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Dell Precision 330

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  • Editors' rating
    7.7 Very good

Pros

  • Fast CPU
  • 512MB of Rambus memory
  • well-specified graphics, disk and audio subsystems.

Cons

  • Relatively expensive.

Dell has aimed this Pentium 4-based workstation at multimedia content creation by adding impressive graphics, sound, digital I/O and CD-writing capabilities to the basic model. The 1.4GHz processor and 512MB of RDRAM should make this machine powerful enough to tackle many computing tasks, but it's the added peripherals that make the Precision 330 particularly suitable for audio and video production, or even game development. Windows 2000 Professional is installed as standard.

The Precision 330 is available in many different configurations, but we were supplied with almost all the optional extras. The graphics card in the review machine was the Diamond Fire GL2 with 64MB of on-board DDR memory. This 4X AGP card has a DVI output socket in addition to the standard VGA port, allowing you to connect it to digital flat panel monitors that support the DVI standard. We were supplied with a Dell-branded 19in. flat-screen Trinitron monitor, which supports a maximum resolution of 1,600 by 1,200 pixels.

The audio facilities fit with the rest of the specification. The Turtle Beach Santa Cruz card supports four-point surround sound, although the Harman Kardon HK695 speaker system we were supplied with only has two satellites, and so can't take advantage of this.

It's no good having a fast PC if your storage doesn't match, and so Dell fitted this Precision 330 with a 10,000rpm 18.2GB Ultra160 SCSI hard drive. Our review unit was fitted with a CD-RW drive, and came with Adaptec Easy CD Creator and DirectCD pre-installed. The former of these allows you to master CD-Rs, either audio or data, while the latter lets you use packet writing on CD-RW discs via the Universal Disk Format (UDF). Note that you need DirectCD, or equivalent software, installed to read UDF CD-RWs on any machine.

The Precision 330's mini-tower case allows easy access to the internal expansion slots without using tools. There's a catch at the rear that can take a padlock. With this catch open, you can press the cover release button on the front of the unit and simply lift off the side panel. On the inside of the panel there's a handy guide to the motherboard connectors and jumpers. Another button at the top of the unit unlatches the front panel giving access to the external drive bays. You have two internal and two external 5.25in. drive bays into which to expand your storage.

A three-port IEEE 1394 adapter card allows you to capture digital video directly and use IEEE 1394-attached storage, providing your video editing software supports such devices. If you want to add other peripherals there are four USB ports in addition to serial and parallel ports. A network adapter is also included on the motherboard.

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A four-LED diagnostic display allows you to see what's gone wrong if the PC won't boot. By looking up the patterns of colours shown in the manual you can tell whether the CPU, RAM or graphics adapter is the culprit. The multiplicity of added options leaves you with only two free PCI slots -- and one of these is essentially unusable because the heatsink on the Fire GL2 card protrudes into the space next to it.

This workstation's benchmark performance is nothing special, its Business and Content Creation Winstone 2001 scores being achievable with much less costly hardware. But this is true of all current Pentium 4 systems, and if the price of the unit we reviewed seems too steep, you can lessen the cost by leaving out some of the options: there are basic audio facilities on the motherboard, and you could have a smaller or slower hard drive, for instance. However, these options are the basis of the Precision 330's versatility.

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