The Dell Dimension 5100, like its predecessor, the Dimension 4700, is a well-priced, decently powered option for family-room computing. In addition to a striking new design, the 5100 adds modern essentials such as a BTX motherboard and a 64-bit CPU that should keep you from having to replace your system for a few years. You can configure a Dell Dimension 5100 for less than $700, but our test system included the Media Center version of Windows XP, dual TV tuners, two-piece speakers, and a 15-inch LCD, among other upgrades, that bring the price to a still reasonable $1,136. Even so, the Dimension 5100's lack of a dual-core CPU makes the trim 5100C a better option. And if you want the expandability of a midtower case, the AMD-based mainstream HP Pavilion d4100e is a better choice.
With this release, Dell updates the look of its midrange home PC, and we like what we see. The case has been recast in a silver-and-white design, and a removable side panel makes accessing the internal components easier than ever. The insides are well organized, so it's easy to switch components or reach the sole free PCI slot or the two free RAM slots.
The 5100 is a quiet operator, even when performing noisy tasks such as ripping or burning CDs or DVDs on its double-layer, dual-format DVD drive. The reason is its BTX motherboard and what Dell calls its QuietCase technology, which provides better air circulation through a novel cutout section behind the front panel.
Our test system used Intel's 3.0GHz Intel Pentium 4 531 processor, giving the midpriced PC a 64-bit capability. With its not quite cutting-edge CPU, the Dimension 5100 turned in predictable, if uninspiring, performance scores. Its compact cousin, the Dimension 5100C, also has a 3.0GHz CPU, but that one is a dual-core Pentium D 830, which gave the 5100C a 17 percent advantage in CNET Labs' BAPCo SysMark 2004 benchmarks. The single-core AMD-based HP Pavilion d4100e, powered by a 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 4000+ CPU, had the same 17 percent edge.
(Subsequent to our testing, Dell stopped offering the Pentium 4 531 as an option. The closest current option is the Pentium 4 630, which offers double the L2 cache (2MB) and the same 3.0GHz clock speed and 64-bit capability.)
The supplied ATI Radeon X300 SE video card is underpowered for serious 3D gaming, although you can upgrade to the Radeon X600 SE for only $23. To its credit, the Dimension 5100 was able to run Half-Life 2, while our 5100C test system (with integrated Intel 950G graphics) could not. Still, 13.4 frames per second (fps) isn't what you'd call playable. Dell's top-of-the-line Dimension, the 9100, uses an Nvidia GeForce 6800 to churn out 64.5fps on the same test.