Once upon a time Dell pitted its XPS line against Alienware. XPS high-end systems usually had innovative designs and striking styling. Then the company bought Alienware, used that name for its high-end gaming and performance systems and relegated the XPS desktop line to being a lesser light in the product range.
Nowadays the XPS range comprises high-end Studio desktops and laptops. But don't assume that means an XPS system is a gaming powerhouse.
Peek inside the XPS and you'll see that the fancy internals are a thing of the past. The rather sparse interior contains a Dell-branded H57-based motherboard with 4GB of DDR3, Intel Core i5-680 CPU under a fairly stock heatsink and an NVIDIA GeForce GTS 240 graphics card with 1GB of RAM. A DVD burner and a sole 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 HDD round this out.
While this is a solid enough feature set, it hardly fits Dell's description as ‘the coolest gaming desktop around the block' . We can only assume that Dell is using the literal version of ‘coolest' as there isn't much capable of generating heat inside the case.
In our 2D benchmarks the Studio XPS 8100 scored respectably. When compared to the cheaper (but overclocked) TI Deluxe 540 system reviewed in our May issue, the Studio XPS 8100 pulled ahead in 2D tests.
While not bad, it lacked anything to make it stand out from the pack. Perhaps its biggest drawback is the choice of video card. In our Crysis tests the XPS 8100 delivered playable framerates at medium and low settings but barely delivered playable frames at high detail (and was unplayable at Very High).
This sort of performance is fine if your gaming needs stop with something like World of Warcraft, but if you want to play serious 3D games then this falls short of satisfying.
Upgrading your graphics card to something more cutting-edge isn't even an option. While Dell does offer a GeForce GTX 260 option in its configurator, for anything else you'll be needing to replace the paltry 350 Watt power supply that comes with the Studio 8100.
Once you start talking about that level of upgrade you start to wonder why you are looking at buying a Dell in the first place.
For upgradability, there are two spare DIMM slots, giving a modicum of RAM expandability down the track. Despite the sparsely populated chassis there is only one place a second 3.5in drive could be mounted (there is a spare 5.25in drive bay if desperate as well). There are two spare SATA channels for extra drives. The motherboard has two spare PCI-E x4 slots and a sole PCI one.
The system has eight USB 2.0 ports - four on the rear of the system, two on the top and one behind a stealthed (yet unoccupied) 3.5in floppy bay. Built into the top of the unit are card reader slots that will cope with pretty much anything out there.
There are sole IEEE 1394, E-SATA and Gigabit Ethernet ports. Also curiously the backplane has an HDMI port and DVI port that are plugged with plastic caps.
On further investigation this is because the motherboard uses a chipset designed for CPUs with integrated graphics, and these plugs prevent confusion when a non-integrated graphics CPU is used.
As an i5 desktop, the Dell lacks a little oomph and expandability. If you want to add more to the system in the future then the 350W power supply will act as a major restricting factor on just what you can do to it.
Overall the Dell Studio XPS 8100 is a reasonable middle of the road system, but the baton for technolust has passed to Alienware, and in its place we have a firmly unexciting product. Which would be fine if there was at least something impressive about this system.