The Dell Vostro 200 is the first desktop PC in Dell's new small-business line of computers and peripherals.

The machine's "200" designation might lead you to believe that it's a step above entry level but, from what we saw, the Dell Vostro 200 is more like a 100-level product that Dell dresses up with small-business services.

Though the Dell Vostro 200 starts at £149 ex VAT without a monitor, our test configuration cost £599 inc VAT with a 20in E207WFP monitor. The hardware itself is about as basic as PCs get, coming in a small, generic case from which you must remove two thumbscrews before you can slide the side off.

Plastic panels cover the optical drives; if a drive is open, the panel obscures the eject button, so you must either use a fingernail to reach the button or nudge the drive tray to make it go back in. On our Dell Vostro 200, the drive almost always caught on the panel as it was retracting, and we had to pull down the panel to help unstick the drive.

The inside of the Dell Vostro 200's case is just as underwhelming. Nothing (unless you count the RAM) is removable without a screwdriver. A single screw on the outside of the case secures a small metal plate that holds in the expansion cards, but multiple tiny screws hold the hard drives, optical drives, and 300W power supply.

Unlike some of Dell's OptiPlex PCs, which postition drives on rubber-mounted mechanisms to reduce noise and vibration, the Dell Vostro 200 has its drives screwed to bare metal. The system wasn't particularly noisy, but it wasn't nearly as quiet as the OptiPlex 740 we tested previously.

The nVidia GeForce 8300GS graphics card in our system had a DVI (digital visual interface) connector on its backplane, but the backplane also accommodated a separate VGA connector module that connected to an internal port on the card. From the back it looks like one card, but from the inside it looks like two separate pieces are hinged together. It seemed like a kludgy, cost-cutting choice, especially when dual-head graphics cards are so common.

In our tests, the Dell Vostro 200 earned a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 80. That's the best mark among the Windows Vista-based value business PCs we've tested recently, but we expected a little better of a Core 2 Duo system with 2GB of RAM.

The small-business services that Dell offers with the Dell Vostro 200 include an Automated PC Tune-Up utility, which runs 30 different maintenance tasks - such as cleaning out temp files and cookies and defragmenting your hard drive - with one click. Access to this tool and 10GB of online storage is free for only the first year, though. Dell says it hasn't determined how much the services will cost after that time.

Dell boasts that Vostro PCs "come without annoying trialware preinstalled". True, our Dell Vostro 200 bore no desktop trial-offer icons, but it did have icons for Dell's own utilities. Vostro PC users have 24/7, year-round access to "dedicated small-business-trained technicians", and each machine ships with software that those techs can use to attempt fixing the PC remotely.

If the Dell Vostro 200 we tested were less expensive, these services might make it more appealing. But the hardware isn't any different from what you'll find in Dell's "Home and Home Office" store - the case looked identical to that of an Inspiron 531 we had in for testing, and Dell even sells Vostro 200 PCs with Windows Vista Home Basic.

Dell Vostro 200: Specs

  • 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo E6320
  • nVidia GeForce 8300GS
  • Dell E207WFP
  • 160GB hard drive
  • 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo E6320
  • nVidia GeForce 8300GS
  • Dell E207WFP
  • 160GB hard drive

OUR VERDICT

Dell will soon begin selling a step-up Vostro model that may sport a more sophisticated case. For now, however, Dell's OptiPlex line offers better hardware and much of the same services as the Dell Vostro 200, and PCs in that line don't cost much more. For most people, those PCs offer better value than the first Dell Vostro 200 does.

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