Good From the Factory? The Dell Studio XPS 7100by Dustin Sklavos on July 7, 2010 4:00 AM EST
Dell Studio XPS 7100 User Experience
The performance of the Dell Studio XPS 7100 is mostly an amalgam of known quantities; we've run some cursory benchmarks but performance generally falls in line with what we know of the Phenom II X6 and the Radeon HD 5870. Suffice it to say, if you're going to be doing any gaming or media work, the XPS 7100 in this configuration is more than up to the task.
Well, almost. It may very well be the SB750 attached to the single Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 drive, but the system just doesn't feel as snappy as a machine with a faster storage subsystem might. Anand is a major proponent of using an SSD for the system drive and a large mechanical drive for storage and that's probably a wise investment here. Also consider that for heavy video work, it's extremely wise to use two separate drives anyhow: one to render from, a scratch drive, and one to render to, a project drive. The storage subsystem remains the slowest component of the modern PC, and anything you can do to mitigate that will help.
What's a nice change of pace from not too long ago is the lack of bloat the XPS 7100 ships with. Windows 7 already does a great job of obscuring bloat (between hiding icons in the system tray and just plain running well), but there's very little here to obscure. The included Dell software is mostly useful, offering driver updates, online support, and use of Dell's “DataSafe” online storage service. If there's an odd outlier it's Dell's dock software. The dock offers sets of shortcuts at the top of the screen not totally dissimilar to the dock in Mac OS X. It's attractive and was probably more useful when Vista was shipping, but the revised taskbar in Windows 7 renders it somewhat redundant.
There are really only two troublesome apps that come bundled with the XPS 7100. The first is, ironically, Dell's own update software. Dell's software is certainly useful, but it has a habit of just randomly popping up whenever you're doing something else, right in the middle of the screen. So if you're, say, running benchmarks all day, you might find your run completely ruined by this random interloper. Likewise, the bundled McAfee Security Center isn't at all unusual to see in factory machines, and remains one of the most obnoxious and least useful PC security suites on the planet. It nags you to complete the setup and register it just to be able to uninstall, though you can force-kill via task manager and go into the Control Panel for the uninstall process.
Overall, the experience of using the Dell Studio XPS 7100 was surprisingly a joy. The system is definitely high performance, the factory install was very clean, but most importantly and probably best of all, it just runs coolly and quietly. One might expect a factory computer to be fairly noisy – especially given the 125W Phenom II X6 processor and the 187W ATI Radeon HD 5870 – but even under load the XPS 7100 is actually remarkably quiet.
To give some sense of just how wonderfully quiet the XPS 7100 is, consider this: I have my own custom built desktop running in an Antec P182 case. I use an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650, overclocked, under a Xigmatek S1283 cooler. Hanging out below that is an ATI Radeon HD 5870. All the fans in my case are on low and the processor cooler is configured in the BIOS to run silently and only spin up under extreme load. My case produces the softest of hums, and that hum actually drowns out the XPS 7100. Some reviews – including our own – suggest the Radeon HD 5870 is pretty loud, but I honestly haven't heard it.
Of course, none of that would matter if the insides of the XPS 7100 were marinating in their own succulent juices, but lo and behold, the card and processor run surprisingly cool. Just putting your hand under the bottom vent on the face you can feel a quiet intake fan, and the clean cabling and spacing inside the case likely contribute to the excellent thermal characteristics.