Fantastic design and highly-configurable power make this XPS useful, desirable and good value.
It’s instantly clear from the styling (and price) that the 420 fits smack between the monolithic XPS 700 (web ID: 70294) and Dell’s Dimension range (web ID: 58697) thanks to the stylish piano-black fascia with Dimension-like air vent (behind it). On top is Dell’s useful rubber ‘Deck-top’ with a cable tidy at the back: useful for positioning (iPod-like) electronics that need charging.
At the front on top is a 2 x 3in LCD which utilises Vista’s Windows Sideshow (web ID: 81501): it won’t be useful to everyone, but if you want RSS feeds, calendar items and the ability to play the odd game like Patience, it can be pleasantly distracting.
The specifications can be determined via Dell’s online configurator when you buy. Our test unit had a 2.4GHz quad-core Q6600 processor, 2GB of RAM, two 250GB hard disks running in RAID1 (mirrored for data security) plus a proprietary, top-of-the-line X38 motherboard. We expected great performance but the early, pre-production BIOS and lack of RAID0 striping hamstrung results somewhat: 1.29 in our benchmarks is still very fast, but our experience suggests a similarly-specified retail model could be 40% faster.
Nvidia’s 8800 GTX graphics card provides 3D grunt and we weren’t disappointed. It averaged a brilliant 58fps in our toughest DirectX 9 test, Call of Duty 2 though 19fps in our DirectX 10 Call of Juarez test is more down to immature DirectX 10 drivers than anything else.
The cooling modules and cable-placement in the BTX case helped it run whisper quiet despite everything we threw at it - amazing considering the spec. However, this design comes at the expense of future upgrading – buy everything you need at the point of sale as only two RAM slots, a PCI slot and a 4x PCI-E slot weren’t occupied.
However, things are helped on the outside by Dell’s wealth of expansion ports: on the front is an all-format media-card reader, two audio, two USB and a FireWire port. There’s also a Dell ‘Xcelerator’ break-out box with S-video, composite and RCA audio inputs. This links to an internal card which not only provides a hybrid TV tuner but will transcode media files.
At the back lie six USB ports, optical and coaxial S/PDIF out, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire and eSATA ports. Plus there’s an X-Fi XtremeMusic sound card, decent USB keyboard and mouse, Media Center remote and an accessory kit. The latter includes cable ties, ear buds and mouse mat. A Blu-ray disc writer and secondary DVD-writer are also thrown in and Dell provides a range of matching LCDs.
Finally Vista Ultimate and Adobe’s excellent Premiere and Photoshop Elements are included along with SoundBooth CS3. The one year onsite warranty and promise to recycle your old PC seals the deal and though this specification is overkill for many people you can seriously reduce the price by lowering the spec at the time of purchase.
This Review appeared in the November, 2007 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine