Dell isn’t primarily a turnkey video editing system vendor, but they do make some fast machines at competitive prices. Still, the Dell Dimension XPS is a machine that would make a perfect video editing workstation. It’s rip-roaring fast, it’s surprisingly quiet and it has plenty of hard drive space to fill with a lot of stuff, such as hours and hours of DV video. We acquired a system from Dell with their Movie Studio Plus package, which comes with Pinnacle Studio 8.8.
Out of the box, the Dimension XPS was attractive, with a metallic blue front with silver accents. We had our complete system up and running in a little more than half an hour. We barely had to glance at the included setup posters, except to connect the monitor. The Dell 2001FP is a beautiful, thinly bezeled 20-inch LCD with a native resolution of 1,600 x 1,200 that accounts for $879 of the price of our system. We located and pushed the source button on the monitor to select the signal from the computer, which we connected via the DVI port.
Not to drool too much, but another feature worth noting is the composite and S-video inputs, which will let you use this computer monitor as a display for your camcorder or other analog video source. It won’t absolve you of the need to preview your video on a still-standard NTSC CRT (i.e. a television), since that is probably what most of your audience is using. This LCD will not replace a proper production monitor in a professional studio either, but it could be useful as a large-screen yet light and portable monitor on location shoots.
The monitor was a lovely performer that was certainly fast enough for video previews. Oh, and gaming, which, of course, we only glanced at for just a second or two. The pixel-crunching rendering power of the ATI 9800 XT display card also enhanced our brief gaming experience, although only a few video applications will use the card’s OpenGL 3D capabilities and then only for certain 3D effects. In other words, this is a great card for games, but it won’t improve your everyday video rendering performance, so save yourself $220 when you configure your box if the title "Half-Life 2" doesn’t mean anything to you. Nonetheless, the card does support dual monitors and has an S-video out port, so it is a fine card for video editing.
SATA RAID Driven
Our jaw dropped when we saw 500GB of storage room courtesy of a Serial ATA stripe set that spanned two Western Digital 250GB SATA hard drives (this is the primary difference between the Dell 8300 series and the XPS). That certainly helped to explain the system’s quick boot time and the performance far exceeds the data rate for video capture. The 8X Teac DVD+RW burner that was included with the system was another top-notch performer. As a founding member of the DVD+RW alliance, we aren’t surprised that the burner doesn’t burn DVD-R/RW, but we’d still prefer that sort of flexibility anyhow. Fast RAM (PC3200), a fast bus (800MHz) and fast CPU (3.2GHz) make this the current fastest machine in our office and the fastest machine we have ever tested. Of course, that crown will pass on to another computer within a month, but the XPS will still be a very fast machine. Our rendering test benchmark scored 23 fps for dual-pass VBR MPEG encoding.
Finally, it was time to wipe the accumulated puddle of saliva off the table and do a little editing with this puppy. We attached a Canon ZR85 camcorder to its front-panel FireWire port. Windows XP asked "What would you like to do?" with three options: Windows Movie Maker, Pinnacle Studio 8 and Do Nothing. For all the high-end hardware, Dell only offers the most basic editing software. It’s not that Pinnacle Studio 8 isn’t a good package: it’s easy to use and has gotten a lot more stable through updates to the 8.8 version. It’s just that Studio 8 is more suited to light video editing, instead of exploiting this machine’s power producing potential. Studio 8 did perform well: simple capture, basic trimming and rendering to any supported format were only a couple of clicks away. To really get the most out of this machine, serious users will want to immediately upgrade to a more powerful editing package.
And in the End
Dell, like other big brand name system integrators, has a very nice warranty package (one year limited warranty, one year at-home service) that, anecdotally at least, we have heard good things about. We feel comfortable recommending this system for power users and studios that already have the software they need. For novice editors, it is a bit overpowered and pricey.
Operating System: Windows XP Pro
CPU: Intel P4 3.2GHz
RAM: 1GB (PC3200)
Hard Drive: 2 250GB SATA (configured as stripe set)
Sound: Onboard Creative Labs Audigy 2 (D)
Display Card: ATI Radeon 9800 XT
Optical Drives: Sony CRX216E 48x CD-RW, Teac DV-W58E 8x DVD+RW
Additional hardware: 8 USB ports (6 rear/2 front), 2 FireWire ports (1 rear/1 front), gigabit Ethernet port, Logitech USB mouse, Dell PS/2 keyboard, Logitech Z-680 speaker system
Editing software: Pinnacle Studio 8.8
Monitor: Dell 2001FP 20-inch LCD
MPEG-2 Render: 22.7 fps
- Great performance
- Fabulous 20-inch LCD
- 8X DVD+RW burner
- Only basic editing software
- DVD burner does not burn DVD-R
With the proper software to truly exploit its potential, the Dimension XPS is a true winner.
Charles Fulton is an Associate Editor for Videomaker.
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