A powerful PC does not have to be loud or flashy, not in today's era of computing. Proving this to be the case is Dell's refreshed XPS Desktop Special Edition, available in two subtly attractive trims: Mineral White (as seen here) and Night Sky. While each are eye catching in their own right, neither one makes the same visually bold statement as Dell's Alienware desktops, which have evolved over the years and still maintain a distinctly different -- you might even say, otherworldly -- aesthetic. The XPS Desktop is dressed in more conservative garb, but still packs a punch. Or as Dell accurately puts it, this is where "beauty meets power."
To that end, there is some overlapping in Dell's varied product lines (Inspiron, G5 Gaming, XPS, XPS Special Edition, Alienware), despite each taking aim at a specific segment. This is a good thing in our opinion, as it affords buyers a chance to shop a solution that meets their needs without being limited to just one stylized product line. The XPS Desktop Special Edition perhaps encompasses this best—it is an attractive lineup for creators, but is also a compelling option for gamers who may not be interested in something as aggressive as the Alienware Aurora R11
, or want a PC with a bit more of a professional vibe than the G5 Gaming lineup offers. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.
Dell sent us one of its more powerful configurations within the XPS Desktop Special Edition family. That said, it is not entirely decked out, save for the graphics card: our model packs NVIDIA's energetic GeForce RTX 3070 based on the company's latest generation Ampere GPU architecture. It is the fastest graphics card available within this lineup. As we saw in our GeForce RTX 3070 review
, it is an exceptionally capable gaming card, delivering performance on par with last generation's GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
, but at a far more palatable price.
paired this with another meaty component, an Intel 10th Generation Core i7-10700K processor, based on Comet Lake. This is an 8-core/16-thread chip flexing a 3.8GHz base clock and a max 5.1GHz turbo clock, along with 16MB of L3 cache. It's a powerful part, though users who need even more multi-threaded muscle can opt for up to a 10-core/20-thread Core i9-10900K. There are also non-K variants available to save a few bucks.
This is a competent config for creators and gamers alike. We'll discuss the performance in more detail when we examine the benchmarks, but first let's have a look at the rest of this configuration...
|Dell XPS Desktop Special Edition (8940) - Mineral White
||Intel Core i7-10700K (8 cores, 16 threads, 16MB L3 cache, 3.8-5.1GHz)
||32GB (2x16GB) DDR4 2933MHz
||OEM board (Intel H470 chipset)
||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 w/ 8GB GDDR6
||512GB Western Digital SN530 NVMe SSD
2TB Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM HDD
||Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) - Qualcomm QCA9377
Killer E2600 Gigabit Ethernet
||500W Lite-On PSU (80 Plus Platinum)
|Enclosure / Lighting Options
||Windows 10 Home
|4x USB 3.1 Type-A
2x USB 2.0
3x 3.5mm 5.1-channel audio
1x Gigabit Ethernet
1x HDMI 1.4 (UMA only - motherboard)
1x HDMI 2.1 (GPU)
1x DisplayPort 1.2 (UMA only - motherboard)
3x DisplayPort 1.4a (GPU)
| Ports (Front)
|1x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C
3x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A
1x 3.5mm headphone/line-out
1x SD card slot
1x Blu-Ray reader/writer (tray loading)
||6.65 x 14.45 x 12.13 inches (W x D x H) / 169 x 367 x 308 millimeters
||13.89 lbs (6.3 kilograms)
||1 year hardware with onsite in-home service after remote diagnosis
||As tested $2,185.39 - Dell.com
As configured, this setup will run you just shy of $2,200. It's not cheap, obviously, but this setup packs a performance-oriented selection of parts. In addition to the sprightly CPU and GPU combo, this kit wields a generous 32GB of DDR4 memory, along with a 512GB NVMe solid state drive for the OS and a 2TB hard drive for bulk storage chores.
More affordable combinations certainly exist within this customizable lineup. Right off the bat, you could whack nearly $300 off the price by opting for a Core i7-10700 and a GeForce RTX 3060 Ti
. Deduct an additional $147 if you downgrade to 16GB of RAM. This still leaves you with a respectable PC that has plenty of pep in its step, for a little over $1,700.
On the flip side, you can go the other direction and load this up with gobs of RAM for content creation chores—up to 128GB—and a 2TB SSD + 2TB HDD storage combo. Your budget and needs will dictate where pricing ultimately lands. Outside of the core components, we recommend spending a modest $19.60 to upgrade the Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) adapter to the Killer Wi-Fi AX1650i
(802.11ax) option. It hardly adds to the cost, while ensuring your system can fully benefit when and if you invest in a Wi-Fi 6 router. It comes with a Bluetooth upgrade as well (version 5.1 versus 4.1). This should really be a standard option, given the nominal cost.
Clean Looks, Plenty Of Ports, And Is That An Optical Drive?
We dig the Mineral White color option, as it gives the system a clean, modern look. There is nothing wild going on with the overall design, but it does have a bit of character courtesy of the beaded bottom section of the front panel. This also serves to draw cool air into the system, albeit in a passive manner (we'll take a look at the inside in just a moment).
The XPS Desktop Special Edition serves up a generous selection of front I/O options, conveniently located on the upper right of the front panel. From top to bottom, there is the power button, an SD card slot, a 3.5mm headphone/line-out jack, three USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports, and a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port.
Having an SD card slot is a nice touch for creators and digital photography buffs alike, and a bit of a rare front-panel amenity. We also like having easy access to so many USB ports, including USB-C. Our only gripe is the lack of faster Gen 2 connectivity, which doubles the speed over Gen 1 from 5Gbps to 10Gbps.
Speaking of rare amenities, your eyes do not deceive you, that is indeed an optical drive! Dell offers two options—a DVD reader/writer, or for $49 more a Blu-ray reader/writer. Both are tray-loading drives. Gaming is largely driven by digital downloads these days (Steam, GOG, Epic Games Store, and the such), but if you still have some older titles on disc that you want to revisit, or a CD collection you have not yet ripped, this desktop will happily oblige.
There are six more USB ports around back, including four USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports and two USB 2.0 ports. There is also a gigabit LAN port, three audio ports (supporting 5.1-channel audio), and an assortment of HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, both directly on the motherboard (for tapping into a CPU's integrated graphics) and on the graphics card.
Dell XPS Desktop Special Edition Tool-Less Entry And Interior
Getting into this system is a tool-less affair. Just twist the two thumb screws, which stay attached so you won't lose them, and slide off the metal side panel. It very easy to remove and re-attach the side panel, should you need to for any reason.
The interior layout is fairly clean for a non-boutique OEM system. Ripping off the side panel gives us a relatively clear view of the guts, from the PSU and beefy graphics card in the lower section, to the CPU air cooler and empty drive bays up top. Looking closer, we can see there was a fair bit of effort to route the cables out of the way, rather than let them dangle willy-nilly. Dell even employs a few zip ties to keep the interior neat and tidy.
Incidentally, the cable management was a bit too tight in one place. When we fired up the system for the first time, we immediately heard that distinct noise of a wire being repeatedly and rapidly walloped by fan blades. It was the power cable from the GPU, coming into contact with the card's right-most cooling fan. This likely got shuffled during shipping, but even so it dangles uncomfortably close to the blades. The solution is easy, though—just pull a bit of extra slack.
Despite being a relatively compact tower, it is deceivingly spacious. The desktop can accommodate a full-size graphics card (it takes up nearly every inch of the system's depth, but it fits), and there is ample room for air to flow throughout the setup.
This is also observed up top, where there are two drive bays. The one on the left is a 2.5-inch bay with power cables and a SATA cable already in place, to make adding an SSD (or 2.5-inch HDD) a snap. Over on the right is a 3.5-inch drive bay. In theory you could occupy both, though in practice, it will get tricky because there is just one free SATA cable, and the additional power cable is on the other side.
As configured, there is a 512GB M.2 SSD installed into the motherboard, and a 2TB HDD propped into a vertical drive bay positioned on the front panel. If you wanted to, you could reposition the HDD to the top bay easy enough.
In regards to future upgrades, the easy ones including adding a 2.5-inch SSD, swapping out the M.2 SSD for a more capacious option, adding more RAM, and upgrading the graphics card, within the power limits of the 500W PSU.
Let's talk about that for a moment. A 500W PSU might seem under powered for a GeForce RTX 3070, as NVIDIA recommends a 650W PSU. But here's the thing—this is presumably a higher quality unit. It is made by Lite-On and features 80 Plus Platinum certification, a designation that is typically associated with top tier PSUs (it relates to efficiency, but crappy PSUs do not typically earn the badge). According to Dell, the XPS Desktop Special Edition with the 500W PSU option "supports 125W K CPU + 225W graphics with anticipated voltage spikes." For reference, the GeForce RTX 3070 is a 220W GPU.
We did not observe any instability or other funkiness during our testing, and so we are confident the PSU is up to the task. After all, we don't handle test systems with kid gloves. That said, Dell went with what appears to be a proprietary PSU design this time around, rather than a standard ATX or SFX model (it looks like a modified TFX unit). The implication there is that upgrading the PSU down the line is probably out of the cards, without making some modifications to the chassis. That is not a deal killer as far as we are concerned, considering what class of graphics card this PSU can handle.
Now let's turn this thing on and discuss the thermals and acoustics, shall we?...