Dell XPS 420 six month report


xps420_bluray I’ve had my Dell XPS 420 six months now so I thought I’d give you an update on my impressions of the machine and changes I’m made to it since the initial purchase.  In reality, it just now does everything I want correctly.  Windows Vista SP1 fixed the last issue I had with the machine.  So once again for all of you that want to stick with Windows XP, this machine is a really good reason to go with Windows Vista.

My XPS has been running Windows Vista Ultimate x64 since nearly day one.  All of the applications I use work really well on the 64 bit platform, even though most of them aren’t native 64 bit compiled apps.  I am using two main video editing tools.  Sony Movie Studio Vegas Platinum Edition and Expression Studio 2.  Vegas is my workhorse and I am getting ready to create my first high definition DVD on Blu-ray.  I don’t yet have a Blu-ray disk burner, so if someone has a good recommendation, let me know.

A few weeks ago I pulled the two 512MB RAM sticks and replaced them with two 2GB sticks.  I have a total of 6GB of memory now in the machine.  I don’t really need all of that memory but the memory at dell.com went on sale and I had a $200 gift card waiting to be burned.  So I got some memory, a Zune charger for my wife, and some other stuff.

The one thing that hasn’t worked correctly until recently is the machines ability to wake up from sleep and record a program.  If you are buying one of these to be a DVR, then that would be a key feature that needs to work.  Mine didn’t.  It would sleep correctly.  It would wake up on time and attempt to record.  But the machine wouldn’t record.  It had something to do with how long the tuners need to wake up before they were ready.  I guess they need strong coffee like I do.

A few days ago I upgraded the firmware on my ATI TV Wonder Digital cable tuners.  Here are the links to the new updates:

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

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

After I upgraded the tuners, I installed Windows Vista SP1.  I was told after applying SP1, I should re-apply the NVIDIA video drivers for my 8600 GTS so I did that as well.  Magically everything works now.  For the past three or four days it has woken from it’s slumber, recorded whatever I had scheduled, then gone back to sleep ten minutes after doing the recording.  Yaaay !!!  It has never done that correctly until this week.  I don’t know exactly what fixed the issue.  It was probably the combination of the firmware upgrade, and SP1.

Now keep in mind my XPS 420 is a pretty lowly model by XPS standards.  It has the Intel Q6600 quad core processor.  The video card is a good video card, but it is by no means a top of the line card.  But my machine is very quiet and does exactly what I want it to do, and I have high confidence it will continue to do so for the next three to four years. 

If you are considering one of these, buy with confidence.  Rock solid.  Nice looking.  Good price.

Comments (22)

  1. Andrew Hill says:

    I don’t see Vista x64 as an option from the OEM.  So, did you install Vista x64 on this box or did it come with it?  If you installed Vista x64 any problems getting the ATI TV Wonder Digital cable tuner working?

    Also the Tech Specs on Dell website says it only supports 4GB RAM and crucial’s website says the system only supports 4GB.  So you did get at least 6GB installed and recognized by Vista x64?  I wonder if it will support 8GB.

  2. Keith Combs says:

    The XPS 420 only ships with the x86 verson of Windows Vista. There are some recent threads on the XPS forum that indicate you can call Dell and they’ll ship you the 64bit version of Windows Vista.  In other words, if you order Ultimate x86, you can call and get the x64 version.

    In my case, I obviously have access to the product since I work for the company that made it.  Therefore, I backed up the OEM x86 version then flattened the box and installed the 64bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate.

    Regarding the tuners, I had no issues.  Keep in mind if you flatten the box, you are also wiping the intalled OCUR activation keys.  Therefore when you install x64, you’ll need to reactivate the tuners with the OCUR key on the back of the machine.

    All of the websites reporting the RAM MAX as 4GB are wrong.  If you look closely at the specs on the Dell.com support area, you’ll see it is documented to be 8GB, but you must be running a 64 bit operating system.  It’s true for Windows or Linux.  And yes, Windows Vista sees all of my 6GB.

  3. Andrew Hill says:

    Great!! Thanks!  I have access to Vista x64 also and want to give it a shot, but also didn’t want to lay down a chunk of money and then be disappointed.   My main reason for wanting to go with x64 is for virtualization and want a system that will supprt 8GB RAM.  If I can get this and a digital tuner, I’ll be in IT heaven.  I’m hoping and was lead to believe by someone at MS that a new version of Virtual PC will be forthcoming that will have better support for Vista and x64 (i.e. more like Hyper-V).

    BTW…. I saw you at MMS last week, but didn’t say anything cause I figure you get alot of that.  You were in the HOL area busy at your computer.

    Thanks again!

    Andy

  4. Keith Combs says:

    Oh man, you should have said hello.  It was my last day there before heading to the airport so it would nto have been a big deal.

    Regarding the virtualization, I have not tested any virtualization products with my machine, and really don’t plan to.  It’s primary functions are video editing, hdtv recording, and gaming.

    We are going to ask for some machines for my team, and the XPS 420 is a candidate.  If the request is approved, I certainly test things then since I won’t have to worry about breaking the OCUR capability.

  5. Ed Orlando says:

    I am having some issues finding the OCUR activation keys on the back of my XPS. I see the COA but which one is used to activate the digital cable feature. Thanks in advance

  6. Keith Combs says:

    I believe on my sticker it was the one on the right side.

  7. Andrew Hill says:

    I took the plunge and ordered a Dell XPS 420 last week with the ATI TV Wonder Digital cable tuner.  The order has been delayed once so far, but hoping I’ll get it next week. Can’t wait to get it!

  8. Markus says:

    I took advantage of the weekend sale at Dell and ordered the XPS 420. Since I use my PS3 for FPS gaming, my XPS will be primarily for the latest RTS games which will not work with my 7-year-old Dimension 8200. The question is, though, would it have been better to order a Quad-Core rather than the Duo E8400? I also got the Blu-ray and 16x DVD dual drives with the new 24" UltraSharp to watch HD movies. It’s not too late to change my configuration, so I wanted to know if the Quad-Core 2.4Ghz 1066FSB rather than the Duo 3.0Ghz 1333FSB would be a better config in the long run?

  9. Keith Combs says:

    I haven’t really reviewed any articles on gaming performance of the various Intel CPUs.  I am using mine for video encoding and everything I’ve read indicates the Quad is better pick for that type of work.  So far I am very happy with the Q6600 and the NVIDIA
    8600 GTS.  They are definitely doing the trick.

    One word of warning on the 24".  I assume we are talking about the 2408WFP.  I recently purchased one and returned it.  The one I received had very poor quality.  I reported it on the direct2dell blog at

    http://direct2dell.com/one2one/archive/2008/02/19/46555.aspx to see how they are handling all of the complaints in the forum at

    http://www.dellcommunity.com/supportforums/board?board.id=dim_monitor.

    Just keep that in mind.  If you receive a bad monitor, return it.  Don’t fall into the trap thinking a firmware upgrade is going to fix it and go past your return period.  Once you’ve done that, you are stuck with it.

  10. Markus says:

    Yes, I got the new 2408WFP. I read the reviews, and there were a few poeple who had issues, but they were few. Most had nothing but positive things to say about it. What was the issue you had?

  11. Markus says:

    Yikes, I see a lot of issues on the links you sent. I wonder if I should have gotten the 27" instead?

  12. Keith Combs says:

    If you aren’t receiving a huge discount by buying with the system, and you absolutely don’t need a LCD panel right now, I would wait until the 2408WFP issues are addressed.  

    My panel had blue tinting in the top 30% of the screen and red tinting in the bottom third of the screen. Bad color issues, too.

  13. Markus says:

    Unfortunately it was part of the package deal in order to get a nice discount. But it doesn’t ship until Friday, so we’ll see what issues are addressed by then. Maybe the’ll have the Rev A01 ready by then (yeah right).

  14. Andrew Hill says:

    I got my XPS 420, took an image of HDD (32 bit OEM OS) and installed Vista Ultimate x64, downloaded and installed all the drivers from support.dell.com and then also updated newer drivers for the video and network cards and updated the firmware on the ATI Digital Cable Tuner.   Everything that I’ve tested so far seems to be working OK, except for DVD playback in Media Center and Media Player.  Playback is choppy with video getting hung and buzzing audio.  Cypber Link’s PowerDVD plays just fine.  I’ve not tested a Blu-ray disk playback or digital cable yet.  I’ve got to get Charter out this week to install the cable card.  Analog cable seems to work fine.

    Just wondered if you’ve seen any problems with DVD playback.  Any ideas on how to fix it?

  15. Andrew Hill says:

    It seems that the DVD playback only gets choppy if I try to move around in Media Center while the DVD is playing.  But, if I maximize and/or unmaximize the window it resets the DVD playback and resyncs the audio/video.  Playback is smooth then.

    DVD playback on Media Player is a different story which really doesn’t work at all.

  16. Keith Combs says:

    I am running the codecs that came with Windows Vista.  I didn’t even install the NVIDIA DVD Decoder I have a license for.  DVD playback is very good with media player.

    Which video card are you using?  Might be time to post something to the Dell forum at

    http://www.dellcommunity.com/supportforums/board?board.id=Tech_Talk_XPS and see what happens.

  17. Andrew Hill says:

    I have the Radeon ATI HD 2600 XT video card.  I had previously purchased the CinePlayer DVD Decoder for Windows Vista.  So, I tried that and it didn’t help DVD playback in Media Player.

    I see that you got yours with the NVIDIA 8600 GTS video card.  That card was not an option when I ordered mine, but I thought I was doing good to go with ATI with all the driver problems that I had with NVidia on my old Vista machine.

    I’ll post a question on the Dell forum and see if I get any hits.

    Thanks!

  18. Keith Combs says:

    Unfortunately there have been numerous reports of issues with your video card and it’s my understanding they are replacing it at no cost to you with the newer cards now on the website.  I would open a Dell support ticket immediately for resolution.  Good luck.

  19. Brian Phillips says:

    Keith, great write up, best i have seen in my XPS 420 research.  Quick question about RAID AHCI mode & eSATA.  I am going down the same path you did by purchasing the 420 w/ one drive and Vista Home Premium (will hang large disk array from system later).  I will reinstal with Vista Ultimate after it’s recieved.  From your post below it seems that you reinstalled Ultimate again and did something to flip the AO2 bios to enable RAID and the eSATA port.  Can you fill in the blank for me, or let me know if Dell posted or is shipping with a revised BIOS?  Thank- Brian

    Keith Combs wrote:

    [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.  

  20. Daniel Gombert says:

    Um….Just to be really clear.  No matter how many times I’ve called Dell, or who I’ve talked to, or how many forums I’ve searched, or how many times Dell tech support put me on hold or repeatedly ased me the same questions, whether begging or berating, shouting or sobbing, I’ve been unable to get them to send me a 64 bit replacement, or intelligently answer any of my qestions.  I have the XPS 420, 4 gb ram, E8500 3.16 ghz, intel x38 chipset.  I received service from Dell that I would’ve been embarrassed to receive from McDonalds.  Incidentally, once I deactivated the User Account Control, it runs magically, but I still want 64 bit.  If anyone knows some secret that I don’t, hollar it from the hill tops.

  21. Joann says:

    I saw that if you ordered an XPS 1330 you could have the 64 bit version of Vista shipped to you by Microsoft.  Can you do this with the XPS 420 since the 64 bit version of Vista isn’t available?  Thanks!

  22. Keith Combs says:

    I don’t believe so, but I really don’t know.  I was under the impression the OEM was responsible for doing this.