Review: Dell Studio XPS 435

We’re not going to mince words — the XPS 435 is confusing. As the newest XPS Studio desktop, it’s armed to the teeth with smokin’ specs. But upon closer inspection, it looks like Dell forgot some details that would make this a well-rounded rig.

The XPS 435 actually makes an indelible first impression. Though it’s spine-cracking heavy at 40 pounds, it’s also surprisingly stylish with a tapered, glossy black front panel. The remainder of the sprawling chassis is adorned in a white finish peppered with a few hotrod-red accents. The tastefully subdued cooling vents and cleverly stashed USB ports (hidden away in a recessed storage tray on top of the unit) show that Dell has outgrown its gritty ‘black, grey and blah’ phase too. But unfortunately, all the slimming blackness in the world can’t hide the obvious — the 435 is huge. Perhaps too huge. But we’ll get into the problems with its ponderous bulk later.

As far as horsepower goes, our review unit came stuffed with an Intel 2.66-GHz Core i7-920 processor, 6 GB of RAM, a terabyte of storage and a Crysis-shredding ATI Radeon 4870HD GPU. Scores of apps running in a 64-bit Vista environment didn’t slow the 435 — even video end-coding and 3-D rendering ran smoothly. Crysis and Call of Duty 4 tests also produced passable frame rates (60 + FPS) at 1920 x 1200 resolution. And when we (briefly) tired of blowing things up, we were able to patch the rig into our big screen and pop in a Blu-ray thanks to an integrated drive and included DVI to HDMI adapter. As a whole, it’s this combo of power, speed and options that make the XPS 435 one of our favorite multimedia PCs of late.

However, it’s still not quite the end-all, be-all of desktops. At first we thought the chassis was so large because Dell stuffed it full of love … or candy. Turns out there’s just a lot of empty space intended for expanding up to 4.5 TB of storage, and 24(!) GB of RAM. Although this sounds awesome on paper, it’s a bit of an inconvenience for the user looking for a smokin’ as-is PC that can be ported to another room without the use of a hand truck. This shortcoming became painfully clear when we tried to use the 435 as a home theater PC. Not only did we have problems finding space for it in the living room, but the combination of the noisy fan and the tepid get-gadget keyboard/mouse made it obvious that the XPS 435 is intended to be stashed under a desk. Things only got worse when we started crunching numbers on the power supply. At 475 watts it’s enough to juice all of the included components. But if you’re an upgrade junkie looking to max out performance (with, I dunno, maybe 4.5 TB of storage?) the lacking power supply could prove problematic.

At the end of the day, these details leave us on the fence about the 435. We can’t complain about its stellar out-of-box performance, but the imbalance between power-supply wattage and expansion real estate is baffling. It’s kind of like buying a Honda Civic, slapping a supercharger on it and driving it at 120 mph every day. Sure, it can keep up the frantic pace for a little while, but eventually it’s going to break down in a fail of epic proportions.

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