At US$1959 (as of August 8, 2008), this configuration of Dell's XPS 630 desktop is quite a bit more affordable than its $3229 gaming-oriented sibling that we recently reviewed.
Dell lets you choose either Windows XP or Windows Vista as the operating system, and you can add extras, such as an Ageia PhysX accelerator, a Blu-ray Disc drive, and up to 4GB of DDR2-800 Corsair Dominator memory.
The aforementioned gaming XPS 630's SLI-rigged 8800 GT graphics card certainly gives it an edge in graphics performance, but in this version of the XPS 630, the single 512MB nVidia GeForce 9800 GT card didn't do too badly: the system averaged a frame rate of 138 frames per second while running Doom 3 at 1280 by 1024 resolution with antialiasing turned on.
In general application performance, this XPS 630 (equipped with a 3.16-GHz Core 2 Duo E8500 CPU and 4GB of DDR2-800 Corsair Dominator memory) delivered a WorldBench score of 114, whereas the gaming XPS 630 (equipped with a QX6850 CPU) achieved a score of 123 in our WorldBench suite. That's a nice result, considering this XPS 630 costs substantially less, though it does so by trading off features. For instance, it includes a single 640GB, 7200-rpm hard disk (Western Digital Caviar SE16) versus the gaming version's two speedy 160GB, 10,000-rpm Western Digital Raptor hard drives configured in a RAID 0 array.
The XPS 630's industrial design is reminiscent of--but scaled back from--that of Dell's XPS 720 desktop. The 630's ATX case features brushed aluminum on the sides and top, with a choice of a black or red plastic front, and back panels with large grilles. The side panel easily unlatches to reveal a well-organized interior with neat cable management, a 750-watt power supply, and a tool-less hard-drive tray. For a case of its size, it offers respectable expansion room, with one open 5.25-inch drive bay at the front (a DVD±RW drive occupies the other bay). Four internal slots are open: two regular PCI, one PCI Express x8, and one PCI Express x1.
The motherboard for this system uses nVidia's 650i SLI chip set. Unfortunately, that chip set limits each of the system's two PCI Express x16 slots (used for the dual graphics cards) to 8X speed in SLI mode, raising the possibility of an old-school bandwidth bottleneck that is less common today than it used to be. Another issue: Dell's own LightFX software, which controls the colors of the case exterior's four LED lighting zones, has a conflict with this chip set that forces users to resort to nVidia's ESA light effects software instead. An open standard created by nVidia, ESA (Enthusiast System Architecture) promotes two-way communication between PC components. The XPS 630 is among the first ready-made PCs to support it.
The XPS 630 ships with Dell's standard wired optical mouse and multimedia keyboard combo that's perfectly serviceable but nothing special. You also get a 15-month subscription to the PC-cillin Internet security suite. Chip-set concerns aside, the XPS 630 is a well-built, highly customizable power desktop that delivers good performance for the price.