Dell XPS Tower Special Edition review

A VR-capable desktop PC for the everyman

TODO alt text
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

  • Spinning hard drive to start
  • Starting memory isn’t ideal for VR

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.

This year, the 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 capable 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: 460WStorage: 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 starts at $999 (about £820, AU$1,330), though, our own configuration has had its GPU upgraded from an AMD Radeon RX480 to an Nvidia GTX 1070 for $1,249 (about £1,030, AU$1670). Regardless of whether you go for the same graphics boost, you’re looking at a VR-capable rig for roughly a grand.

Comparatively, the Lenovo IdeaCentre Y700 offers more power at a higher $1,349 (about £1,110, AU$1,800) price. A premium that comes with a faster 3.3GHz Intel Core i5-6600 processor and 128GB SSD to complement its 1TB hard drive. 

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 still attach flash storage drives if you so wish.

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

Performance

The Dell XPS Tower comes with all the components to put performance in its favor, but it’s ultimately held back by its sluggish hard disk drive. Startup takes several minutes with the extra time it takes loading everything from a spinning drive, making us realize how spoiled we’ve been with flash storage.

Despite having the same core components as the StormForce Tornado, the Dell desktop produced a FireStrike score more than 5,000 points lower. At one point, we were so concerned about the low performance we tried diagnosing the issue and double checking our drivers. 

Thankfully, Dell has a through support network including a built-in update utility and its website can identify your PC to deliver a prescribed software bundle.


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 less than a grand, the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition is an affordable, VR-capable 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 rigs out there, this desktop PC stands out with its compact size and premium build quality for the price.

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin has been a writer for the better part of five years covering everything from green energy to high octane cars, videogames and tech, biohacking, and even city politics. At TechRadar he's settled into a life as the Computing Editor while also covering cameras and shooting video. He can be often found in the lab testing a half dozen laptops at a time or deciding which camera bags to carry for the day.