Looking at the unit head on, it appears very narrow. In fact, the whole system measure under three inches wide. A silvery plastic trim covers most of the front with a design reminiscent of the pattern found on Western Digital’s line of external storage devices. Dell managed to pack in an optical drive, which remains an important consideration for many business users – but as with most small desktops like these, it sits in a vertical orientation. A few ports sit to the right, along with the Dell logo, gussied up in brushed metal. Toward the top of the face are the bright blue status indicators for power, hard drive activity, Wi-Fi status, etc.
The bottom front of the machine serves as an air intake, with the exhaust blown out the rear of the machine. There are no vents, holes or ports on either side, though the right side is possessed of four rubber feet in case you want to lay the system on its side. Thanks to the feet and the air path, you could even stack a few of these to little harm. Like with many of these business desktops, Dell managed to slot in a mono PC speaker capable of playing back system alarms and alerts, low-bitrate audio and video streams and sound effects.
Inputs and expansion
You might think that it would be tough to expand on the functionality pre-packaged into a system like this, and well, you’d be right. Dell did manage to stick a few ports here and there, however, and the OptiPlex 990 was easy to move around in.
On the front of the machine sits the power button, optical drive, two USB 2.0 ports and analog audio jacks for microphone and headphone input. Going around to the back, there are a wealth of connections for a machine of this size, including five USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port and audio jacks for line and line out.
There are two video ports on the OptiPlex 990: one analog, VGA, and one digital, DisplayPort. DVI clearly seems to be on the way out in professional systems. There is also a serial port on this machine; that might seem like a bizarre legacy choice, but it’s important to remember that Dell sells the OptiPlex lineup to businesses, and some of these businesses have extremely old legacy products that require the functionality. There’s also an absurd port and connector used to hook Dell’s wireless networking antenna into the machine. Unfortunately for our review unit, the brackets that hold the mounting piece to the case pushed off; when I plugged the big adapter in, the Wi-Fi card pushed loose into the machine. There are holes to screw everything together, though.
Despite the fact that this is a tiny machine and mostly full, there are still some spots where additional components can be finessed. The 990 has two RAM slots, for example, and ours had one left open. If you don’t need an optical drive, you can pop it up and replace it with another 2.5-inch hard drive and get a RAID setup going; this is even a configurable option from the factory.
Keyboard and mouse
We don’t always mention the keyboard and mouse that manufacturers include with their equipment, mostly because they’re generally not very good. The ones that Dell has started to include with their OptiPlex lineup buck the trend in a huge way. Both peripherals feel very solid and should stand up to years of repeated abuse from constant work, an important consideration in a business setting.
The keyboard has a number of meta keys to launch applications and control media playback. The laser mouse actually has three adjustable levels of resolution as well as a tight scrolling action and back and forth buttons. They’re just surprisingly good, especially for free add-ins.