Dell XPS 8300 First Look Review

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For a large part of the last decade, Dell’s XPS systems reigned supreme within that company when it came to performance, gaming and design, only to be subsumed within the new Studio brand. Now XPS is back, and from a distance, it doesn’t look like much has changed.

Old looks, new (old) name
By and large, Dell did absolutely nothing to change the design of the XPS 8300. It looks just like the last Intel-powered premium desktop, Dell’s Studio XPS 8100. We aren’t going to complain, however, because Dell has done a lot of work to refine their desktop designs in recent years, and it’s really started to pay off.

Like the last few members of the Studio XPS lineup, the XPS 8300 has white metal sides with a white plastic top and glossy black plastic front. On top is a tray inset into the machine for storing items like a charging cell phone or MP3 player (or, you know, pennies).  There are a couple of USB ports as well as audio ports built into the back of the tray for easy connecting.

The XPS 8300 sits somewhere in between Dell’s entry-level Inspiron models and the high-end Alienware gaming rigs. Despite a relatively low starting price of $749 (currently on sale for $699), the materials are high quality, and should stand up easily to frequent use.

Multimedia love
The XPS 8300 is part of Dell’s new effort to regain some of their status as a breeder of multimedia powerhouses. Before they acquired Alienware, the XPS brand promised premium performance at almost any price point.  After the acquisition, however, Dell let this branch of their desktops wither and die, replaced eventually by the Studio XPS.

Dell recently decided to drop the Studio branding and return to the XPS moniker – this soon in the transition, it doesn’t seem as if they’ve had time to change anything but the name. Hopefully they’ll make a more substantive change.

At any rate, an XPS computer should be powerful – so what comes inside one of these puppies? The 8300 is Intel only (in fact, only one of these desktops has been an AMD machine – the Studio XPS 7100 – and between you and me, Dell is probably waiting for AMD to release their next-generation Bulldozer desktop chips before trying out something else) and comes with Core i5 2300, 2400, 2500 or Core i7 2600 CPUs, from 2.8 to 3.4 GHz. The defining differencetween between these chips is largely whether they support Intel’s virtual HyperThreading (hint: the lowest-end CPU doesn’t).

The XPS 8300 can come with boatloads of RAM, too – in fact, the high-end configuration on the Dell website comes with 12GB to start, and can be upgraded to 16GB for just $200 more. While that much RAM is likely overkill for all but the most demanding Photoshop enthusiasts, more RAM is very rarely a bad thing. Hopping along with that RAM is up to 2TB of storage. Dell lets customers choose how it’s configured in one of three ways: one 2TB hard drive, 2 x 1TB hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration (speedier) or 2 x 1TB hard drives in a RAID 1 configuration (safer for data longevity). It would be nice to see Dell include a 3TB hard drive option with these desktops; if not that, then at least a config that uses 2 x 2TB hard drives.

So far, those are solid specs for someone looking to dip their toes into video or audio editing, or for someone who edits a lot of photos from their digital camera. The XPS started out primarily as a gaming machine, however, and even though Alienware is the clear focus of Dell’s gaming efforts, the XPS isn’t a terrible choice for those gamers looking to get things done on the cheaper side – the XPS desktops now come with 460W power supplies by default.  Unless you’re specifically looking to get some multigraphics card out it, that power supply is likely beefy enough to run anything that gets attached. The graphics cards that Dell offers for the 8300, are starting to feel a bit dated at this point, as the maximum around is the ATI Radeon HD 5850.

All the world’s a stage
Perhaps the biggest change Dell seems to have made with the new XPS desktops is the addition of their ‘Stage’ interface. Stage started off as a skin for the Android-powered Dell Streak 5, and Dell has spent the last few months porting it over to the rest of their computer portfolios.

Stage reminds me a lot of HP’s MediaSmart/TouchSmart software, both of which add a new user interface to consuming media. Similarly, Dell has developed MusicStage , PhotoStage and VideoStage, each tied to your local content with hooks into popular online services such as Facebook or Flickr. There’s no telling yet just how far Dell will take the Stage software, but so far it’s gone on all of their Android devices, their ultra-small form factor desktops, their touchscreen Inspiron One all-in-one and now the performance-minded XPS lineup.


Interim conclusion
We’ll be publishing our full review of the Dell XPS 8300 in just a couple of days, but it’s easy to see that Dell is trying hard to win back some of marketshare that they’ve lost in recent months. Many in the industry chided the company for squandering a lot of recognition when they first hobbled the XPS brand – does it retain enough name cachet at this point to really make a difference?

I’m not sure if it matters.  If there’s one thing that Dell has always excelled at, it’s offering a quality product for a reasonable price at every single point along the spectrum.  The XPS 8300 doesn’t seem any different.  The machines start at just over $700 – not a bad price for a quad-core desktop that runs Intel’s Sandy Bridge CPUs. Should you buy it, though?  Is it more than just a pretty face?  Stay tuned for a full review to find out – but for now, there are many worse choices you could pick.




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