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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  • aoskunk - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure what you meant your dissapointed about? it turned out i had done nothing wrong, seeing as how once i got working parts everything was perfect. bios was far from complicated to setup. just select the proper xmp profile which it explained right in the directions that came with both the ram and motherboard. slecting right boot config. in fact i dont think there was really anything else to change other than the timing to skip Asus' own quick access OS. Aside from core multipliers etc. (I am now perfectly stable at 4GHz!)
    Unfortunatley at least where I live the cost of going to a repair shop would likely end up costing as much as say, my videocard. But like I said there was no error on my part, just some bad luck. I paid extra for good shipping from a carrier that doesn't subject your packages to falls from as high as 12 feet. I agree that there is a lot of misinformation posted in the reviews on newegg. They do often have some of the best pricing and pretty good RMA service though.
  • BernardP - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    Each time I look at the possibility of configuring a Dell system, I run into a couple of things that keep me from proceeding. One is the limited possibilities for adding hard drives. No experienced user wants to run a single 1 TB HD with everything on it. My preferred combination is one system drive and 2 data drives, one mirroring the other. No can do here.

    The other thing is that Dells no longer ship with a true Windows install DVD. There is a basic configuration already on the HD and you have to burn your own disc image of this in case of an eventual reinstall. It's not possible to format the drive and do a clean Windows install from an OEM windows DVD.

    Don't try to partition the drive either, as the partinioning software will wreac havoc with the hidden Restore Partition.

    However, a basic pre-built is certainly a great option for the casual user (like my parents) who are happy to just surt the web and send email.
  • seapeople - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    Did this just change? My Dell Inspiron from April shipped with a Windows install disk. It was simple to do a reformat and fresh Windows install. Partitioning is fine to do as well. Of course, the partitioning does kill the Factory Restore functionality, but why would I want to go back to the factory state anyway when I have a Windows install disk?
  • DominionSeraph - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    With Dell it's always questionable what you're going to get. I've gotten disks that restore it to factory state, ones with OS + applications so you can just install the OS, and straight Windows disks.
  • BernardP - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Yes, it's a new policy effective April 1 2010:
  • seapeople - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Wow, I was lucky it seems!
  • harbingerkts - Thursday, July 8, 2010 - link

    Long story short - with their windows 7 systems Dell's using a recovery partition and telling users to create recovery disks. I had to request the OS and Application disks through a form on their site.
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    "The dock offers sets of shortcuts at the top of the screen not totally dissimilar to the dock in Mac OS X."

    I'm sure that I had a Windows 95 machine way back in the past that had various menus at the top of the screen from oems and other etc.

    I don't think we'll ever have any article that doesn't mention apple now. People want to know about the damn machine and most won't even know or BOTHER to realise that shortcut icons look like the ones in OSX.
  • cknobman - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    That coupled with the gimped chipset ruin a otherwise decent build for the price (from a cookie cutter manufacturer anyways).

    With only 460 Watts say goodbye to overclocking or expansion.
  • Powerlurker - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 - link

    Overclocking is probably the last thing on the mind of someone who is buying a computer from Dell.

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