Dell XPS 200

Dell XPS 200

Dell's sleek, quiet XPS 200 media center is an elegant ornament in any living room or study. Listen to Mozart, sip your cappuccino, and discover how this burnished beauty actually performs.

Introduction

As you might know, [H] Consumer doesnít "review" personal computer systems; we evaluate the experiences they facilitate. We order the system just as you would and weigh every aspect of the end-user experience. Not only does this give us a better idea of the hardware an end user actually receives, it also gives a more accurate picture of just how each company functions and treats its customers. Given how fast PC hardware has become over the years, we think giving a personal computer "5 stars" based on a synthetic benchmark is irresponsible. We think service, support, and reliability are much more important factors in today's climate. Speed is easily bought, but a high price canít guarantee ownership satisfaction.

The Low End of Dell's High End

The Dell Corporation pushes its XPS line as the "ultimate technology experience." Though we have yet to learn what "XPS" stands for, we love its muscle-mag ad copy. "Raw power, sheer force," reads the catalog. "Challenge your strongest opponents," urges the Dell website. For a truly macho sales pitch, check the page for the limited edition XPS 600 Renegade, a testosterone-soaked, $10K quad-SLI 4.26GHz hotrod. The Renegade's case is hand-painted with hellish flames, which presumably depict its power supply two seconds after you boot up.

In the shadow of these behemoths stands the Dell XPS 200, a dapper slimline model built for style. Just a foot tall, 3.7 inches wide, and 16.4 pounds, this media center is, Dell assures us, "79.5% smaller than the XPS 600." (There's a CD case on top of our machine just now, so it's currently more like 79.47%.) The 200, released in September 2005 (a rebranded version of the July 2005 Dimension 5100C), uses Intel's new Balanced Technology Extended (BTX) form factor for quiet and cool operation.

The XPS 200 is not only compact but handsome. You could display this silver-white case beside your stereo components without shame. The machine's front air intake is recessed behind a bezel, and its front ports hide tastefully behind a buffed silver front panel. Push an inset button, and the panel whirrs smoothly up and back like the gull wing on a DeLorean. You'll spend your first minute with the machine just opening and closing that panel. You might giggle.

Pitched as a media center rather than a heavy-hitter gaming PC, the 200 is an anomaly in the XPS line. True, it has the dual core 2.8GHz Pentium D and the 1GB of DDR2 RAM, but check out the video card. That 128MB ATI Radeon X600 SE won't lure away anyone who's saving up $10,000 for a Renegade. We resolved to evaluate the XPS 200 on its own terms, as a multimedia system intended for music and movies. We were all set. But unfortunately we, uh, destroyed the disc partition.

How did that happen? Luckily, Dellís technical support had the solutionÖ

What We're Looking For

The XPS 200 is sold as a "multimedia powerhouse." We're checking the system's quality of DVD editing, burning, and playback, as well as its sound card and speakers. We also want to know how stable it is and how well Dell supports our purchase. We place less emphasis on its use as a gaming machine, because the pricier XPS models fill that niche. The XPS line offers "premium support," so we want to see what "premium" means.

After our December 2005 XPS 400 evaluation took Dell to task for pre-installing bloatware that actively interfered with everyday use of the computer, and after Dell announced a move to let customers order certain XPS systems with "limited" pre-installed software, [H] Consumer is particularly interested in seeing what software Dell currently ships on its XPS 200 and whether it still affects routine work with the system.

What We Bought

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