Dell Studio XPS 7100: Good from the Factory?

The tricked-out Studio XPS 7100 desktop Dell asked us to review is an interesting beast. A review of a factory desktop machine that isn't some powerhouse gaming beast with liquid cooling, factory overclock and optional sunroof might seem a little unusual here on a site with a readership full of people who like to roll their own. Yet machines like the Studio XPS 7100 have a reason for being and are worthy of any enthusiast's attention.

For some of us, building a machine can be a lot of fun and very rewarding; for others, it can be an exercise in hair-pulling frustration as parts that “should work” don't. Bad RAM, faulty motherboards, and other potential problems can mar the DIY experience. Other potential users may just be lapsed enthusiasts looking for a decent machine without having to read up on new tech, or enthusiasts that know what parts they want but don't feel inclined to spend the time assembling and tweaking a system. Perhaps you're after a powerful desktop for editing home video, doing photo work, and maybe enjoying an occasional game and you want to keep things as easy as possible.

The Studio XPS 7100 fills a profoundly useful niche by offering some of the latest technology available on the market in an attractive package. With it, Dell seeks to serve all of the aforementioned users and more.

Dell XPS 7100 Specifications
Processor AMD Phenom II X6 1055T
(6x2.8GHz, 45nm, 3MB L2, 6MB L3, Turbo Core up to 3.3GHz, 125W)
Chipset AMD 785G Northbridge, AMD SB750 Southbridge
Memory 2x2GB and 2x1GB DDR3-1066 (Total 6GB, Max 4x4GB)
Graphics ATI Radeon HD 5870 1GB GDDR5
(1600 Stream Processors, 850MHz Core, 4.8GHz Memory, 256-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) 1.5TB 7200 RPM (Seagate Barracuda 7200.11)
Optical Drive(s) Blu-ray reader/DVD+-RW combo drive
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
Dell DW1525 802.11n PCIe wireless
Audio Realtek ALC887 HD Audio
5.1 audio jacks, mic and line-in
Front Side MMC/SD/CF/MS reader
Optical Drive
Open 5.25” Bay
Open 3.25” Bay
2x USB 2.0
Top 2x USB 2.0
Headphone and mic jack
Power button
Back Side AC Power
Optical out
4x USB 2.0
eSATA
Gigabit Ethernet jack
Surround sound jacks and mic and line-in jacks
2x DVI-D
HDMI
DisplayPort
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.02" x 17.9" x 7.31" (WxDxH)
Weight 22.4 lbs
Extras 460W Power Supply
Wired keyboard and mouse
Flash reader (MMC/MS/CF/SD)
Warranty 1-year basic warranty
Pricing Starting at $499.99
Priced as configured: $1,149.99

Our review unit is Dell's top-end factory configuration for the Studio XPS 7100 line, and a couple of things on the spec sheet immediately jump out. The first is the brand new AMD Phenom II X6 1055T beating at the heart of it, a native six-core, 2.8GHz beast with 6MB of L3 cache and featuring AMD's Turbo Core technology. Turbo Core is a similar but arguably less efficient version of the Turbo Boost feature found in modern Intel Core processors, but it's capable of bumping core speed up to 3.3GHz on the 1055T under the right conditions. Still, even six 2.8GHz Phenom II cores pack enough muscle to get some serious computing done.

The other eyebrow-raiser in the Studio XPS 7100 is the ATI Radeon HD 5870, ATI's top-of-the-line single-GPU card. Ours is a bone-stock reference version with 1GB of GDDR5. You're undoubtedly familiar with the specs of the 5870, but for the sake of completeness, ATI's monster uses TSMC's 40nm fabrication process and is equipped with 1600 of ATI's stream processors running at a core clock of 850MHz. A 256-bit memory bus is connected to 1GB of GDDR5 running at an effective 4.8GHz. Finally, the card is DirectX 11-class hardware, and is capable of supporting up to three monitors simultaneously or even presenting all three transparently as a single screen in their Eyefinity configuration. While one of these monitors must be connected through DisplayPort (or an active DisplayPort adapter), our review unit was sent to us along with one of Dell's new and remarkably affordable E-IPS panel monitors, and those monitors include native DisplayPort connectivity. (We'll have a separate review of the display in the near future.)

Rounding out the core of the Studio XPS 7100 is 6GB of DDR3-1333 in the form of a pair of 2GB DIMMs and a pair of 1GB DIMMs. The 6GB is an odd choice; we would have liked to see Dell go whole hog and just include 8GB standard, since in order to make the upgrade later on you'll have to remove the two 1GB sticks. When you order off the site, it may be prudent to save yourself the trouble and pony up the $60 for the upgrade to 8GB.

Unfortunately, the chipset the memory and processor are plugged into is a bit antiquated these days. The MicroATX board in the guts of the XPS 7100 uses the 785G chipset with the SB750 Southbridge. The 785G's DVI and HDMI ports are actually blocked off by covers on the back of the tower, and a visit to the BIOS yielded no way to enable ATI's SurroundView. That's not a major loss given the three display outputs on the Radeon HD 5870, but the inclusion of the SB750 Southbridge alongside the shiny new Phenom II X6 is disappointing. The more modern SB850 with 6Gbps SATA ports and generally improved SATA performance over its predecessor would have been much appreciated.

Rounding out the machine are a single 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 hard disk spinning at 7200 RPM with 32MB of cache and a combination Blu-ray reader/DVD burner. Connectivity comes from an onboard Broadcom gigabit Ethernet port and Dell's own 1525 model PCIe wireless-n card. The wireless card is awesomely adorable, fitting into the PCIe x1 slot without extending at all beyond it and keeping a low profile, and it sits in the slot just above the Radeon HD 5870. Finally, audio duties are handled by a Realtek ALC887 HD audio controller.

Dell Studio XPS 7100 Closer Look
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  • Operandi - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    Delta makes very high quality PSUs, far from "generic" and better than 95% of the trash that has a "brand name" with a fancy label and LED fans.

    Normally you'll find Deltas in high-end workstations and servers, not menial desktops.
    Reply
  • HOOfan 1 - Sunday, July 11, 2010 - link

    Umm...Delta usually makes excellent PSUs.

    385W on the 12V rail is more than enough for an HD5870
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, July 07, 2010 - link

    I was wondering the same thing. From the Anandtech review numbers for the CPU and GPU it seems like this PSU would be running well above 50% under load, wonder how well it would hold up to that. Reply
  • Alexvrb - Wednesday, July 07, 2010 - link

    Probably will run fine, at least for a good while. They lose money if they have lots of failures, so they certainly wouldn't choose a PSU that can't make it past the 1 year warranty - at least not on purpose. It's not the best PSU in the world, I'll give you that, but I think it will be OK in the vast majority of cases (I wouldn't recommend overclocking)

    My dad has a lower-end XPS 7100, and it's actually been a pretty good machine so far. It's equipped with a lowly Athlon II X4 2.6Ghz, 4GB of DDR3 1333, and a 5450. He doesn't game on it, and it's plenty fast for Office, H.264 content, etc.

    Also, the mainboard may not be cutting edge, but it actually supports 16GB of DDR3 1333 and hex core processors. A lot of the cheaper OEM boxes tap out at 4GB or so. So if you opted for a more basic XPS 7100 configuration, you can toss in a better PSU yourself, and upgrade it a decent bit down the road.

    I used to hate Dells with a passion, but that probably stemmed from my experiences with their lowest end series, that were (and probably still are) junk. This machine is not bad for a mainstream OEM box.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 07, 2010 - link

    FWIW, I have a Dell XPS 410, and it has been running happily (and powered on) for the better part of three years. The XPS line is a big step up from their standard Inspiron in my book, and while the Delta Electronics isn't likely to be the best PSU around, the one in my old XPS is doing fine. In fact, the GPU fan (on an old 7900 GTX) is the only part that has started to get a little louder over the years. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, July 08, 2010 - link

    Sure, it might be fine, but in this class of system you are probably getting some users who actually know what is in the system. I wonder how much more a Seasonic OEM PSU would add to the cost ($10-15 maybe) and whether it would be worthwhile. Reply
  • HOOfan 1 - Sunday, July 11, 2010 - link

    Why should they go to Seasonic? Delta makes excellent PSUs...many of Delta's PSUs are better than competing Seasonic PSUs. Reply
  • johnsonx - Wednesday, July 07, 2010 - link

    lol, obviously some sort of spam comment that should have a trick-link in there somewhere Reply
  • aoskunk - Wednesday, July 07, 2010 - link

    I laughed when I read this as I found it spot on. In november I built a new rig for the first time in 4 years. I had considered buying a comparable system as this however I decided to experience the fun in building my own. However since I had not been reading this site daily like I do now, it took a good amount of research to get caught up to date with all the latest tech, hardware trends and current hardware manufacturer reputations. I had a budget of about $1200 and was going to reuse my Lian Li case that had cost $300 and still listed at about $100 and my dvd-rw. So it took a lot of research to make sure I got the absolute best bang for my buck. Ended up with a Quadcore i7860, 4890, 8gig ram, modular corair 750 power supply and a 1 gig 7200 which i just upgraded to a vertex2. Beautiful system, bios take longer to load than windows. I love it. Runs WoW at make settings without a hiccup, ever.... NOW.

    HOWEVER. the
    "hair-pulling frustration as parts that “should work” don't. Bad RAM, faulty motherboards, and other potential problems can mar the DIY experience". Computer worked great for the first 3 days. Then i got a couple random BSoD. Then the dvd isnt recognized. I buy a new one and it still doesnt work. Then it freezes one time and never starts back up. Asus tech support informs me its a bad motherboard. Get that after 3 weeks and it boots up. But that first day I get a BSoD. I reboot and there doesnt seem to be any problems so I dismiss it. Fast forward 6 months and I've had prolly 6 BSoD with them becoming more frequent and I don't know why. Then one week it snowballs into everytime I start the computer and then I start up to find that its claiming my win7 pro is not authorized. I scratch my head as this was the first time I actually paid for an OS since i got it for $30 by using an .edu email account, right from microsoft. I read up, run memtest+ and get 30,000 errors on a stick. So i take it out and everything runs great. I currently have to RMA the G.Skill 2gb stick still but everything is finally stable and running mind boggling fast. This took until just recently though.
    That's 2 main system components that were defective brand new shipped from New Egg. Exactly the concerns listed in this article. The rig years ago I built i realize in retrospect likely had the same exact 2 problems based on the symptoms i had with that one. That motherboard had to be replaced after 3 months and the ram was prolly what caused the BSoDs that i got every now and then.
    Now do i regret building my own PC? no i happen not to, though if i hadn't been able to diagnose the problems and had to bring it to somebody and pay through the nose then YES i would regret it. I feel i'm a better techie now having overcame the problems. Now they really werent any big deals but its a pain having to wait for RMA hardware. Something to consider when deciding to DIY or not.
    Before you say anything, NO i did not cause the problems I'm certain it was just coincedence. I know how to handle and install the mb and ram. How often do you guys get defective new hardware when building a new rig? 2 bad components has to be sort of rare yes? I used to think that not building a rig yourself was crazy because you could save yourself money and all dell and acer and such do are fill your system up with bloatware. I know give them some credit for testing their systems to make sure they actually run. Now i don't know how well they do that but they must do it decently well. To those that build a lot of systems in the manner that I did how often do you get bad parts?
    Reply
  • TGressus - Wednesday, July 07, 2010 - link

    The only real issue with DOA equipment is the trip from the distribution warehouse to your home. You have the couriers to thank for that.

    The first level tech support at the vendors would rather you RMA than return the product to the retailer. It is also rather difficult and not cost effective to diagnose via phone/email.

    BIOS configuration is more complex than ever, and most default settings are for legacy compatibility. Proper BIOS tuning seems to be taken for granted anymore, and requires continuous exposure through frequent system building or a lot of reading. The RAM probably required manual configuration just to work without error.

    Rather than slander, I'll reserve judgement on the OEM and vendors you chose. Newb Egg reviews are riddled with good intentions and epic failure like this. I applaud your effort, but I am disappoint.
    Reply

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