Available for about £1,340, the configuration of the Dell Studio XPS 435 that we review here is fast, attractive and comes with a Blu-ray drive and reasonably capable graphics card. It's a desktop PC with a well-rounded set of features, rather than being a machine built for one particular purpose. The cheapest base configuration costs around £1,000, while the most expensive will set you back about £2,430.
Perhaps our favourite aspect of the 435 is its minimalist design, with red highlights against glossy black and white plastic. It's as attractive as it is stylised. We've accused Dell of taking few risks in the past, but the 435 makes an unapologetically bold statement with its appearance.
The 435 has a gadget tray on top of the case. These trays have become common on desktops lately and, while we don't consider them crucial, they're handy for storing your phone or digital camera while syncing or charging. The 435 has three USB 2.0 ports and analogue microphone and headphone jacks situated along the back edge of the tray to facilitate easy connections. We also like the side panel, which feels substantial, but slides on and off easily once you remove a pair of screws.
The 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920 quad-core CPU in our review sample means it's a fully capable desktop that can edit photos and video, multitask, convert media between different formats, and generally get work done with little difficulty.
In terms of gaming, you might have to dial down the image quality settings, but we'd expect our 435 configuration to handle most current titles, thanks to its 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics card. The bigger issue for serious gamers is the lack of a second graphics card slot. When so many boutique vendors offer PCs in this price range that support two 3D cards, it's hard not to criticise desktops that don't. Perhaps Dell wants to preserve the line between its Studio XPS and more gaming-orientated XPS systems, but this system will frustrate gamers who take their frame rates seriously. The 435 is only a different motherboard and a more robust power supply away from crossing over into true gaming desktop territory.
Non-gamers should find the 435's upgrade path more than adequate. With three hard-drive bays and six RAM slots, the 435 gives you plenty of room to expand its storage and memory capacities. You also get a pair of 1x PCI Express slots, as well as a 4x PCI Express slot and a single standard PCI card input. Aside from a second graphics card, you'll find few upgrades this system won't accommodate.
The outside of the 435 offers about as much flexibility as the interior. You get the usual array of USB 2.0 jacks, along with a digital audio output and a set of 7.1 analogue audio outs. Dell also includes both FireWire and eSATA for external storage connections, which you won't find on some lower-end models. The only change we'd really like to see is the addition of an HDMI output on the graphics card. Although you probably wouldn't haul a system this big into your living room, more and more standard LCD TVs support HDMI, and there's no reason why Dell couldn't have opted for a 3D card with HDMI out. Especially for a system with a Blu-ray drive, the absence of an HDMI output feels like an oversight.
You could plunk our Dell Studio XPS 435 review sample in a dorm room or home office and, with a large enough monitor, it would satisfy the majority of your productivity and digital entertainment needs. A few absent features keep it from achieving a higher rating, but it's a decent general-purpose machine.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet