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Dell’s XPS 630 is a stylish and competitively priced mainstream gaming PC that can besouped up with extrassuch as an Ageia PhysX accelerator, a Blu-ray Disc drive, and up to 4GB of DDR2-800 Corsair Dominator memory. And thoughDell recently integrated its XPS and Alienware development teamsfor future products,   a spokesperson confirmed that the company will fully support current XPS notebooks and desktops (such as the high-end730 H2C, the multimedia-themedXPS 420, and the iMac-rivalOne) for the remainder of what is typically a 12-month life-cycle for these products. The company declined to confirm when the first Alienware/Dell hybrid systems are likely to appear.

Our $3229 XPS 630 system (the price drops to $2889 without the bundled 22-inch Dell SP2208WFP monitor, and lesser configurations start at $1199; pricing is as of June 6, 2008) packed 3GB of RAM and Intel’s 3-GHz Core 2 Extreme QX6850 processor–an older quad-core chip thatcontinues to deliver strong performance. Two speedy 160GB, 10,000-rpm Western Digital Raptor hard drives configured in a RAID 0 array provide a modest 320GB storage. The system also carried dual 512MB nVidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics boards bridged as one via SLI (nVidia’s Scalable Link Interface).

Dell lets you choose either Windows XP or Windows Vista as the operating system for your XPS 630. Our unit, equipped with Vista Premium, earned a score of 123 on PC World’s WorldBench 6 test suite–on a   par with results we’ve recorded for most competing desktopsthat use   the same QX6850 CPU. To put that into perspective, consider that our current top-performing desktops (for example, the Penryn QX9650-equippedWar Machine M1 Elite) posted WorldBench scores edging into the low 130s. Though Dell doesn’t recommend or ship the 630 overclocked, you can bump up the CPU and memory speeds yourself if you know what you’re doing.

The 630’s SLI-rigged 8800 GT graphics support smooth performance by any graphically intensive PC game. For instance, the system averaged a frame rate of 162 frames per second while running Doom 3 at 1024 by 768 resolution with antialiasing turned on.

SLI configurations tend to provide their greatest benefit when powering games at higher resolutions–say, 1600 by 1200 and above. If high-resolution gaming is your thing, you might want to upgrade from the bundled 22-inch wide-screen LCD (supporting 1680 by 1050 resolution) to a larger, more-capable monitor like Dell’s 24-inch E248WFP ($100 extra), which can natively display 1920 by 1200 pixels on screen.

The XPS 630’s industrial design is reminiscent of–but scaled back from–that of Dell’sXPS 720 desktop. The 630’s ATX case bares brushed aluminum sides and top, with a choice of black or red plastic front and back panels that feature large grilles. The side panel easily unlatches to reveal a well-organized interior with neat cable management, 750W power supply, and a tool-less hard-drive tray. For a case of its size, it offers respectable expansion room, with one 5.25-inch drive bay available at the front (a DVD ± RW drive occupies the other one). Meanwhile, several internal slots are open: two regular PCI, one PCI Express x8, and one PCI Express x1.

The motherboard for this system usesnVidia’s 650i SLI chip set. Unfortunately, this chip set limits each of the system’s two PCI Express x16 slots (used for the dual graphics cards) to 8X speed in SLI mode, raising the possibility of an old-school bandwidth bottleneck that is less common today than it used to be. Another issue: Dell’s own LightFX software, which controls the colors of the case exterior’s four LED lighting zones, has problems with this chip set; this conflict forces users to resort to nVidia’s ESA light effects software instead. An open standard created by nVidia, ESA (which stands for Enthusiast System Architecture) promotes two-way communication between PC components. The XPS 630 is among the first ready-made PCs to support it.

The XPS 630 ships with Dell’s standard wired optical mouse and multimedia keyboard combo. You also   get a 15-month subscription to thePC-cillin’s Internet security suite. Chip-set concerns aside, the XPS 630 is a well-built, highly customizable midrange gaming system that delivers good performance for the price.

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HP has introduced a new enthusiast level machine; the Blackbird 002 Alpha. This powerful new desktop is based on Intel’s Penryn Core 2 Extreme QX9650 quadcore processor. Graphics processing is handled by a pair of Radeon X2900 video cards with 1GB of video RAM. The system also packs in 2GB of system memory, a 160GB 10,000 rpm hard drive, a 16× combo drive, a 15-in-1 memory card reader, and a 16× DVD-RW drive.

The system also features an Ageia PhysX 100 Series PCI-E accelerator card to boost hardware acceleration in supported games. The system CPU is cooled with a liquid-cooling solution that comes factory-sealed to prevent leakage.

“We’re thrilled to offer gamers the speed and strength of the new Intel architecture,” said Rahul Sood, CTO of HP’s global gaming unit, in a statement. “The HP Blackbird 002 was designed to redefine the gaming experience and delight even the hardest-core user. Intel’s new technology helps us to continue to deliver on that promise.”

The Blackbird 002 Alpha comes with Microsoft Vista Home Premium and sells for a starting price of $5,499 (for the base model).



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