Introduction

Our latest system review comes from a company that needs no introduction. Dell sent us their XPS 410 desktop system for review, and we are interested to see how a PC designed by the largest system integrator compares to the other offerings on the market. Being number one also makes you the biggest target, both for competitors as well as critics; people love to hate the top dogs. Sometimes those feelings are warranted, other times they stem from jealousy or other sources. We're here to put feelings aside and take a hard look at what Dell has on offer.

We've already reviewed a couple Core 2 Duo prebuilt systems from ABS computers and PC Club. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that regardless of what we say in this review, Dell will probably sell more XPS 410 systems in the next month than either of those two companies will sell in a year. In fact, many of the people looking to buy XPS systems will likely never see this review. However, while we cater primarily to the enthusiast community, many enthusiasts have friends and family that need computer systems, and they don't always have sufficient time to build and support systems for those people. That's where prebuilt systems from OEMs like Dell come into play.

We certainly don't expect Dell to set any new performance records relative to other computer configurations we have reviewed, but overall performance is often secondary to other considerations. What sort of support is offered, how easy is it to assemble your system when it arrives, are there any serious problems people should be aware of, and what is the overall value of the package? These are just a few of the questions that are important to consider when looking to purchase a computer for friend or family member. We will provide answers to these questions and others, and we will also test the performance of the Dell XPS 410 in our review.

The configuration that Dell sent us is similar in some ways to the PC Club Enpower Sabre Extreme, and it represents a higher-end configuration that attempts to fulfill the requirements of a large variety of users. Most people have come to associate the XPS brand with "Extreme Performance" that often targets the gaming crowd. While that market is certainly covered with the current offerings, the XPS brand has grown to encompass a larger market segment. Dell's focus with XPS brand computers now is on premium service and quality, with designs that often stand out from the rest of Dell's offerings in appearance and features. Depending on options, XPS systems can range from moderate midrange configurations all the way up to ultra high-end builds that include every top-end part currently available.

The XPS 410 is a step down from the XPS 700 in that it doesn't allow you to use dual graphics cards or the Core 2 Extreme processor, and the chassis is more of a traditional design. The 410 is billed as offering a multimedia experience first and foremost, with configuration options that match that market. For those that don't need absolute maximum performance, it looks set to offer just about anything you could want in a modern system. Let's take a closer look.

Features and Price
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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 19, 2006 - link

    No problem - gotta do my job as author! :)

    You might want to email Gary on the HDD stuff, as that's basically beyond the scope of system testing. He's handling HDD reviews, so maybe you can pass on your suggestions. I think he's covered HDD performance well, though getting repeatable results with real world tests is going to be somewhat difficult.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 18, 2006 - link

    ^^ Er...
    "defragment" not "the fragment"

    *EIGHT* thousand words, not "a thousand".

    LOL Stupid Dragon NaturallySpeaking! (Stupid editor for not proofing my post before hitting reply.)
    Reply
  • biggersteve - Monday, September 18, 2006 - link

    An amazing story. XPS has a special support number 800-999-3355. We called this number and the guy in India was pretty efficient and helpful. XP had died with a reboot loop. Could not even safe boot. The guy advised us to use ctl-F11 to completely erase the HD and start over. We'd only had it a week so that was ok, though I suspect we could have done a roll-back, though we couldn't even safe boot. Anyway, all this happened after Microsoft helpfully installed 37 automatic updates. The guy at Dell said half the calls they're getting are because of this. (The other half must be the battery recall...) So he told us to turn off Windows Automatic Updates and never ever ever use it again. I only have one data point, but it looks like Microsoft released an automatic update that whacks all the XPS 410's out there and maybe more. So now we have a standoff where Dell is telling everyone to never use Microsoft automatic updates. Who wins? The virus and spyware writers. And Apple... since Apple controls the hardware and OS alike, they'd never release a cluster-fsck like this one. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Monday, September 18, 2006 - link

    well, this should be obvious, but the person who told you to turn off windows automatic updates, and to 'never ever ever turn it on again' is an idiot. Sounds like either you had/ have spyware, or a virus, OR, you installed a hardware update from MS, instead using Dells drivers. I have personally run into 'MS certified drivers' issues with Dell systems in the past (more than once). I dont own a Dell myself, but the majority of our customers, that want a prebuilt in-expencive systems, we recommend to buy from Dell, so we do see our share of them.

    My recommendation, would be to USE automatic updates, but instead of having it download, and install the updates for you, configure it to notify you only, then you can manually download, and install yourself. When installing the updates, make sure to choose 'custom', and read what each update is all about. 9 times out of 10, if it isnt a critical update, or a security fix, you dont need it.
    Reply
  • mino - Tuesday, September 19, 2006 - link

    Agreed on the auto-off stuff.
    However it is possible some MS priority update will not like some HW/drivers even WHQL-ed ones. Compatibility is the word. Windows world is simply too diverse to check all of the possibilities.
    Reply
  • mino - Monday, September 18, 2006 - link

    Experienced such a story many times... SP2, .NET 2.0, specific "hot-fix" ...

    Cynic would say "Welcome to the world of Windows!". ;(
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, September 18, 2006 - link

    Interesting. I did download and apply all of the currently available patches from Microsoft without any problems. Note that I downloaded these manually rather than letting Windows do the patch automatically during the night. I don't know if that would make a difference, but I don't particularly like having the automatic update process running all the time. Reply
  • mino - Tuesday, September 19, 2006 - link

    Most of the times things work, the problem are the situations when they do not.
    Not once have I had to spend a day installing a few updates a time, just to find out which one was incompatible .. so that some Windows feature would work.
    Reply
  • Pastuch - Monday, September 18, 2006 - link

    I am actually a Dell employee at their technical support centers in Ottawa Ontario Canada. I can say with all honesty that if you get anyone in north america youll probably get great support. The problem is that Dell phone support has a large number of different queues and our customers tend to get bounced around quite a bit. The company is really trying to improve their customer service which is why they have moved most of their tech support to Canada. If you know someone that isnt tech savy they have the option of buying a "Dell on Call" plan. This is an annual plan or single incident that provides support for pretty much anything. If you are going to get a Dell you can get a 30day trial of DOC (Dell on Call) support with your system. A typical DOC call will have the agent remotely connect to your computer and show you the basics of spyware/adware prevention, updates, system maintenance , etc. I have been an Anand reader for years and I think the type of people likely to buy this PC would benefit from Dell on Call software support. I actually worked in DOC for the last 6 months and was resently promoted to IT operations for the building here in Ottawa.

    For the record: I've never bought a dell and I'll continue to build all my PCs from scratch and overclock the $hit out of them. Nothing like taking an Opteron 146 (2.0) to 2.8 on AIr!

    P.S. In the next year you will be able to get almost any of our machines with AMD or Intel chips. I was one of the thousands of Dell employees that have been pushing for this for a long time. ;)
    Reply
  • regpfj - Monday, September 18, 2006 - link

    To Jarred - great review, nice job. I liked the discussion of the case features and proprietary motherboard. It's fun to see a legacy-free setup, although serial and IDE have their place too. These unusual things make Dell stuff a bit more interesting to read about.

    On to my question -
    On page 9, the fps vs resolution graphs confused me a tiny bit. For all games except Bf2, performance is a bit lower at 1600 x 1200 than at 1680 x 1050. I think 16x12 is about 9% more pixels than 16.8 x 10.5, right? So is Bf2 just weird, or did the numbers get turned around a bit?
    Reply

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