Dell OptiPlex GX280 SD review

15 Dec 2004

This no-fuss workhorse is easy to maintain, and there are plenty of build options to turn it into a thoroughbred.

Price when reviewed: 
499(£586 inc VAT) E-Valuemore
5

Dell's OptiPlex GX270 SFF occupied the business PC slot on our A List for months, having seen off compact offerings from five of its main rivals in our Business PCs Labs test. Now it's been discontinued, we take a look at one of its bigger brothers - a full-sized desktop OptiPlex GX280 SD - to see if this can continue Dell's fine tradition of A-Listed business PCs.

Although Dell has tried to inject some verve into the casing with curves and rounded edges, the utilitarian tough plastic finish leaves this PC with a slightly drab appearance. But this is a business machine and looks are a long way from top priority. Serviceability is of more interest, and the tool-free access saves IT staff from carrying screwdrivers everywhere they go, although keys might be required if the Kensington lock slot and padlock lug are used. Buttons positioned either side of the case release the lid, which pivots forward and reveals the workings inside. Green plastic tabs highlight where the drives, plug-in cards and power supply can be released for extraction, although some of the catches are more awkward to use than they could be. Dell also installs a diagnostics utility on a small partition on the hard disk, which can be accessed during boot with the F12 key.

Everything looks orderly inside the machine, with cables restrained in a tidy fashion - good news for airflow and maintenance. The hard disk and CD-ROM drive are attached to the lid, and there's also one empty slot for installing an optional floppy drive (£20). Both fitted drives slide out for easy servicing. There are four slots for dual-channel memory on the Dell PCI Express motherboard, with two sticks of 256MB DDR2 SDRAM preinstalled. Up to 128MB of this is shared by the Intel 915G chipset for graphics.

Processing is handled by a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 520 CPU fitted at the far end of the board, and its fan exhaust exits directly out the back for quiet operation. Although this is some way off the current top end of the range, this chip supplies plenty of power for office duties, scoring 1.56 overall in our benchmarks. Intel's 915 chipset has direct video output via a standard D-SUB for an analog display, but there's also a DVI adaptor in the PCI Express slot for a digital panel, allowing you to run dual monitors. Since this system ships without a display, you're free to choose whatever suits.

If you later decide the GX280 needs more 3D grunt (it managed only 14 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 2004), the DVI adaptor can be replaced with a PCI Express graphics card. The BIOS is even set to automatically switch across. In fact, the BIOS has a lot of other options besides, including intrusion detection, a low-power mode and extensive hardware information.

A fair amount of desk space is consumed by the full-sized PC case, but at least the minimalist keyboard won't add to any problems. The keys go right to the edges of the 442 x 155mm board, and the acres of plastic edging that renders most keyboards as manoeuvrable as a battleship in a bathtub are thankfully absent. It's paired with a standard but comfortable optical wheel-mouse.

Both input devices connect by USB but there are still plenty spare: four free ports at the rear and two at the front. The latter are hidden behind a plastic door along with a headphone jack, but they're set at such an oblique angle that access is tricky to all but the thinnest USB keys. The ones at the rear are accompanied by both parallel and serial connectors for legacy peripherals, and a gigabit Ethernet connection. One of the two internal PCI card slots has a 56K modem installed, leaving one slot spare for expansion.