Out with the old

I’ve finally moved out of the “dark ages” of single core computing and joined the modern world of dual core owners. It’s been a great ride my single core friends, but it’s time to roll on.

The computer was a ultra deal I found from Dell (and was widely advertised). For £400, it included a Intel Pentium D 2.8GHz processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, and a 19″ Dell TFT monitor. Also, being the Dimension 5150, it had a PCI-E 16x slot to upgrade the graphics with.

It took me all of about ten minutes of contemplation before I put in an order, which was immediatly declined by my credit card issuer as a “suspicious transaction”. This meant calling the dreaded Dell call center, which as you all know is located in India. Actually, my experience with them wasn’t that bad, the person on the other end did have trouble understanding some more complex questions, but the problem was solved soon enough. I should also point out the friendliness of the Egg call center staff, which makes a nice change from all the drones I’ve been speaking to.

Postage and packaging

Fortunatly, I got this on a deal where the postage and packaging was free of charge, instead of the usual ludicrous £50 (+ VAT) that Dell charge. Unfortunatly, the computer arrived with a visible crack to the pastic on top. It’s partially covered by the Windows license key sticker, which makes me wonder if a Dell employee placed it there to try to cover it up. Either way, it’s just some minor cosmetic and I can’t be bothered to get the comptuer replaced.

TNT were nice enough to let me collect the computer from their depot (just five minutes down the road) at midnight on a Sunday, as I wouldn’t be in on Monday when they were going to deliver. Of the many years I’ve been buying Dell computers, they haven’t changed their packing methods. No-where near Apple’s standards, but then again I didn’t expect it at this price.

The monitor

I upgraded the monitor from the bog standard Dell panel to their Ultrasharp 1907FP. I was lucky, and got the ones that come with the Samsung panel with 1000:1 contrast ratio and such. I must say the monitor is a lot better than my old Sharp 19″ TFT, which has comparatively less constrast, brightness and colour depth. Thinking about it, I paid £300 for the Sharp panel one and a half years ago, and now I’m paying £450 for a much better panel with a decent end computer!

Features that I find useful include the built in USB hub, the dual inputs (DVI and D-SUB) and the height adjustable stand. The one feature I don’t find useful is the pivot functionality of the stand, which seems pretty pointless with a standard 4:3 ratio monitor.

The computer

The Dell arrived as a black/silver/white combo that actually works very well. It’s one of the more aesthetically pleasing Dell designs of late, being more exciting than their dull Dimension 1100, but classier than their XPS range. The case is easily opened by just the pulling of a latch, although refitting the side is more cumbersome, requiring an alarming amount of pressure on a very bendy piece of steel. The case also weights far more than I expected, partly because it’s mostly made out of steel instead of mostly plastic of other Dell’s I’ve used.

Dell kindly put a copy of Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition. Unfortunatly, they no longer provide the driver or Windows OS discs anymore, unless you pay £5 for them while ordering the computer. However there is an easy way to get them to send you the discs. Seeing as the base specification doesn’t come with a CD or DVD writer, you’re not able to make your own discs from the images on your hard drive, and thus if you want to remove the rather measly 80GB standard hard disc (as I’ve done) and put in a bigger and better one, you’re screwed. Dell recognises this, and sent the discs out immediately after I e-mailed them.

When you’re just idling the thing (browsing the web, checking e-mail etc.), it remains completely silent. Infact, I have accidentally unplugged it from the wall before, only to find that it was on, but I couldn’t hear it! Once you start pushing it, the fan that cools the CPU starts to spin up, but not annoyingly so. It usually only does this during games, so the sound of the game drouns out the low pitched fan noise.

Modifications

It comes with 1GB of DDR2 533MHz RAM installed in two slots. I sold these off and got 2GB of OCZ Value Pro RAM split onto two 1GB DIMMs. This gives me a nice upgrade path to 4GB once 64-bit computing really takes off, but the difference between 2GB and 4GB with a 32-bit OS (like everyone uses) is near to nothing.

I got some Arctic Silver 5, and replaced the thermal paste used on the CPU with that. AS5 is far more effective than the standard stuff Dell use, and the Dell engineers didn’t exactly use much care when applying it.

It comes with on board Intel integrated graphics, that steals 8MB of RAM from the system. Being a gamer, I immediately upgraded the graphics to a to preserve the quietness of the computer.

I also added a DVD writer to it, as it comes with a bog standard DVD reader. A Pioneer 111D will do nicely.

Performance

Not having done any exhaustive bechmarks, I can only give my own perception of speed upgrading from an AMD Athlon XP 3200+ with 1GB of RAM. It is very fast though. I tried compressing a file using WinRAR, and then performing other tasks, on my old computer, this would’ve been near impossible, but with the dual core processor, there was no slow down at all. When applications crashed or locked (Windows Media Player, I’m looking at you), the PC remained very usable, allowing me to shut down the offending process without waiting minutes for Task Manager to start.

The GUI remains responsive even when the system is pushed, I no longer have to leave it overnight to encode a video file, heck, I can even play Counter Strike: Source while it’s encoding with only a minimal reduction in performance!

Doing a quick benchmark in 3DMark2006, I got a score of 4258, which seems about right for the CPU/graphics card combo.

I’m not a big fan of benchmarking anymore, but I’ll be commenting on the speed of the computer once I get all my applications up and running on it.

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