Review: Dell's quad-core XPS 710 tower rips it up

Dell recently set the bar a little bit higher for top-of-the-line machines — the rigs for people who don't care how much their computer costs as long as it's better than everyone else's. Loaded up with Intel Core 2 Extreme Quad QX6700 processors at 2.66 GHz and two NVIDIA GeForce 7950 GX2 graphics cards (that's Quad SLI for those keeping score at home), the XPS 710 has more horsepower than most people will know what to do with under the hood. Which might be one of the problems. For $6,000, is it worth breaking the bank to get the fastest computer possible? I took the XPS 710 for a test drive to find out.

Goodies in the Box
So what comes in the box when you drop over $6,000? Before we get to the tower, let's take a look at the other goodies you get. First off, we have a 24-inch widescreen 2407FPW LCD monitor, a gigantic and bright beauty of a display. With a maximum resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 pixels, text is crisp and clear and everything looks really sharp. However, it's the same number of pixels you get in a 17-inch Dell Inspiron laptop screen. Couldn't Dell pump up the pixels a bit for a monitor that's a solid 7 inches larger than a laptop screen with the same count? After all, the company's 30-incher maxes out at 2,560 x 1,600, so it seems like there could be a happy medium in there. But in any case, at 1,920 x 1,200 the monitor looks really quite amazing.

The keyboard and mouse are fittingly as top of the line as the tower itself. First you get the Saitek Eclipse II Keyboard, featuring adjustable blue lights beneath the keys to make you feel like you're piloting a spaceship when you're checking your e-mail. If the lights get too bright or annoying for you, the knob in the upper right-hand corner of the keyboard will tone it down for you. Other extra buttons include audio controls and a mute button. Nothing too fancy, but it's pretty much all you'd want on a keyboard.

The mouse that's included is the Logitech G5 Laser Gaming Mouse, and what makes it stand out above other mice (other than the extra, somewhat oddly placed, buttons), is the fact that you can adjust the heft of the device via the included weight set. Simply pop out the little weight cartridge in the bottom of the mouse and add or subtract weights to your liking. It's a small touch, but for gamers and just people who use a mouse all day it actually makes a substantial difference in the feel of the mouse.

Down to Business
All right, let's talk about this tower, shall we? First off, it's mammoth. The box it came in weighed nearly 70 pounds, and the tower is just huge, standing nearly three feet high. It's beautifully detailed with brushed steel and glowing red lights on the front of it. What surprised me the most was how quiet it is. It actually sounds like a jet engine while starting up, but after a couple of seconds it quiets down to near-silent. It's such a welcome change from my older tower's obnoxiously loud fans that whir all the time.

As for the guts of the machine, I hope you have a lot of data to store, as this thing comes with a dual 160-GB RAID array and a 750-GB extra storage drive. It's safe to say that you won't run out of room anytime soon on this bad boy. It also has two DVD drives: one is read-only and the other is a burner for copying discs. Pretty much all the trimmings you would want aside from something insane like a Blu-ray drive or something, which let's face it, no one really wants anyways.

Early Edition
So how does it actually perform? Well, for your standard computing tasks, like using the Web and running basic office programs, it's certainly swift. However, it's not noticeably faster than a dual-core machine, or really even much faster than an older 3.4-GHz Pentium 4, which my 18-month-old desktop is running.

But games are what this thing is built for, and games it can run well. Of course. Games like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Doom 3, and Unreal Tournament 2004 look amazing on the XPS. The draw distances — how far into the distance you can see things like mountains and buildings before they pop out of the "fog" — are as far as the eye can see, frame rates are sky high, and the resolution is maxed with all effects on. You really can just pump up all of the settings on this and it won't even hiccup.

However, again, these games all look pretty damn good on a dual-core system for less than half the price. The fact of the matter is there aren't many programs or games out there that'll take advantage of a quad-core machine with Quad SLI graphics cards. What you're paying for with this box is not the ability to play today's hottest games really well, but to play tomorrow's games really well. When games are engineered to take advantage of everything this has under the hood, it'll blow dual-core machines out of the water. However, currently there just isn't much out there that really makes this machine seem worth the massive price tag.

At the End of the Day…
It seems to me that the smart move would be to hold off until there's software out there that can actually take advantage of this technology. By that time the price of quad-core boxes will have plummeted, and rather than having a race car with no track to drive it on, you'll be able to take full advantage of everything it's got right away. There's no denying that the XPS 710 is one of the fastest and most impressive machines available today. The question is just whether or not it's worth spending so much money just to be the first person to have one.