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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  • LaughingTarget - Friday, July 9, 2010 - link

    I just buy the thing with the expectation that I'll hold onto it for about 4 years. The only time I bothered to upgrade anything was putting an extra 2 gigs of RAM into my Conroe machine when I picked up a copy of Win7.
  • freeturkeys - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    That was a standard ATI video card, the connector is for a dongle that splits to dual VGA or dual DVI. Just noticed the age of this though, so you probably already know this by now!
  • HangFire - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Its been how long since Dell stopped using non-standard P/S pinouts... 6 years? 7? Unforgivable, perhaps, but hardly relevant anymore.

    I've got news for you, most OEM PC's stay stock for their entire lifetime, save for RAM and maybe a new hard disk. After 3 years they get reformatted and the kids flog it for a while playing Flash and Web games and then it dies and gets thrown away. If it lasts 5 years total people get their money's worth and are satisfied.

    If this does not describe your desired experience, skip the article, because if you read it, you'd find the article already says that these systems exist for people who don't want to even think about upgrades and mods. The fact that it doesn't come stuffed with crapware and McAfee is the only s/w you have to uninstall is a near miracle, plus the fact it comes with a decent CPU and video card for a reasonable price, means that you can recommend this system to a family knowing that Mom and Dad will find it fast enough for 3 years and the kids will play games on it OK and it won't become a tech support nightmare for you, their computer guy friend.
  • wilmarkj - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    What you state is not news - you hardly have a choice. I Hardly think that a 6 Core Phenom with 6 GB RAM and HD 5870 maketh a computer for Mom and Dad. If you read the article you will see its the writer of this article that made the comparison to a built from parts system. My post was merely putting this in what i thought was a more accurate perspective. I still dont buy that crap about Dell and using standard parts - ive see too many recent dells had had so much non standard crap (see my post about the video card). A decent video card and CPU is about all here though and seems unmatched by the motherboard, and as far as i recall the segate XXX.11 has a history of issues. This system looks a little ridiculous, and then its justified based on its parts. Afterall this is anandtech, not pcmagazine.
  • LokutusofBorg - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    We just bought XPS 8100s at work, which look to be the Intel twin (i7-860) to this model.

    We added an SSD and it was a PITA. The hard drives mount sideways and only use the screw holes on the bottom of the drive. The mounting bracket that came with the SSD only had side screws. So my SSD is just loose in the HD slot.

    And the power cables from the PSU are *maddeningly* short. Like, I-want-to-hit-somebody-in-the-face-for-making-them-that-short short.
  • HangFire - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    If you can't locate HDD/SSD adapters with bottom screws, power cable extenders, can't drill and tap a hole, or get out a soldering iron, wire and shrink tubing and just fix it, you are hardly in a position to promote upgrades.

    Grow up and deal with it, these are all trivial things that don't even approach the level of case modding. If you have built a few dozen custom systems you've dealt with worse, or maybe you haven't...
  • wilmarkj - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Rubbish! You say elsewhere - "most OEM PC's stay stock for their entire lifetime", and now you're telling this guy to pull out his soldering iron. Dell computers are crap. This guy started with a dell - you expect him to pull out his soldering iron?? I have built over 500 systems from parts, several servers and workstations, and special applications computers - all from off the shelf parts - NEVER DELL - they short change you and utilize horrid practices/cut corners, like the way they mount drives, cable specs, etc. While i like a challenge - i never go out of my way to encounter unnecessary trouble.
  • HangFire - Monday, July 12, 2010 - link

    Or don't use a soldering iron, just buy the adapter, but he is so hot about his mad moddin' skillz I had to point out he was ranting about the trivial.

    The whole point of the matter is OEM PC's are not made for massive upgradability, if that is what you need deal with it and don't buy a Dell, that doesn't make them horrid. It just makes them what they are, OEM PC's, the solution for 80% of the market, including factory available upgrade parts that fit right in for 80% of upgrade needs. If you and yours don't fit into this percentage of the market, good on you, buy custom or build your own.

    Once you catch up to the number of systems I've built, modded, and repaired, you might realize that there are lots of people happy with OEM PC's out there, and don't mind buying an all-new one every 3 years. There are advantages either way.
  • seapeople - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    That sounds dangerous. We all know how susceptible SSD's are to any bit of vibration. If it's not mounted properly and your dog bumps your system you could lose all your data!
  • chucko6166 - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    I purchased a Studio XPS 7100 a few weeks ago for my use as his primary gaming machine. It works as advertised and it's been rock solid stable. I've built plenty of systems over the last 30 years and my selection criteria for this PC heavily favored bang for the buck, performance, and stability. I'm willing to give up a bit of performance to insure stability, and in my case overclocking is not something that I'm interested in, as I really don't need the extra few percent of performance that overclocking would provide.

    Before I ordered I put together a build list on NewEgg and discovered that I could not build the same system for the price that I paid for the Dell. The choice was a simple one, and I commend Dell for building a quality PC and selling it at a reasonable price.

    It's cool, quiet, stable, and provides good bang for the buck and excellent performance for a PC in the $1000-$1250 price range. I configured it with 8GB of RAM and the HD 5870, and frame rates are superb at 1920x1080.

    Life is good.

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