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If you're shopping at the premium end of the business desktop market, you'll be hard-pressed to do better than the Dell OptiPlex 960.
It seems these days that size isn't everything, simple is the new smart and black means business. The Dell OptiPlex 960 is all of these things; small, simple and black.
At 41(H)x19(W)x43(D)cm, the OptiPlex is just a bit bigger than the Yellow Pages and even finds room to sport a plastic silver grille on its front. It can sit comfortably either horizontally or vertically.
The diminutive size makes the OptiPlex 960 attractive, but at the cost of accessing the internals. A single lever on the top of the case will pop off the side of the case without having to undo any screws. Doing so reveals a set of neatly arranged, but tightly packed components. There are four RAM slots, but you will likely have to take out quite a few of the internal components to get access to them.
Likewise, there is both a spare PCI (8x) and a PCIe (16x) slot, but neither provides space for a particularly bulky card. It doesn't look like you could fit a full-size discrete graphics card from Nvidia or ATI into this system — Dell does offer them, but we presume for the larger tower models in the OptiPlex family.
External ports on this system are generous; on the front you will find two USB ports and the standard two 3.5mm audio jacks. On the back you will find six more USB ports, along with an eSATA port (extra points for this one), a DisplayPort, gigabit Ethernet, serial port, parallel port, two PS2 ports and a VGA port. What else could you need?
While DisplayPort is an interesting new addition, it's our view that a DVI port would have been more practical, particularly when the Dell branded monitor that came with the OptiPlex 960 didn't include DisplayPort. This machine is also very quiet, we heard almost no noise in the time we were using it.
Performance and features
For its tiny size, this system packs a lot of power; our system came with an Intel Core 2 Quad CPU at 2.66GHz and 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 RAM (as two DIMMs). This produced a massive PCMark05 score of 6970. Graphics on the OptiPlex 960 is provided by the integrated Intel GMA 4500 chipset, which produced a 3DMark06 score of 1027.
Virtually all computers classified by vendors as business machines will be able to carry out normal business tasks such as word processing, web and email use and even basic image and video editing, although those with additional gaming or video rendering needs will likely require a discrete graphics card.
Because of this progress, such benchmarking scores only provide a general comparison of overall system speed between systems.
IT departments will be pleased with the inclusion of a vPro chip. This technology will not only report all the hardware on the system remotely, making audits easier, but also allow remote access in the case of a critical failure, such as a Windows Blue Screen or hardware failure. This is due to the vPro being a separate chip on the motherboard which allows out of band access.
The OptiPlex 960 comes with the same graphical BIOS we saw on the Dell Latitude line. We presume it's Linux-based, but Dell isn't releasing any details about it. Still, it's good to see the company pushing ahead in the firmware department.
If it looks like a Linux BIOS and quacks like a Linux BIOS. (Credit: Alex Serpo/ZDNet.com.au)
The OptiPlex 960 shipped with the pre-installed software we see on every Dell machine these days: Google Desktop and Toolbar, Roxio and a suite of DVD creating tools. Dell gets extra points for not installing any trial software with the system. It's common to find trials of both Office 2007 and a security suite on business machines — we're looking at you HP.
The storage on our system was a single 150GB Western Digital drive. We were surprised that Dell ships the system with such a premium CPU but such little storage. We can imagine filling this drive rapidly if network storage is unavailable.
We tested power consumption while playing a DVD over a five-minute period, and found an average of 54 Watts. This value is quite low, indicating it is an efficient desktop. Note that this value is just the system itself, the monitor would utilise extra power.
HP has a similar system, the dc7900, which is comparative on performance, but is larger and comes with more pre-installed software. In this price range, the Lenovo M57e offering falls behind due to to its significantly slower performance, reduced ports and lacklustre design.
At AU$1,500, Dell's OptiPlex 960 is a premium business desktop. For the price, you can be assured that it stacks up extremely well against the competition and comes with a generous three-year on-site warranty.