- Excellent 3D graphics performance
- easy-access case design.
- Unimpressive overall performance
- memory upgrades will be expensive.
Dell's new Dimension 8100 is powered by a 1.5GHz Pentium 4 processor supported by 128MB of PC800 Rambus memory. Although it runs mainstream applications fast enough, it's no quicker than a 1GHz Pentium III overall.
First thing to notice about the Dimension 8100 is the new black and silver easy-access case, which replaces the familiar beige Dimension box. There's no need for a screwdriver - you just push a button on the lower front panel to release the combined side and top panels, while another button beneath the top panel releases the front fascia.
The three 5.25in. drive bays have screw-less drive mounts, while the two 3.5in. bays are in a cradle that is held in place by a normal screw -- a thumb-screw would have been better to carry through the tool-free design. Once undone, the cradle swings out to allow access to the hard drive, which in this case is a 40GB Ultra-ATA/100 Western Digital WD400, support for which is supplied by Intel's new 850 chipset. Another slight disappointment is that the expansion plates are still secured by screws.
Two optical drives were installed in the reviewed system: a 12-speed NEC DV-5700A DVD-ROM and a 32-speed read, 12-speed write, 8-speed rewrite Sony CRX160E CD-RW.
The motherboard has five PCI slots, three of which are free. However, it's advisable to fill only two of these, as the third, which sits by the AGP slot, is best left free to help cool the powerful graphics card. A V.90 modem card and the Turtle Beach Santa Cruz sound card occupy two of the PCI slots. There are four USB ports, while the integrated 3Com 3C920 chip takes care of any networking demands.
Graphics are handled by a powerful Dell OEM nVidia Geforce2 Ultra 4X AGP card, fitted with 64MB of DDR memory. One of the problems with AGP cards is their occasional tendency to work lose during transit, and Dell has used the chassis cross-member to hold the card in place -- a neat design touch. Output from the GeForce 2 Ultra goes to a 19in. Dell Ultrascan P991 monitor.
Dell has introduced a button on the front panel that launches the Dell Solution Center, a information and support application that inlcudes links to Dell's support Web site. The Dimension 8100 comes with either Windows 98 ME or 2000 Professional installed, with MS-Works 2000 as the bundled software package. Dell's standard three-year warranty applies.
The Dimension 8100 delivers the fastest 3D graphics benchmarks we've seen so far, thanks mainly to its 64MB nVidia GeForce2 Ultra adapter. However, it's slightly slower overall than a 1GHz Pentium III when running mainstream applications under Windows ME. Until Pentium 4-optimised applications become widespread, there doesn't seem to be a compelling case for rushing out to buy a PC based on Intel's new processor.