While other models in the Dell Dimension range have shed their dull chassis and turned a sparkling white, the XPS remains dark grey and silver. Though the bodywork on this machine has changed little from previous versions, at its heart the XPS 600 is now an SLI system, meaning it can run dual graphics cards for fairly nerve-wracking gaming action. Playing the game of Peter Jackson's King Kong on the XPS and a 40-inch LCD TV is like strapping on a Kong suit and parachuting into the Amazon.
Our review model really does push boundaries for a consumer desktop machine. The specs on this desktop can't fail to beguile anyone who hasn't been following recent leaps in PC development. This XPS includes one terabyte of hard-disk space -- yes, do not adjust your browser's font size: one terabyte. The review model also included a DVD drive and a DVD writer. Ripping DVDs took minutes and re-encoding video streams resulted in some of the most impressive performance we've ever seen from an off-the-shelf desktop. Of course, elite specs come at a price -- nearly £3,000 with the terabyte of hard-disk space. Can you justify it?
The XPS 600's chassis is similar to those of the previous XPS range. The front of the machine is silver-grey, with a large triangular chrome panel onto which the Dell logo is attached. Beneath the panel there's a neon blue underlight that emits a peaceful glow. Though some might find the machine in slightly dubious taste -- there is something inescapably boy-racer about it -- this is a more subtle approach than some gaming PC manufacturers have taken. Dell has always struggled for credibility with the gaming elite in the same way that BMW would struggle to win over a beat poet. Dell's sheer size and widespread popularity has meant they elude the respect given to smaller, more specialised gaming PC manufacturers like Alienware. But, if the XPS 600 is anything to go by, this may well change.
The chassis on the XPS opens up like a giant clam, pivoting on big hinges built into the rear of the machine. There are no screws or hatches to detach before the chassis will open -- the entire left-hand-side panel of the PC swings clear, giving access to PCI slots, hard disk, motherboard and other components. The catch on this door releases with a light pull in an upward direction -- it's not hard to open the case, but at the same time it's unlikely to fall open accidentally in transit to a LAN party.
As with the Dell 5100 and 9100 we recently reviewed, Dell didn't include a floppy-disc drive on our review PC -- although if you need a floppy drive to install driver software for older hardware, you can add one for £23.50.
Below the DVD and DVD-writer drives on the XPS there are CF, SMC, MS and SD/MMC card readers -- these are especially useful for digital photographers. There is also a small hinged flap that hides FireWire, USB, headphone and microphone sockets. The rear of the XPS is a clean and neat design with obviously labelled cable sockets and a ventilation grill.
Our XPS came pre-installed with the current version of Windows XP Professional, which doesn't take advantage of the dual-core processors. In our case, it didn't manage to take advantage of anything to begin with, as we had to re-install Windows because it refused to boot when the machine first arrived. To Dell's credit it was very easy to install Windows again and all the system software and drivers were included on clearly labelled CDs. After reinstalling we had no problems whatsoever with the machine, so we can only assume this was a glitch in the original installation of Windows.
If you want to stick with Windows you'll have to wait until Microsoft launch a compatible version of their OS before the dual-core processor in the XPS can be driven to its full potential -- Windows Vista late next year. Linux users will be able to take advantage of the full power of the XPS's processor immediately -- many versions of Linux support 64-bit addressing. The processor in our review model was an Intel Extreme Edition 840 running at 3.20GHz with an 800MHz front-side bus and a 2MB cache. In other words, it breathes fire.
The graphics configuration on the XPS 600 is something to gloat over. Dual Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX cards can deal with anything any current games title can throw out. This is an excellent choice of card -- the GTX uses eight vertex shading units and assisted DVD and HDTV decoding up to 1920x1080-pixel resolution. The terminology may seem confusing, but in practical terms this means the the chips on these Nvidia cards render games fast and play videos fast. Very fast.