Introduction, Design Features
“Dell” and “desktops” go together like peanut butter and milk chocolate, at the front edge of desktop-PC developments for most of its 33-year history. But 2017 has certainly challenged it (and its rivals) to weather more core-platform changes than, arguably, ever before in a single year: Core X-Series, “Kaby Lake,” Ryzen, “Coffee Lake,” Threadripper.
Dell has kept up the pace, though, making desktop adaptations in all shapes and sizes, from the 4K-screened Inspiron 27 7000 All-in-OneAlienware Area-51 Threadripper EditionSpecial Edition 89108th Generation/”Coffee Lake” chips), and available with GeForce GTX 10-series graphics silicon, this tower can pack enough punch for serious pro content creation work, and even today’s most demanding games.
Dell is offering the XPS Tower in a slightly different fashion than usual. Although shown on Dell’s XPS Tower product page in a number of starter configurations, the XPS Tower is completely configure-to-order. The starting $999 configuration is pedestrian, with a Core i3-8100 quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB spinning hard drive, and a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card. The fun starts when you add options, of course; the $1,525 model we were loaned for review had plenty of them.
Our tester was equipped with an Intel Core i7-8700 six-core CPU, a GeForce GTX 1070 8GB graphics card, 16GB of dual-channel RAM, and a two-piece storage solution: a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) and a 1TB hard drive. This level of specifications makes the XPS Tower a gaming powerhouse that’s ready for virtual reality (VR). This desktop can be even more powerful; if your budget permits, you can top it out with a Core i7-8700KGeForce GTX 1080 graphics card, and up to 64GB of RAM.
The XPS Tower had a considerable pricing advantage over—for one—the competing HP Omen Desktop PC (880) at this writing, which came out to $1,804 with the same overall specifications. Naturally, a holiday sale on any given day can turn the tables or at least narrow the gap. But at present, the economics favor Dell. Now it’s time to take a look and see what else is inside this stylish power tower.
Dell sells the XPS Tower in two design themes. The Special Edition we’re reviewing is the more upscale version, as it features a silver aluminum front plate…
The standard (i.e., non-Special Edition) model has a gloss-black plastic front. We think the XPS Tower looks elegant in either configuration, but we’d take the cool-feeling metal of the Special Edition if given a choice, any day.
The rest of the case’s exterior is made from plastic, while the inner frame is steel. This desktop feels reasonably solid when picked up, but we suspect you won’t be earning too many frequent flyer miles with this 22-pounder in tow. Still, size-wise, the XPS Tower is on the small side for a mid-tower, at 15.3 inches tall, 7.1 inches wide, and 14 inches deep.
This tower is designed to sit upright, so don’t plan on laying it sideways inside a cabinet. Four rubber feet under the corners of the chassis keep it from sliding around.
You won’t find much in the way of exterior accents on the XPS Tower. As we said, we think it looks elegant, especially with the aluminum front, but that’s about the extent of the design praise we can bestow upon it. This tower has no exterior lighting of any kind, save for the white LED in its power button. If you want exterior lighting from Dell, you’ll need to step up to an Inspiron Gaming Desktop (5675)Alienware Aurora. Note that both of those desktops are substantially larger than the XPS Tower.
The XPS Tower’s front panel offers an impressive level of connectivity. Next to the power button on the left is the full-size SD-card slot, separate microphone and headphone jacks, a Type-C USB 3.1 port (straight USB, without support for Thunderbolt 3), and three traditional Type-A USB 3.0 ports…
The Type-C USB port replaced one of the Type-A USB ports on the previous model of the XPS Tower. Just below the ports is a tray-load optical drive, which was a DVD+/-RW drive in our review unit. It’s ironic that these front-mounted ports’ downside is their top-edge location; if the XPS Tower is on your desk, whatever you plug in will dangle from that height.
The remainder of the connectivity is on the back of the tower…
Up at the top, you’ll see an Ethernet jack and a pair of Type-A USB 2.0 ports, and underneath them, full-size DisplayPort and HDMI video-out connectors. Both of the latter ports were functional in our review unit despite it having a dedicated video card, as the Intel UHD 630 Graphics silicon integrated into the Intel Core i7-8700 processor was enabled.
Below those video-output connectors are a Type-C USB 3.1 port, four Type-A USB 3.0 ports, and 5.1 surround sound audio jacks.
For video-out, our test unit’s GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card had one HDMI video-out and three full-size DisplayPort connectors, along with a legacy DVI-D port.
Included with our review unit were a very basic mouse and keyboard. And by basic, we mean it: These are strictly functional, wired devices with no added flair. To complement a system this expensive, we expect you’ll want to pick up something more in line. Nonetheless, let’s take a quick look.
The slim-profile keyboard has island-style keys. The membrane keys have a light feel without much in the way of feedback, but the layout is standard, and it’s not a bad typing experience, just indifferent at best, to our fingers. The keyboard connects to the desktop via a Type-A USB cable.
The mouse is the basic three-button kind, the third button being the center-click in the scroll wheel. The optical sensor on the bottom seemed to work fine on the variety of surfaces we used. It also connects via a Type-A USB cable.
That said, expect no frills: no shortcut keys on either device, certainly no backlighting, and an overall cut-rate feel. To complement a $1,500-plus desktop, you’ll want to invest in some peripherals of your own that augment the way you work.
our in-depth GTX 1070 review for the full run-down. In a nutshell, it’s an excellent all-around performer in today’s games at 1080p and 1440p resolutions. Dell gives you an option for the GTX 1080, which our benchmarking experience says should offer about 20 to 25 percent better performance overall.
The 16GB of RAM in our review unit (using two 8GB DIMMs) is an ample amount for modern gaming and demanding tasks. You can configure the XPS Tower with up to 64GB if desired (as four 16GB DIMMs), or upgrade it yourself down the line. The RAM runs at DDR4-2666 speeds, a slight bump from the previous 8920 edition’s DDR4-2400 RAM for its Intel 7th generation/”Skylake” processors.
The XPS Tower fits up to four storage drives. In our test unit, the drive with Windows 10 Home installed was a speedy Toshiba-brand 256GB SSD. It came installed in the motherboard’s M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slot, which supports the PCI Express-bus and NVMe protocols. Our unit also had a traditional 1TB hard drive in the one of the three 3.5-inch bays. Omitted from our rig: an Intel Optane memory accelerator for the hard drive. The boot SSD obviated the need for that.
Wireless connectivity is standard in the XPS Tower. You can get it with a generic 802.11ac card, or our unit’s pricier Killer 802.11ac solution. The wireless connectivity also includes Bluetooth 4.1.
Getting to the XPS Tower’s insides requires no tools. Pulling the handle on the back of the tower releases the side door, which swings outward and then up and away. You’ll be greeted with what seems like a wall of metal—where is everything?
You’ll need to unhinge the power-supply bracket to get to the Intel Z370-based motherboard. This is accomplished by flipping two switches on the back of the tower to their unlocked positions. The whole power supply assembly then swings outward, like so…
The XPS Tower has a 460-watt power supply standard on all configurations, a plentiful amount of wattage for a desktop housing a single graphics card. (The motherboard has only one PCI Express x16 slot, anyway.) Dell says the XPS Tower supports up to a 10.5-inch long, 225-watt video card (using up to two six-pin power connectors). That covers most of the graphics cards available on the market.
The stock Intel CPU cooler may look small, but it did work hard enough to keep the Core i7-8700 cool during our testing. Note that the XPS Tower has a more powerful three-heatpipe CPU cooler when you opt for it equipped with an overclockable “K” series processor, such as the Core i7-8700K. (The XPS Tower does support processor overclocking when equipped with an overclockable CPU via the BIOS. We weren’t able to test this on our unit since the Core i7-8700 is not such a CPU.)
To the right of the CPU cooler, you’ll see the four DIMM slots for 288-pin DDR4 memory. They have plenty of vertical clearance, so fitting aftermarket modules with tall heat spreaders shouldn’t be a problem, should you want to. Also, it’s hard to spot, but just under the DIMM slots is the M.2 slot for SSDs.
We noted three 3.5-inch bays inside the XPS Tower, two of which are along the very bottom off the case. Each of those sit in a metal caddy that is held in by two screws. The drives screw directly into the caddies. One of these bays was occupied in our review unit by a 1TB Seagate-brand drive. For the empty caddy, a Serial ATA-style power cable was close at hand, but you’ll need to supply your own SATA data cable. The third 3.5-inch bay is vertically-positioned along the front of the tower. It’s different in that it has a plastic caddy that comes out by pinching the ends. A power cable is also routed to that location, so installing a drive down the line should be a cinch.
The most of the airflow in the XPS Tower goes through the left side door and then out the top of the case. Some air goes out the back via the power supply’s fan, while the rest is extracted via the top-mounted 120mm fan. The Core i7-8700 in our review unit was saddled with a stock Intel CPU cooler. It looks relatively small (and it is), but it did keep the processor temperatures under control in our testing. The only other fan in this desktop is the small one in the blower-style cooler of the GTX 1070 Founders Edition graphics card.
The XPS Tower was generally quiet in our testing. We had to put our ears close to the tower to make out the fan noise, in most situations. The RPM of the processor and graphics-card cooling fans increased while gaming, but it was hard to tell from more than a foot away. The only other source of sound inside this desktop was the quiet whir of the 3.5-inch hard drive. On occasion, we heard the 120mm top fan spool up to a high speed and then quickly ramp back down. It didn’t seem predictable, but it was very noticeable when it did occur.
The component temperatures were satisfactory in our testing. We played through a 30-minute session in Square Enix’s Rise of the Tomb Raider to give this system a workout. In the course of that, the Core i7-8700 reached a maximum temperature of 79 degrees C. That’s acceptable, as it’s a decent amount under the chip’s 100-degree C cutoff (Tjunction). The GeForce GTX 1070 topped 83 degrees C, a temperature that’s typical and expected from the Founder’s Edition card and its blower-style cooler. It, too, performed just fine during the session.