- Review Date: 05/24/2012
- Bottom line: The Dell XPS 8500 brings the company's top consumer desktop into the "Ivy Bridge" generation with fast graphics and SSD storage.
- Pros: Solid performance. Monstrous 3TB hard drive plus 256GB SSD. Quiet.
- Cons: Limited expansion room.
I've never really liked the term prosumer, but the Dell XPS 8500 ($2,049.99 direct) practically screams it. Positioned between Dell's Inspiron value desktops and Alienware gaming rigs, the XPS 8500 targets digital content creators, game players, and power users who'd probably never buy a Digital Storm, Velocity Micro, or other boutique brand, but who crave more performance than generic retail PCs provide.
The XPS 8500 gets that performance from one of Intel's new "Ivy Bridge" quad-core processors—the 3.4GHz Core i7-3770—and AMD's speedy Radeon HD 7870 graphics card, along with a 256GB Samsung mSATA solid-state drive plus 3TB Seagate 7,200 rpm hard drive. It also fixes a couple of omissions that affected its Dell XPS 8300 (X8300-7008NBK) ($999.99 list, 3.5 stars) predecessor (hello, USB 3.0 and Blu-ray burner!). The result is a well-built if conservatively built desktop; it's fast, but not as fast as less-famous-name systems that cost the same or a little more with overclocked processors or dual graphics cards or both, such as our midrange gaming Editors' Choice Cyberpower Zeus Thunder 3000SE ($2,299 direct, 4 stars).
Design and Features
Dell was so proud of upgrading the XPS's front-mounted USB ports from USB 2.0 to 3.0 that it removed the sliding door that covered them, the better to show them off. The two ports now appear in the midst of the mid-tower's chrome-accented glossy black front panel, below the optical drive bays and the four-slot memory-card reader. A recessed tray on the system's top serves to hold flash drives, cameras, or other knickknacks; it offers two USB 2.0 ports, one powered to recharge handheld devices, along with microphone and headphone jacks.
Connections at the rear include two more USB 3.0 and four more USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, six audio jacks, and an SPDIF audio output. The eSATA port found on the XPS 8300 has gone away. The AMD graphics card provides DVI, HDMI, and two Mini DisplayPort connectors.
Removing one thumbscrew lets you pop off one of the matte black side panels and access the tidy interior. Aside from accommodation for one additional hard drive and a secondary optical drive (there are two SATA ports free on the motherboard), there's not a lot of room for expansion: Each of the four memory slots holds a 4GB DIMM for a total 16GB of DDR3-1600 (Dell says 32GB systems will be available later this year). The double-wide Radeon HD 7870 card leaves just two PCIe x1 slots free. Fortunately, you don't need to add a PCIe card or USB adapter to go wireless, since a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Mini PCIe card is standard. The XPS 8500 has a 460-watt power supply, which Dell says is enough for a 225-watt graphics card. Despite its array of cooling fans, the system is pleasantly quiet.
Dell preloads the 256GB (177GB free) SSD boot drive with Windows 7 Home Premium, a trial of McAfee SecurityCenter, 2GB of DataSafe cloud storage for one year, and a handful of utilities. The speedy drive boots the system in 34 seconds, too fast for the circling "Starting Windows" lights to finish forming the Windows logo. The 3TB data drive has 2.72TB of free space. We weren't wild about Dell's newest wireless keyboard, which has a good typing feel but a laptop-style layout, with small Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys located above the numeric keypad instead of full-sized ones between the keypad and primary keys.
Dell backs the XPS 8500 with a one-year limited parts and labor warranty including accidental damage coverage and on-site service. At presstime, the $1,999.99-plus-wireless-keyboard Radeon 7870/3TB/Blu-ray configuration sent to PCMag for testing was hidden on Dell's site (link here) in favor of two models with slightly tamer Radeon 7770 cards, 2TB hard drives, and DVD burners—a $1,799.99 rig with the 256GB SSD and a $1,299.99 configuration with 12GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD using Intel Smart Response Technology for OS and application caching.
Generally speaking, the XPS 8500 easily outstrips other consumer PCs like the HP Pavilion HPE Phoenix h9z and stays within sight of more exotic gaming systems like the Cyberpower 3000SE. Its PCMark 7 score of 5,458 landed between the Zeus Thunder (5,283) and Digital Storm ODE Level 3 (5,825), while obliterating the 3,148 of its predecessor, the XPS 8300 (X8300-7008NBK). The XPS 8500 sped through our Handbrake video encoding test in 1 minute 4 seconds, which only the most impatient user would find slow compared to the Cyberpower or Digital Storm (0:55 and 0:56, respectively).
The XPS 8500 easily passed the three-figure frames-per-second threshold at medium settings (1,280 by 720 resolution) in the DirectX10 test Crysis (114 fps) and the DirectX 11 test Lost Planet 2 (125 fps), roughly doubling the frame rates of the HP Phoenix h9z. At high-quality settings at 1,920 by 1,080 resolution, it passed the playable (30 fps) threshold with 40 and 48 fps, respectively, but fell well short of the Cyberpower 3000SE (84 and 125) and Digital Storm ODE (71 and 121).
The Dell XPS 8500 is a winning choice in the off-the-shelf, non-overclocked, single-graphics-card market segment—which sounds like faint praise, but is a segment that accounts for a ton of sales to satisfied consumers (or prosumers, if you will). In terms of our Editors' Choice categories, our test unit is too costly to unseat our entry-level gaming pick, the Alienware X51 ($999.99 direct, 4 stars), and lacks the graphics chops to topple our midrange gaming pick, the Cyberpower Zeus Thunder 3000SE. But when it comes to a price/performance sweet spot, we'd like to skip the costly 256GB SSD, take the $1,299.99 version with the 2TB hard drive plus 32GB SSD, and see how it stacks up against our media hub Editors' Choice HP Pavilion Elite h8-1050 ($1,299.99 direct, 4 stars). Are you listening, Dell?
Compare the Dell XPS 8500 with several other desktops side by side.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.