- Reasonably priced.
- Good gaming performance.
- Subtle and attractive design.
- Compact, tool-free chassis.
- Cable routing could be neater.
- Expandability is limited.
- Internal PSU arm is a bit stiff.
- The Dell XPS Tower Special Edition is a sleek gaming desktop that delivers good performance at an accessible price.
- While expandability is limited, it’s a good choice for modest gamers.
Design and Features
Subtlety is the name of the game with the XPS Tower Special Edition, especially when you compare it side by side with its stodgier predecessor, the XPS 8900 Special Edition$999.99 at Dell. The body of the XPS Tower is made of black plastic, while the front panel is constructed of dark silver aluminum bezel and has the Dell logo front and center. The top and left panels also feature ribbing, which helps with venting and lets you see the green glow of the graphics card inside. The overall effect gives the XPS Tower Special Edition a sophisticated look and feel. You don’t often see desktops, much less gaming desktops, praised for their tactile quality, but the Special Edition is surprisingly pleasant to the touch—a nice little bonus considering the price.
While it may not look it, the XPS Tower Special Edition has a lot in common with the Alienware Aurora (2016)$2,579.00 at Dell. (This makes sense, since Alienware is owned by Dell.) Both share the same chassis skeleton. This makes the XPS Tower Special Edition 27 percent smaller than its previous iteration, measuring a compact 15.22 by 7.09 by 14.02 inches (HWD). That’s also smaller than the Aurora (18.6 by 8.4 by 14.1 inches), which has a bolder gaming aesthetic, but not quite as compact as the Origin Chronos VR$1,722.00 at Origin PC (11.75 by 4.0 by 13.75 inches).
Opening up the XPS Tower Special Edition is fairly simple thanks to its tool-free design. There’s a latch at the rear top-right corner that releases the left panel. The insides are a tad cramped, and that’s reflected in its Tetris-like engineering. Most noticeably, the power supply is housed in a swinging arm unit that releases via two locks on the rear. The arm itself is rather stiff, so you have to use both hands when swinging it open, but this is preferable to it moving around willy-nilly. And while the arm is a neat solution to housing all these components in a finite space, it does block off the fans and the motherboard. This might irk gamers who like to get hands-on with their PCs, but they’re also not the target of the XPS Tower Special Edition. The cable routing could also be a bit neater, but again this isn’t really an issue for casual gamers. If you would rather not futz around too much with a computer’s insides (but also want to reserve the right to), the Special Edition is more than adequate.
As far as expandability, you have options—just not a whole lot of them. There are four DIMM slots total, which can hold up to 64GB of memory, three 3.5-inch drive bays, and one 5.25-inch drive bay. The configuration we tested came with 8GB of memory—two 4GB DDR4 DIMMs—and a 1TB 7,200rpm SATA hard drive. There’s only one PCle x16 slot, however, which is taken up by the GTX 1070. So if you want two 10-series cards, you’re out of luck. But these are minor quibbles, considering this setup is plenty for the target demographic.
I/O port selection is also decent. On the front panel are the Power button, four USB 3.0 ports, a microphone jack, a headphone jack, an SD card slot, and the DVDRW optical drive. In the rear, you’ll find an additional three USB 3.0 ports, one USB 3.1 port, two USB 2.0 ports, one USB-C port, an HDMI port, a DisplayPort connector, an Ethernet jack and three audio jacks. Lastly, the Special Edition comes with a standard keyboard and mouse, which, while not spectacular, will tide you over until you can decide on the perfect gaming mouse and keyboard.
What’s inside? A 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-6400 processor, along with the aforementioned 8GB of RAM and Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics card. This is similar to the Lenovo Ideacentre Y700$959.99 at Amazon, which also sports 8GB of RAM and a GTX 1070, as well as a slightly faster Core i5 CPU, and offers nearly identical performance. And with the boost to a GTX 1070, it’s definitely an improvement over the XPS 8900 Special Edition.
There are lots of ways to measure performance, but for gaming machines, the most important metrics are 3D and gaming tests. The XPS Tower Special Edition scored a respectable, but not earth-shattering 18,448 points on 3DMark Cloud Gate, and 7,100 on the more strenuous Fire Strike Extreme. As expected, that’s better than the XPS 8900 Special Edition (16,915 on CloudGate, 4,791 on Fire Strike Extreme), and on par with the Lenovo Ideacentre Y700 (19,646 on CloudGate, 7,022 on Fire Strike Extreme). It does, however, lag more powerful desktops. The Alienware Aurora, for instance, logged scores of 33,330 on Cloud Gate and 15,618 on Fire Strike Extreme.
In terms of frame rates, the XPS Tower Special Edition does benefit from having the GTX 1070 card. At 1,366-by-768 resolution with graphics quality set to Medium, it returned a good 201 frames per second (fps) and 115fps respectively on the Heaven and Valley gaming tests. With the resolution increased to 1,920 by 1,080 and the graphics quality on Ultra, it still managed a respectable 101fps on Heaven and 99fps on Valley. The XPS Tower Special Edition’s frame rates are better than the XPS 8900 Special Edition’s, thanks to its newer graphics card. Its numbers are slightly behind those of the Lenovo Ideacentre Y700, but not enough to make a huge difference in gameplay, and the list price is slightly cheaper than the Y700’s.
When it comes to productivity, the XPS Tower Special Edition trails its rivals, mostly because it’s sporting a less-powerful processor. Its decent score of 3,033 points on our PCMark 8 Work Conventional test is only slightly behind the XPS 8900 Special Edition’s 3,088 and the Ideacentre Y700’s 3,388. What matters is that this computer is powerful enough to handle day-to-day productivity tasks, and given its price and gaming performance, this is a more-than-acceptable trade-off for low-key gamers.
It’s easy to think that you can’t get a “cheaper” gaming desktop for less than $2,000—a number that might be off-putting to gamers who aren’t looking for something hulking and futuristic. While not the most powerful system you can buy, the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition is affordably priced and delivers solid, VR-capable gaming. And while it’s very similar to the Lenovo Ideacentre Y700 in performance, its sleeker, more compact design is an added bonus that makes this a desktop that gamers hunting for a bargain should put near the top of their list.