Memory comes in several configurations. At the bottom end you get 3GB of 667MHz RAM across two 1GB DIMMS and two 512MB DIMMS. For an extra £70 you can have 4GB in the form of four separate 1GB DIMMS, or better still, two 2GB modules that run at 800MHz. Why Dell doesn't supply even faster memory is a mystery, but the bottom line is this -- when configuring the XPS 420, get the fastest available memory you can afford.
Hard-drive configurations are also numerous. Even the entry-level machine has half a terabyte of storage, across two 250GB drives in a Raid 0 stripe. Here, all your data is written alternately across both disks -- in a stripe -- for faster access. Think of it as having two separate dish washers, each cleaning half a plate each -- but less ridiculous in concept. For an extra £10 you can opt for Raid 1, where everything from one drive is automatically backed up to the other. Why this is more expensive to configure, we have no idea. £15 more will get you two 320GB drives, again in Raid 0, or for £50 more you can have two 500GB drives. Still not big enough? How about the 1.5TB configuration spanning two 750GB drives?
The XPS 420 isn't designed specifically for gaming, but that doesn't stop it being a better gaming machine than most PCs out there. Our review sample shipped with the 768MB GeForce 8800 GTX -- currently the top of the Nvidia range. This is a truly phenomenal card, but if waggling joysticks isn't your sort of thing, you can always strip £215 off the total price and go for the 256MB 8600 GTS -- a mid-range card that will still let you play the latest games, just not very quickly.
Anyone considering buying the XPS 420 should be aware of its trump card -- the Xcelerator. Once you've copied your raw video footage to the hard drive, this card works in tandem with your CPU to prepare video for disc burning or copying to a portable device. This solution can be up to 25 per cent faster than the CPU alone, according to Dell. Once you've prepared your video, it's possible to burn it to DVD or Blu-ray. Dell sells a version of the XPS 420 with twin Blu-ray discs, although we can't really see the sense in it. Buying one Blu-ray drive is expensive enough, so getting two is the height of decadence.
Software is arguably as important as hardware on a multimedia PC, so we were happy the XPS 420 comes with copies of Roxio Easy Media Creator 9 and Adobe Elements Studio. These let you create, capture, edit and share videos, and are worth a couple of hundred pounds if bought separately.
The quad-core Q6600 and 3GB of RAM at the hart of the system performed well in our tests. The XPS 420 achieved a stonking 8,831 in PCMark 2005, making it one of the fastest machines we've tested. The 3GHz Core 2 Duo E6850 might yield a slightly higher PCMark score overall, but the Q6600 has a definite advantage in media creation.
Graphics performance was exceptional, as we expected. It uses the monstrously quick Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX graphics card, which tallied 11,683 -- again one of the highest gaming scores we've ever encountered outside of dual graphics card PCs. The one questionable area in the graphics department is the Dell Xcelerator card. In our tests it didn't appear to make any difference whatsoever.
The XPS 420 is an awesome video-editing machine, but it's not all it could have been. We love the configuration options, the chassis and the performance, but the MiniView display and Xcelerator cards are basically gimmicks. Aside from the superfluous nonsense, we'd recommend it to anyone with a desire to handle large media files.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide