- ✓Excellent mainstream and high-end application performance, without an unduly high price premium.
- ✕Similar features and performance are available on cheaper machines.
Dell is usually first out of the door with the latest Intel processor, and the Dimension 4400, featuring Intel's new flagship 2.2GHz 'Northwood' Pentium 4, continues that tradition. Not only is this 0.13-micron chip smaller, faster and more power efficient than previous 0.18 micron 'Willamette' Pentium 4s, it also features double the Level 2 cache -- 512KB. This is likely to have as much effect on system performance as the increase in raw clock speed.
As well as a new processor generation, Intel has a new supporting chipset, the 845-D, which supports Double Data-Rate (DDR) SDRAM. DDR memory is roughly half the price of Rambus memory, which was previously the only choice on Intel Pentium 4 motherboards. Although DDR SDRAM at 200MHz or 266MHz is supported, memory speed is still below that of Rambus, so system performance will be slightly lower with a DDR-based machine.
Dell supplied us with a 2.2GHz Northwood Pentium 4 system fitted with 256MB of DDR SDRAM, with Windows XP Professional installed. Benchmark results for the machine are impressive, as you'd expect. The Dimension 4400's Business Winstone 2001 score of 57.3 is among the highest we've recorded -- a 2.2GHz Northwood system tested by ZDNet Germany scored higher, but this was with a RAID 0 disk subsystem and wasn't a production machine. Compared to our 2GHz Pentium 4 reference system, we saw an improvement of 25 per cent on mainstream application performance -- well beyond the 10 per cent difference in clock speed. With high-end applications, the Dimension 4400's performance boost is less startling, its Content Creation Winstone 2002 score of 32.3 beating our reference system by just over nine per cent.
Gaming performance is excellent, the Dimension 4400 recording a 3DMark 2001 score of 7,969 and a record 3D WinMark 2000 score of 242. These results are, of course, heavily influenced by the system's graphics adapter -- the class-leading nVidia GeForce 3 Ti 500. This card, reviewed in October last year, is still the fastest graphics card we've seen for gaming and will provide more than acceptable levels of performance and quality on machines with far slower processors than this -- for example we got a 3DMark 2001 score of 7,361 on a 1.33GHz Athlon system.
Apart from its processor/chipset/memory subsystem, the Dimension 4400 is a straightforward system that differs little from its 4300 predecessor. Both DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives are fitted, and a 80GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive provides permanent storage. The Samsung DVD-ROM drive is a 16-speed unit, while the NEC CD-RW drive is rated at 16X write, 10X rewrite and 40X read. Our review model was fitted with both a 56Kbit/s modem and a 10/100Mbit/s Ethernet adapter, for dial-up and permanent network connections respectively. Audio is taken care of by a Turtle Beach sound card and Altec Lansing ADA885MG speakers.
Dell's clamshell design case, which we've discussed before, provides tool-free access to all system components but the case has to be turned on its side before you can open it. At the front there are two USB ports and a headphone socket beneath a lift-up flap. There's little expansion room inside, with only a single free PCI slot, one external 3.5in. drive bay and one internal 3.5in. bay available. If you only need one of the connectivity options fitted to our review system, you can claim back a PCI slot for further expansion.
Dell is bundling Microsoft Office XP Small Business with the Dimension 4400, along with Roxio Easy CD Creator and PowerDVD MPEG player.
The Dimension 4400's 2.2GHz processor ensures excellent performance when running mainstream and high-end applications. And although its gaming performance is more a reflection of the graphics card than the CPU, it's still a very fast games platform. The introduction of DDR SDRAM support to the Pentium 4 platform is welcome, allowing manufacturers to deliver more 'bang per buck', and making memory upgrades cheaper. Even so, if you're looking for the best value for money, you might still be better off considering an Athlon XP-based system.