Review: Dell XPS One

November is quickly approaching and that means two things will soon be happening: The start of another soul-crushing holiday season (humbug!) and Dell will be refreshing its self-contained PC, the XPS One (jingle my bells!)

So, you can understand our heartbreak when we unboxed our review unit and found an XPS One that, well, looked like last year’s model. That’s not exactly a bad thing though. The same satisfyingly thick glass base, die-cast bevel and touch-sensitive media controls are back for this second edition. So are the core features we fell in love with: a gigabit ethernet port, firewire ports, an 8-in-1-card reader, integrated 802.11n and the wireless keyboard/mouse combo.

So, uh, what’s new about this guy? Practically all of the major changes take place under the hood. Our demo rig packed a quad-core Intel processor and a whopping 4 GB of RAM. Toggling between graphic-intensive applications within Windows Vista hardly fazed our unit. Even gaming — which proved a challenge for last year’s model — is possible with the unit’s Nvidia 9600M GPU. Still, this isn’t the n00b-grinder we were hoping for. Airstriking chumps (read: our pals at Game l Life) in Call of Duty 4 proved to be a bit jittery. The XPS could handle the frenzied firefights just fine with mid-range resolutions (and optimized lighting effects). But cranking the screen up to 1920 x 1200? We’ll put it this way; the end result is more like a slo-mo montage from a John Woo film than fast paced “modern warfare.”

The XPS One’s role as an entertainment hub is similarly troubled. Having the unit sport a 24-inch HD screen, slot-loading Blu-ray drive, and integrated TV tuner should make the XPS One a shoe-in for living room entertainment hub. But brace yourself — there’s no video out. None. Is it too much to ask to have the XPS One play nice with our 42-inch HD TV? We had the same problem with last year’s model; it’s troubling to see that major gripe return. The inclusion of video in capabilities helps with this sore spot, but even that’s fumbled with its reliance on an unsightly dongle.

So, here’s the skinny. Even with its shortcomings, the XPS One ultimately captures the essence of all-in-one computing. Like many of its competitors, it doesn’t excel at any one task, but it covers enough bases to provide adequate value. Make no mistake: hardcore gamers and home theater aficionados are better served picking up rigs dedicated to their respective obsessions. But for the user who needs a system versatile enough to dabble in a number of areas, the XPS One will get the job done.

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