A handsome PC with strong performance, the Dell XPS 420 lacks the expandability that some high-end power desktops have.

This cutting edge configuration of Dell's XPS 420 multimedia computer featured a top-of-the-line 3GHz Core 2 Extreme Quad QX9650 Intel CPU, but its other performance-enhancing components are strictly second-tier.

The Dell XPS 420's 3GB of memory consists of DDR2-800 running at 667MHz instead of DDR-3 running at 1066MHz, and the graphics board is nVidia's 512MB GeForce 8800 GT instead of the slightly faster 768MB 8800 Ultra employed by most top-shelf machines.

Everything is seated in a BTX motherboard featuring Intel's X38 chip set. Yes, that's BTX - one of the few we've seen. Although BTX is supposed to provide better thermal dissipation, the standard has never caught on, so you'll have to go to Dell for replacement parts.

Despite its not-quite-A+ components, the XDell XPS 420 turned in an impressive WorldBench 6 Beta real-world speed score of 126. Its gaming scores ranged between 20 and 40 frames per second slower than those of recently tested Power PCs equipped with 8800 Ultra cards. But this Dell XPS 420 has plenty of speed for effective game play.

The front of the Dell XPS 420's midsize tower case is composed of a glossy black plastic that looks great when clean, but tends to highlight fingerprints. Our test unit included several nice options: front-mounted S-Video and RCA ports with the unique Xcelerator option for hardware transcoding of video to your hard drive; a small top-mounted LCD that uses Microsoft's Sideshow secondary display technology to display Window's Vista sidebar gadgets; and Bluetooth to handle the included wireless GM952 keyboard and RM-RBB-DEL 4 mouse.

The generous software bundle includes Microsoft Works Suite 2006, Adobe Elements Studio (Premiere 4.0, Photoshop 6.0), Roxio's Easy Media Creator Premiere, and CyberLink's PowerDVD.

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