Dell Studio XPS 7100: Good from the Factory?

The tricked-out Studio XPS 7100 desktop Dell asked us to review is an interesting beast. A review of a factory desktop machine that isn't some powerhouse gaming beast with liquid cooling, factory overclock and optional sunroof might seem a little unusual here on a site with a readership full of people who like to roll their own. Yet machines like the Studio XPS 7100 have a reason for being and are worthy of any enthusiast's attention.

For some of us, building a machine can be a lot of fun and very rewarding; for others, it can be an exercise in hair-pulling frustration as parts that “should work” don't. Bad RAM, faulty motherboards, and other potential problems can mar the DIY experience. Other potential users may just be lapsed enthusiasts looking for a decent machine without having to read up on new tech, or enthusiasts that know what parts they want but don't feel inclined to spend the time assembling and tweaking a system. Perhaps you're after a powerful desktop for editing home video, doing photo work, and maybe enjoying an occasional game and you want to keep things as easy as possible.

The Studio XPS 7100 fills a profoundly useful niche by offering some of the latest technology available on the market in an attractive package. With it, Dell seeks to serve all of the aforementioned users and more.

Dell XPS 7100 Specifications
Processor AMD Phenom II X6 1055T
(6x2.8GHz, 45nm, 3MB L2, 6MB L3, Turbo Core up to 3.3GHz, 125W)
Chipset AMD 785G Northbridge, AMD SB750 Southbridge
Memory 2x2GB and 2x1GB DDR3-1066 (Total 6GB, Max 4x4GB)
Graphics ATI Radeon HD 5870 1GB GDDR5
(1600 Stream Processors, 850MHz Core, 4.8GHz Memory, 256-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) 1.5TB 7200 RPM (Seagate Barracuda 7200.11)
Optical Drive(s) Blu-ray reader/DVD+-RW combo drive
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
Dell DW1525 802.11n PCIe wireless
Audio Realtek ALC887 HD Audio
5.1 audio jacks, mic and line-in
Front Side MMC/SD/CF/MS reader
Optical Drive
Open 5.25” Bay
Open 3.25” Bay
2x USB 2.0
Top 2x USB 2.0
Headphone and mic jack
Power button
Back Side AC Power
Optical out
4x USB 2.0
Gigabit Ethernet jack
Surround sound jacks and mic and line-in jacks
2x DVI-D
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.02" x 17.9" x 7.31" (WxDxH)
Weight 22.4 lbs
Extras 460W Power Supply
Wired keyboard and mouse
Flash reader (MMC/MS/CF/SD)
Warranty 1-year basic warranty
Pricing Starting at $499.99
Priced as configured: $1,149.99

Our review unit is Dell's top-end factory configuration for the Studio XPS 7100 line, and a couple of things on the spec sheet immediately jump out. The first is the brand new AMD Phenom II X6 1055T beating at the heart of it, a native six-core, 2.8GHz beast with 6MB of L3 cache and featuring AMD's Turbo Core technology. Turbo Core is a similar but arguably less efficient version of the Turbo Boost feature found in modern Intel Core processors, but it's capable of bumping core speed up to 3.3GHz on the 1055T under the right conditions. Still, even six 2.8GHz Phenom II cores pack enough muscle to get some serious computing done.

The other eyebrow-raiser in the Studio XPS 7100 is the ATI Radeon HD 5870, ATI's top-of-the-line single-GPU card. Ours is a bone-stock reference version with 1GB of GDDR5. You're undoubtedly familiar with the specs of the 5870, but for the sake of completeness, ATI's monster uses TSMC's 40nm fabrication process and is equipped with 1600 of ATI's stream processors running at a core clock of 850MHz. A 256-bit memory bus is connected to 1GB of GDDR5 running at an effective 4.8GHz. Finally, the card is DirectX 11-class hardware, and is capable of supporting up to three monitors simultaneously or even presenting all three transparently as a single screen in their Eyefinity configuration. While one of these monitors must be connected through DisplayPort (or an active DisplayPort adapter), our review unit was sent to us along with one of Dell's new and remarkably affordable E-IPS panel monitors, and those monitors include native DisplayPort connectivity. (We'll have a separate review of the display in the near future.)

Rounding out the core of the Studio XPS 7100 is 6GB of DDR3-1333 in the form of a pair of 2GB DIMMs and a pair of 1GB DIMMs. The 6GB is an odd choice; we would have liked to see Dell go whole hog and just include 8GB standard, since in order to make the upgrade later on you'll have to remove the two 1GB sticks. When you order off the site, it may be prudent to save yourself the trouble and pony up the $60 for the upgrade to 8GB.

Unfortunately, the chipset the memory and processor are plugged into is a bit antiquated these days. The MicroATX board in the guts of the XPS 7100 uses the 785G chipset with the SB750 Southbridge. The 785G's DVI and HDMI ports are actually blocked off by covers on the back of the tower, and a visit to the BIOS yielded no way to enable ATI's SurroundView. That's not a major loss given the three display outputs on the Radeon HD 5870, but the inclusion of the SB750 Southbridge alongside the shiny new Phenom II X6 is disappointing. The more modern SB850 with 6Gbps SATA ports and generally improved SATA performance over its predecessor would have been much appreciated.

Rounding out the machine are a single 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 hard disk spinning at 7200 RPM with 32MB of cache and a combination Blu-ray reader/DVD burner. Connectivity comes from an onboard Broadcom gigabit Ethernet port and Dell's own 1525 model PCIe wireless-n card. The wireless card is awesomely adorable, fitting into the PCIe x1 slot without extending at all beyond it and keeping a low profile, and it sits in the slot just above the Radeon HD 5870. Finally, audio duties are handled by a Realtek ALC887 HD audio controller.

Dell Studio XPS 7100 Closer Look
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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    Dell stopped using proprietary PSUs and cases (other than the BTX models) about 3-4 years back. Previously, you needed an adapter to use a standard ATX power supply with a Dell motherboard, but that has not been the case for some time. I believe I even mentioned this when I did a Dell system review in 2006... yes, here it is:
  • wilmarkj - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    Buddy, you are missing my point - unless there is a commitment from Dell that it wont use not standard parts in desktop computers - connectors (all types needed by the enthusiast), voltages, cables, etc, your point is moot. And its not just about the power/mb cnx. You are merely saying that in this case... or it has been the case in systems you've worked with. They took a decision in the past to do this and the easily can again, or have or will, in some cases etc. Its a risk, one i wont take as an enthusiast to end up with an oversized brick. I SAY AGAIN - Dells have to be significantly cheaper for a level playing field. Parts you buy from ASUS, Gigabyte, from newegg, TigerD etc will always be standard and interchangeable - with one of the other 8 computers i have here. Google some key words like Dell Non standard parts etc and you will see this issue is still alive and well.
  • LokutusofBorg - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    You may not be able to compare Dells to DIY, but I certainly can. It's a subjective comparison. You don't seem to get that point.

    I've been building my own computers for more than a decade. I also have built computers for family members and friends. Guess what family members and friends get nowadays? Dells. Guess what my own computers still are? Self-built.

    Can I call you buddy too?
  • wilmarkj - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Sure you can call me buddy. I supposed you love the 'standard' mounts for hard disks in your dell XPS, or the short psu cables, and these compare very subjectively well what you'd get with Antec etc - right.
  • LokutusofBorg - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    I'm pretty sure you don't know what subjectively means. It means I put my own value system on the judgment, so it is completely isolated to my situation. There is no reason to talk about comparing Dells to DIY *objectively* because every decision like this (what computer to buy) is a personal one.

    Dell fits parts of the market very well. Lots of us that consider ourselves system builders quite happily buy Dells in certain circumstances. This was a great article from one of my favorite sites on the merits of a certain Dell model as well as the current trend of Dell to target mainstream segments with competitive pricing.
  • DominionSeraph - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Try getting an i7 or DDR3 to fit on your 440BX motherboard.

    The simple fact is, incremental upgrades are rarely worth it, and nothing has ever been future proofed nor been universal.
    AMD and Intel come out with a new socket practically every year. Server and consumer parts are rarely compatible. Multiprocessor systems can be a nightmare. RAM changes constantly, motherboards are finicky about what type/speed and in what configuration you place them, and we won't even get into buffered/ECC.

    I've got a box I originally put together in '99. With a total of ~$3000 invested, it's now up to a Pentium III 700 with 384MB, a Geforce 2 GTS, and a 60GB PATA HDD. Great investment, no?
    Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't you buy this epitome of an enthusiast machine from me for, say, $1,149.99?
  • wilmarkj - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    I think you are in the wrong place - upgrades to a large extent mean Changing out: mb+ram+cpu OR graphics OR ps OR case OR monitors OR storage or any combination of these. It seldom makes sense to CO just the CPU or RAM, or the MB. Those guts (mb+cpu+ram) usually finds its way into another system (your own or sold), etc. Stuff you bought in '99 isnt likely to be worth anything really unless its an antique. Just a little primer in upgrading.
  • DominionSeraph - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    You just disproved your own point with "another system."
    If you have two computers, you have two computers. Putting some new parts into an old case and transferring old parts to a new case is not somehow more efficient than leaving the old system together and buying an entirely new one. Your brain might be fooled into thinking that buying two halves for two different computers is somehow less than buying one entirely new computer computer, but it's not..
  • wilmarkj - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    As i said you seem to be in the wrong place. When you change out the MB/CPU/RAM to the current technology - for most practical purposes you have a 'new' system. The only other thing you may want to look at is what you video card is capable of. Other than that the other parts you are likely to put in an entirely new build will most likely perform just a well as the old parts (old for me means about 6mths to 1 year). Allowing you to take the core of the system you just upgraded to improve the performance of another even older system. This way just buying a single MB/CPU/RAM or even a new video card allow you to upgrade several systems. Theres no fooling here of the brain here - you will get measurable performance improvements commensurate with the upgrades. There, you got another lesson.
  • GamerDave20 - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link


    Your point about upgrades made me think back to the mid-1990's. Subjectively, most upgrades apparently ARE worth it to the upgrader.

    I tend to want a completely new system after 2 to 4 years rather than upgrading my current system that I am usually quite tired of.

    This may also stem from some of my past experience such as: buying a $4,000 P90 system in 1995 with a Diamond Stealth with 2MB VRAM! only to upgrade in 1996 to a Matrox Millenium ($419) and adding an Orchid Righteous 3D ($300) 6 months later.

    Eventually, I swapped both out in 1998 for a $200 Diamond Stealth II which absolutely smoked my then favorite game - Soda Off-Road Racing.

    Shortly thereafter, I built a P200MMX system and used the Stealth II and put the P90 back to stock and sold it at a garage sale for $200. :( (don't remember what I did with the $700-worth of video cards though).

    Anyways, from this stemmed a rule for me to never by a single computer component (for a new system or as an upgrade) for more than $200 and that it's more fun to just start over - although hard drive upgrades have kept me going for another year several different times.

    But, to me, nothing beats a brand new system (unless you buy it and then research all the components to find out that the vendor used all of the least expensive of everything (like my P90)!

    Anyways, having hating Dell in the past due to their anemic stock RAM loadouts (256MB for WinXP in the early 2000's), this system sounds worth a look. I only periodically look at Dell's laptops (with there current lack of great video cards in their XPS laptops) and have not noticed this system or any desktop of Dell's.

    Also, in the past 6 months, I haven't been able to price pieces for a system to build that satisfies me for less than $1,200 and that includes an HD 5770. So this isn't too bad.

    Dave (GamerDave20)

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