The Dell Optiplex line of desktop PCs is geared towards business that have need of capable number crunchers, backed up by Dell's robust support network. While they're available in all shapes and sizes, we took a look at a smaller model that nonetheless manages to deliver strong performance for the business desktop category.
The Dell Optiplex 990 SFF starts at £658 inc VAT (£549 ex VAT) - the model we reviewed was fully equipped, offered at £1,142 inc VAT (£952 ex VAT).
The Optiplex line has undergone a slight refresh since we last saw them. The Optiplex 990 SFF sports a sleek grill finish, with the "Dell" logo tastefully affixed on a plate on the front. It's a very clean look (marred by the requisite "Windows 7" and "Intel Inside" stickers), that maintains the feel of the older Dell Optiplex 780 USFF, while offering a new finish for the office. The chassis has been altered ever so slightly, which makes it incompatible with the All-in-One stand used in previous generations. You'll still be able to mount the Optiplex 990 SFF behind a display (as was the case with the Optiplex 780 USFF we reviewed a year ago), but you'll need to pick up the new stands to make it all fit.
With a chassis this compact, room to maneuver once you've popped off the lid is unexpected. Latches and levers offer tool-free to access to the unit's innards, but the best you can expect to do is upgrade or replace existing hardware. Everything is rather tightly packed, but the bays slide up and out of the way, which promises to make tinkering less of a chore -- though you probably won't be spending much time in here.
The Optiplex 990 SFF we reviewed is equipped with a 3.4GHz Core-i7 2600 processor, 4GB of RAM, and an AMD Radeon HD 6450 graphics card. Windows 7 Professional is housed on the 500GB boot drive, and there's a second drive equipped for extra storage. A full terabyte of space is well outside the norm for Business machines, which is great. The Optiplex 990 SFF also offers a Blu-ray/DVD-RW combination drive, a curious albeit welcome addition. DVD-burners are par for the course across all consumer desktop models, but the Blu-ray player is rare - and leaves room for a bit of post-work entertainment.
When lined up against consumer-oriented mainstream desktop PCs, the Optiplex 990 SFF fails to stand out. It earned a score of 152 on our WorldBench 6 testing suite - excellent in its own right, but dwarfed by similarly priced machines that are generally outfitted with gaming in mind. That said, when lined up against the rest of the business desktops that have come through our labs, it's bested only by the Dell Vostro 460, which earned a 156.
Another key difference between the two: the Vostro 460 relies on integrated graphics, while the Optiplex 990 SFF is equipped with a discrete graphics card. We don't consider gaming performance when looking at business machines, and it wouldn't make sense to here - the Optiplex 990 SFF managed to post playable frame rates on our Far Cry 2 test (37.3 frames per second), but only at the lowest settings. Of greater interest is the fact that the Optiplex 990 SFF can reach a potential resolution of 2560-by-1600, whereas the Vostro 460 taps out at 1920-by-1200 pixels.
The Dell Optiplex 990 SFF's port selection isn't too exciting. The machine offers a total of 10 USB ports - 6 on the rear, and 4 conveniently located up front. That's certainly a generous amount, but there's a noted lack of variety areas. Both FireWire and USB 3.0 PCI cards are available as optional extras, but the Vostro 460 includes both USB 3.0 and eSata connectors. The graphics card offers DisplayPort and DVI connectors. Serial PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports free up your USB ports, and there's also a serial port for your legacy hardware. Gigabit Ethernet is bog standard, but the 802.11n WiFi isn't - a welcome addition, and especially useful in a machine that's intended to be tucked away.
Lastly are the bundled peripherals - nothing especially exciting here, as expected from the Business category. The bundled mouse is generic - a simple, two buttons and a scroll wheel contraption. The keyboard, by contrast, offers quite a bit more functionality. Shortcut keys give quick access to browser functions and applications, as well as offering control for media playback. It's a very simple addition, but one that's nonetheless appreciated.