Dell XPS 420 First Impressions


xps420_graphics My first impressions of the Dell XPS 420 can be summed up in one word, “Solid !”  I’ve only completed a couple of phases in my new machines metamorphosis, but so far I’m pretty impressed with the machine and it’s future.  So let’s dive into what it was like when I received it, and the road we’re on.


What is the goal?


When I purchased the machine Sunday, I had a couple of goals.  First and foremost, it’s a video editing workstation.  I wanted a Quad core machine that could handle intense high definition and standard definition encoding, decoding and transcoding.  Second, I figured if I held out long enough, the Windows Vista market would mature and I could add premium high definition television recording.  TiVo is still handling the bulk of those duties at the moment.


The Package


The box arrived via Fedex in a light rain.  I’m glad it wasn’t a heavy rain because the hand holds are open into the box.  There was no water damage.  Inside the box was the typical foam enclosure and a special XPS branded pack of goodies including a mouse pad, wire ties, wiping cloth, binder for disks, etc.  Nice job Dell.


The Hardware


Since I already have an array of LCD panels, I didn’t order one with the unit.  If you can afford the Dell 24″ widescreen LCD, get one.  I love mine.  I also have a 20″ 4:3 aspect ratio LCD sitting right next to the 24″ in a multimon configuration.  This gives you a ton of viewing options for the various applications and media you might view.  The 24″ is running 1920×1200 and the 20″ is running 1600×1200.  I use a KVM switch with these two monitors for the machines I own and use for work.


The XPS 420 computer is a medium to large size case.  There’s easy access into the unit and it is designed to hold up to three hard drives, one or more DVD drives, media readers, etc.  I ordered my Dell with the cheapest hard drive they offer knowing I will be immediately replacing the drives through other sources to cut costs.  I also ordered it with the standard 3GB of memory.  The main two hard drive bays are quick access requiring no screws.  There is power routed to both bays.  If you order like I did but plan to add another drive, make sure you buy a SATA cable with the right angle end.  A standard SATA cable will protrude too much and prevent case closure.  I already knew that and had a cable in my drawer already.


xps420_bigtime The machine is very quiet.  There is plenty of ventilation through the case and it will be easily vacuumed when it’s time to get rid of some of the dust.  The case itself is pretty attractive with the piano black front and silver sides. There are lots of USB ports front and rear, IEEE 1394 front and rear, GigE ethernet on the back, and an eSATA port on the back.  I see a future for that port.


The XPS 420 comes with a Sideshow LCD panel on the front top.  I haven’t decided what if anything I’ll use it for, but you can add all sort of Vista Sideshow gadgets and have it display stuff like the weather, number of unread inbox messages, stock ticker, etc.  It’ll be fun to play with that later but it’s a back burner item for now.


I fired the machine up and took a look around but that was pretty short lived.  I installed Ghost 12 and made an image of the factory install then pulled the 320GB drive out of the box.  I installed a 1TB drive for the OS and applications, then another 500GB drive for additional data capacity.  Although the XPS 420 comes with RAID on the motherboard, I am currently not using RAID 0 or 1.  I do frequent backups so I really don’t need the data protection, and I don’t have an I/O bottleneck at the moment that would require building a volume with more than one drive.


The machine configuration I ordered comes with two ATI Digital Cable tuners.  I’m not particularly impressed with the tuners because I think their design and stands are too big and clunky looking.  They are external tuners and connect to the XPS 420 via USB.  Good thing the XPS 420 has lots of USB ports.  The tuner cases are designed to let the heat dissipate.  I have both of my tuners hidden behind one of my LCD panels.  Easy access to them, but out of eye sight.  They are ugly (to me). 


AdobeElementsSuiteThe Software


Although Dell lets you deselect a bunch of software normally referred to as “crapware” in our industry, this machine comes with an impressive set of software.  Now don’t get me wrong, there’s stuff installed I would uninstall like the Google Desktop, but all in all it wasn’t totally hosed by a bunch of crud.  One of the suites you cannot deselect on the ordering site is Adobe Elements Studio.  This includes Adobe Premiere Elements 4, Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 and Adobe Soundbooth.


I’ve been using Premier Elements for a while and like it.  I have never used Photoshop before but it’s time to learn considering we dropped development and sales of the Digital Image Studio product family.  I’ve also never used the Soundbooth product, but if it works well, I know we can put it to use.  Dell supplies the product disk and serial numbers for the Adobe Elements Studio products in case you want to reinstall.


The Operating System (OS) and HD Television


Dell ships the XPS 420 with a number of OS choices.  Unfortunately none of the ordering configurations had what I want.  So when the tough get going, the tough flatten the box and re-install from scratch.  I considered running Windows Vista Home Premium, the 32bit version that the XPS 420 shipped with, for at least five minutes.  But I decided to roll the dice and install Windows Vista Ultimate x64.  I was a little worried about it for one reason and one reason alone.


xps420 HD Overhead The XPS 420 can be configured to support high definition recording.  Not just any high definition recording, premium cable high definition recording.  This is called OCUR and it’s a Cable Labs certified and approved configuration that is required.  The BIOS used by OCUR machines is special.  So is the activation process.  As it turns out, it was pretty easy to switch to the x64 OS and config.  You just install a retail copy of Windows Vista Ultimate x64.  When you fire up the Media Center shell and go through the TV tuner configuration, you will be prompted for a special product key.  That key is on the COA sticker on the back of the XPS 420.  After you plug it in, the tuners are activated.  In reality, this sets up the PKI key sets used for the DRM required to be in place for OCUR systems.


After activating the tuners in the Media Center shell, it was a simple manner of downloading the guide and watching the standard definition channels.  Verizon is coming by on Tuesday to deliver the CableCards that plug into the tuners.  After those are in place and properly paired to the Verizon FIOS TV system, I’ll be able to view all of the channels I pay for and record any content.  In the meantime, there’s a menu item under the TV setup area that lets you scan for “other TV services”.  This scan will detect any unencrypted QAM channels and add them to the guide listings.  Most cable systems carry ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS and others “in the clear”.  My scan found those channels so I mapped them to the appropriate channel for my area thus replacing the crappy standard def signal with the unencrypted QAM HD version.  Nice.  The machine plays high definition absolutely smoothly and fluidly.  It should.  The little screenshot at right shows me watching ABC in HD while directly connected to my Exchange Server mailbox (non cached mode) and surfing the net with IE7.  It’s not even batting an eye.


Performance


There has been a lot of discussion in the industry about Windows Vista, it’s performance and usability.  The Dell XPS 420 really makes Windows Vista shine.  I ordered mine with the Intel Quad Core Q6600 processor, 3GB of memory (2x1GB and 2x512MB), 320GB 7200rpm SATA drive and the NVIDIA 8600 GTS video card.  This is far from being a top of the line machine but it’s still a very respectable platform.  Like you, I have a budget so I didn’t order the Extreme Quad processor, a RAID array, etc.


From what I can tell of the performance so far, it’s going to meet my needs nicely.  I’ll know by the time the weekend is over.  I plan to do some transcoding and video work tomorrow.  When I decide to pull the 3GB of memory and bump it up, I will probably load it with 8GB of 800MHz RAM.  That will improve the overall platform some and give the applications plenty of headroom while watching HD programming.


If you are a serious gamer, look closely at the graphics card and power supply options.  I decided the 8600 GTS would meet my needs, cut down on power consumption, and lower the heat generated.  So far it seems to be the right choice for the roles my machine will play.  If you are a serious gamer, I’m not sure the other 475W power supply would meet your needs.  Then again, that’s why Dell makes the XPS 720 and purchased Alienware.


Summary


Like I said, this seems to be a very solid machine.  If you can find one for $1500 delivered to your door, you should jump all over it.  The case and construction offers a lot of flexibility and expandability.  Ask me in 3-4 years how I like the machine.  I hope to have this one that long.  I’ll write more about this later after the CableCard install.  Buy with confidence. I am changing my rating to buy with some caveats.  See the 12/29 update below.


[UPDATE for 12/21/2007]  The CableCard install happened Tuesday without issue and I can see all of the FIOS TV channels in the guide.  I can watch and record the HD channels.  However, I have had a number of recording failures when the machine resumed from sleep.  I am trying to spot a pattern so I am testing various sleep states (S1 and S3).  More later…


[UPDATE for 12/22/2007]  I updated the tuner firmware to the latest available production firmware from ATI.  I also applied the Windows Vista updates that were recommended in the firmware release notes.  This did not resolve the sleep/wakeup and record issues I’m seeing.  In fact, it made it worse.  Fortunately this isn’t the core mission of my machine otherwise I’d be upset.


ATI Firmware updates:


http://ati.amd.com/support/drivers/vista32/ocur-vista32.html


http://ati.amd.com/support/drivers/vista64/ocur-vista64.html


[UPDATE for 12/27/2007] I have been running my machine for the past five days without letting it sleep.  It has recorded each and every program without issue on a variety of HD channels I receive with my Verizon FIOS TV package.  In fact, extender Xbox 360 HD playback has also been flawless.  I am researching the power states supported by the machine and will experiment with sleep again before too long.  I wanted to establish a baseline to verify the tuners are really working properly when fully powered and connected at all times.  I’d say 5 days and 500GB of recorded HD content has done that.


[UPDATE for 12/29/2007]  It appears I have the suspend/resume issue resolved with my XPS 420 when recording high def premium channels.  I have a bunch of programs set to record over the next few days so I’ll document my config and post a completely separate post on the subject Wednesday or Thursday of next week (assuming we can declare success).  Spoke to soon…  the machine missed a recording this morning so this issue is not fixed… sigh…


I also seem to have identified a bug in the eSATA port implementation.  In order to use the eSATA port, the Intel ICH9R SATA RAID controller must be in AHCI mode.  My eSATA port didn’t work with the factory config they shipped me (x86 Vista Home Premium).  I checked this morning since I still had the factory hard drive in original install state.  I reset the BIOS to factory settings and checked things there, too.  I’m assuming if you buy a machine directly from Dell with a RAID config implemented (two or more drives), that the RAID and eSATA port works.  However, that’s a x86 32bit implementation.  I’d be interested to know the drivers and versions implemented on that configuration.  Send me email if you have it.  Dell is aware of this issue and looking into it.


[UPDATE for 1/11/2008]  I have rebuilt my machine from the ground up.  I am still on BIOS A02 and have the SATA controller in RAID AHCI mode.  My eSATA port is working properly.  In order for me to do this, I had to reinstall the operating system again, which is unfortunate.  I could not figure out how to get it to work any other way even though I received feedback inside and outside Microsoft.  I do not recommend doing this. If you reinstall the OS more than one time, you’ll likely break the OCUR HD recording capability if you have the ATI digital cable tuners.  I recommend you wait for Dell to come up with a supported solution from their engineering team.  They may end up fixing this will a BIOS update or something.  I certainly hope so. 


At this point the only remaining problem I have with my machine is sleep/resume/record/sleep.  I was sent a list of KB articles and their associated fixes.  I will look more carefully at this over the weekend as time permits.  I can certainly live without this working correctly but I would prefer to get it fixed. 


So where do I stand on my buy recommendation?  I still think this is a super machine.  Dell is very aware of the AHCI RAID issue, sleep/resume and other minor issues.  If you don’t need to attach a big freaking hard drive or cluster of hard drives to the XPS 420, then buy with confidence.  If you need the eSATA port and you buy a machine today, most likely the machine will arrive properly configured and this issue is effectively only valid for people that purchased prior to today.  They can be fixed a number of ways right now but obviously a reinstall of the OS would be a last resort.


[UPDATE for 5/8/2008]  See http://blogs.technet.com/keithcombs/archive/2008/05/08/dell-xps-420-six-month-report.aspx for my six month report card.

Comments (120)

  1. Ed Bott says:

    Nice review, Keith! One quibble: You write that you plan to add 8GB of RAM someday. Better check the specs again. The XPS 420 supports a max of 4GB of RAM.

  2. Keith Combs says:

    Quibble, love that word. It’s a nice way to say let’s debate.  Fortunately there is no debate on this one.

    A best practice before you buy any machine is to go to the OEM’s support area and take a look at the supplied manuals, drivers, etc.  I did that before I purchased the Dell XPS 420.  As you can see at http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/xps420/en/index.htm, there is an Owner’s Guide in a couple of different formats.  

    If you download the .PDF version of that guide and look in the Appendix Specifications, you’ll see in the second section on memory they support up to 8GB.  The only catch is that you must be running a 64bit operating system.  Hence the reason for the x64 version of Windows Vista I installed.

    I wasn’t sure if I would need more that 3GB of memory, but now I don’t need to worry about going there down the road.  I did this installation specifically before the OCUR activation to avoid problems with it. I don’t know that there would be any, but I took the cautious road just in case.

  3. tinman says:

    …I believe this is the most beautiful computer I have ever laid my eyes on.

    Congrats! Oh, and, I have the same graphics card!

  4. Keith Combs says:

    LOL, get a room TinMan !!!

  5. Dennis Case says:

    Why didn’t you just build your own computer? That way you could have configured it exactly the way you wanted it from the ground up and it would have been a superior machine! I have 3 computers and I built them all. Two with XP Professional and one with Vista Ultimate. All three are lightning fast and infinately configurable. Since I built my first computer, a P3 800MHz machine, I couldn’t even imagine ever buying a pre-built machine!

  6. Keith Combs says:

    You can’t build a machine (currently) that allows you to record premium cable channels.  That is a locked down OEM only offering.

  7. grant says:

    I didn’t know that you could use your own install of the OS. I had always read it was a special version of Windows. I guess I’ll just go with the default and put my own copy of Ultimate of Vista on.

  8. Keith Combs says:

    The BIOS is special and as you can see, Home Premium and Ultimate already understand the cable tuners.  The key is the BIOS and the OCUR activation key on the Certificate of Authenticity (COA).  My COA is on the back of my XPS 420.

  9. Andrew Hill says:

    Do you use an XBOX 360 Media Center Externder or sync recorded tv content to a Zune?   I just wondered how the HD and non-HD content worked with the new CableCard tuner when streaming content to the XBox 360 or syncing it to a Zune.

    Thanks!

    Andy

  10. Keith Combs says:

    Yes, I use a Xbox 360 as an extender to the XPS 420.  However, it’ll be a while before that ever becomes the de facto way we view recorded HD.  My TiVo Series 3 fills that role in the den entertainment center.

    As I understand it, none of the XPS 420 CableCard recorded television content can be synced to a Zune as a result of the OCUR DRM restrictions.  I have not tested it yet since I have not received my CableCards from Verizon.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Lots of questions have come up with the release of Dell’s XPS 420 so I thought I’d try and address as

  12. Anonymous says:

    Lots of questions have come up with the release of Dell’s XPS 420 so I thought I’d try and address…

  13. colin says:

    Keith,

    Great post.  Glad to see some first reviews coming  in on the new machine.  I am wondering if/when I should take the plunge.  I would have this machine in the den and would solely view the TV content via the XBox360 extender…  not doing any local viewing, I don’t anticipate needing a top shelf video or audio card in the PC.  Why do you use the Tivo over the XBox extender?  I know the whole debate over the XBox Dashboard vs Media Center interface, and codec support… but it seems that the XBox extender will get me all the functionality I need from the Dell in the den (via wired ethernet)… while I love Tivo, I can’t see spending $$ on a CableCard equipped PC AND a TivoHD… its one or the other…  while Tivo can grab media from my PC, I figured the media center extender interface would be more clean… plus, I already have an XBox360…  any recommendations?

  14. Keith Combs says:

    Regarding the TiVo versus the extender, the primary reason is because when I got the TiVo, my MCE 2005 single P4 machine just wasn’t cutting it.  I knew it’s days were numbered, but I didn’t know when I would replace it.  I don’t like to replace things until I can find a good new home for them.  Last week my wife told me she needed a computer for her shoppe, so that gave the P4 a new home.

    Practically the next day Dell announced the new and improved XPS 420 without the Blu-ray drive, reduced price of the tuners, etc.  It was a no brainer at that point.  I needed a video workstation and the cablecard stuff is gravy.  

    I had the CableCards installed today and so far, so good.  I’m recording NCIS, The Unit and other stuff.  While recording, it’s using a gig of RAM total in the system, and purring along at 2-7% CPU utilization.  

    Of course this means I have two devices doing the same thing.  I plan to do two upcoming blogs posts.  One to discuss the installation and use of the CableCards on this machine.  The other post will do a comparison of the TiVo to the Vista MCE implementation.  Those posts will offer detailed insight to the question.

    Regarding the money, I can easily justify the price I paid for the XPS 420 for the video editing role alone.  For that matter, the XPS 420 is less than I paid for the desktop it replaced and has a massive amount more capability.

    I paid $400 for the TiVo Series 3, added a 500GB external drive, and the family loves it.  It has paid itself back already since the purchase in June.

    As far as a recommendation is concerned, if you have a good laptop or PC, and are short on cash, the TiVo is still the cheaper route.  If you need a good machine, the XPS 420 rocks.

  15. Andrew Hill says:

    In order to be able to sync content to a Zune, do you think a system with 1 CableCard tuner and 1 analog tuner would work?  I’ve not heard anyone mention mixing the digital HD tuners with an analog one.  Can you tell Meida Center which tuner to record from?

  16. tom says:

    I have cablevision coming on the 23rd to install a  cablecard on my base 420 (only option was the tuner).  Called Dell today and they are shipping me the remote they forgot to send.  Wish me luck.

    I have an old Hauppauge PVR150 installed and MC is working nicely with the guides and all.  

    Look forward to updates.

  17. Ed Bott says:

    Thanks for the pointer to the manual, Keith. FWIW, the top link in your post (Dell’s XPS 420 page) still says the maximum capacity is 4GB and doesn’t even mention the x86 vs x64 issue. I downloaded the manual and you’re absolutely right. In fact, this is one of the best organized and most complete PC manuals I’ve seen in a long time.

  18. Andrew Dignan says:

    I am about to take the plunge and purchase the 420 as well.  I am so glad you posted because I couldn’t tell from dell.com if the ATI TV Wonder card option was the internal (no CableCard support) or the external so thanks for clearing that up.

    Couple questions about your build.  For Sound, did you upgrade to the "Integrated Sound Blaster®Audigy™ HD Software Edition" or stay at integrated audio?  I plan to use this to extend HD to my living room TV using my XBOX 360 so I don’t know if having the upgrade to HD Audio enhances that.

    Secondly, would it behoove me to go to the "512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT" or have you been seeing the 8600 perform well. I do not need this PC for hardcore gaming.

    Lastly, and most importantly, below are my options on dell.com when building the computer and I am confused by the TV Tuner options.  I want to order TWO ATI TV Wonder Tuners but I don’t see that option and secondly, there are other options that I am just not sure about.  What did you go with?

    None [subtract $100]

    No Tuner [subtract $80]

    Hauppauge HVR1250 Hybrid TV Tuner and Remote [subtract $40]

    Xcelerator with Hauppauge HVR1250 Hybrid TV Tuner and Remote [add $10]

    ATI Theater 650 PRO Combo Analog/Digital TV Tuner with Remote Control [Included in Price]

    Xcelerator with ATI Theater 650 PRO Combo TV Tuner and Remote [add $50]

    ATI Theater 650 PRO Combo TV Tuner with Gyroscopic Remote and Xcelerator [add $120]

    Xcelerator with Hauppauge HVR1250 Hybrid TV Tuner and Remote [add $70]

    Thanks much!

  19. bshiley says:

    Hi Keith,

    I was so happy to see someone else had purchased the 420 with cable tuners finally.

    I currently have a VMC home built system but as

    you know can’t record hdtv with it.  I have a

    Pioneer Pro-110FD HDTV and would love to start

    recording hdtv so I am about to pull the trigger on a similarly equipped 420. I was wondering what sound card did you go with and are you/have you connected to a hdtv? The ATI card allows you to go from a dvi-i adapter to a hdmi cable.

    Great site btw.

    Thanks for any info in advance.

    Brian Shiley

  20. Andrew Dignan says:

    So the "ATI Theater 650 PRO Combo TV Tuner with Gyroscopic Remote and Xcelerator" does in fact come with two CableCard tuners?  I called Dell and they couldn’t answer my question 🙁

  21. Keith Combs says:

    Andrew, the Theatre 650 isn’t the same tuner as the ATI Digital Cable tuner so the answer is no.

  22. Keith Combs says:

    Brian and Andrew,

    I ordered my machine with the integrated sound.  It sits here under my desk and isn’t plugged into and advanced sound system.  

    A previous machine I had hooked to my DLP set via a cheap DVI->HDMI cord.  That option was video only so if you are looking for integrated sound and video, you’ll probably want to go pure HDMI.  Some of the video cards now offer HDMI out, but I don’t know if they have sound included in the signal.

    Keep in mind when connecting this rig via a digital video connection (DVI or HDMI), the monitor or HDTV set must be HDCP compliant. In my case, one of my two monitors was connected via DVI but it is not HDCP compliant so the recorded or live TV would not play.  After I dumbed the signal down with a DVI->VGA dongle, the monitor worked fine.

    As for the video card question, I see no reason to order the 8800 GT unless you are a hard core gamer.  It adds the bigger power supply and consumes more power.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  23. sam says:

    Hi Keith,

    If I have Direct TV which does not offer cablecard, will I be able to watch high definition tv with a satellite reciever provided by Direct TV hooked up to the tv tuner?  Will I get the same functionality with media center?

    Thank you.

  24. Andrew Dignan says:

    Keith,

    I am very confused then, as you can see, my only options for the TV Tuner when configuring my Dell XPS 420 were what I posted above and they are all ATI Theater PRO’s.  Did Dell pull the CableCard option??

  25. tom says:

    It looks like Dell stopped selling the cablecard tuner.

    Cablecard install took 45 min to upgrade the firmware, all digital channels work  fine, but HD will not work on my pc.

    I get a green screen and sound on HD channels.  When i minimize and restore, I get an image, but WMC locks up.

    DVDs are fine.

    Dell tech support has very limited knowledge of this product.

  26. tom says:

    I built one a few minutes ago on the Dell web page, and the cablecard tuner was not an option.  It has recently reappeared.

  27. Kyle Harmon says:

    "I get a green screen and sound on HD channels."

    I had this problem.  It is due to some problem with the way the ATI driver handles HD video.  I ran the registry tweaks listed here to fix it:

    http://exdeus.home.comcast.net/~exdeus/ati-hd2x00/

  28. Keith,

    This is a great discussion for those of us about ready to pull the trigger on the XPS 420. Thanks for getting it started.

    You mentioned that you purchased the NVIDA 8600 GTS video card in your configuration. Was it your video editing requirements that drove this selection over the less costly options (Radeon cards)? I plan to use this box as my media center server with several MCEs throughout the house. It will not be used for gaming or video editing so I am favoring the cheapest video card option. Is there a reason for upgrading that I am not considering?

    -Mark

  29. Keith Combs says:

    Mark,

    In my case, several things floated around in my head before deciding. I’ve been using NVIDIA products for years and have had good success with them.  I didn’t want the hotter 8800 so that left the 8600 GTS.  I have heard good things about this card already so instead of getting the cheapest card offered and upgrading it later, I just decided to go ahead and get a good card Dell had already tested.  I also checked out the x64 drivers before the purchase.

    If I planned to directly connect the xps 420 to a HDTV, I probably would have gone with the ATI HD 2600 XT and the HDMI connection or purchased a card through another channel.

    I usually take the cheap route on the initial purchase and look for good deals later.  I have no idea how well the ATI HD 2400 PRO performs but if you go this route and have good success, report back.  I’m sure other people will be interested in your results.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  30. tom says:

    I have the ATI HD 2400 and I checked the registry and the entries already match.  The script file would not run even after I diabled UAC in windows.

    I am running the updated CCC driver 7.12 released 12/20.

  31. Andrew Dignan says:

    Keith,

    I spoke with Dell today and found out what was happening. For some reason, my account on dell.com was setup as a business account (I don’t have a business…).  Through some agreement with ATI, Dell cannot sell the ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable card to businesses (no idea why).  When I would login to my account, and build the Dell, that card would not show up.

    I had them fix my account, I rebuilt the dell and now had the ATI TV Wonder Digital card option…as well as a $100 saving and free shipping (not available to business accounts either).

    Anyway, thanks for all your help and I will report back with any comments once I get my XPS 420 setup with the Cable card.  I plan to use my XBOX as an extender over 802.11n so that should be interesting.

  32. bshiley says:

    Hi Keith,

    Was wondering if you might be able to post a pic of the remote that is provided with the system.

    Thanks,

    Brian

  33. Keith Combs says:

    Well, if Dell had shipped me the remote and IR receiver that is clearly specified with the system, then I would be happy to.  However, they apparently didn’t ship remotes to a lot of people.  

    I already had a remote and receiver I purchased several years ago so that’s what I’m using. I wonder if Dell is going to address this issue and just send me the goods?  You would think by now they would have figured out their error.  Maybe not.  Lots of people on vacation right now.

    The remote I have is the one pictured at http://www.pcalchemy.com/product_info.php/pName/microsoft-mce-remote-control-for-windows-xp-mce/cName/remote-controls.  In fact, that’s where I purchased it.

  34. bshiley says:

    Thanks for the info on the remote. Was worried that they shpped the crappy ATI remotes that came with the TV Wonder Elite 550/650 series.

    Brian

    ps. For all that don’t have this remote (yet or at all) they are very solid remotes. The WAF is superb. My wife loves that it glows also when you tap the keys. I have one with my current system I built, minus the current cable card tuners coming with the Dell 420 I just ordered.

  35. Mable says:

    I love my XPS 420 too much … but only one down side :

    I have hauppage TV tuner for some reason it wont receive any video channels at all .. any help any one

  36. bshiley says:

    Yet another question for the folks that have the ATI 2600XT. Did the system come with a DVI-I to HDMI adapter?

    Thanks in advance,

    Brian

  37. Anonymous says:

    Check out one of Robert Scoble’s recent posts regarding connecting a MacMini to an HDTV . He runs through

  38. Keith Combs says:

    Mable, you are confident the coax going into the Hauppauge tuner has a good signal?  Which tuner do you have?

  39. Keith Combs says:

    Brian, I doubt the machine and video card will come with a DVI->HDMI adaptor.  However, you don’t have to spend a bundle on one.  You should be able to get one for about $30.  I have a 12′ DVI->HDMI cable I bought at RadioShack for about $15 on sale.  I think they are selling a 6′ for $29 now.  See http://www.cablestogo.com/product_list.asp?cat%5Fid=3308 for another popular site.

  40. bshiley says:

    Yeah I have seen cheap DVI-HDMI cables and if I knew more about cables I would have researched the cable I purchased which isn’t a DVI-I to HDMI.

    This is a pic of what I purchased.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ShowImage.aspx?Image=12-123-019-03.jpg%2c12-123-019-01.jpg%2c12-123-019-02.jpg&S7ImageFlag=0&Depa=0&Description=BELKIN+PURE+AV+AV52400-08+HDMI-to-DVI+Video+Cable%2c+8+ft

    Can anyone tell me if audio would travel through the cable above through my existing

    Gigabyte GV-RX16P256D-RH out to my Yamaha receiver?

    http://attachments.techguy.org/attachments/102657d1176050507/dvicon.gif

    Thanks to all browsing.

    Brian

  41. Jim Manico says:

    Can you install XP Pro on this baby via a Dell OEM cd?

  42. Keith Combs says:

    Jim, According to the Dell forums, some people are definitely trying to install and run Windows XP.  I have no plans to ever do that, unless it’s in a virtual machine.  Do you have an application that won’t run on Vista?

  43. Keith Combs says:

    Brian, according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radeon_HD, "Among other details, the Radeon HD 2000 series graphics cards features dual-link DVI output with HDCP, and provides a specially designed DVI-to-HDMI dongle for HDMI output that carries both audio and video."

    If that’s true, and the dongle comes with the Dell XPS 420 with the ATI Radeon cards, then all you would need when the machine arrives is a standard HDMI cable.

  44. bshiley says:

    Keith,

    That would be great if that’s the case with the card.  My 420 and the dual ATI cablecard tuners arrive on Jan 2nd so I am pretty anxious to get started answering any questions anyone else has on the experience I have with the system as you have.

    Brian

  45. bshiley says:

    Probably TMI for everyone but thought I’d shoot a link for a pretty good deal on an HDMI cable of 15 feet. I am not a fan of overrated, over marketed HDMI cable. I have more than my share of models but here is the link.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16882021040

    Brian

  46. BMac says:

    Keith~

    After having my CableCards activated I am now receiving a Restricted Content message in MC that reads – restrictions set by the broadcaster or originator of the content prohibit playback of the program on this computer.

    Did you experince this? With the CableCard in I can’t view anything. Take it out and I can get SD and over the air HD without a problem.

    Cable company insists that everything is a go on their side. Monitor and Video Card are both HDCP compliant.

    About the most I could find while researching this issue is a possible issue with DRM. Any thoughts you may have would be appreciated.

    Thanks…

    –BMac

  47. Keith Combs says:

    BMac,

    What monitor are you using and how is it connected?  Which video card are we talking about?

    Since you mentioned OTA HD, how are you receiving that?  Another tuner card, HDHomeRun or what?

    Keith

  48. Keith Combs says:

    Sam, sorry I forgot to reply abput Directv.  It’s my understanding recording HD content from Media Center is still not possible.  I hear Directv is working on a solution, but I do not have an ETA.

  49. Andrew Dignan says:

    The XPS 420 Dell shipped to ZDNET for their Review had a Remote….

    http://review.zdnet.com/desktops/dell-xps-420/4505-3118_16-32716531.html

    "The Dell’s price also includes a fancy, $70 LCD-equipped (non-SideShow) remote control"

  50. BMac says:

    Keith~

    The monitor I’m using is a Dell 2407WFP-HC (Digital) and the video card is an NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT. Without the CableCard inserted I can view SD and a few OTA HD signals via a standard coaxial homerun cable connected to the ATI TV Tuner.

    One thing I did notice on the Tuner Diagnostics available in MC is that when I click on the Signal radio button the Physical Channel says Unavailable and the Carrier and PCR Lock say Locked. However, the cable company says they have correclty activated the card.

    –Barry

  51. BMac says:

    Keith~

    Sorry, the monitor is connected via a DVI cable. Per Dell Support I ran the SFC /Scannow

    utility and it reported the following…

    Verification 99% complete.Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files but wa

    s unable to fix some of them.

    Details are included in the CBS.Log windirLogsCBSCBS.log. For example

    C:WindowsLogsCBSCBS.log

    The problem is I don’t know how to correct the corrupted files that were not corrected, I also don’t know how they would be corrupt on a brand new machine. I tried opening the log file but got an access denied message.

    –BMac

  52. bshiley says:

    Can we order extra tuners on Dell’s site after the purchase of the system?  I know there are hacks to enable more than two tuners but can’t find part #’s on Dell to order more.

    Thanks,

    Brian

  53. Keith Combs says:

    BMac, My physical channel says the same thing and it is working.  Did this ever work when the cable installer came?

    If I were you, I’d try a couple things.  First, I would change the connection to your monitor to be VGA instead of DVI.  Most likely you have a DVI->VGA adaptor from one of your video cards.  If that works, then it narrows the problem to two things (the monitor or DVI cable).  If the VGA dongle works, I would try a different DVI cable.  If that fails, then it sounds like the issue is with the monitor and how it reports itself to the OS.  

  54. Keith Combs says:

    Brian, You can always call Dell and see.  I doubt it, but you never know.  If they do sell them for a good price, let us know.  Sony sells the tuners individually on their site at

    http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10551&storeId=10151&langId=-1&productId=8198552921665246461 for a measley $300 each.  

  55. Keith Combs says:

    Thanks Andrew (on the remote comment). I’ll follow-up with Dell customer service.  Looks like a nice remote.  Better than the old clunker I have.

  56. BMac says:

    Thanks Keith~

    No, once the Cable Tech got the pairings he left. At the time MC was in the process of downloading the Guide info. Once that finished is when I started getting the Restricted Content. I called the Cable Company back and they resent the Hit and Init commands and verified the pairings again. I was able to see the commands through the Trace on the ATI’s web page.

    I did try with a differnt DVI cable and a different monitor with a VGA connection. No change.

    On the ATI TV Tuner’s web page on the DRM tab I have the following settings…

    Channel Format – Analog

    Program Number – 1

    Encryption Status – 1

    Is that what you have?

    Regards…

    –BMac

  57. Keith Combs says:

    BMac,

    It sounds to me like the Media Center Shell is not OCUR activated. My DRM page values are Digital, a number, and yes for encryption status.

    What happened when you went through TV Settings, TV Signal, Setup TV Signal and select Configure my TV signal automatically?

    Did it get to the point were it detects Digital Cable, then a couple of wizard pages later to should ask you if you want to activate your cable card.  Have you ever been asked that?  When asked, you will need to supply the Digital Cable product key located on the Certificate of Authenticity (COA).  That COA is on the back bottom left corner of my machine.

    The activation process can be performed before the CableCard pairing process so I presume it can be done again.  CableCard pairing seems to me unrelated to digital cable activation, but I don’t know for sure.

    FYI, I have the Microsoft Digital Cable Installation Guide, the Troubleshooting Guide and a video on the subject I’ll likely post very soon.  It looks like the guides are designed for cable installers, not the general public but I see nothing that seems Microsoft Confidential about the information.  I have requested permission to post part or all of the stuff I have.  That should be very helpful if I get permission.

  58. BMac says:

    It appears to go through OK. It finds my Digital Signal and CableCard but it has never prompted me to enter the COA. It asks if I want to use the CableCard, I say yes, it shows the Host, Data, etc., but never prompts me to enter the number. Is there a way to force it to prompt for the COA?

    The very first time I tried to do the configuration I received a message with regards to my machine not being cable ready. On Dell’s support website I found a case on this. The solution was to use the COA # and change the Window’s Activation Product Key with this number. I did this, received a success message, and then I was able to go through the MC wizards without any issues. I wonder if this is the problem?

  59. Keith Combs says:

    One other thing Bmac, can you supply the exact message you receive when you tune to a HD channel that you know is in your authorized package?  Keep in mind the guide listings will generally include every channel the cable provider sells.

    In my case, I don’t get a couple of tiers but those channels still show in the guide unless I manually remove them.  I’m just making sure you are testing with channels you pay for.

  60. bshiley says:

    I have been on the phone for over 20 minutes with Dell. The guy has no clue and has rattled off every tuner card but the one I purchased. It’s looking like a no go as of now. Hoping someone pushes on further than I did.

    Brian

    For the record the Dell part # for the ATI Digital Cable tuner is A1210307.  It doesn’t show up on Dell’s website from what I have searched. But that’s what’s on my invoice.

  61. BMac says:

    Keith~

    When I have the CableCard in I get nothing at all. No premium channels or standard. I get the following message…

    Restricted Content

    Restrictions set by the broadcaster or originator of the content prohibit playback of the program on this computer.

    I take the CableCard out and I get standard channels plus the unencrypted QAM HD channels you mentioned in your original Blog.

  62. Keith Combs says:

    Bmac,

    At this point I’m going to ask you to post your information to the thread at
    http://www.dellcommunity.com/supportforums/board/message?board.id=Tech_Talk_XPS&thread.id=27536 since that is a better support forum.  

    I’m a little suspicious you might have put the wrong key in for the cable card activation, but I would not think the key would be accepted if it was a Windows Vista OEM ket when it really wanted the digital tuner activation key.

    Regardless, you need to get the proper support advice from Dell since they may have some OEM tests you can run.  The person in the thread above has the exact same problem you described… unless of course thats really you.

  63. Dan_IT says:

    Would there me any advantage to upgrading the chip to the E6850 for $50?

  64. Mark Lodge says:

    Hey Kieth

    Just to let you know that this forum/website is really informative to someone, like myself, who is considering purchasing an XPS 420. You’ve done a really good job.

    Cheers

    Mark

  65. Keith Combs says:

    Thanks Mark. See, Microsoft isn’t the evil empire.  We’re almost normal people, too.

    Dan, you can compare the processors side-by-side at
    http://compare.intel.com/pcc/showchart.aspx?mmID=885492,890642&familyID=1&culture=en-US

    I always wanted a Quad processor.  It sounds so kewl.  I think the 6850 has a very slight perf edge.  Check around the grid for benchmarks.  Tomshardware and places like that should have some good empirical data to look at.

  66. Andrew says:

    I have a couple of questions about the xps 420 case.

    I hear that XPS case is BTX rather than ATX and has a BTX motherboard and PSU.

    In the future if i ever had to replace the motherboard or PSU can the case accept ATX components as getting a new BTX PSU and motherboard may not be easy.

  67. Daniel H says:

    Thanks for the very informative posts. I have some questions regarding the quality of TV on your computer.

    1) Live TV:

    Live TV is played by your Video Card (8600 GTS) on your Dell LCD Monitors. What is the quality of TV? Here is what I would expect: In terms of color fidelity and contrast, it should be noticeably worse that the LCD HDTVs such as SONY’s Bravia series. But there is one important advantage: since you can resize the TV frame to fit the native resolution of the original TV program, you can avoid lots of digital artifacts generated due to upscalling on an LCD HDTV.  As a result, analog TV programs are more watchable while the HDTV TV programs are less so, compared to a standalone LCD HDTV. Is that the case?

    2) Replay of the recorded TV programs:

    How do you replay the recorded programs? Do you replay them on your Dell Monitors or on your LCD HDTV?  What is the TV quality when replayed?

    Thanks,

    Daniel

  68. bshiley says:

    Will this blog roll to multiple pages instead of scrolling to the bottom for each additional post? Just curious.

    Thanks.

  69. Keith Combs says:

    This blog like all others will roll from my main page to another page.  You can get to those via the Next link at the bottom of the page.  The color for the Next link makes it a little hard to see.

    You can also find this post three or four other ways.  You can click the December 2007 link.  You can click one of the four tags.  Or you can search for XPS 420.  It should be easy to find with any of those methods.

  70. Keith Combs says:

    Daniel H,

    I have not made any comparison on the various displays that are possible.  I have only looked at the recording results on my two Dell flat panel monitors and my HP DLP MD5880n via the Xbox 360.  My flat panel monitors are connected via VGA so the video is not supposed to be 720p, 1080i or 1080p.  Supposedly it’s 520p but I have not verified that yet.  

    The Xbox 360 is connected via component and is outputting 1080i.

    Both look great.

    I have no plans to connect my machine directly to my DLP.  If I did, it would be a DVI->HDMI connection which I have used in the past with the previous MCE 2005 machine.  I would expect some improvement with a connection like that, but the machine is staying in my office where it belongs.

    Cheers

  71. Ken says:

    Keith,

    Excellent write-up!  Showed your Article to Mrs. Santa before Christmas.. and FedEx completed the journey from the North Pole last night. Dell honored our request to NOT ship via DHL. Hint: Mr. Santa covertly ordered a different Dell model for Mrs. Santa on Dec 16th.. and we’re waiting for Dell’s replacement to arrive via Next Day (FedEx) on the 8th.

    Dell status shows ATI Single Tuner estimated shipment today, and I figured that would explain the missing remote, but it appears others have similar issue?  We’ll see if Dell is as helpful as they’ve been so far.  IM chat or Email options seem to work better than calling.

    Can you say which 1TB drive brand/model you’re using?

    FYI: My ATI-based HSI HD3850 non-Dell video card upgrade with DVI-to-HDMI adapter arrives on Fri, so we’ll see if the sub400W BTX Power Supply can take it.  Happy New Year!

  72. Toms says:

    Keith,

    Thanks for the informative review! I would appreciate it if you had any thoughts on these followup points:

    1. What are your impressions of the machine’s noise level?

    2. If you record a program that is available in clear QAM, is it still encrypted/DRMd so that you can’t play it anywhere else?

    thanks,

    -tom-

  73. dennis says:

    hey keith – first great site – has been really helpful.  anyway i ordered a dell machine and it has been a nightmare ever since.  i am a first time dell customer and my experience has been scary to say the least.  rather than bore you with those details and the fact that my ati tuners have been delayed twice and is the sole purpose of why i purchased the dell i have a question.  first i ordered the machine with 4gb of 800mhz ram and the system is showing that i only have 3.25gb installed – is that wierd or does it have to do with the dell os build – can i correct?  i have several macs and have 2gb of memory in them and the avail memory is 1.9gb – it seems weird to be that far from 4gb.  should i re-image the machine and if i do will i screw my machine up for the ati tuners when and if they arrive.

  74. Keith Combs says:

    Ken, I am using the Hitachi 1TB drive.  See http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822145164.  Wait til they go back on sale and go below $300.  I paid $279 for my last one.  They are fast, quiet and cool running.

    TomS, I haven’t actually tried yet, but my understanding is that EVERYTHING is DRM’d.  So if you have one or more ATI Digital Cable tuners with CableCards and add an OTA tuner or something like HDHomeRun, all recordings will get DRM’d and will not be available for further copy, transcoding or modifications.  Trust me, we have had a lot of internal discussion inside Microsoft on this topic and a number of others so I am hopeful this will change in 2008.  Hopefully early 2008.  In a few weeks when I have time, I’ll add my HDHomeRun unit to the mix and see what happens.

    Dennis, what you are seeing is normal for a 32bit 4GB configuration.  There is a finite address space possible and the PCI bus (and their devices) consume part of the 4GB addresses.  If you move to a 64bit OS, you’ll see that most machines (desktop or current gen laptops) will allow to adress the entire 4GB of RAM since the PCI addresses can be moved.  That’s the simple explanation.  There are a number of KB articles that give you the gory details.  This is one of the reasons I am running the x64 version of Windows Vista Ultimate.

  75. Anonymous says:

    Robert’s good people but sometimes he irks me.  He does that on purpose of course.  Creating

  76. Michael Scott says:

    Keith: You say in your first or second paragraph "I had a couple of goals.  First and foremost, it’s a video editing workstation". Yet I’m not hearing anything about video Editing ! I’m hearing recording TV shows. What program are you using ?

    Adobe Premiere? are you doing just straight cuts? Is the program you are using perform smoothly when editing ?  sincerly, Michael Scott

  77. Keith Combs says:

    Yea, my video work took a small back seat to Christmas, chores around the house, shopping, visiting relatives, messing with the cablecard stuff, messing with the esata port and RAID setup, you name it.  I’ll start doing some real work soon with the machine.

    I have several programs Vegas, Adobe Premier Elements, etc.  You can see some detail about the camera I have at http://blogs.technet.com/keithcombs/archive/2007/10/13/the-hd-video-camera-i-have.aspx.  

    I’d like to learn how to do some green/blue screen chroma color edits but I haven’t purchased a cloth or screen yet and some lighting.  Most of the stuff I’m shooting right now is just the typical family stuff.

    Matt and I plan to use the cameras for interviews.  We’d like to interview people while we are out and about on various subjects.  I’d like to take those videos and produce a variety of formats for DVD, streaming and progrssive download.

  78. tony says:

    Hi Keith,

    I’ve just bought one of these machines, flattened it straight away and put x64 on, but I’m having problems with finding 64-bit drivers for everything.  I’ve spoken to Dell (UK) and they’ve told me they won’t support or supply drivers for any system running 64-bit operating systems.  I’ve got drivers for the gtx from Nvidia, but what about all the motherboard drivers with integrated sound/network, the card reader etc?

  79. Keith Combs says:

    I didn’t have to do anything special for my machine except to install the NVIDIA drivers for my 8600 GTS.  All of the network, sound, etc. were either "inbox" drivers or flowed off update.microsoft.com.  Inbox drivers are the drivers on the Windows Vista DVD.  When I review the devices for my machine, there are no "banged out" drivers.

  80. Ktrader says:

    Nice site here.  Have a question about the XPS 420 with VISTA.  I plan to replace the ATI HD 2400 graphics card it came with.  I am planning to use a ATI Fire MV 2400 PCIE that will support 4 monitors.  I trade financials so I need the real estate.  Do you think I would encounter any issues doing that?  Thanks.

  81. Keith Combs says:

    Ktrader, I have no idea. Most of my friends are using the Matrox Triple head products for three monitors.  See http://www.matrox.com/graphics/en/gxm/products/th2go/digital/home.php for those.  

    Good luck with four.  Make sure whoever you buy from has a good return policy.

  82. tony says:

    I couldn’t get anything through any auto-updates or searches since one of the devices that wasn’t functioning was the network card I need to access the internet.  I had a poke about the US Dell site though and it contained all the drivers I need for Vista 64-bit.  I have no idea why Dell UK are only supplying 32-bit Vista, not providing 64-bit drivers on their website or on the CD/DVDs that come with the hardware and are telling people they won’t have anything to do with 64-bit.  Thanks anyway 🙂

  83. dennis says:

    hey guys – just wanted to give an update – i finally got my dell machine and cable cards – updated the tuner firmware and am getting that restricted content error.  i even tried using the vga cable to see if there was a potential of hdcp issues – no luck.  i even re-activated the machine using the digital cable card number on the back of the machine by using the right click properties on the computer icon.  i called dell tech support and this tech rep i talked to didnt even know they sold cable card tuners.  he was on the phone with me for 45 minutes and basically told me about websites to shorten long url "tiny URL" but had nothing to offer from a tech solution standpoint.  i have tried many of the things that are spoken about in other forums to no avail.  i will try a couple more things — maybe a re-image of the hard drive to get rid of all this pre loaded junk and if that doesnt work i will send the machine back.  its unfort that people are having these issues and tech support really has no clue.  cool idea, that cable labs has made so complex to setup which will most likely die and early death because of complexity.

  84. Keith Combs says:

    Dennis,

    What video card are you using?  Are you using the ATI 2400 that was offered up until yesterday?  If so, I would have a chat with them about that.

    Regards,

    Keith

  85. dennis says:

    keith i have the nvidia 88oo gt 512mb

  86. dennis says:

    just called the cable company and they assured the cards are added and i also did the ati trace and received the proper c link message when verizon activated the fios cards – would it help to re-install vista that came with the dell?

  87. Keith Combs says:

    I would contact Dell for resolution or head on over to thegreenbutton.net forums.  All of the experts hang out there.

  88. dennis says:

    ok i will check the greebutton – i called dell and they put a ticket in – i wasnt too hopeful with there guidance given there tech rep didnt even know they sold cable card tuners

  89. BMac says:

    dennis~

    Please see this thread on the Dell Forum…

    http://www.dellcommunity.com/supportforums/board/message?board.id=Tech_Talk_XPS&thread.id=27536&view=by_date_ascending&page=1

    I know your pain. Basically, this is a "bug" in the BIOS. In other words, your BIOS was not activated correctly to support Digital Cable. A fix was found for this. Post your issue on this thread and ask Chris (moderator) to get in touch with you.

    –BMac

  90. dennis says:

    hey guys – i am being told by chris over in the dell community that my card the nvidia 8800 is he problem which now totally confuses me because Keith i believe you mentioned you had the 8800 and is working fine

  91. Keith Combs says:

    I don’t know why he’d be confused.  I have a 8600 GTS.

    I would recommend keeping the questions for support of this nature on their support forum area.  This blog post is getting pretty long and I don’t want people reading it have to deal with a ton of user specific issues that may not pertain to them.

    For those of you reading this the first time, head over to
    http://www.dellcommunity.com/supportforums/board?board.id=Tech_Talk_XPS for the area I mentioning.

    Sorry Dennis, I think it’s up to Dell to resolve the issue you are seeing.  If you are still inside your RMA window, it might be time to use that card.  A bunch of RMAs will get the attention of any OEM and they’ll have to evaluate the shipped design.

  92. Don McGarry says:

    Keith-

    Thanks for the nice writeup.

    My XPS 420 arrives on Thursday.  I’m looking to do something similar to you and have a few questions…

    1. Did you run into any x64 Driver issues with the Dell Hardware?  I dl’d everything Dell had under x64 drivers…but figure I would check with someone who has actually done it.

    2. Have you upgraded the memory yet?  If so, what sticks did you get?  What is your system’s current memory config?  Are they actually running at 800MhZ?  Does the XPS BIOS allow you to change the Memory Voltage?

    This is my first purchased system since my Tandy Color Computer…so I’m wary of losing the control I had over my built systems.  

    Thanks Again!

  93. Brian says:

    "If you reinstall the OS more than one time, you’ll likely break the OCUR HD recording capability if you have the ATI digital cable tuners"

    Can anyone confirm this??? This seems a little strange if this is the case… Anyone have any experience? or have you found out any more about this keith? Thanks

  94. Keith Combs says:

    Don:

    1. No. I have no banged out drivers nor do I have any outstanding issues other than resume recording which I have not tested since my last and hopefully final install.  I’ll probably post another blog post in a few days on the exact steps I took.  I documented them in my journal in detail.

    2. Regarding memory, nope.  I will probably wait for two things.  First, I have a $200 gift card coming that was included in the deal for my machine.  Second, I’ll probably wait and see if I consume all 3GB regularly and really need more.  Righ now I don’t think I need more but my testing has really gone to the side as I am still trying to catch up with my real work.  When I do pull the 3GB out, I’ll likely replace the sticks with 8GB of 800Mhz goodness.  I don’t know what brand or source yet but I do have $200 Dell dollars to spend soon.

    Brian:

    Let me clarify the comment a bit.  When you purchase the XPS 420, the OCUR activation key is already present on the system so that users typically aren’t prompted for the key.  

    The XPS 420 comes with an interesting partitioning design.  Dell is using the Windows Recovery Environment (RE) for restores of the OS if something bad happens.  Those restores should also restore the OCUR key and therefore permit HD recording.

    In my case, I wiped all of that away and am running what would be considered an unsupported configuration by Dell.  At least until they decide to start supporting 64bit versions of our OS.  The BIOS eSATA bug bit me as well so I burned some activations I didn’t expect.

  95. sam says:

    Hi Keith,

    I posted here before regarding the Direct TV HD issue.  You said Direct TV is working on getting High Definition to work with media center and the TV tuner.  So do you think I should wait and keep this TV tuner (ATI Digital Cable Card tuner) until they figure it out? Or should I just return it?

    Also, would this TV tuner and media center work with Direct TV if it is just standard television?

  96. ryan says:

    I just got this same system for 936 – with the GeForce 8800 GT, and 500gig 7200rpm HD.

    Check it out:

    http://forums.slickdeals.net/showpost.php?p=9699327&postcount=2

  97. chris iz says:

    keith-

    i am going to buy an xps 420 within the next week… i dont know that much about watching tv or recording tv on the computer… a few questions (probably somewhat basic, so i apologize)

    1) do u need to pay for cable, and hook your computer up to it, or does the computer just get cable off the internet?

    2) does it get channels like hbo, nfl network, and mtv?

    3) what is the difference between the 5 "tv tuner and video accelerators" listed?  they are these 5…

    Xcelerator with Hauppauge HVR1250 Hybrid TV Tuner and Remote

    ATI Theater 650 PRO Combo Analog/Digital TV Tuner with Remote Control

    Xcelerator with ATI Theater 650 PRO Combo TV Tuner and Remote

    ATI Theater 650 PRO Combo TV Tuner with Gyroscopic Remote and Xcelerator

    Single ATI TV Wonder™ Digital Cable Tuner

    WHICH DO I WANT?

    4)what sound card and speakers would u recommend?

    5) specs listed below… do i need a processor upgrade?  how about a ram upgrade?

    THANK YOU FOR YOUR ADVISE…!!!

    -CHRIS

    SPECS:

    Intel® Core™2 Q6600 Quad-Core (8MB L2 cache,2.4GHz,1066FSB)

    Genuine Windows Vista® Ultimate with Digital Cable Support

    3GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz – 4 DIMMs

    750GB – 7200RPM, SATA 3.0Gb/s, 16MB Cache

    Dual Drives: Blu-ray Disc Combo (DVD+/-RW + BD-ROM) and 16x DVD+/-RW

    24 inch UltraSharp™ 2407FPW Widescreen Digital Flat Panel

    512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT

    Integrated 7.1 Channel Audio

  98. Sergio says:

    Hi Keith,

    Great info for helping me decide on buying the xps420. I will do that in a few weeks while I research some more on how I want to build my system. I like the setup that you have with cablecard tuners and all the fancy video stuff.

    When I buy my system I don’t plan to get that setup right away, but install them later on when I can afford it. I will be mainly using it to view and record cable tv and some digital cam video. I did want to get the NVIDIA 8600GTS video card instead of the less expensive ATI 2400 that comes standard with the base unit. However, when I looked at dell’s web site they are charging an extra $200 for the 8600, which is about the price that I would pay if I bought it separately. And for only $50 more I can get the 8800. So I guess my question would be:

    1. Why would you buy the 8600 when for only $50 more you could get the 8800?

    2. Do you think it makes more sense to get the base system and later on (when I buy the cablecard tuner and other video stuff) buy the 8600 or 8800 while using the 2400 to replace the video card of another computer, since it seems that when buying the NVIDIA cards they don’t discout the price of the ATI card. So you really end up paying for two cards and only getting one. Or I’m I wrong in this part.

    3. Also on the Hard drive, it is only $80 more to go from the 320GB to the 500GB. Isn’t it better to backup the GHOST image some where and use it instead of buying an new 500GB HD.

    Once again, thanks for the review. It is one of the best that I have found.

    Sergio

  99. Andy says:

    Did it take shorter or longer for most people to receive there system? I bought one today on the 17th of january and it is telling me I will receive it on the 5th of next month. That is an incredible amount of time when I could of just newegged the parts and got a better system. For some reason the little LCD screen makes me want this bad boy plus I got a good deal with a few coupons 6600+4GB+500GB+dual Blue Ray+8800 ,,,ect for 1029. I got the free three to 5 day shipping and am thinking I could just call and complain and get the next day shipping option. But the problem is its not suppose to be built until the 1st of next month and that is insane.

  100. Dave says:

    I just order one myself, DUO 6850, 3GB, dual Blu ray + 8800 512mg. Should I install the 64 bit? Why? I heard it had some compatibility issues.  

  101. Michael Scott says:

    Keith: Please tell me if the deal mentioned here for $936.00 is real.

    Can anyone get that price ?

    Michael Scott

  102. rik dahlstrom says:

    thanks for all of the info here…but if I just want a 420 with the ATI 650 and xcelerator to record from DTV and then create a DVD…will the system give you good quality output? Is there a certain vid card you think I should get?

    I am not worried about HDTV @ this time.

  103. tom says:

    HD works!  Dell agreed with me and said the ATI 2400 is now not compatible the the cablecard tuner and sent me a 2600XT.

  104. chris iz says:

    i also cannot get the $936.00 deal.  i cant even come close actually.  can someone please advise how one would get this deal?

  105. tom says:

    It looks like the price went up for the cablecard tuners by $19. (about what the remote costs)

  106. Thomas (T00Lm@n) says:

    I ordered my XPS 420 on 22 jan. First Dell mailed that they expect delivery on the 6th of february. On the 24th I did get an delivery update. The planned delivery is now on the 28th!! Yeah !! (in the Netherlands)

    Can someone acknowledge if the noise level is low?

    Below is my config in Dutch (sorry):

    Base

    Intel® Core2 Quad Core Q6600 Processor (2,40 GHz, 8 MB, 1.066 MHz)

    Geheugen

    2.048 MB 667 MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM [2 x 1.024]

    Toetsenbord

    Dell™ Enhanced USB-multimediatoetsenbord – VS/Euro (QWERTY)

    Monitor

    Geen monitor

    Grafische kaart

    SINGLE 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 8800GT card

    Harde schijf

    640 GB Dual harde schijf, RAID 0 Stripe (2 x 320 GB – 7.200 rpm)

    Diskette-/mediastations

    19-in-1 geheugenkaartlezer

    Besturingssysteem

    Legitieme Windows Vista™ Home Premium – Nederlands

    Muis

    Dell Premium optische muis met schuifwiel

    Modem

    Geen modem

    Optische stations

    16x DVD+/-RW-station

    Geluidskaarten

    Geïntegreerde HD-audio met Dolby Digital 7.1

    Luidsprekers

    Geen luidsprekers

    Draadloze connectiviteit

    Interne 802.11b/g draadloze PCI-kaart

    Verzendingsdocumenten

    XPS 420 – Engelse documentatie met Europese stroomkabel

    Gedis-pakketreferentie

    D01X412

    Microsoft-software

    Microsoft® Works 8.0 – Nederlands

    Standaardondersteuning

    Basisgarantie – 1 jaar XPS Premium hardwaresupport (incl.support on-site en voor games)

    Ondersteuningsdiensten

    Basisgarantie – 1 jaar XPS Premium hardwaresupport (incl.support on-site en voor games)

    Beveiligingssoftware

    Geen beveiliging/antivirusbeveiliging – Nederlands

    Bestelgegevens

    XPS Desktop Order – Netherlands

    Systeemmedia

    XPS 420 – DVD met hulpbronnen

    Accidental Damage Support

    Geen Accidental Damage-support

    Totaalprijs:

    € 854,10

  107. Thomas (T00Lm@n) says:

    I did some research on the noise level and allready found the answer. Dell does have an environmental report for each system on http://www.dell.com/content/topics/global.aspx/corp/environment/en/prod_datasheets?c=us&l=en&s=gen

    Another good "sound" site is Silentpcreview. At http://www.silentpcreview.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=44823 an owner of an XPS 420 says:

    The XPS 420 is the quietest pre-assembled computer I’ve ever encountered. I really don’t understand how it is possible to cool a computer with a single 120 mm fan, but it seems Dell has has done it. My dad has a similar configuration (4 GB RAM, 8600 GTS) and it is inaudible. The q6600 hits about 60C after 30 min at load if I remember correctly.

    Provided I haven’t experienced an anomalous case, I’d highly recommend the XPS 420 if you don’t DIY.

  108. Keith Combs says:

    Michael, I have no idea if the $936 USD deal posted at slickdeals is real or not.  You’ll have to figure that one out on your own.

    FYI, everyone.  I think I’ve covered as much as I can on this post so my comments to it will become rare.  In addition, I will likely not approve any further comments unless they provide some interesting or key information I think might benefit this post.  In fact, I may go back and remove some comments just to trim this monster down.  

    I hope you understand.

  109. Keith,

    I believe this thread is dead now, but you asked that I report back on the performance of the ATI HD 2400 PRO, which I ordered with my system.

    The picture from the card is great and the performance seems to be ok. I have noticed that the picture does not always keep up with rewind when watching a recorded program. I have not tried to identify the root cause yet, but I guess it could be video card related.

    Another note for those considering this card: the documentation is a bit misleading. The HDMI support comes via an included DVI adapter not a HDMI port on the card. This might be obvious to everyone but me.

    I also have a question for you – you mentioned in early posts that you had problems with your system missing recordings when in standby. Have you reached any resolution for this?

    I have a similar problem. Sometimes when returning from standby, my tuners report that they are receiving no signal. If I change the channel, everything returns to normal. This is obviously an issue when a recording starts from standby. If you have any thoughts on this, please let me know.  

    -Mark

  110. Obel says:

    Hi Mark,

    Could you confirm that you indeed got a DVI-HDMI adapter for 2400 (128MB version?) with XPS 420 purchase? Mine was delivered around Jan. 30 and didn’t come with one.

    BTW my 2400 has no problem at all driving a 720p HDTV (37" LCD) at 1360×738 resolution through VGA connection. Even with a 1080i HD playing in VMC, a Sling Player, and a HD WMV playing at the same time, the GPU usage was less than 80%. I did boost clock speed to 600MHz through CCC though.

    Obel

  111. james says:

    Hello,

    I purchased this computer and it’s awsome! The only downside is that a few of my Audio programs act funky with Vista. As a result I will have to install windows XP pro.

    My question: Will Windows XP support 4 cores?

  112. darrell says:

    Well mine should arrive tomorrow, thxs for all the info hope its works as well as everybody says, is my third dell and they always been good. Any comments on a good multi-func-printer to replace my 940 printer. Thxs Darrell

  113. Tim W says:

    Answer for James above: My Quadcore Optiplex 755 at work came with XP Pro and shows 4 CPUs in the performance meters – and they all get used.

    I really like my XPS 420, thanks for this page.

  114. shannon says:

    Fantastic Post.

    Has anyone tried using WebGuide for Windows with their ATI/Cable card tuner.  

    Specifically, can I watch my encripted channels on my laptop while travelling from my home WebGuide computer??

    Best,

    Shannon

  115. Robbie says:

    Hello there, im an Xps 420 owner too. I purchased a 2.4 Quad Core, 4g Ram at 800mhz, 500g hard drive wtih the 8800Gtx 768mb card on Vista Ultimate 32bit (Dell failed to mention the 32bit wouldnt recognise 4g of Ram) and i have it on a 24 inch Phillips hd lcd tele.

    So far all ive used it for is College work and minor gaming, i want to challenge my computer. But to be honest i really dont know to much about computers just a tad more than the average person.

    So can anyone tell me what i can use this for other than college??

    Thanks Rob

  116. Ari Tai says:

    fyi, the ATI Wonder digital receiver require single stream (channel) cablecards.  The latest Tivo (v3) and some CE appliances support multiple (2) stream cablecards.  

    Comcast by default is sending out their installers with the multistream cards, so be sure to ask for singles or risk a wasted morning.

  117. Ari Tai says:

    re: webguide to (re)stream and play remotely.

    Yes, check out the postings by Steven Lindsay at http://www.on10.com.  Even transcodes to low enough bit rates for viewing on your smartphone.

    Best to play the vid as rendered in the search returns <a href="http://www.onten.net/Search/Default.aspx?Term=lindsay"here</a&gt; (bad url otherwise).

  118. Keith Combs says:

    Ari,

    M-Mode cards will work just fine in them, they just won’t multistream since the hardware doesn’t support it.  

    I have friends with a mix of both M-Mode and single stream cards and they worked without any issues in their particular implementations.

    I guess it depends on the system supplying the feed.  But you are right, it’s probably best to request the single stream cards since there’s no point in having the multistream card if it doesn’t buy you anything.

  119. Anonymous says:

    As you’ll recall, back in December I purchased a Dell XPS 420 then posted comments about my new toy.&#160;