Strong all-around performance. Minimalist design and compact, tool-free case. Plenty of ports and storage. Room for expansion.
Case is a little tight to work in.
- Bottom Line
For a reasonable price, the new Dell XPS Tower delivers fast speed and gaming performance in a package that's compact, easily accessible, and has room for upgrades.
Dell's XPS desktops combine simple but expandable design with good power at reasonable prices. The trend continues with the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition (8920) (starts at $1,049; $1,599 as tested), a utilitarian, but highly efficient desktop. It lacks flash, but packs high-end graphics, a fast Core i7 processor, loads of storage, and an upgradeable interior. This makes it a perfect multipurpose machine, good for general multimedia use, gaming, or VR experiences, making it our Editors' Choice midrange .
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Compact and Customizable
The plastic tower is black with a silver front face (the Dell logo is emblazoned in the middle), and stands at 15.22 by 7.09 by 14.02 inches (HWD). It's simple in design, but its smaller size saves desk space. This year's model is the same size as the 2016 XPS Tower, so the changes are all on the inside. The Velocity Micro Vector Z35,made of a sleek brushed aluminum, is a little more stylish, but it's a few inches deeper (15 by 7 by 19 inches).
The vents are between a gap in the front panel and the main body, as well as along the back. Access to the case is easy thanks to a level on the rear. Pulling it back releases the left side panel, which you can lift away from the chassis. That's even simpler than removing a couple hand screws like I see on some other desktops.
This isn't a roomy tower, but there's enough space to work in. To help with that, the power supply is set on a swinging arm, which you can unlock from the rear, to pull out for access to the motherboard. That leaves the bottom of the case clear for existing storage and open bays. My configuration comes with a 256GB M.2 SSD as well as a 2TB 7,200RPM hard drive, leaving two hard drive bays open. There's also an optical disc bay, occupied in my model by a DVD-RW drive. On the motherboard, there are four PCIe expansion slots and four DIMM slots, with two occupied by 8GB sticks.
Connectivity is solid, even if there are no outstanding inclusions. The PC gets points for keeping plenty of these ports within easy reach on the front panel, where you'll find four USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, and mic and headphone jacks. Around back, there are four more USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port, a USB-C port, an HDMI port, a DisplayPort connection, an Ethernet port, and three audio lines. As for other features, the system includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi plus Bluetooth 4.0, and comes with a wireless mouse and wireless keyboard. Dell supports XPS 8920 with a one-year warranty that includes onsite hardware service following remote diagnosis.
The XPS 8920 is of a fairly similar power tier to the previous XPS Tower we tested save for a meaningful boost to the processor. This time around, our test unit is outfitted with a Core i7-7700 CPU, from Intel's latest Kaby Lake generation, while the XPS 8910 includes a Core i5 Skylake processor. This leads to much better benchmark scores across the board, and even outside of a direct comparison to its predecessor, great numbers in general. Its PCMark 8 score is better than or equal to some pricier systems like the iBuyPower Snowblind Proand the Alienware Aurora, and the multimedia scores are equally strong. This means if you're working on photo or video projects, this hardware will get you fast loading times, which is less time lost to waiting around for effects or encoding.
It's not just processor-intensive jobs where the XPS 8920 excels, though, thanks to its Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics. This powerful card is great for any graphics-reliant tasks, 3D animation, and of course gaming. Its benchmark scores are solid in all areas, as we've come to expect from the 1070. The 2016 version of the XPS Tower Special Edition also featured a 1070, but this model has twice the VRAM (8GB compared with 4GB). The 1070 is not the top-end GTX 1080 or the premium 1080Ti or Titan X, but it's still very capable while helping to keep the system's price down.
Its capability is shown by the very high frame rates on the Heaven and Valley tests on Ultra-quality settings at 1080p, on which the XPS averaged just over 100fps. On the same settings at 4K, it averaged 27fps on Heaven and 32fps on Valley. That discrepancy means a reliable 30fps minimum isn't a guarantee on newer games at 4K at full settings. It can hit 30fps, so you can play older or less-demanding games at 4K, but frame rates will likely dip and rise, which isn't ideal for a smooth experience. 30fps is the minimum for smooth play, so hitting at least that is a must, while 60fps is the ideal target, as it makes animation look even smoother. The lack of reliable 60fps 4K gameplay isn't a surprise on the GTX 1070 (even the 1080 struggles there), but you can reduce visual settings to reach 30fps consistently.
On the whole, the new XPS Tower stacks up well against the similarly priced and purposed competition. The Vector Z35 is older, equipped with a GTX 9-Series card, so the XPS has it beat for 3D performance, and the extra VRAM means it's more capable than last year's XPS Tower, as well. The Snowblind Pro is a bit more powerful, so it edges the XPS overall, but it's more expensive and the performance falls within the same ball park. If 4K is really important to you, though, I would recommend at least a GTX 1080 for 30fps (and dual cards for 60fps at 4K), while the 1070 is a great card for 1440p monitors. The system is VR-ready, however, so your games will run smoothly on any headset.
Price and Power Sweet Spot
The Dell XPS Tower Special Edition (8920) packs about everything you'd want from a multipurpose desktop into a nice package. It doesn't cost too much, is easy to maintain and upgrade, and the performance is just below true high-end machines. You get a well-built PC with plenty of ports and storage for creatives to transfer and save media, and gaming capability is well above average. It stacks up well against pricier desktops, and it's difficult to get much less expensive than the XPS Tower Special Edition and maintain this level of performance, earning it our Editors' Choice for midrange, general-purpose desktops.
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Matthew Buzzi is a junior analyst on the Hardware team at PCMag. Matthew graduated from Iona College with a degree in Mass Communications/Journalism. He interned for a college semester at Kotaku, writing about gaming. He has written about technology and video game news, as well as hardware and gaming reviews. In his free time, he likes to go out with friends, watch and discuss sports, play video games, read too much Twitter, and obsessively manage any fantasy sports leagues he's involved in. More »
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