Fast all-around performance. Compact design. Easy-access case with room for expansion.
Loud fans. Case is a little tight to work in.
- Bottom Line
Like previous versions, the Dell XPS Special Edition (8930) is a compact and upgradeable multipurpose desktop. But now it's faster than ever thanks to Intel's latest Coffee Lake processor.
With the arrival of Intel's new Coffee Lake processors, PC manufacturers have good reason to update their lines. Dell's XPS Tower Special Edition (8930) (starts at $999; $1,524.99 as tested) is the latest take on one of our favorite general-purpose desktops, and the first Coffee Lake PC to come through our labs. This time around, The XPS Tower Special Edition packs an Intel Core i7-8700 processor, and the added speed is nothing to sneeze at. It also maintains what we liked about the previous model—a compact, easily accessible design with room for expansion—the XPS 8930 is a no-brainer as our Editors' Choice for midrange desktops, with all the power to handle media projects, play games, and everything in between.
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New Guts, Same Case
The updated version of the Special Edition uses the same tried and tested chassis as the last few models, like the Special Edition 8920, and for good reason. It's compact, minimalist, and still provides some room for upgrades, so there's little need for alterations. It measures 15.22 by 7.09 by 14.02 inches (HWD), all black with a silver face. It's not quite a small-form-factor, which tend to be pretty tiny, but it's on the bottom end of size for general-purpose desktops. Others, like the Velocity Micro Raptor Z95 (2017)at 17.5 by 7.25 by 20.5 inches, are generally larger all around.
The rear part of the case holds ventilation in the top and back, as well as between a gap in the main body and front panel. Unlike the previous edition, this version gets fairly loud under load, particularly from the top fan. Whether this is just from the extra heat generated by this model's components or a change in the fan, it is noticeably loud. During benchmark testing, the fan whirred into action at a consistent level right until the test concluded, so while it was working as it should, it was just loud enough to be distracting.
Interior access is extremely easy: A simple pull on a rear level unlocks the left panel, which you can then lift away from the body, making the process completely tool-less. Inside, the power supply is set in a movable arm, which you can unlock and swing away from the motherboard. It's a good solution for a compact space, and keeps the bottom area clear for more storage bays. The space is a little tight by nature of the case size, which you may have to fight against if you swap or add components in the future, but it leaves just enough room to work in.
To that point, the 8930 is configure-to-order with many options, while past versions came in a few pre-set models. As such, you can fill the storage area however you see fit, from a solo 1TB hard drive to various capacity combinations of SSD plus hard drive. This unit includes the minimum of each, with a 256GB SSD boot drive and a 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive. That's less space than the previous model we reviewed, which had a 2TB hard drive, but again, that can be easily changed when ordering if you want more storage. The same goes for memory—this unit includes 16GB.
For connectivity, the front panel holds three USB 2.0 ports, an SD card slot, headphone and mic jacks, an optical drive, and a brand new USB-C port (the only physical exterior change from the previous model). That's a good general-purpose suite, easily accessible at the front, while the back holds four USB 3.0 ports, two more USB 2.0 ports, another USB-C port, an HDMI port, a DisplayPort connection, and an Ethernet jack. This model comes with a Killer1535 WLAN card for 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth (which brings up the price by $25 from the default). Dell supports the XPS 8930 with a one-year warranty that includes onsite hardware service after remote diagnosis.
Amped Up on Coffee (Lake)
The star of the show for this refresh is, of course, the Intel Coffee Lake processor, the 3.2GHz Core i7-8700. For a straight comparison to the previous generation, we can look at the 8920's scores, though it had a higher-clocked Core i7-7700 (3.6GHz) processor. While the lower clock speed leads to a lower PCMark score, the Coffee Lake CPU's proficiency on the multi-threaded tests speaks for itself. The 8930's scores are high—significantly so compared with the previous model, which again has a higher clock speed. This demonstrates the improvement from Kaby Lake, as well as the new generation's aptitude at all-around productivity and multitasking. Other desktops of differing sizes in the price range, like the iBuyPower Snowblind Pro or Corsair One Pro and their Core i7-7700K CPUs, also serve as good points of comparison for Coffee Lake.
While the processor certainly influences 3D performance, the results on the 3D and gaming tests lean more heavily on the graphics card. As is usually the case, the Nvidia GTX 1070 is quite capable, particularly in HD. On the ultra-quality 1080p Heaven and Valley tests, which simulate gaming environments and measure frames per second (fps), the XPS 8930 averaged 99fps and 169fps respectively. That's well above the ideal 60fps target, and if you only intend on playing in HD, as many gamers do, you'll be set for a long time to come.
It's capable in 1440p as well, and 30fps 4K gaming is attainable depending on the title. The 8930 averaged 27fps and 31fps on the same tests at 4K, so there were dips below 30fps, which you'd notice. Less demanding games are likely to stay at 30fps, though, and you can lower some graphics settings to achieve a smoother frame rate too, if 4K is important for you. I'd recommend a GTX 1080 or above if you truly want smooth 4K gaming, but barring that, the XPS 8930 and GTX 1070 are more than sufficient. VR gaming is also easily attainable for this system, clearing the recommended GTX 1060 floor.
Given that the XPS 8930 Special Edition is slightly less expensive, but faster than the 8920 we named Editors' Choice, it's a simple decision to bestow the honor on this model as well. There is the caveat of the loud fans this time around, but I don't think it's a deal-breaker. Everything else—the upgradeability, compact size, and easy case access—remain, and the desktop is now much more customizable when ordering. For these reasons, the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition (8930) is our top recommendation for midrange general-purpose desktops.
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Matthew Buzzi is a Hardware Analyst at PCMag, focusing on laptops and desktops with a specialty in gaming systems and games. Matthew earned a degree in Mass Communications/Journalism and interned for a college semester at Kotaku, writing about gaming before turning into part of his career. He spends entirely too much time on Twitter (find him @MJBuzzi), which he both deeply loves and hates. When not gaming or writing, the rest of his time is spent being a massive Chelsea FC and NY Rangers fan…. More »
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