Review: Dell Studio XPS 435MT gets the job done

Update: I’ve posted a new review of the Dell Studio XPS 435MT running Windows 7 Professional. For a review of the actual machine itself, please continue reading below.

Update: BIOS 1.1.2 (which greatly reduces fan noise) is now available.

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After using my new Dell Studio XPS 435MT (and the accompanying 23″ Dell SP2309W LCD monitor) for over a week and a half, I’ve come to terms with the slight drone and decided to keep the computer. Fan noise aside, the Studio XPS 435MT desktop is quite a machine.  I wanted to take the opportunity to give it a “proper” in-depth review, but, in traditional Boilr style, its really more of a casual overview (at least in comparison to other more “traditional” review sites).

Hardware

intel_core_i7_logoThe Studio XPS line is an attempt to blur the boundaries between Dell’s more consumer-oriented Studio products and its more sophisticated/hardcore XPS gaming/multimedia-centric setups.

As previously noted (but with less detail), my new rig shipped with an Intel Core i7-920 processor operating at 2.66GHz, 6GB of DDR SDRAM running at 1067MHz, a 512MB ATI Radeon 4850 HD video card, 750GB SATA2 7200RPM hard drive, 19-in-1 media card reader with Bluetooth 2.0, 2 optical drives: 16X DVD+/-RW and 16X DVD-ROM, integrated 7.1 channel audio, Dell A525 30 Watt 2.1 Stereo Speakers with Subwoofer, 8 USB ports (4 on back, 4 on front), 1 Firewire (IEEE 1394) port, 1 Mini (4-pin) Firewire (IEEE 1394) port, 1 eSATA port, 360 Watt power supply, standard headphone/microphone jacks, 10/100/1000 network port, and a Dell USB 6-Button Logitech Laser Mouse. It’s paired with a 23″ 2048×1152 Dell SP2309W LCD monitor with 2mp webcam.

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The machine seems to handle just about everything I’ve thrown at it thanks to the powerful Intel Core i7 processor at its heart. The quad-core processor with hyper-threading appears as 8 separate processors to the operating system, giving the machine some serious processing horsepower.  When coupled with 6GB of system RAM and 512MB of VRAM, the Studio XPS handles heavy workloads with negligible lag. Thanks to all this raw power, Vista Home Premium 64-bit is more than tolerable (although I could see how Vista might bog down a “slower” system). In fact, its rather snappy and responsive.

Video encoding (as previously mentioned) is wicked fast; web browsing, using MS Office, and other “regular” activities work like a charm; media ripping is quick; playback is crisp and almost entirely jitter-free; Adobe CS4 Creative Suite works without a hitch; photos render quickly, and processing images is a breeze.

To top it all off, the 435MT (this particular configuration, at least) receives Microsoft’s highest Windows Experience Index rating – 5.9 – on a sliding scale from 1 (the lowest) to 5.9, in all 5 categories, mind you. Not too shabby…

Look and Feel

studio-xps-435-mt-laser-mouseIf there was one thing to complain about, its the materials (the plastic, that is) chosen to encase the tower and LCD bezel.  It’s not that it looks bad or feels cheap, but more that the glossy plastic is a total dust and fingerprint magnet.  On the one hand, when it has been cleaned, the machine and SP2309W look slick and streamlined.  On the other, the fact that every little smudge and dust particle remain visible is unfortunate.  With that said, the 6-button laser mouse (besides being wired) is a pleasure to use.  The included keyboard…well, I don’t have much of an opinion since I use a third-party multimedia bluetooth keyboard.

There are only 2 other questionable design aesthetics, one is in re: to the optical drive doors, and the other has to do with where ports are located. When the drives are closed, they are covered by opaque “trap doors” that arguably keep some dust and other foreign bodies out of the drives.  But the downside is that you can’t see the I/O light flashing on the drive to help diagnose whether the disc is spinning or if the drive is working properly.  Having to push the drive trays in (as opposed to pushing the open/close button) is not a big deal, for me at least.studio-xps-435-mt-back

The desktop itself has 8 USB 2.0 ports.  Seems like plenty, at first read.  But in practice, with only 4 on the back and 4 on the front (hidden behind another trap door), it makes for less than ideal plug-and-play scenarios.  Most users, especially of a higher-end machine like this, probably have and use a lot of external USB peripherals.  Most of these remain plugged in all the time (i.e. printer, external drive, ipod dock, etc).  Thus, it would be nicer if there were 6 on the back and 2 on the front, or something like that.  The fact that the LCD has another 4 USB ports is helpful, but somewhat ironic in that it must connect to the desktop via another USB cable, thus taking up one of the free slots itself.

Conclusion

All in all, the Dell Studio XPS 435MT desktop is a solid machine.  It’s definitely not perfect, whisper quiet, or the fastest machine around, but it certainly gets the job done. The Core i7 is incredibly powerful, especially when coupled with 6GB of DDR3 SDRAM and 512MB of VRAM. The size (although arguably it contributes to the lack of quietness) is very nice, fitting perfectly on a desk or in a desk cabinet.  The LCD is bright, crisp, and easily adjustable (both physically speaking and option-wise). The 435MT chassis doesn’t have much room for expansion, but ultimately, the machine’s overall performance is impressive enough to overshadow the rest of its shortcomings.