Good From the Factory? The Dell Studio XPS 7100by Dustin Sklavos on July 7, 2010 4:00 AM EST
Dell Studio XPS 7100 Closer Look
If nothing else, the Dell Studio XPS 7100 desktop is an attractive piece of kit. The case itself utilizes a lot of features that are becoming increasingly common in enthusiast cases. For starters, the power button is on top of the machine and glows with an attractive white LED when the system is on and orange when in standby. Behind it is an indented tray perfectly sized to fit stray CDs, and lining the top edge of that tray are two USB 2.0 ports, a headphone jack, and a mic jack.
The face of the machine is kept spare, utilizing an attractive gray matte plastic with a chrome accent around it. Working down from the top, we start with a series of memory card readers. Below it are two optical drive bays hidden behind folding doors; pressing the gray button to the right ejects the drives. The folding mechanism works well, but if you manually fold down the door on the second bay you may be disappointed to see the metal placeholder of the case interior. It's an odd lack of finish, but will spend its entire life being hidden behind the second door.
Beneath the optical drives is an external 3.5” bay that's opened by sliding the faceplate downward. The bay is empty apart from two USB 2.0 drives, but has a black plastic placeholder in it. Overall it seems curiously empty and most external peripherals for the bay these days would just be card readers (rendered redundant by the card reader at the top of the face), but it's a nice inclusion that improves expandability of the tower. The remainder of the face is the chrome Dell logo and a vent at the bottom, just above the Windows 7 and AMD Vision Black branding stickers.
The sides of the XPS 7100 are as uneventful as the sides of modern cases often are, featuring unobtrusive black paneling, but there's a wrinkle here. Perfectly aligned with the Radeon HD 5870 inside is an oblong vent on the side panel. It's debatable how necessary the vent is, but it's nice without being as conspicuous as a massive window and lets you peek inside at the reference Bat-cooler used on ATI's Radeon HD 5800 series.
The back of the machine is, praise it all, clean and well laid out. The power supply is in its traditional position at the top of the tower above the motherboard's port cluster and the case's 80mm exhaust fan. The port cluster itself is fairly barren but includes the essentials: four USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, an eSATA port, and the customary six jacks for 5.1 audio, line-in, and microphone. Above these are the aforementioned blocked off HDMI and DVI ports, with an optical port for audio at the top.
While a MicroATX build is great for saving space and the Studio XPS 7100 is certainly an attractive space saver, the major drawback lies in limited expandability. The included Radeon HD 5870 eats up fully half of the available slots, and the wireless-n card chews up another, leaving just a single open PCI slot. If you order down the chain and get a single slot video card it will open another PCIe x1 slot. Dell also only equips the board with four SATA ports, two of which are already in use when the machine arrives. While four are generally enough for most users, the media crowd looking at a machine like this may find themselves choosing between putting a FireWire card or SATA card in the spare PCI slot.
Finally, the included keyboard and mouse are just fine and perfectly serviceable, featuring keys that are about halfway between full-sized keys and slim laptop keys. The keyboard is comfortable enough to use and has the usual suspects as far as multimedia controls and shortcuts, but doesn't include a wrist rest, and utilizes a scrunched navigation block (three rows of two keys) that may take a little getting used to.