- Compact case design with good accessibility
- solid performance
- excellent manageability
- Gigabit Ethernet connection
- good price.
- The 845G chipset’s integrated graphics will need supplanting by a dedicated adapter if you want to run demanding 3D applications.
If you're going to equip your company's workforce with desktop PCs, you want to choose a reliable, manageable and well-priced system with a decent warranty and a technology platform that isn't going to become outdated within weeks. That's a challenging proposition, but one that Dell has taken on in the shape of its OptiPlex GX260 series, which showcases Intel's recently released 845G chipset.
The GX260 comes in three models, our review sample featuring the 'small desktop' chassis (the other two are the 'small mini-tower' and 'small form factor' models). Dell's model names may be prosaic, but they certainly don't lie: the matt-black and grey 'small desktop' case has a compact 39cm by 43.1cm footprint and is just 10.8cm high. It opens in a convenient tool-free manner by pressing a pair of buttons on either side, whereupon the case hinges at the front to reveal the internal components in an easily accessible layout. If you need to conserve desk space, there's an optional stand that allows the system to be positioned vertically.
Our review sample was powered by a 2.26GHz Pentium 4 processor (one of the new range with a 533MHz frontside bus), although a number of other Pentium 4 and Celeron CPUs are available. The processor is supported by the aforementioned 845G chipset and 128MB of 266MHz PC2100 SDRAM -- the system's pair of DIMM slots supports a maximum of 1GB of RAM. The 'G' in the chipset's name denotes the fact that it also offers integrated graphics -- Intel's new Extreme Graphics solution to be precise. This borrows up to 32MB of system RAM for its purposes (64MB if 256MB or more is fitted), which can obviously impact overall performance when running demanding applications.
Many companies will only require adequate performance with mainstream productivity applications, in which case the integrated graphics solution should be fine. However, if more graphics-processing muscle is required, the GX260 provides a low-profile 4X AGP slot that can house a separate adapter -- Dell offers several ATI-based options, culminating in a 32MB Radeon 7500 with TV out. The front of the GX260 houses a 48-speed CD-ROM drive and a floppy drive, along with a prominent power button and a less prominent grey-coloured flip-open door, behind which lurk a pair of USB 2.0 slots and a headphone jack.
Fixed storage is provided by a 20GB Maxtor ATA/100 SMART-compliant drive with a rotational speed of 5,400rpm. At the back there are a further four USB 2.0 ports, plus VGA, serial, parallel, PS/2 (2), RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet) and audio (line in, line out and microphone) ports.
Given the GX260 case's compact size, it's no surprise that expansion potential is limited: as well as the AGP graphics slot, there are only two half-length PCI slots, both free. As far as performance is concerned, the GX260's Business Winstone 2001 score of 40.7 shows it to be a capable workhorse when it comes to mainstream productivity applications, but its Content Creation Winstone 2002 score of 23.4 is well behind the fastest desktop PCs we've tested, which score around 40. As indicated earlier, the 845G chipset's integrated graphics create a potential bottleneck when running demanding applications, as indicated by the GX260's 3DMark 2001 score of 799 (leading-edge scores from PCs with state-of-the-art 3D graphics cards score over 10,000). This suggests that if you want to run demanding 3D applications on the GX260, you'll need to either boost the system memory or install a dedicated graphics adapter -- or both.
The OptiPlex GX260 supports a veritable panoply of manageability standards (DMI 2.0s, CIM, WBEM, Wired for Management 2.0, SNMP, SM BIOS 2.3, APM, ACPI 1.0, DDC2b among them), which should reassure IT managers, who worry about these things. Armed with these standards, the GX260 can perform such tricks as remote system alerts, remote BIOS configuration and flash updates, remote wake-up, information export to SMS and DIMM pre-failure alerts.
Asset management is also catered for, making the GX260 as manageable a corporate PC as you could wish for. Dell's standard warranty runs for three years, with next business day on-site service; this can be optionally extended to a same-day, four-hour response time service if necessary.
Supplied with a keyboard and mouse for £660 (ex. VAT), the OptiPlex GX260 is well-priced in addition to being well designed. However, bear in mind that you'll have to add the cost of a monitor -- Dell offers several LCD and CRT options -- as well as, possibly, budget for more system memory and/or a dedicated graphics card. Even so, companies are unlikely to go badly wrong choosing the GX260 for a combination of solid performance, excellent manageability and a modicum of expandability.