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Dell Dimension C521 Desktop
Last year, Dell, in a rather surprising announcement and much to the delight of AMD fans indicated that it would be using AMD processors as part of their budget desktop ranges. This was a real shot in the arm for both AMD and the end-user market as it would give consumers powerful machines that could keep up with Intel–based solutions at significantly reduced prices.
One of the very first models introduced in this range is the Dell Dimension C521. Has moving to the AMD platform helped Dell in making a better VFM desktop? Let's find out.
One of the trends that has made its presence felt in the PC desktop range, has been the advent of space saving cabinets. Every major manufacturer from HP with its half-sized cabinets, to Apple with its Mac Mini has jumped onto the bandwagon and now Dell seems to have joined them there. The C521 comes in a half-size BTX cabinet format, which has been all but abandoned by everyone except Dell. Due to this, Dell has to source its parts directly from manufacturers and often in half-height formats which cannot be reused elsewhere. This also restricts your ability to upgrade to standard format PC peripherals. Physically the dimension is an attractive machine that comes with a burnished silver matte finish and white panel covers. While this color combination may seem uninspiring to a lot of people, I find this finish a refreshing change from the standard blacks or gaudy eye-bleeding cabinets that most manufacturers tend to offer as part of their lineup.
Despite the fact that Dell has designated the Dimension C521 as a budget desktop, it has built it up as an entertainment center and this reflects in its specifications. The processor that has been used on the C521 is the X2 4200, which is a mid-level AMD dual-core processor. Other components include 1 GB of DDR2 533 RAM, a 160 GB HDD, a dual-layer DVD-RW all built up on an Nvidia Nforce 430 chipset OEM motherboard. For graphics Dell has chosen ATI’s 1300 Radeon series card which offers low-end 3d support. For TV viewing, Dell has equipped the C521 with a generic tuner, which offers surprisingly good picture quality as our tests revealed.
Though the C521 maybe a small machine, it certainly comes loaded with connectivity options in the form of 6 USB slots, which is surprising keeping in the mid-sized styling of this machine. This is a great feature, as one can easily extend the functionality of the machine with the help of external add-ons. The C521 also has an 11-in-1 card reader, which is a welcome addition keeping in mind the number of memory card formats one has to deal with nowadays. In what is a bad decision, Dell has left out a monitor with this range. Keeping in mind that 17-inch monitors are now under Rs. 9,000, we are just sincerely baffled as to why this has been done especially considering that it is offered as part of the same lineups abroad. The OS that was available on our test machine was Windows XP Media center edition.
A point to note here is that Dell now offers Windows Vista as part of this lineup, which was not available for some strange reason on the test machine we received.
For testing the performance of the C521, we used the standard set of benchmark tools i.e. SiSoft Sandra, 3dmark and PCMark 2005. All of these added together form a fairly comprehensive testing suite and will expose the performance of a machine thoroughly.The performance of the C521 was surprisingly good. Keeping in mind that the processor used is a slower dual-core the PCMark score of 4650 is really quite good and shows that despite the Core 2 duo onslaught AMD processors remain very competitive. In our 3d test as expected, the score we received was a rather low score of 1920, which is quite adequate for the low-end Radeon card but rules out any kind of serious 3D-gaming. Yes it will run an MMORPG game like WoW fine... don't expect it to be even able to start F.E.A.R. However since the card is DX9 ready, using it with Windows Vista Premium OS’s versions will not be a problem. It also thankfully provides a DVI connector which will allow you to easily connect a nice widescreen panel and enjoy sharp graphics. Our second test involved testing the media–center functionality of the PC. There were no real surprises here with everything working as advertised. Media center control through the keyboard was quite snappy and overall easy to use.
Overall the Dell C521 is a strictly utilitarian machine. It offers excellent connectivity options, a good specification sheet and surprisingly good performance all at a starting price of Rs. 21,000 upwards. What it does suffer on is the use of a very ordinary DX9 card and lack of user upgrade options.
Keeping in mind Dell's excellent support service, we recommend this desktop to anyone looking for an entry level desktop machine.