandability. For many multimedia enthusiasts, 500GB of hard drive space and a dual-layer, 16X DVD±RW drive will provide ample storage, but users needing more space for data will have to add an external hard drive; there's no room for more internal hard or optical drives. Two open RAM slots allow for memory upgrades and a single open 3.5-inch drive bay allows you to add a floppy drive next to the 13-in-1 media card reader, but due to the sound, TV tuner, and FireWire cards only a single PCI Express slot remains open. Aside from some bundled cables that obscure the RAM slots, access to the case's interior is generally unhindered.

The silver-and-black midsize tower case seems to run quieter than most, possibly due to Dell's unique case-ventilation design. Two USB 2.0 ports sit on the front of the case, and five more ports, as well as two FireWire ports, reside on the back. Dell's multimedia keyboard feels hefty and solid, and offers eight programmable buttons and a big, easy-to-find volume-control knob surrounded by big multimedia control buttons. The mouse, however, felt flimsy and far too light for my taste.

Beginning and intermediate-level multimedia enthusiasts who want to create content and display it will like the XPS 400's performance and audio capabilities.

This PC has good performance, a dual-channel TV tuner, and an XtremeMusic sound card, but its expandability is limited.

Kirk Steers

This story, "Dell XPS 400" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    Multimedia enthusiasts who create and display content will like this system's performance and audio capabilities.

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