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  Dell XPS R350 A Look Inside - Review
by: Larry Mingus Published: March 31, 1999

After months of being on hold because of massive site HTML repairs, finally I got around to posting this tiny blurb of a review on a sweet Dell system.

This is not a performance review, it's more a pictorial and quality overview, the only way to do a true quality review is to review the system after a year or so and see how well it held up.  On the other hand, it is does not take a year of use to notice quality features. You can find many performance reviews of Dell systems but rarely do you get a chance to peek inside and see what's under the hood.  I am hoping that this article will dispel some of the myths floating around that all OEM systems use proprietary and non-standard parts.

Times are changing, for years the only way to have the latest and greatest technology was to select all the parts and build it yourself.  I used to build custom systems for my clients, not so anymore.  For quite some time I have directed most of my clients to either Dell, Gateway, Micron, or one of the other industry leaders.  Dell has been leading the pack lately, offering some very good deals.  Take this Dell XPS R350 for example:

  • Intel P2-350
  • 128MB PC100 ECC SDRAM
  • 13.6GB Maxtor hard drive
  • STB 4400 TNT 16MB video card
  • 19 inch Phillips Magnavox monitor
  • Turtle Beach Montego II A3D sound card
  • 40x CD-ROM
  • USR 56K Voice/Fax modem
  • Microsoft Office - Small Business
  • Altec Lansing ACS-295 Speakers
  • Three year ON SITE warranty

Price as configured: October 12, 1998 $2355.00

Price as of March 9, 1999 with Intel P2-400 and 12.9GB drive all other components the same. $2220.00

This system would satisfy the majority of most gamers let alone be used as a business machine as it will be. Dell, beat out Gateway on this sale by offering a non-integrated motherboard option, the STB 4400 TNT video card, and a very capable non-integrated sound card option of the Turtle Beach Montego II A3D II. Not to forget the great sounding Altec Lansing ACS-295 speakers. Gateway did not offer one system that did not have sound and/or video integrated into the motherboard. This seems to be a growing trend among OEM manufacturers, I just can't go along with it though. With the fast pace of 3D graphics cards these days even if the motherboard came with integrated NVidia TNT it would be outdated within six months. With a non-integrated video card at least you can move it to another system or sell it to someone that can use it. The option to sell the card or use it in another system sure beats disabling it on a motherboard.

I have setup a number of Dell machines in the past but never really dug into one like I did this time. I was very impressed with this machine. If you have read my cooling projects you know that I have been working on ways to lower case noise and improve cooling. Well, let me tell you, this Dell is one quite and cool running machine. I guess the reason I noticed this, is because I had the system in house for three days to take the photos (Thank you Jerry). Normally, I go on site to do setups and with everything going on around you, you just don't notice little details like NOISE. ;)

The Dell case fans are unbelievably quite. Here I was, so happy with my Enlight case after I added the sound proofing, which cut the original noise in the Enlight by over half. Then along comes this Dell that puts out 1/2 the noise of my modified what I consider quiet Enlight. So I am back to the drawing board to work some more on the case cooling projects.

Click on any photo for a larger view.

Just in case your interested, all photos in this article were taken with a Kodak DVC-323 USB Web Cam.

Photo Dell  Heatsink Front (7184 bytes) Noise is just the beginning, another surprise... cooling. When I opened the Dell case to do the photos, I was immediately drawn to the overly large CPU heat sink which had no fan attached, instead a 4 inch case fan mounted on the back of the case is used to aid in cooling the CPU. Of course I wasn't going to miss this opportunity to monitor a few temperatures while I was at it. The big surprise... the highest temp in three days was 93 degrees Fahrenheit. The temp hovered around 83F to 89F degrees even with the case cover on (room temp 78F to 80F).


Photo Dell Heatsink Back (5240 bytes) This system is a case in point that you don't have to have three turbo fans on your CPU heatsink with an additional 6 case fans blowing and sucking more dust than a Hoover vacuum cleaner. I would love to see more after market cooling solution companies take this approach. Why is it in the after market all we seem to see are multiple fan solutions or radical peliter coolers? Hmm $$$ In my opinion, Intel is the one who messed up in the design of the ATX case. Yes the ATX case is a big improvement over the AT case, but certainly not an improvement in the cooling department. Maybe I will live long enough to own a desktop computer that doesn't need any fans. Okay, I am done ranting for now.


Photo Dell Case Inside (10427 bytes)The next plus on this Dell system is the motherboard choice. A standard Intel BX chipset motherboard. Nice to know that some day, down the road you could change motherboards to any standard ATX layout board. I am not sure if you could snake an Abit BX6 in here but I think so.



Photo Dell Motherboard (6687 bytes) No riser cards or funky proprietary layout just a nice clean standard Intel ATX motherboard.




Photo Dell Extras (3886 bytes) Here is a shot that shows some of the quality extras that you don't often see. Power connector safety covers and data cables with built in pull straps. Yes they are small details but it shows how Dell is not cutting corners.



dell_side_cover1.jpg (6022 bytes) For those of you that drool over easy access to the case insides, Dell offers what I consider one of the best. Loosen the one thumb screw and press the top and bottom plastic locks and your in.









Dell Case Side Cover Sheilding I believe another reason the Dell is so quiet, is because the outer skin of the case is plastic. Something you don't see on aftermarket cases. The plastic seems to work very well at dampening inside case noises. Of course the plastic is lined with metal inside to keep the RF noise in the case and to keep the FCC happy.



Photo Dell Case Back (12321 bytes)

Something else worth mentioning is the lack of a second serial port. For some people this could be a problem, although it isn't a big deal to add a serial port. I didn't look at the motherboard to see if the port is on the board, it may be there just waiting for a cable.

The two downsides that I see in this system are the monitor and only two exposed 5.25 inch drive bays. Dell was using the 19" Phillips Magnavox at the time and while it is an adequate monitor it is by no means what I would call top of the line. I have setup three of these systems recently and all of the monitors had moiré patterns that could not be adjusted out. I am not saying that the monitor is complete garbage just not a choice I would make. I should note that all three of the clients were totally happy with the monitor. Maybe I am just to picky. In comparison to the HITACHI SuperScan Elite 751, I would choose the HITACHI in a heart beat. If you plan on using the system for graphics work, I would order the Dell without a monitor and buy the HITACHI SSE 751 or possibly upgrade to one of the new Dell 19" Trinitron monitors. Keep in mind that purchasing a system like this you will most likely be using it for 3yrs or more especially the monitor. Most people don't upgrade monitors they just live with what they have until it dies.

It is really to bad that a case this nice only comes with two 5.25 inch external drive bays. If you plan to have a DVD and a CD-R/W that is it you will be out of room for a possible removable hard disk or any other 5.25 inch device. The growing trend of only two or one exposed 5.25 inch drive bays seems ridiculous considering the popularity of CD-RW and DVD players.

The warranty is what seals the deal on these systems. In my opinion the $99 option to extend the next business day ON SITE warranty to three years is a big bargain and should not be overlooked. Just one on site service call can easily be double that figure for just time only. Two warnings about typical system warranties nowadays. One, be prepared with good backups before calling support for service. This is because more often than not, you will be asked to reinstall the original software that came on a system before they will send out a service tech. Two, when a service tech comes they will only be fixing one problem at a time and sometimes this will lead to several service calls before your computer is fixed. Some people get very upset at this procedure, but in all fairness Dell or whatever OEM can not send the technician every part in your system for every service call.

There are a number of you that are saying I can get all those parts and save plenty of money. This is becoming harder and harder to do every month. The prices on the pre-configured or configure your own systems has gotten so low that if you can live with the choices the OEM offers in most cases you will be better off going with a system like this Dell XPS R350 with the on site warranty and the support of Dell. Plus if you buy all the parts separately and use OEM parts the whole games gets more complicated and you could be in for a rude awakening if you ever need to replace an OEM part. I am getting way off track here, I'll save this for another article coming soon. In this next article I will compare the actual costs, what's involved, and the pros and cons of building a system from scratch vs. buying one of these package deals.

Dell is currently at the top of my recommendation list especially for new computer users. Even if you have aspirations of becoming the next 'Thresh' of Quake fame, you certainly wouldn't go wrong in buying one of these latest systems from Dell.

Until next time... Cheers!


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