Many thought Dell's XPS gaming brand would vanish into obscurity after the company acquired Alienware. Little did they know Dell would continue to produce outstanding gaming rigs, the flagship model for which is the brand new XPS 710 H2C.
On the surface, the machine resembles the original XPS 710, but it introduces two key elements we've never seen on a Dell computer. Firstly, it's factory overclocked, and secondly, it uses a space-age water-cooling system.
Our review sample of the H2C 710 can be customised up from the base spec on the Dell Web site for £3,203.45 (the base spec costs £2,998.99), although this is subject to change. It comes with a range of optional monitors up to 24 inches in size, but if you really want to push the boat out you can get Dell's 30-inch UltraSharp 3007WFP-HC, which brings the total to £4,218.
The chassis for the XPC 710 H2C looks really intimidating. Given the choice between confronting a deranged serial killer or this monstrosity, we'd take the knife-wielding psycho every time. We're intimidated by its size, by the ominous whooshing sound it makes when we press the power button, and by the way the chassis is subtly slanted forward -- like it's about to pounce on your face.
Those brave enough to get close up are in for a treat. The exterior is made of glossy black aluminium, not that cheap plastic nonsense you get on Alienware desktops. Unfortunately, the metal doesn't extend to the front; instead you get a flimsy-looking plastic grille, which feels as if it could break under a heavy-handed touch.
We'll ignore the flimsiness, though; the tower has a set of four LED lights that shine down on the grille in such a way that the light beams seem to disappear gradually inside the case. The effect is attractive -- we've yet to meet a person who doesn't like it. There's also a light on the rear of the case -- the IO panel is lit by an LED, so it's very easy to see which holes you're jamming your cables into.
The XPS 710 H2C packs some serious hardware. It uses an Intel quad-core QX6700 CPU -- that's the one with four individual processing cores on a single die. Not only that, but it's been factory-overclocked from the default 2.66GHz to a monstrous 3.2GHz. Imagine Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Heinz Wolff and the Nutty Professor all mashed on to a single chip then force-fed a load of Omega 3 -- it's that quick.
Dell could be forgiven for installing half a dozen cooling fans to keep the overclocked CPU from going into meltdown, but it's gone one better by installing a space-age two-part cooling system. The custom-designed H2C cooler combines standard water cooling with thermo-electric heat dissipation of the sort you usually find on a NASA space shuttle. The ceramic tiles deflect heat away from the CPU and clever circuitry inside regulates the temperature so the chip isn't damaged by condensation.
Standard memory in the 710 H2C is 2GB, though it supports a maximum of 4GB. This is split across two 1GB DDR2 667MHz modules running in a dual-channel arrangement for quicker-than-normal memory access. But it's not all peaches and cream -- the Dell motherboard in the 710 H2C doesn't support 800MHz memory. Anyone spending upwards of £4,000 on a gaming PC would, rightfully, be a tad miffed -- it could be a problem for any future upgrade, although not for current performance.
All should be forgiven, however, when you take a look at the graphics solution inside the 710 H2C. It uses two Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX graphics cards running in a tandem SLI (serial link interface) configuration. Each has 760MB of RAM (for a total video memory of 1.5GB) and each has enough power to make F.E.A.R. run like Pong. Installing two is just taking the mickey.
As if that wasn't enough, the PC has an Ageia PhysX card. This sits in a port adjacent to the graphics cards and provides additional 3D physics processing in compatible games. It helps calculate how objects in a 3D space should react -- a task normally handled by the processor and graphics card. Whether it's worth having depends on the type of games you play -- there are relatively few titles that are PhysX-compatible.
Storage in the 710 H2C isn't particularly generous, but it's well thought-out. You can get up to 1TB of disk storage, but the default configuration is rather basic. Everything's installed on a pair of 160GB drives in a RAID 0 stripe -- an arrangement where data is interleaved across two disks for faster file access. The drives spin at a very quick 10,000rpm (standard hard drives run at around 7,200rpm) so you won't be surprised to learn the 710 H2C is no slouch in disk-intensive tasks.
Our review sample of the 710 H2C uses Windows XP. This is largely because at the time of its construction there were no SLI Nvidia Drivers for Windows Vista. They are available now, but Dell doesn't yet offer Vista pre-installed.
"OMG WTF!" is pretty much all the sense we could muster when analysing the 710's H2C performance capabilities. Its 10,000rpm RAID 0 hard drives helped it boot up in under 30 seconds, and it scored a dizzying 9,251 in PCMark 2005 -- the highest we've seen.
Likewise, the 710 H2C screamed its way through our gaming tests. It scored a monstrous 15,299 in 3DMark 2006, and ran F.E.A.R. at 140 frames per second -- again, the highest we've seen.
The 710 H2C is a stunning-looking and blisteringly quick computer. Its default storage is rather limited, and its memory bandwidth prevents it from fulfilling its potential, but it still makes the vast majority of computers look like pocket calculators. Buy one if you have the cash.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide