Dell OptiPlex 745 review

10 Nov 2006

A good take on the vPro concept but, ultimately, too expensive for most offices

Price when reviewed: 
876(£1,029 inc VAT)
4

The humble business desktop PC has never had it so good. With all the big manufacturers leaping on the vPro bandwagon, an office fitted out with Intel's vision of the future is going to be full of happy workers. Or so it's hoping. The Core 2 Duo chip offers huge performance for all those power-hungry tasks that Intel envisages enlightened IT departments will be doing in the future: out-of-band communication, virtualisation and accessing or updating a PC while the user continues to work at it. But compared to the baseline requirements of the average office, the high-end features of vPro look enormously over-qualified.

The OptiPlex 745 is no exception. At its heart, the E6600 has a core speed of 2.4GHz, scoring a huge 1.36 in our benchmarks thanks partly to the 1GB of 667MHz RAM. In terms of everyday business use, this means the OptiPlex has an excess of power that most users are unlikely to use. It's more than powerful enough for photo and high-definition film-editing work, let alone email and Word documents. But while it's a sledgehammer to crack a nut in most cases, if you need the power it's impressive, particularly when you consider the size of the case.

The chassis bears the hallmarks of some excellent design. The square dimensions are about the size of an average pizza box, and it's easily slim enough to live under a monitor. It's a well-mannered desktop companion, too - near-silent and unobtrusive. With the lid off, though, it's a little less impressive than the NEC PowerMate ML460 Pro, for example. The hard disk sits directly over the motherboard and, while you're rarely going to need access to the latter, the system lacks the sheer simplicity of NEC's hinged hard-disk housing.

At least the chassis is entirely tool-less, and the parts most likely to fail - the hard disk and optical drive - are the most easily accessible. Matters are helped by the notebook-style optical drive, which takes up much less space than a normal desktop part. And, since there's no parallel ATA onboard, the internal data cables are smaller SATA variants - just be aware of the cost implications when sourcing spares. The RAM is installed across two one-sided DIMMs, and the motherboard has two spare sockets for later upgrades.

Not surprisingly for such a compact system, the OptiPlex is otherwise lacking in terms of upgradability. If you can source half-height cards, you'll be able to install a discrete graphics card (although the Intel GMA 3000 is perfectly capable for everything bar 3D gaming) and a PCI card. Unlike some small systems, there's no way to install full-height expansion cards horizontally.

But the basic specifications of the OptiPlex are perfectly good enough for the foreseeable lifespan of the system. The hard disk is a 160GB Western Digital unit and, unless the system is going to be routinely used for media creation, it's unlikely to need replacing unless it breaks. The DVD drive is again generous, capable of writing to all kinds of DVD except DVD-RAM.

The BIOS has several features that administrators will love. All or some of the USB ports can be disabled, negating any concerns over removable storage devices providing a handy way for data to leak outside the office. There's also a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip for hardware-level encryption. It's disabled by default and requires a certain amount of configuration to get started, but the supplied Embassy Security Center will be well within the grasp of any experienced IT technician.