Taking a page from Apple's design book, Dell gave last year's Dimension 4700C compact desktop a complete makeover both inside and out. The new Dimension 5100C, done up in a glossy white-and-silver case, retains its predecessor's small footprint and offers a bevy of mainstream configuration options for consumers and businesses alike. Our $1,458 test system included Intel's dual-core Pentium D 830 processor and Windows Media Center Edition, but no TV tuner card. It's not a configuration we think many would choose, but Dell provides enough options to please mainstream users interested in productivity and multimedia apps.
Weighing just 16.4 pounds and measuring 12.4 inches high, 3.7 inches wide, and 14.4 inches deep, the 5100C is based on a BTX chassis, which provides a more efficient (read: quiet) method of cooling internal parts than traditional ATX-based systems. The result is an attractive desktop that will fit well in almost any home or business environment. Thankfully, Dell has moved away from the hinged clamshell case that required three hands to open and provided limited access to the interior. Instead, the 5100C's right side panel is easily removed with the push of a button. All drives and expansion slots are also tool free, but there's no room for additional optical or storage drives, and the narrow case limits the 16x and 1x PCI Express slots to only half-height expansion cards.
A button on the front of the system activates a gear-driven mechanism, opening a front panel with two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, audio-in and audio-out jacks, a vertically mounted dual-layer, multiformat DVD burner, and a 9-in-1 media-card reader. The panel, which opens and folds itself over the top of the system, adds to the machine's coolness factor but appears too flimsy to withstand the rigors of everyday use--especially in a busy work environment. Rear ports include five USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, Ethernet and modem connectors, and jacks for integrated 7.1 audio.
The Dimension 5100C has a base price of $849 but can be configured with a choice of five Intel processors (single-core Pentium 4 or dual-core Pentium D) and a variety of multimedia and storage options. Our review system included the fastest option: Intel's dual-core Pentium D 830 running at 3.0GHz, along with 512MB of 533MHz DDR2 memory. You can also choose to configure the 500C with 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB of memory.
On CNET Labs' BAPCo SysMark 2004 application tests, the 5100C performed as expected, coming in 17 percent faster than the single-core, midtower Dell Dimension 5100 and exactly matching the performance of the similarly priced HP d4100e, which features an AMD Athlon 64 4000+ CPU. The next step up the Dell ladder, the Dimension 9100, uses a faster Pentium D 840 processor and runs 15 percent faster.
The 5100C's dual-core CPU promises improved performance on multimedia applications; but while the 5100C ran these applications faster than many single-core systems, it fell behind other dual-core systems, which tend to be more expensive, higher-end computers. The 5100C ran 62 percent slower than the Dell 9100 in our Photoshop test but only 7 percent slower when encoding MP3 files in iTunes. The 5100C managed to beat out the dual-core Sony VAIO VGC-RA842G at MP3 encoding by 42 percent, despite having the same Pentium D 830 CPU.