Dell's Studio XPS makes good use of its Intel Core i7 920 and 6GB allocation of RAM, scoring a commendable 128 points in WorldBench 6. It's also built into a compact and rather stylish case, which gives it a much tidier appearance than most built-to-order PCs. Flush panels conceal the DVD driver and a selection of front-facing ports, including a card reader and four USB ports.

However, while it may cost £50 less than the competition, the Dell Studio XPS' specification falls well below that which we're used to in this chart.

Whereas we'd normally expect at least a 22in display, Dell supplies an 18.5in Ultrasharp model that lacks a digital input with the Studio XPS. We appreciate that bigger is not always better, but we would expect to pay considerably less for the smaller model. To its credit, this monitor does look very sleek - perhaps even cute.

While the processing performance is more than adequate for all but the most speed-hungry power user, the story is a little different when it comes to gaming. By selecting AMD's mid-range card, the Radeon HD 4670, Dell has restricted 3D performance to sub-£500 PC levels. CyberPower's £499 AMD Pre-Build 2 Cores will outclass the Dell Studio XPS on any game you throw at it.

You could argue that this level of graphics power is well matched to the 1,366x768 resolution of the monitor, but bear in mind that your graphics card won't be able to keep up if you decide to add a larger screen.

The Dell Studio XPS' two 500GB hard drives are configured in a Raid 0 array to provide a total 1TB storage capacity. This configuration can increase performance, but it also increases the likelihood of total data loss following a disk failure.

Things are pretty cramped inside the case, but if you decide to attempt any significant hardware improvements you'll need to upgrade the Dell Studio XPS's 350W PSU too.

Chart ranking: Power desktop PCs (Sep 09 issue)

  1. Eclipse Titan X58-Crossfire i792R489
  2. Arbico Elite i750 Pro
  3. CyberPower Mega Sales IV
  4. Palicomp Phoenix Ballistix E86-24
  5. Dell Studio XPS

>> NEXT PAGE: Buying advice

Buying advice: Power desktop PCs

Processor: Intel's Core i7 chip is taking this price bracket by storm. It's a match for the best dual-core systems and will outpace any previous-generation quad-core machine. However, Core i7 chips require more expensive DDR3 memory and a new motherboard design, so expect to make sacrifices elsewhere.

Dual-core CPUs are still popular at this price point, offering good performance and considerably lower system costs. Intel's E8600 offers the best performance.

Quad-core processors, such as the Q9400, are another option. These chips use the same memory and motherboard as dual-core machines and can offer huge speed advantages if you run multithreaded applications such as video encoding.

Memory: Consider 4GB as a minimum, particularly if you're running Windows Vista. If you're buying a Core i7-based system, however, expect 3GB or 6GB of RAM (such machines install memory chips in threes). A 64bit operating system will take full advantage of your RAM - but check that your software and drivers will be supported.

If you opt for more than 4GB, a 64bit operating system is essential.

Storage: Anything less than 500GB is now considered a small amount of storage space. Many users will get by with 320GB but, with prices falling, it isn't impossible to find a terabyte at this price point.

Get a multiformat DVD writer that can write to a dual-layer format if you want to store 8.5GB rather than 4.7GB on a disc. Look for a minimum of eight-speed DVD+R DL; DVD-R DL is nice but not essential. Try to get eight-speed DVD+RW.

At this price you should be able to find a drive that reads Blu-ray discs - note that it won't burn to Blu-ray, and DVD burning speeds will be slower.

Display: 22in flat-panels are the standard here. Many vendors supply budget screens in order to leave more cash in the pot for other components, but it's worth spending a little more if you intend to work with digital photos or video.

A screen with a response time of 8ms or less will minimise blur on fast-moving images. For image editing, contrast ratio and colour fidelity are more important.

A digital input can preserve picture quality, so think twice about displays that provide analogue inputs only.

If you're a movie fan, look for one of the new 16:9 format 22in-plus displays that offer full-HD playback. You may even be able to find a 24in example.

Graphics card: At this price point, the ATI Radeon HD 4890 is an excellent choice for gamers. You'll also find good deals on nVidia's GeForce GTX 260 (or even 280). Look for souped-up versions with faster clock speeds or additional memory. Two of our Top 5 machines go for the HD 4890.

The GTX 260 and HD 4890 can be used in dual-card setups later but, to take advantage of this, your motherboard and PSU will need to be compatible. Ready-made dual-card solutions are available but can work out more expensive.

Power supply: The level of power you require will depend largely on the type of graphics card you expect to use. Look for at least a 500W PSU at this price point, but consider 750W upwards if you have any thoughts of moving up to a dual card solution later. Overclocking will also demand a powerful, high-quality PSU.

Sound card and speakers: Onboard sound is no match for a sound card. Consider Creative's Audigy 4 or X-Fi range.

>> NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict

Dell Studio XPS: Specs

  • 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit
  • 6GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2 x 500GB SATA (Raid 0 configuration)
  • Dell Studio XPS 435MT motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 350W Delta 2Electronic PSU
  • 18.5in Dell Ultrasharp S1909WN (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1,366x768)
  • 512MB PCI Express ATI Radeon HD 4670 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 39/11fps
  • Fear = 85fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 16x/16x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/12x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year onsite warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 128
  • 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit
  • 6GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2 x 500GB SATA (Raid 0 configuration)
  • Dell Studio XPS 435MT motherboard
  • 6 x USB 2.0
  • 350W Delta 2Electronic PSU
  • 18.5in Dell Ultrasharp S1909WN (0.3mm pixel pitch
  • 1,366x768)
  • 512MB PCI Express ATI Radeon HD 4670 (games scores: Crysis (High/Very High) = 39/11fps
  • Fear = 85fps)
  • onboard Realtek ALC888
  • speakers built into monitor
  • 16x/16x/12x/16x/6x/8x/12x/12x (DVD-R/+R/-R DL/+R DL/-RW/+RW/-RAM/-ROM)
  • one-year onsite warranty
  • WorldBench 6 score: 128

OUR VERDICT

Dell's Studio XPS may cost £50 less than the competition, but the specifications list has taken a far greater cut.

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