You know what to expect when you buy an XPS: good looks, high performance, and a substantially lighter wallet. Dell's latest effort, the XPS 420, delivers all these things and should appeal to anyone with a desire to edit video and images, and play games. It features an integrated SideShow display, a BTX chassis and an Xcelerator2 hardware transcoder.
The XPS 420 is available from Dell for a starting price of £549, although our test unit costs a rather more wallet-lightening £1,349.
The XPS 420 is attractive by desktop PC standards. The glossy front panel and silver side panels are attractive in their own right, but we personally think Dell should have chosen one colour or the other -- not both.
At the top of the case you'll find a rubberised strip, designed to accommodate an external hard drive, MP3 player, or any of the miscellaneous shrapnel that normally ends up at the top of your PC. This is lined with non-slip rubber and is slightly recessed so most things stay put.
Two versions of the chassis are available. Our review sample uses the Premium version, which has a 64mm (2.5-inch) SideShow display and corresponding control buttons at the top of the chassis. This allow you to run various Vista 'Gadgets' -- mini applications -- without using the mouse, keyboard or primary display.
Further down the chassis, the optical drive bays are hidden behind a flip-down panel, which helps keep a smart, uniform look. Below these is a memory card reader supporting most popular formats. It's not some random off-the-shelf part either, it's coated in the same glossy finish as the rest of the PC, making it one of the prettiest readers we've ever come across. The card reader panel also houses a button to synchronise the wireless keyboard and mouse, and there's an adjacent 'B' LED that indicates Bluetooth connectivity status.
Dead in the centre of the PC is the power button, above which are a couple of audio ports for your mic and headphones. There's also the obligatory front-facing USB ports (three of them) and a six-pin FireWire port. Six additional USB ports can be found at the rear, along with another six-pin FireWire port and an e-SATA port for connecting an external drive.
The second most interesting addition at the front is the Xcelerator2 panel. This provides S-Video, component video and audio inputs, so you can quickly transfer digital video to your PC. The Xcelerator2 features a hardware video transcoder that claims to manipulate video up to 25 per cent faster than PCs using a CPU alone. You can read more about this later in the review.
The XPS 420 is designed to handle media, so it's no surprise to learn it can accommodate some high-end components. Various CPU options are available, all of which are stonkingly quick. The Premium Chassis, which sports the Dell MiniView screen, comes with either a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600, or for an extra £60 you can have a 3GHz Core 2 Duo E6850.
The E6850 has a faster front-side bus than the Q6600 -- 1,066MHz versus 1,333MHz -- but we still wouldn't recommend buying it. It's more expensive and if you're editing video or multitasking, you're probably better off with the quad-core Q6600. The E850 is great for games, thanks to its faster clock speed and front-side bus, but if you're after a gaming machine, you're better off with something from Dell's H2C family.