That audible sigh you just heard marked the final death throes of a significant chunk of the systems that have been on our Top 10 Performance Desktops chart. And you can thank Intel‘s (Nasdaq: INTC) Sandy Bridge processor for that. The Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL) XPS 8300 is priced at an eye-poppingly low $1399 (as of 2/2/2011). No pre-Sandy Bridge system can top the price-to-performance ratio of this inexpensive little powerhouse. But that’s hardly where the story ends. Just how much more can Dell fit into this PC to truly earn the “Performance” title? Spoiler: Lots.
The XPS 8300 packs a brand-new 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600 CPU within its all-white casing. The chip is but a stone’s throw away from being Intel’s top-of-the-line part, as its bigger brother — the i7-2600K — adds an unlocked CPU multiplier to the equation (overclockers, rejoice). For all intents and purposes, the XPS 8300’s processor shares the crown of best on the market right now.
Accompanied by eight gigabytes of DDR3-1333 memory, the Sandy Bridge (second-generation Core) CPU helps the XPS 8300 make short work of our WorldBench 6 tests. It earned a score of 162 — you’d be hard pressed to find any rival in the XPS 8300’s price range coming close, though systems based on overclocked Sandy Bridge processors do post higher scores (with higher prices to match).
One contender: The $1700 Micro Express MicroFlex 26B earned a 202 on our WorldBench suite, though it’s not as feature-filled.
The only real scuff mark on the XPS’s benchmarks comes from our graphics tests. The system’s aging Advanced Micro Devices (Nasdaq: AMD) Radeon HD 5870 GPU is a very good one, but its average recorded frame rate of 120.7 on Unreal Tournament 3 (at 2560 by 2100 resolution, high quality) is hardly a category-leading mark. You’ll still be able to crank the next-generation titles you throw at the XPS 8300, but its benchmarking results are among the lower scores of all the performance PCs we’ve tested over the past year.
A two-terabyte hard drive is an excellent addition for such an inexpensively priced desktop, as is Dell’s inclusion of a Blu-ray combo drive. While these are generally standard add-ons in the performance PC category, we nevertheless appreciate that Dell didn’t try to cannibalize features in order to keep its costs down. One feature that really stands out as something unique in this category is Dell’s choice of wireless-N networking as a supplement to its existing wired gigabit setup. That’s not a make-or-break element that will suddenly inspire millions to rush out and pick up an XPS 8300, but it does give the system just that much more versatility in one’s home. Take that, wires.
And while we’re on the subject of versatility, the XPS 8300 is stuffed to the brink with connection options for just about anything you throw at it, though the front of the case could stand a few more connections: It has two USB ports and a multiformat card reader.
Turn the system around, though, and you find four USB ports, one USB 3.0 port, one eSATA port, one SPDIF optical connection, one gigabit Ethernet connection, and integrated connections for 7.1 surround sound, all making for a truly diverse PC. As for video, the system’s graphics card supports two DVI connections, an HDMI connection, and a DisplayPort connection — the holy trinity of video options. We couldn’t ask for much more.
The system’s all-white chassis is a bit of an Apple-esqe departure from the designs we’re used to seeing in the performance category. Nevertheless, we like it overall. The practicalities of working inside the XPS 8300 are a little less pleasing. Not only is the system full of screws, instead of tool-free accessories, but you don’t actually get all that much to work with compared with competing performance desktops. Only one of two 5.25-inch bays are free for new devices, and only two of three hard drive bays could benefit from extra storage. A single, lonely PCI Express x1 slot represents all the add-ons you’ll be able to stick on the motherboard in addition to the existing AMD GPU.
Dell continues its all-white motif with a glossy, bleached mouse that accompanies the system. It’s generic in functionality, but we do like its look — just different enough from the old bargain-bin black that we’re so used to seeing on competing systems. The XPS 8300’s keyboard is black with a white trim, but, more important, it packs a few additional function buttons for launching applications and controlling media and volume. We dig.
It was surprising enough to see Dell’s XPS 8300 just come out of nowhere and slap around competing desktop PCs with its killer mix of price and performance. But as we dug deeper into the system, Dell’s system just refused to disappoint. To call this a “cheap” PC would do it a disservice. From its ample storage, to its ample connectivity (networking or otherwise), to its ample speed, the XPS is easily one of the newest white knights on our performance PC charts.