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.

Dell Studio XPS 7100: Good from the Factory? Dell Studio XPS 7100 User Experience
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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    Dell stopped using proprietary PSUs and cases (other than the BTX models) about 3-4 years back. Previously, you needed an adapter to use a standard ATX power supply with a Dell motherboard, but that has not been the case for some time. I believe I even mentioned this when I did a Dell system review in 2006... yes, here it is:
  • wilmarkj - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    Buddy, you are missing my point - unless there is a commitment from Dell that it wont use not standard parts in desktop computers - connectors (all types needed by the enthusiast), voltages, cables, etc, your point is moot. And its not just about the power/mb cnx. You are merely saying that in this case... or it has been the case in systems you've worked with. They took a decision in the past to do this and the easily can again, or have or will, in some cases etc. Its a risk, one i wont take as an enthusiast to end up with an oversized brick. I SAY AGAIN - Dells have to be significantly cheaper for a level playing field. Parts you buy from ASUS, Gigabyte, from newegg, TigerD etc will always be standard and interchangeable - with one of the other 8 computers i have here. Google some key words like Dell Non standard parts etc and you will see this issue is still alive and well.
  • LokutusofBorg - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    You may not be able to compare Dells to DIY, but I certainly can. It's a subjective comparison. You don't seem to get that point.

    I've been building my own computers for more than a decade. I also have built computers for family members and friends. Guess what family members and friends get nowadays? Dells. Guess what my own computers still are? Self-built.

    Can I call you buddy too?
  • wilmarkj - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Sure you can call me buddy. I supposed you love the 'standard' mounts for hard disks in your dell XPS, or the short psu cables, and these compare very subjectively well what you'd get with Antec etc - right.
  • LokutusofBorg - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    I'm pretty sure you don't know what subjectively means. It means I put my own value system on the judgment, so it is completely isolated to my situation. There is no reason to talk about comparing Dells to DIY *objectively* because every decision like this (what computer to buy) is a personal one.

    Dell fits parts of the market very well. Lots of us that consider ourselves system builders quite happily buy Dells in certain circumstances. This was a great article from one of my favorite sites on the merits of a certain Dell model as well as the current trend of Dell to target mainstream segments with competitive pricing.
  • DominionSeraph - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Try getting an i7 or DDR3 to fit on your 440BX motherboard.

    The simple fact is, incremental upgrades are rarely worth it, and nothing has ever been future proofed nor been universal.
    AMD and Intel come out with a new socket practically every year. Server and consumer parts are rarely compatible. Multiprocessor systems can be a nightmare. RAM changes constantly, motherboards are finicky about what type/speed and in what configuration you place them, and we won't even get into buffered/ECC.

    I've got a box I originally put together in '99. With a total of ~$3000 invested, it's now up to a Pentium III 700 with 384MB, a Geforce 2 GTS, and a 60GB PATA HDD. Great investment, no?
    Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't you buy this epitome of an enthusiast machine from me for, say, $1,149.99?
  • wilmarkj - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    I think you are in the wrong place - upgrades to a large extent mean Changing out: mb+ram+cpu OR graphics OR ps OR case OR monitors OR storage or any combination of these. It seldom makes sense to CO just the CPU or RAM, or the MB. Those guts (mb+cpu+ram) usually finds its way into another system (your own or sold), etc. Stuff you bought in '99 isnt likely to be worth anything really unless its an antique. Just a little primer in upgrading.
  • DominionSeraph - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    You just disproved your own point with "another system."
    If you have two computers, you have two computers. Putting some new parts into an old case and transferring old parts to a new case is not somehow more efficient than leaving the old system together and buying an entirely new one. Your brain might be fooled into thinking that buying two halves for two different computers is somehow less than buying one entirely new computer computer, but it's not..
  • wilmarkj - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    As i said you seem to be in the wrong place. When you change out the MB/CPU/RAM to the current technology - for most practical purposes you have a 'new' system. The only other thing you may want to look at is what you video card is capable of. Other than that the other parts you are likely to put in an entirely new build will most likely perform just a well as the old parts (old for me means about 6mths to 1 year). Allowing you to take the core of the system you just upgraded to improve the performance of another even older system. This way just buying a single MB/CPU/RAM or even a new video card allow you to upgrade several systems. Theres no fooling here of the brain here - you will get measurable performance improvements commensurate with the upgrades. There, you got another lesson.
  • GamerDave20 - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link


    Your point about upgrades made me think back to the mid-1990's. Subjectively, most upgrades apparently ARE worth it to the upgrader.

    I tend to want a completely new system after 2 to 4 years rather than upgrading my current system that I am usually quite tired of.

    This may also stem from some of my past experience such as: buying a $4,000 P90 system in 1995 with a Diamond Stealth with 2MB VRAM! only to upgrade in 1996 to a Matrox Millenium ($419) and adding an Orchid Righteous 3D ($300) 6 months later.

    Eventually, I swapped both out in 1998 for a $200 Diamond Stealth II which absolutely smoked my then favorite game - Soda Off-Road Racing.

    Shortly thereafter, I built a P200MMX system and used the Stealth II and put the P90 back to stock and sold it at a garage sale for $200. :( (don't remember what I did with the $700-worth of video cards though).

    Anyways, from this stemmed a rule for me to never by a single computer component (for a new system or as an upgrade) for more than $200 and that it's more fun to just start over - although hard drive upgrades have kept me going for another year several different times.

    But, to me, nothing beats a brand new system (unless you buy it and then research all the components to find out that the vendor used all of the least expensive of everything (like my P90)!

    Anyways, having hating Dell in the past due to their anemic stock RAM loadouts (256MB for WinXP in the early 2000's), this system sounds worth a look. I only periodically look at Dell's laptops (with there current lack of great video cards in their XPS laptops) and have not noticed this system or any desktop of Dell's.

    Also, in the past 6 months, I haven't been able to price pieces for a system to build that satisfies me for less than $1,200 and that includes an HD 5770. So this isn't too bad.

    Dave (GamerDave20)

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