Dell XPS Desktop Special Edition (8940)

The Alienware family of PCs takes the high-performance spotlight within Dell’s universe, but the company’s XPS line still packs a punch. The XPS Desktop Special Edition (starts at $931; $2,185 as tested) is a compact mid-tower desktop with ample creative and gaming power thanks to our tester’s Intel K-series processor and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3070 graphics. Highly customizable from Dell, quiet under load, and packing plenty of connectivity, this tower is an attractive choice, especially if you’re after a lower-key look than a gaming-focused bruiser, though its average-quality case undermines its premium price.

What’s in a Special Edition?

The Special Edition guise changes the XPS Desktop’s color scheme from black to white, which thoughtfully follows to its included keyboard and mouse. The latter are basic wired peripherals; naturally, Dell offers upgraded versions as accessories.

Dell XPS Desktop Special Edition (8940) - Keyboardits predecessor at just 14.4 by 6.7 by 12.1 inches (HWD). It almost looks too short to fit a full-length graphics card, but that it does; the GeForce RTX 3070 in my review unit is the top choice. Getting more performance from a Dell-made system requires stepping up to the Alienware Aurora R11 with an RTX 3080 or an RTX 3090 and a look that screams “gamer.”

Dell XPS Desktop Special Edition (8940) - Rear AlternateM.2 SSD slot just below the CPU cooler. It also has four DDR4 DIMM slots for memory expansion up to 128GB (via four 32GB DIMMs).

Dell XPS Desktop Special Edition (8940) - Hard Driveprocessor (3.8GHz, up to 5.1GHz Turbo), an 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card, 32GB of DDR4-2933 dual-channel memory, a 512GB NVMe SSD, and a 2TB hard drive. Windows 10 Home is installed free of bloatware on the SSD. This model is nearly fully optioned, though Dell offers the 10-core Core i9-10900K as an upgrade. Unfortunately, Dell doesn’t offer the XPS Desktop Special Edition with an AMD processor like the Ryzen 5 5600X.

The standard one-year warranty includes one month of premium support, a $9.99 monthly subscription that you can decline. Accidental damage coverage adds $9.80 per month. Turning what would normally be paid up-front services into subscriptions is an increasingly common practice. 

The XPS Desktop’s competition comes from both gaming and creative towers. I priced the HP Omen 25L (a cousin of the larger Omen 30L) on HP’s site for $1,949 with a less powerful 65-watt Core i7-10700 chip, but its case is of much higher quality so long as you don’t mind its gamer looks. I also configured a Maingear Vybe for $2,109 with a Core i7-10700K; it, too, has a better-quality case.

Though the XPS Desktop Special Edition is reasonably priced for the hardware in my test model, most buyers will likely choose a more affordable loadout. Dell’s $931 base model includes a six-core Core i5-10400 chip, a 4GB GeForce GTX 1650 Super or 3GB Radeon RX 5300, a 256GB SSD, and a 1TB hard drive, but just 8GB of memory, making it hard to recommend. Doubling the RAM, to 16GB, is a rather steep $98.

Creative users looking for a photo and video editing or graphics-design platform can reach a happy middle ground between the base model and my unit. I configured it with a Core i7-10700, a 6GB GeForce RTX 2060, 16GB of memory, a 512GB SSD, and a 1TB hard drive for $1,371. That’s competitive with Lenovo’s Creator 5i tower, which was on sale for $1,299 as I wrote this.

Now let’s put the XPS Desktop Special Edition on the test bench. I pitted it against the following towers for our benchmarking comparisons.

Dell XPS Desktop Special Edition (8940) test system configurations chartCorsair Vengeance i7200 will punch above the XPS Desktop’s weight with their 10-core Core i9 K-series chips and GeForce RTX 3080 graphics cards. On the contrary, the Lenovo Legion Tower 5i costs a lot less (it was $1,449 as reviewed) with its still-potent GeForce RTX 2070 Super. Last, the MSI MEG Trident X is a compact tower using the previous-generation flagship GeForce RTX 2080 Ti.

Storage, Media, and CPU Tests

Our first test is UL’s PCMark 10, a general system performance assessment for real-world productivity and content-creation scenarios. I excluded the chart since several of the other test systems didn’t complete the test, but the XPS Desktop Special Edition did, with an excellent score of 7,106 points. Informally, we look for at least 4,000 points in that test for high-performance PCs. (See more about how we test desktops.)

Next up is a pair of CPU-crunching tests: Cinebench R15 stresses all available processor cores and threads while rendering a complex image, while in our Handbrake test, we transcode a 12-minute 4K video down to 1080p.

Dell XPS Desktop Special Edition (8940) Cinebench R15 chartLegion Tower 5i scored similarly with its Core i7-10700 in Cinebench R15, though it fell behind in the longer-running Handbrake test, in which the Dell’s Core i7-10700K was able to sustain higher clocks.

The final test in this section is photo editing. We use an early 2018 release of Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud to apply 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG image, timing each operation and adding up the totals. This test is not as CPU-focused as Cinebench or Handbrake, bringing the performance of the storage subsystem, memory, and GPU into play.

Dell XPS Desktop Special Edition (8940) Photoshop chartGeForce RTX 2080 Ti with its GeForce RTX 3070. The latter is an excellent all-around performer for any kind of gaming.

We use the built-in 1080p benchmarks in Far Cry 5 (at its Normal and Ultra presets) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (at its Medium and Very High presets). Far Cry 5 uses DirectX 11, while we flip Rise of the Tomb Raider to DirectX 12.

Dell XPS Desktop Special Edition (8940) Far Cry 5 chartHP Omen 30L from above as continued comparisons.

We’ll start with POV-Ray 3.7 for CPU assessment. This test uses ray tracing to render a three-dimensional image. (Note that it doesn’t use the ray tracing features of Nvidia’s GeForce RTX-class GPUs; this is purely CPU-focused.)

Dell XPS Desktop Special Edition (8940) POV-Ray chart January 21, 2021

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