Top 10 budget desktop PCs

Aimed at the value conscious consumer, these budget desktops will tackle your computing needs -- without breaking the bank

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Dell Studio Slim
Studio Slim Review, by David Murphy, PC World February 24, 2009



CPU: Core 2 Quad Q8200; CPU speed: 2330GHz; Graphics adapter: ATI Radeon HD 3450; Monitor: No; Hard drive size: 640GB; WorldBench rating: Very Good

Above-average performance
HDMI port

Limited upgradeability
Low gaming performance for the graphics card

Bottom Line: The compact Dell Studio Slim provides above-average application performance and connectivity, but upgrades are limited.

The $814 Dell Studio Slim lives up to its name: This stylish, narrow PC would look great under a desk or next to a coffee table. Unfortunately, the compact design also means that the notion of upgrading is merely wishful thinking.

We were pleased to see Dell use a 2.33-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 CPU--this is no baby processor by any stretch of the imagination. But it's also no Core i7, and other machines on our Top Value PCs chart, including the Gateway FX6800-01E, have managed to include Intel's next-generation chip and still have enough budget left over for strong graphics card selections. The 4GB of DDR2 memory won't go as far under this system's 32-bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate as it would have under the 64-bit edition. But at least you get 640GB of storage space (an above-average amount for the value-PC category) to play around with, thanks to Dell's inclusion of a single large Western Digital hard drive.

The Studio Slim's ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card is no slouch, either, but these days it isn't a top-of-the-line part. What's more, the Slim fared worse in our gaming tests than did similarly priced value-PC competitors equipped with the same card; for instance, on our Far Cry benchmark (1280 by 1024 resolution, with antialiasing on) it returned an average of 20 frames per second. However, the system's overall WorldBench 6 score of 106 compensates for that loss a little, making the Studio Slim an above-average value PC for general performance.

We enjoyed the media functionality of the slender bundled keyboard; it's the same model that Dell seems to ship with every machine nowadays. The accompanying generic two-button mouse is nondescript but good-looking. Both peripherals stand out from the bargain-bin options we're used to seeing alongside systems of this caliber.

The Studio Slim's connection options are strong, with six USB ports, a single FireWire 400 port, integrated 5.1 surround sound, and an HDMI port gracing the system's rear and front. We would have liked to see an eSATA port and an integrated media card reader, but the ports on our test model were substantial nonetheless.

The Studio Slim's case is unadorned and nothing fancy, save for its narrow shape and slick, dark appearance. We appreciate the feel that this stern-looking chassis brings to a home office, as well as its ability to squeeze into the slimmest nooks and crannies.

Unfortunately, trying to wedge any parts or pieces into the Studio Slim is a different story. The tight space and Dell's proprietary interior designs combine to leave little room for upgrading. With a screwdriver, a prayer, and some elbow grease, you might be able to stick a single hard drive underneath the PC's existing one, but that's about all Dell wants you to do. The PCI slots are covered by a giant retention bar that you'd have to remove prior to any upgrades--frustrating!

In overall performance and usability, the Dell Studio Slim is a solid value desktop PC. Slightly less-expensive value PCs don't offer nearly as great a mix of storage and connectivity as this system does. But there's more to a PC than its ability to handle common Windows tasks. The lack of upgradability hurts this system in the long run, as it will force you to purchase a brand-new PC down the road if you want to add more oomph to your experience or improve the frame rates of your games.

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