Dell OptiPlex SX260

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Tiny footprint allows the SX260 to be tucked away almost anywhere
  • chassis detects and reports intrusion
  • runs quietly
  • rich set of centralised management tools
  • three-year on-site warranty.

Cons

  • Costs more and runs slower than a standard business desktop
  • no PCI expansion slots
  • not suitable for gaming, multimedia or graphics-intensive use.

Don't mistake the tiny Dell OptiPlex SX260 for a thin client, 'dumb' terminal or Web appliance. This mini-system is about the size of a thick dictionary but packs a desktop Pentium 4 or Celeron processor and runs the full Windows XP Professional operating system. It's aimed at offices where space is tight, such as call centres, broking houses and hospitals, and can be installed on top of or under a desk. Configurations run from a modest £604 (ex. VAT) but can balloon to over £1,500 (ex. VAT) for a fully-kitted machine. Although it can handle most office tasks, don't expect it to be a multimedia or 3D graphics monster.

Notebook parts
The SX260 measures a petite 8.5cm wide by 24.2cm deep by 24.7cm high. A typical configuration in the UK sells for £744 (ex. VAT) and includes a 2GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor, 128MB DDR RAM (shared with Intel integrated graphics), 20GB hard drive, removable 24X CD-ROM, 17in. CRT monitor, Microsoft Windows XP Professional and a three-year limited on-site warranty. The system we tested is near top-of-the-line, consisting of an OptiPlex SX260 with a Pentium 4 2.8GHz processor, 512MB of memory, a 40GB hard drive, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive and a 15in. LCD monitor. This configuration costs £1,294 (ex. VAT). How did Dell manage to squeeze all that hardware into a box that's only half as long as long the keyboard and only about twice as thick? For one thing, there are no PCI expansion slots. The internal hard drive is a 2.5in. 5,400rpm unit made for notebooks; so is the DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive -- a unit taken from Dell's Latitude line of portables. The hot-swappable media bay it sits in can also accept a floppy or a hard drive. Note that the performance of the drive at 8X DVD read, 8X CD-R write, 8X CD-RW rewrite and 24X CD-ROM read is nowhere near the speed of a today's desktop drives. The mono embedded speaker doesn't do justice to DVD movies at all, and proper speakers are recommended for use with the stereo speaker-out port. The audio chipset does not support multi-channel surround sound.

Designed for the office
Most users won't find the lack of expansion slots a problem. Basic graphics and audio functions are integrated into the Intel 845G chipset-based motherboard. Six fast USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, a full legacy port set (serial, PS/2, parallel) plus audio inputs and outputs provide plenty of connection options. A chassis stand and plate for desk mounting is standard; the bracket for wall or under-desk mounting is optional, costing £20 (ex. VAT) extra. Our unit came with a Dell UltraSharp 1504FP 15in. flat panel display, whose 1,024 by 768 pixels are sharp and bright. The SX260 doesn't have a digital video output, but on the 15in. display, the analogue VGA port performed admirably. In order to prevent the unauthorised plugging in of peripheral devices, the SX260 comes with a cover that seals unused ports. Chassis-intrusion hardware detects unauthorised access and messages the system administrator. The Dell TrueMobile 1180 wireless networking module, a small 802.11b USB device, is also available for £50 (ex. VAT) extra It's when the SX260 is installed across a large number of enterprise seats that it comes into its own. Not only can administrators pool gear such as the swappable optical drives, but the system's compliance with open network-based management standards such as Common Information Model (CIM) and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) allow for centralised remote management of tasks such as network boot, image push and remote BIOS flash.

Remote possibilities
Our performance benchmarks show that the SX260 is an adequate but not outstanding performer. Where it possibly fails to catch up with other PCs is in the hard drive--its 5,400rpm falls behind the 7,200rpm of 3.5in. units. The integrated Intel 845G graphics chip, besides not being as powerful as dedicated video boards, takes system memory for its own use, potentially creating data bottlenecks. The standard warranty includes a satisfying three years of next business-day on-site service, with a year of Monday-Friday business-hours phone support. Richer support can be had for a reasonable fee. For example, the upgrade to the four-hour response-time package costs an additional £99 (ex. VAT). The OptiPlex SX260 is a bold statement in miniaturisation that promises not just savings in space, but also the convenience of remote management and lowered operating costs through the pooling of hardware. However, while the entry-level configurations are relatively inexpensive, opting for a fully featured system will cost you plenty. In addition, its slow optical drive, integrated graphics, lack of digital video and TV output, and lack of surround-sound and PCI expansion won't make it a natural choice for gaming or multimedia duties.

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