Review of Dell XPS 8500

Wednesday, May 2nd 2012. | Hardware News

Review of Dell XPS 8500The good: The Dell XPS 8500 moves to Intel’s new, third-generation Core i7 CPUs and features fast boot times and file access thanks to an onboard solid-state hard drive.

The bad: With limited ability to tweak this configuration, you’re forced to choose an expensive solid-state drive that throws off this PC’s price-performance equation.

The bottom line: Dell makes a game effort to set the XPS 8500 apart from other performance PCs, but it overshoots with a pricey SSD, making the price hard to justify given this system’s average overall performance.

This $1,999 XPS 8500 embodies a familiar problem for Dell. It wants to perpetuate its high-end desktop range, but its mainstream configurations keep it from offering good performance value. Dell does make effective use of a fast storage access technology from Intel in this PC. A fat 3TB hard drive may also hold appeal. Those features are welcome, but too many PCs from smaller, speed-oriented vendors surpass the XPS 8500 in application and gaming performance. If you agree that raw horsepower is the primary reason for the continued existence of expensive midtower desktops, it’s hard to recommend the XPS 8500 over its competition.

Dell has used the XPS 8000-series tower design since 2009. It continues to offer a clean, unique look, although Dell has streamlined this newest model. Where previously Dell hid the front-panel USB and audio ports behind a finicky plastic cover, now the USB ports simply sit, uncovered, on the front of the unit. They’re a minor disruption to the XPS 8500’s aesthetics, but the benefit of easier access makes up for it.

In terms of its configuration, the XPS 8500 is based on Intel’s new, third-generation Core i7 chips, aka Ivy Bridge. The new chips offer few performance gains over the older, second-generation Core i7 family. Their primary advantages are updated embedded graphics technology and better power efficiency due to a more efficient manufacturing process.

The embedded graphics cores bring longed-for 3D gaming capability to lower-end systems, but in PCs like this one that have discrete graphics cards, the embedded video core in the CPU doesn’t have much to do. Greater power efficiency is nice, and a necessary step on the way to faster chips in the next generation, but it’s not the most compelling selling point for consumers.

Intel also introduced a new motherboard chipset with its new CPU. One of the best features of the Intel H77 circuity is that it brings Intel’s Smart Response Technology to more-affordable motherboards than when it debuted on the Z68 chipsets.

Smart Response Technology (SRT) enables vendors to connect a solid-state drive (SSD) directly to the motherboard. The drive then acts as a standalone drive partition that provides faster boot time and speedier access to your most commonly used files. Maingear sent in the first system I ever saw with an SRT drive a few months ago in a Z68 board. Dell is the first vendor to send in a system with SRT via H77, enabled here in the form of a 256GB mSATA solid-state drive.

To get an idea of the benefits of an SRT hard drive, I tested the Dell XPS 8500’s boot time against that of the Origin Genesis, a $3,399 system with two standard SSDs as its primary partition.

Dell XPS 8500 boot time (three-run average): 34.8 seconds
Origin Genesis boot time (three-run average): 39.93 seconds

The XPS 8500 boots fast enough that you will notice, and it’s a great feature. The problem is that this system lacks the general processing punch I expect from a $1,999 desktop.

Dell XPS 8500 Velocity Micro Edge Z55 Origin Chronos
Price $1,999 $2,299 $1,199
Motherboard chipset Intel H77 Intel X68 Intel Z68
CPU 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770 4.9GHz Intel Core i7-2700K (overclocked) 4.5GHz Intel Core i5-2550K (overclocked)
Memory 16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB AMD Radeon HD 7870 (2) 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti
Hard drives 256GB SRT solid-state drive, 3TB 7,200rpm Seagate (2) 60GB Intel SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi 750GB 7,200rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/DVD burner combo Blu-ray/DVD burner combo Dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Its price puts the Dell XPS 8500 between two recent Editors’ Choice Award-winning desktops, the $2,299 Velocity Micro Edge Z55 and the $1,199 Origin Chronos. The Origin system provides a bigger price gap, and is ultimately the system that’s most damning for this Dell.

Per usual, Dell loses the performance competition because it does not offer overclocked processors. Both Origin and Velocity Micro do. Those systems don’t defeat the Dell on every performance test, but they win more often and arguably on the most important benchmarks.

If you want to take a more holistic view of the Dell’s relative value, you might suggest that the onboard SSD and the massive 3TB storage drive make up for what the Dell lacks in speed with faster file access and boot times, as well as more storage capacity.

I would argue against that assessment. 3TB hard drives aren’t terribly exotic. You can find them for under $200. mSATA SSD hard drives are more expensive. A 256GB model like the one in the Dell will run you about $500 to $600 purchased at retail. Perhaps that accounts for the Dell having a higher price than the Origin, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to spend $600 on a PC component.

You could spend $300 and see generally faster (or at least, as fast) boot and file speeds with a standard 256GB SSD, for example. A 128GB mSATA SSD also goes for about $300, and would offer similar performance but with only marginally less storage space. It’s a moot point since you can no longer configure internal hardware components on Dell’s Web site. That means, at least for this high-end XPS 8500 build, you’re stuck with the 256GB mSATA and its heavy cost burden.

The extra boot and file access speeds are useful, but they primarily benefit you during occasional wait times for file or level loading. As prices drop, I expect we’ll see more systems with onboard SSDs like that in the XPS 8500. Until they do, bear in mind that raw processing horsepower has a bigger impact on the overall user experience, particularly for the gamers most likely to buy desktops like this one.

Dell XPS 8500

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