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February 3, 2018

Dell XPS 8930 review

by John_A

Research Center:
Dell XPS 8930 Tower

There’s been a lot of excitement surrounding Dell’s XPS hardware in the last few years. Whether it’s the XPS All-In-One or the XPS 13, they’ve been the flagship products in Dell’s lineup. They focus on style and design without sacrificing the capabilities you’d expect from a premium PC.

Further in the background, Dell has a line of desktop towers with the XPS branding. We got a chance to review the new XPS 8930, an all-black PC that comes with 8th-gen Intel Core processors and some surprising gaming capability. Our review unit came with the four-core Core i3-8100, 8GB of RAM and, most importantly, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, for a retail price of $1000. The XPS 8930 Tower works as an entry-level gaming PC, as well as a simple home workstation. You can, of course, move to a Core i5 for an extra $100, a Core i7 for an extra $250, or up even upgrade to a Radeon RX 580 if you want.

With the rising prices of GPUs, systems like this have become a lot more attractive. But does the XPS 8930 give you a solid base for your future computing needs? Let’s dig in.

Safe, familiar, and inoffensive

There’s not much you can do to a tower like this to make it stand out. Unless you’ve got a tricked-out gaming desktop with glowing neon lights, people often prefer these things to sit under desks where no one can see them.

The XPS Tower isn’t at all marketed as a gaming desktop and doesn’t look like one.

In its recent redesign of the XPS 8930 Tower, Dell hasn’t done all that much to spice up the formula. It uses a combination of matte and glossy finishes to create a black version of the gaming-focused, silver XPS Tower Special Edition. This new all-black version of the XPS Tower is nice enough to not want to completely hide it at the back of your desk, but it’s definitely nothing new.

It should be noted that the XPS Tower isn’t at all marketed as a gaming desktop – and it doesn’t look like one either. Compared to something like the Dell Inspiron Gaming Desktop, this is a far more subtle case, relying on clean lines and subdued design choices. It’s not a bad-looking product, but it’s not nearly as interesting as we wished it was.

The good news is that the case itself feels firm and durable across all the different panels and connection points. Even though the exterior is plastic over a metal chassis, you won’t feel much flex or give. On top of that, it’s fairly small and light, coming in at 22 pounds, which is lighter than the 30-pound Inspiron or even something like the 33-pound Lenovo Ideacentre Y900. It’s also two inches shorter than the Inspiron and an inch skinnier.

Everything you need, and then some

The XPS features a decent selection of ports, mixing in two USB-C ports among a smattering USB-A, an HDMI, Display Port, Gigabit Ethernet, Mic-in, and an SD card reader. In other words, there’s plenty of USB to go around here, and everything else you’d need, too. USB-C is nice to see, since more and more devices and accessories are using the newer port type – and especially since it was missing on Dell’s Inspiron 5675 Gaming Desktop.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Dell has put a handful of the ports on the front for convenient access, along with the rare optical drive. It makes plugging in a flash drive, smartphone, or peripheral quick and easy. You won’t ever run out of ports in the front or wish you had more – and that’s a good thing to not have to worry about.

Ready for upgrades — just look closer

As is customary with mainstream market desktops, access to your internal components isn’t exactly obvious. But what they’ve done here is a bit more interesting. In fact, if you’re anything like us, it might not be immediately apparent how you even get this thing open. We eventually found a subtle black latch at the top of the back of the tower, which pulled open to pop the side panel out. Once we did have it pulled open, we didn’t feel like we could see much more. The CPU was completely obscured and we were immediately annoyed that Dell had chosen to keep everything so cluttered.

Dell calls its tool-less system “innovative” and we agree. We just wouldn’t call it intuitive.

Or so we thought. Not unlike the side panel, we found out via the official website that the entire power supply rack swings out to expose the rest of the components. It’s a very different way of putting together a PC tower in smaller space — and we’ve got to applaud Dell for that.

Most importantly, the unique system allowed Dell to pack a substantial amount of power in the chassis — enough to handle some significant upgrades.

Speaking of upgrades, the CPU comes soldered on, so you’re stuck there. However, the GPU can be easily replaced. In addition, you’ve got access to two available slots of PCIe for expansion cards, and two empty HDD slots. While the size of the chassis limits upgradability, there’s plenty of room here to level up your specs down the road.

Dell calls its tool-less system “innovative,” and we agree. We just wouldn’t call it intuitive. After all, it took us a while to even figure out what we could do with it. But that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that Dell made it possible to easily access all the important components without having to break out a single screwdriver.

A secret quad-core CPU

Our review unit came with the Core i3-8100, which is the first time we’ve tested it in a full PC package. Despite what you may think, some gamers have been basing entry-level builds off this CPU, thanks to the fact that this generation’s Core i3 is now quad-core, and fairly affordable. The i3-8100 is obviously positioned on the lower end of the spectrum, but it proved to have some muscle behind it, clocking in at 3.6Ghz.

In single-core performance, we found it to beat out older desktop PCs like the Surface Studio (Core i7-6820HQ) and the Dell Inspiron 27 (Ryzen 7 1700), but not so much in multi-core performance in most comparisons. In real-time usage, we found it more than capable for daily activity and moderate workloads — just don’t expect it to edit 4K video. It should also be noted that you can’t overclock the i3-8100 — what you see is what you get. It’s a CPU meant for efficiency and low power-draw, and in some ways, that’s perfect for what the XPS 8930 is meant to be.

The price is where things get a little dodgy. It’s not that the i3-8100 is a bad CPU — Dell is just charging a bit too much for it here. It’s something that won’t be noticed if you aren’t pushing your system to its limits, but you might notice it in performance of certain games and other processor-intensive applications. Compared to something like Dell’s Inspiron 5675 Gaming Desktop or the Asus G11DF, you’re paying just a bit extra for less processing power.

Super fast, super slow

Our review unit came with 256GB of NVMe SSD storage from Toshiba and a 1TB SATA hard drive from Western Digital. The inclusion of the SSD for storage is a big plus, but is unfortunately only available in the higher-end configurations, which is a bit of bummer. For anything under $1000, you’ll end with the standard spinning, slow-as-molasses hard drive.

The good news is that the SSD is crazy fast, coming in at a blazing read speed of 2.72GB per second and a much slower write speed of 346MB per second. The extreme difference is a bit odd, though it’s hard to complain about a read speed that fast. As expected, the hard drive is much slower by comparison, though it’s roomy 1TB of storage is always nice to have — just don’t expect to pull files from it quickly.

Gaming wasn’t an afterthought

The thing most people will want to know about this relatively inexpensive desktop is whether it can play games. The answer is yes, especially when you’re talking about 1080p.

Featuring the capable Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of GDDR5, we found game performance to be smooth, handling For Honor at a steady 77 fps (frames per second) on Extreme. It even handled Deus Ex: Mankind Divided better than some of its competitors, averaging 51 fps on High graphics setting, over the MSI Trident 3 and the Asus G11DF. Meanwhile, in our 3DMark tests, we found the XPS 8930 to be competitive with the MSI Trident 3, a compact gaming PC that features the same graphics card. It’s hard not to be impressed, considering the look of the chassis and the price you paid. Performance in Civilization VI was similarly fluid, hitting 62 fps on Ultra.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

It continued to outperform its competitors in Battlefield 1, where we tested it at both Medium and Ultra graphics detail in 1080p. Either way, you’re getting a lot out of that GTX 1060, surpassing framerates from desktops like the Asus G11DF and MSI Trident 3. Obviously, you’ll get more from a system with a GTX 1080 — or even the Dell Inspiron 5675’s Radeon RX 580, which landed 93 fps in Battlefield 1 — but we were quite happy with how well XPS 8930 could handle our game tests in 1080p.

We also took it for a spin on a 1440p display to see how many pixels the GTX 1060 could push. The XPS 8930 was up for the challenge, breezing through games like Battlefield 1 and Civilization VI on Ultra, getting 60 fps or higher in 1440p.

However, as you can see, the XPS 8930 hit a bit of a wall when we tried running Deus Ex on Ultra mode in 1440p. It squeezed out only 34 fps. Gaming at 1440p on the XPS 8930 can be done, but you’ll find that there are limitations in terms of what games and graphics settings you can use. We even tried Battlefield 1 in 4K for kicks, and the results weren’t great (around 31 fps), but it was still playable.

Overall, we were surprised at well the XPS 8930 handled pretty much everything we threw at it. Clearly, the GTX 1060 is a capable little GPU and should last you well into a couple of game cycles before you want to upgrade. And don’t forget, in addition to gaming, the high-performing graphics card means things like 3D rendering and photo editing get easier too.

Warranty

The XPS 8930 comes with a basic 1-year hardware service, which includes in-home service bundled into the price. That’s not bad, but you may want to jump up to one the Premium Support plans, which range from an extra year up to four years of support.

Dell XPS 8930 Tower Compared To

Origin Millennium

Asus G11DF-DBR5-GTX1060

Dell Inspiron 5675

Asus ROG Strix GD30CI

Velocity Micro Raptor M60

Origin Neuron

Alienware Area 51 (2017)

MSI Trident 9S6-B90611-02S

Digital Storm Velox (Kaby Lake)

Cybertron CLX Ra

Digital Storm Velox

Origin Millennium (2014)

iBuyPower Erebus

Gateway FX6800-01e

HP Blackbird 002

Our Take

The Dell XPS 8930 Tower is made for a small demographic of people. It’s not a dedicated gaming PC, meaning it doesn’t go far enough in terms of custom cases or expandability options. However, it’s a good option for families who want a shared desktop that can be used for work in a home office, as well as great game performance.

Is there a better alternative?

You might think building your own dedicated gaming rig is your best alternative, but these days, high GPU prices make something like the XPS 8930 a much more attractive offer. However, there are some very strong alternatives that you should check out before buying.

The first is the Dell Inspiron 5675 Gaming Desktop, which offers better overall value. You can get a similar package to the XPS 8930 for just $750, or a significantly better Core i7-8700 and GTX 1060 for $1000. The design is not as understated as the XPS, but it wouldn’t look completely out of place in a home office, either. The only downside is at that configuration, you only get the 3GB version of the GTX 1060, as well as a smaller 128GB SSD compared to the XPS’s 256GB.

Another possible option is something like the MSI Trident 3, which has quite a different form factor, but some very comparable performance. It comes at an additional cost, however, making the XPS 8930 a better value. Meanwhile, the $1000 Asus G11DF isn’t exactly a looker, but delivers a more gaming-focused package with the Ryzen 5 and GTX 1060 — and some impressive performance results. In addition, the G11DF can be configured with the GTX 1070 and Ryzen 7 if you so please.

How long will it last?

As far as ports go, there’s a nice array of legacy and future-proof. In addition, there’s plenty of room here to upgrade, meaning you could start with something a bit humbler, and eventually save up enough nickels for some upgraded components.

Should you buy it?

Yes, if you want or need a jack-of-all-trades. The Dell XPS Tower isn’t the best value in any specific area, but it does everything well, making it a good choice for a family PC, or anyone who wants to work hard, play hard on a single desktop machine.

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