Dell XPS Tower Special Edition review

A VR-capable desktop PC for the everyman

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Great Value

Our Verdict

Underneath the Dell XPS Tower’s a sleek, unassuming exterior lies a gaming PC with enough power for virtual reality experiences and high-performance gaming – and at a great price.

For

  • Compact, minimalistic design
  • Affordably priced
  • Full online customer support

Against

  • Starting memory isn’t ideal for VR
  • Lower graphical performance compared to rivals

Updated: We've updated our Dell XPS Tower Special Edition review with impressions and benchmarks from the latest 2017 model.

If you had a desktop computer growing up, it probably was a Dell. The company’s towers have always been attractive, reliable and, above all, value packed.

The latest XPS Tower Special Edition is especially interesting in that it’s more compact than ever. What’s more, Dell has packed in Nvidia’s 10-series graphics cards, making it virtual reality-ready and powerful enough to game even when hooked up to a ridiculously sharp monitor.

Spec sheet

CPU: 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-6400 (quad-core, 6M Cache, up to 3.3 GHz)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5 VRAM); Intel HD Graphics 530
RAM: 8GB DDR4 (2,133MHz)
Power Supply: 460W
Storage: 1TB HDD (7,200 rpm)
Optical drive: 8x DVD-RW drive
Ports: 7 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 2 x USB 2.0, SD card slot, HDMI, Display Port, Gigabit Ethernet, mic-in, headphone-out, 5.1 channel audio jacks
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system: Windows 10 Home 64-bit
Weight: 22 pounds (10kg)
Size: 7.09 x 14.02 x 15.22 inches (18 x 35.6 x 38.7cm; W x D x H)

Pricing and value

The Dell XPS Tower Special Edition now starts at $1,049 (about £800, AU$1,325) a small step up from the $999 (about £770, AU$1,260) base configuration we reviewed last year. What’s changed since then is the addition of 7th generation Intel Core processors, newer AMD Polaris graphics cards, faster RAM, and now every XPS Tower Special Edition now comes with a 256GB solid-state drive, or SSD.

Our review configuration is a mid-range model that comes with a higher-end Intel Core i7 CPU, Nvidia GTX 1070, plus double the memory and storage, for $1,599 (£1,449, AU$1,999). Regardless of whether you go for the same graphics boost, you’re looking at a VR-capable rig for roughly a grand and a half.

The Special Edition version of the XPS Tower isn’t available in the UK and Australia, but users in those territories will be able to configure a regular XPS Tower with the same parts. The only thing you’ll miss out on with the regular models is the front metal panel.

Alternatively, you could pick up the MSI Aegis 3 for $1,549 (£1,799, AU$2,999). At this price point, this desktop features a nearly identical spec sheet to that of the Dell XPS Tower, but is far smaller than it and the Lenovo Y900.

Comparatively, the Lenovo IdeaCentre Y900 offers more graphical power at the same $1,599 (£1,899, AU$3,499) price. It features a higher-spec Nvidia GTX 1080, though it features an older generation 6th generation Intel processor and slower frequency RAM.

There’s clearly a lot of competition in this mid- to high-range gaming space and ultimately these systems are going to differentiate themselves through performance and whichever is easiest to upgrade.

Design

Outwardly, the XPS Tower looks so formal, you might think Dell accidentally shipped one of its Precision enterprise desktops. However, we actually love the look of this clean, minimalistic aesthetic.

The front cover of the desktop is made up of one contiguous solid sheet of aluminum, whose only accents are a Dell and XPS logo. Meanwhile, the rest of the body is fashioned from a plastic painted in semi-glossy black with a band of ribbed texture towards the back of the PC case.

Altogether, it’s a sophisticated look that stands out because of its simplicity. Without knowing what’s inside this machine, you would never think it was a gaming PC capable of pushing VR experiences.

It’s not an overstatement to say that the new Dell XPS Tower is one of the smallest consumer desktops in the world. Measuring in at 7.09 x 14.02 x 15.22 inches (18 x 35.6 x 38.7cm; W x D x H), it’s a compact system that makes it an easy fit in the tiniest of apartments.

Sure, it’s not as small as the Intel Skull Canyon NUC or Asus ROG G20BM, but neither desktop incorporates a full-sized graphics card, motherboard or a power supply that swings out on a mechanical arm. 

It’s bigger on the inside (Time Lord science)

The secret behind the XPS Tower’s compact size is it shares the same tool-less design and internal skeleton as the space compressing and folding Alienware Aurora R5.

Just as Alienware’s otherworldly gaming desktop, this PC features a power supply turned on its side and attached to an articulating arm that folds in and out of the case. When fully packed up, the PSU actually hovers just next to the CPU and above the GPU.

Normally on a custom-built PC, this space would have been reserved for a large air cooler. However, thanks to the mid-powered and efficient Kaby Lake processor, Dell could get away with a low-profile CPU fan.

While Dell and Alienware’s small form factor PCs share many commonalities, there are key differences. Inside the Aurora there are two sleds for SSDs and one for a hard drive, whereas, the XPS Tower has three hard drive trays – though, you could upgrade the M.2 flash storage drive if you so wish. You’ll find the other components are also easy to upgrade, thanks to Dell’s tool-less design.

More importantly, the Dell system is much smaller than the Alienware’s since it doesn’t feature an elaborate plastic fairing with external lighting strips. Whereas the Aurora’s top panel rose nearly four inches above the internal skeleton, the roof of the XPS Tower barely measures a centimeter thick.

With all these parts so close to each other, you might think things get toasty inside this miniature PC, but Dell has done an impressive job of optimizing air flow. A front fan pulls in fresh air while both the inward facing power supply and top-mounted fan exhaust heat.

The GPU is left to its own devices, pulling cool air from the slits cut into the side panel, but it keeps surprisingly cool and quiet even under heavy loads. 

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Dell XPS Tower performed in our suite of benchmark tests

3DMark: Sky Diver: 24,135; Fire Strike: 12,418; Time Spy: 5,001
Cinebench CPU: 518 points; Graphics: 108 fps
GeekBench: 3,503 (single-core); 10,745(multi-core)
PCMark 8 (Home Test): 3,515 points
The Division (1080p, Ultra): 77 fps; (1080p, Low): 180 fps
GTA V (1080p, Ultra): 60 fps; (1080p, Low): 140 fps

Here’s a look back at how the 2016 Dell XPS Tower fared

3DMark: Sky Diver: 24,135; Fire Strike: 12,418; Time Spy: 5,001
Cinebench CPU: 518 points; Graphics: 108 fps
GeekBench: 3,503 (single-core); 10,745(multi-core)
PCMark 8 (Home Test): 3,515 points
The Division (1080p, Ultra): 77 fps; (1080p, Low): 180 fps
GTA V (1080p, Ultra): 60 fps; (1080p, Low): 140 fps

Performance

Last year’s Dell XPS Tower came with all the components to put performance in its favor, but it was ultimately held back by its sluggish hard disk drive. That isn’t the case any more with this year’s crop of SSD-equipped models. Startup takes mere seconds, and the same is true for loading everything from games to music.

With a newer, faster processor in tow, the latest Dell XPS Tower performs dramatically better than last year’s model; however, it doesn’t keep up with proper gaming PCs. 

Compared to the MSI Aegis 3, the Dell finished with 3DMark scores a thousand to several hundred points lower. Despite both machines sharing the same processor, GPU and comparable memory, MSI’s compact PC was able to play Deus Ex: Mankind Divided on Ultra at a far smoother 26 frames per second (fps). Meanwhile, the less demanding in-game benchmarks show an even larger performance gap between the two machines.

Despite the MSI leading the way in graphical power, the Dell XPS Tower performs better on the processor based tests. The major hardware difference here is Dell uses the standard Founders Cards from Nvidia, whereas MSI employs their own, clocked-up components in the MSI Aegis 3.

The Lenovo IdeaCentre Y900 is on top of the heap, thanks to its higher-spec Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics card. It scored the most points on all the graphical benchmarks, however, the processor-based tests reveal a CPU starting to show its age. 

Although both machines share the same processor and nearly identical GPUs, the Tornado is equipped with twice the amount of memory and therefore it can max out at a higher co-efficient than the XPS Tower. Meanwhile, the less demanding in-game benchmarks show a more level playing field between the two machines.

Outside of our benchmark testing, the Dell’s flagship desktop packs more than enough power to drive a virtual reality headset as promised. What’s more, we played Abzu, Resident Evil VII and Overwatch with no problems at full resolution on a 3,440 x 1,440 ultra-wide screen monitor and high-to-Ultra settings. 

Final verdict

For little more than a grand, the base-model Dell XPS Tower Special Edition is an affordable VR-ready machine, and spending a little bit more will get you a machine as powerful as our review unit. While there are other equally well-equipped and smaller rigs out there, this desktop PC stands out with its premium build quality and tool-less upgradability.

If you’re not in the headspace to go the DIY route, the XPS Tower is one of the most compelling options, thanks to Dell’s impressive engineering and online support that will back you up for years to come. Just make sure to do yourself a favor and get an SSD upgrade.