Pros: Pentium 4 3.0GHz speed with Hyper Threading. Good value for the money.
Cons: No standard Firewire IEEE 1394 port. Meager 80 GB hardrive and 256 MB Ram.
For most of us, purchasing a new computer was a major expense in the past, filled with trepidation on whether we were getting the right machine at the right price. Dave Barry put it best, pointing out that all computers become obsolete between the time we buy it and while we are filling out the warranty card in the store before we take it home. Well, times have changed slightly. Computers have become much more powerful and pricing has dropped significantly. And no better example can be found than with the Dell Dimension E510 (or 5150).
Five years ago we bought our trusty Dell Dimension L667R. This little demon came with a Pentium 3, 667 MHz chip, 256MB of RAM, a CD burner, and Windows 98se operating software. It was a mind blowing $1268. As time went on "we", (ok it was me and not my wife), added things like a DVD burner, more RAM memory, a jump from its original 7.5 GB hardrive to a 100 GB & 40 GB set of hardrives, a 17 inch LCD monitor, and an IEEE 1394 Firewire card. By 2005 this poor little guy was operating at its full capacity. Trying to multi task became a throw of the dice. Listening to music while surfing the net usually resulted in music skipping or the browser crashing. I am sure Windows 98 was part of the problem, but nonetheless it was definitely time to upgrade.
Our profile is a family who needs enough oomph to do video editing, DVD processing and burning, music playing, email, etc. Your basic machine with enough power to do some multimedia tasks.
Movin' on up
After looking at different manufacturers and processors, we decided to stick with Dell and move up to a Pentium 4 chip. It was hard to use super fast computers at work, and then come home to our slow crash prone little bitty Dell.
There are basically 5 ways to upgrade your computer.
Pay full retail off the Dell website.
Look for discount coupons and get a break on the price.
Purchase it off eBay, new or used.
Inherit it from a relative.
Or go to the Dell Outlet website and buy it refurbished.
We opted for the last choice and purchased a refurbished unit.
What options are offered from Dell at their Outlet website?
Dell Outlet sells 3 categories of "used" computers. Here are the choices we had to consider before buying the new unit:
Previously Ordered New
Previously ordered new are systems that are new, shipped out to customers, and they have been returned for some reason shortly after delivery.
Certified refurbished are systems that are used, and they're gone through to bring everything back into spec. It's supposed to be a basically "new" unit in functionality, although it may have minor cosmetic flaws.
Scratch & Dent
And Scratch & Dent are as the name implies, these come from the above categories, but have some obvious blemishes on them. They are 100% functional, just dinged up a little.
After weighing all the options, we purchased a Certified Refurbished Dell Dimension E510 for a total price of $408 delivered.
Our Refurbished Dell E510 came with this configuration:
Intel Pentium 4 Processor 630 w/Hyper Threading
Windows XP Home Edition
512MB DDR2 SDRAM
160GB SATA Hard Drive
DVD ROM Drive
90 day limited warranty
Within the first week I upgraded it to:
1GB DDR2 SDRAM
2 x 160GB SATA Hard Drives, 320GB total storage
Replaced CDRW with an existing DVD RW Drive
Installed a Dell 6 in 1 internal memory card reader
What's inside that box?
We'll do some comparisons in a minute, but what exactly are you getting for your money with a new Dell E510? As of this writing, Feb 06, a new Dell E510 is priced at $599, or $370 off their "retail" price of $969. And for that price, you are buying a very, very basic unit:
An Intel Pentium 4 Processor 630 with Hyper Threading technology and a speed of 3.0 GHz (Good)
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 (Not bad)
256MB DDR2 SDRAM Memory (Bare bones)
80GB SATA Hard Drive 7200 RPM (Really bare bones)
17 Flat Panel LCD Monitor 48x CD Burner/DVD ROM combo drive. (Pretty good)
1 year limited warranty (Standard)
You video, sound and network card are integrated into the motherboard. This purchase price doesn't come with speakers.
Let's look at each component to see what you get and where you can go.
The Processor or CPU
This Intel Pentium 4 630 chip has 3 significant things going for it.
Hyperthreading: The ability to virtually divide itself and run as 2 separate processors. Allowing you to truly multi task with power.
Execute Disable Bit: The ability to limit overflow malicious attacks.
And EM64T: This processor can take advantage of 64 bit architecture to access more virtual and real memory in running 64 bit programs. This puts you in a position to be ready for the future when programming moves to 64 bit technology.
So, this is the brain of your computer, theres no way to upgrade this chip. It is what it is, and it really is a great platform to run your new E510. If you're used to a meager Pentium 3 like I was, this new chip will seem like things are happening at lightening speed. You can feel good about this processor. It will handle what you need now, and be geared up for the future when 64 bit programming becomes more popular. You could opt for a slightly faster processor, like 3.2, 3.4, 3.6 GHz, but for the money, this configuration is great. If you're a gamer, you're probably not considering the E510 anyway, but one of Dell's XPS lines of computers.
RAM - Random Access Memory
The 256MB of ram that comes with your new Dell is sufficient if all you want to do is email your family, do some digital photos and surf the net. It unfortunately makes your Dell a 98lb weakling. If you want to work with video editing, or some halfway serious gaming then you're going to have to pump up your RAM like its on steroids.
This computer has 4 dimm slots to plug in DDR2 SDRAM Memory. It has the capability of handling up to a whopping 4GB of RAM! That is what you call real power. Dell starts you out with 2 - 128MB of RAM. Any combination must be entered in equal matched pairs. I decided to go with 4 - 256MB giving me a total of 1 GB of RAM. Thats plenty to start with. I'm not a gamer; I do like to edit video and digital photography, so this is plenty for now.
One last thing about RAM is to be sure you match the speed of the RAM. It will probably either be 400 or 533 MHz. Bigger is faster, so always opt for 533MHz when possible. If you install one set at 400 MHz and one at 533 MHz, ALL your memory will operate at the slower 400 MHz rate, so always match the size and speed correctly.
80 GB Hardrive
This computer has available space for 2 hardrives. If you don't do much digital photography or other media intensive activities, then this 80 GB drive may be adequate. One thing to consider is installing another identical hardrive to give you the ability to set up for RAID capability. RAID is short for Redundant Array Independent Disk.
There are a lot of different RAID configurations. The Dell E510 is configured for RAID 1 only. RAID 1 is known as mirroring. Basically data is written to both drives giving you a fully redundant backup. If one fails, the other contains the exact same data and is ready to step in. You can set up your drives so that drive # 2 mirrors what is written on drive # 1. This will give you peace of mind from possibly losing those precious digital photos, and other data. But, remember that you are sacrificing your second drive's storage capability. Two 160 GB drives in RAID 1 yield only 160 GB of storage. Two 160 GB drives without RAID give you a total of 320 GB of non backed up storage space. The choice is yours dependent on your comfort level.
Nonetheless, if you need more data storage, a larger disk drive would be a good investment. A new 160GB SATA hardrive can be purchased for around $80.
I purchased this as just a computer, no monitor. You can find some reasonably priced LCD monitors from KDS. I purchased a 17 inch KDS LCD monitor from Office Depot for $179. But at Dell's sale price of $599 for computer and monitor, that is hard to beat.
This computer has room for 2 external accessible 5 1/4 inch optical drives. Dell is selling you a barebones CDRW/DVD ROM. This drive allows you to record to CD's, and watch DVD movies. This gives you the ability to write data, or music, or photos to a CD that can hold around 700MB of data. The drive will record to CD-R (one time recording) or CDRW (rewritable & multiple recording) disks. If all you do is record MP3s then this is quite sufficient. If you want to record digital video, or DVD music, and watch DVDs then you'll want to upgrade to a DVD burner.
A 1 year limited warranty gives you 365 days of protection for your system purchase. Dell has greatly improved its system support. You have an online support icon that will automatically check your system and report problems. If your unit fails, Dell will cover its repair or replacement for a limited time. Our refurbished purchase only came with a 90 day warranty.
The only weakness to Dell's telephone support is the fact that they have outsourced it to India. When calling Dell support or using Dell support chat, you will be communicating with people that are friendly, and competent, but sometimes hard to understand. I have found some individuals easy to understand, and others quite difficult. You have to remember that you are calling people who are anywhere from 11 to 14 hours ahead of you. If you call at 4 pm central time, it is 4 am in India. That may account for some of their difficulty in handling your particular problem. I don't think anyone operates that well so early in the morning.
OK, now that we've slogged through all that, let's talk about the computer itself.
The Case 'n Space
This is an attractive case. It is silver and white in color, constructed of a thin metal with the Dell name embossed on the sides of the case. It is a full frame unit, bigger than most computers I've used before. But that's good. Access to the inside couldn't be easier. A large latch on the top slides open to allow the right side of the case to pop open. Once the side cover is removed you've got an amazing amount of room inside. The interior of the computer is spacious. Adding new components to your computer is no problem. Everything is spaced with plenty of room to maneuver.
Dell also makes it easy to add your optical drives. A plastic bracket slides open to allow you to remove the front bezel. This then allow you to slide old drives out and new ones in. Again, very easy.
This ease of modification also is carried over to the PCI slots for adding additional cards. No tools are required. A sliding locking mechanism holds your PCI cards in place. No more screwing the card into the computer frame. Adding cards is a breeze. Remove the cover plate, push your card into the appropriate PCI slot, and then fold back the locking mechanism and that's it you're done.
Dell makes available 4 slots for additional PCI cards. These include 2 regular PCI slots, 1 PCI express 16 x slot, and 1 PCI 1 x slot. This should be adequate for most home users. This expansion allows for additional graphics, TV tuner, Firewire, or sound cards. Currently I haven't experienced any problems with video editing and playback using the standard integrated Intel GMA 950 card.
The processor has a rather large aluminum fin heatsink and a fan perched at 90 degrees blowing across it. This behemoth looks like more than enough to keep the processor chip cool. This is also one of the quietest computers I've ever used at home or work. Looking at the case from the front, it looks like any other computer. Upon closer inspection, you'll notice a large "cavity" behind the front panel. This air inlet is positioned to allow incoming air to flow over the processor. This case has numerous vents to keep things well ventilated, nice and cool. Compared to our old Dell, which always sounded like it was getting ready to take off, this unit is as quiet as a mouse.
I can't emphasize enough how well laid out the interior of the E510 is. If you are not the kind of person to open your case and swap out parts, and you prefer a smaller footprint, perhaps this computer isn't for you. It is large. The thing is 18 inches deep, a little over 16 inches high, and about 7 ? inches wide. It weighs in at a modest 28 lbs, and it seems lighter than it would appear to be.
From the front of the computer you have access to 2 optical drives, either CDRW or DVDRW/ROM drives, a floppy drive or in our case a Dell 6 in 1 Media card reader. The reader was installed after purchase. It is easy to install by removing the interior cover plate and sliding the reader into the 3 ? inch bay, and then connecting your cable from the unit to a 10 pin F_USB cable on the motherboard.
I should warn you that it may be difficult to find an aftermarket reader that has the right cable connection. After much frustration, I bit the bullet and ordered one from Dell for $28. About twice what you pay for a generic reader.
You also have ports for a microphone, headphones with subminiature jack, and 2 USB 2.0 ports. After struggling with only 2 USB ports on the back of our old Dell, and using a USB hub and USB extension cables, it's so nice to have USB access on the front of the computer. Very handy for plugging in those USB devices.
The front also displays your diagnostic lights and hardrive activity.
Moving to the rear of the computer, there are an additional 5 USB 2.0 ports, a NIC integrated broadband connection, and an integrated sound card.
The sound card has 5 ports. 1 surround sound connection, a connection for incoming VCR, cassette or CD player, the usual line out port for a set of amplified speakers, a dual connection for microphone or side sound, and finally a center or subwoofer input connection.
Also are the monitor connection, power cord, and dual power source switch.
We are quite pleased with the refurbished Dell E510 that we've purchased. (Okay, my wife could care less, but I'm happy). It is quiet, and so much more powerful than our old unit. It easily multitasks between video editing and online banking, or any other task I've thrown at it. It is easy to upgrade and with Windows XP, new installations are quickly integrated and recognized.
The base unit that Dell sells is a good starting point for most households. You certainly have the option when purchasing a new Dell E510 to upgrade it and have the computer beefed up to your specifications before you take delivery. I feel good about this computer because it supports some major upgrade options. The processor is top notch, and set up for the future of 64 bit technology. The fact that it supports up to 4 GB of RAM is outstanding. Hardrive space can easily be increased for little money. Gamers and others can install a media graphics card or TV tuner to suit their taste. An optional sound card can be installed for audiophiles. Windows XP Media edition actually thrives with an installed optional TV tuner card. This installation allows you to record TV programs much like a TIVO does for your family television. Since I didn't receive the WXP Media Edition, I can't really comment much beyond that on its functionality.
If there were any cons to the Dell E510, it's hard for me to point them out. One obvious one would be the lack of a Firewire port. I had to install a Firewire IEEE 1394 card so I could plug in my digital video camera. I would gladly give up some USB ports for a Firewire port. Granted, a Firewire PCI card can be had for only $20, but this would be a nice standard feature. If I was dreaming I would have the Firewire port on the front of the computer for ease of access.
The other con is service support. Navigating the Dell website can be frustrating. Also information or help from individuals on the other side of the planet can also be a challenge.
Computers have come a long way in just a few short years. The price has certainly dropped and that is no exception on the Dell E510. I whole heartedly recommend the Dell E510 to any family or individual who wants a computer that performs well now, and is poised for the future.
Well, the new Dell's are out, and the E510 has been given a new "brain". All 3 configurations, list price $699 - $999 & $1299 all share the same processor, the Intel Pentium D 820 with Dual-Core Technology. These are rated at 2.80 GHz with 2MB L2 Cache, 800MHz FSB. What's different about this configuration as compared to the Pentium 4 3.0 GHz? Some hardware differences, and really not too much else.
The Pentium 820 D is the "slowest" of this chipset series. Like the Pentium 4 it will execute EM64T, or 64 bit programing, and it has Execute Disable Bit to thwart overload from certain virus's or worms. It doesn't come with Hyper-Threading Technology or Speedstep Technology.
So, what do you get with this current Dell Pentium D processor?
Like the Hyper-Threading Pentium 4 that "splits" itself into two "virtual" processors to execute 2 distinct computer process streams at the same time, the Intel Dual Core processor likewise does this, but a little differently. Unlike Hyper-Threading, it is "hardwired" to process 2 separate process streams. Some say it is better equiped to accomplish this "dual" processing over an identical speed Pentium 4 with Hyper-Threading. It does this by being designed to monitor and utilize processor resources to maximize performance. And that's what we want, smooth performance while multi tasking.
Ideally, Dell would give you the option to install a 900 series processor. It comes with not only the Dual Core's ability, but with their Virtualization Technology, you can run even more processes at the same time. If you want that kind of power, you'll have to consider upgrading to Dell's XPS high performance line.
This new processor offers an exciting alternative to the Pentium 4. And for those looking for value and performance, this may signal a great bargain opportunity by finding the Dell E510 with the Pentium 4 Chipset.
Having had our computer for awhile, it is still performing flawlessly. The only problem was a small "rattle" that turned out to be the aftermarket Dell card reader that I installed. After "cushioning" it, all is whisper quiet.
We are still happy with this purchase.