Dell Optiplex 755 review – Part 1

To start out the new year, I decided to upgrade 3 of my existing PCs to new ones. My goals were:

  • Save energy
  • Improve performance
  • Get systems that still had PS/2 ports and serial ports before they were discontinued

The reason for the 3rd item is that I use a specialty keyboard (in particular, the DEC/Compaq/HP LK450 family) which is very hard to find in USB form and which my applications don’t support in USB mode. So I needed PS/2 support. Many vendors are moving to so-called “legacy-free” systems that don’t have these ports.

I usually purchase Dell PCs as they do a good job of integrating quality components (at least in the business-class systems) at a good price. I could probably build a similar system for a comparable price, but in my opinion it isn’t worth the hassle. What is best for anyone else probably depends on how they value their time.

I had recommended the Optiplex 740 (AMD-based) for a friend, and he was quite happy with them (I think his systems came in at under $400 each, complete). But I was looking for higher performance, and Dell wasn’t offering quad-core AMD systems. [Apparently there are L3 cache issues with the new AMD quad-core units that are severely limiting availability of parts.]

So I selected the Optiplex 755. I chose the Optiplex for a number of reasons. First, it is possible to order these with a PS/2 adapter that gives you PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports as well as a second serial port. Next, it comes with US-based tech support – not that I call for software help, but I’d like to be able to convince the tech to “just send me the part” to fix the unit, without needing to do the whole song-and-dance of running tests I already did, seeing if a software update will fix it, etc. – and that seems to be a lot easier with domestic tech support.

I spec’d a high-end (but not top-of-the-line) model as follows:

1 223-1202 OptiPlex 755 Minitower,Core 2 Quad Q6600/2.40GHz,8M 1066FSB $1164.00
1 420-3699 NTFS File System,Factory Install $0.00
1 311-7375 4.0GB,Non-ECC,800MHz DDR2 4x1GB,OptiPlex 755 $0.00
1 310-8010 Dell USB Keyboard,No Hot Keys English,Black,Optiplex $0.00
1 320-3704 No Monitor Selected, OptiPlex $0.00
1 320-5743 256MB ATI RADEON HD 2400 XT Graphics dual DVI or VGA (TV-out),Full Height,Dell OptiPlex $0.00
1 341-5474 250GB SATA 3.0Gb/s and 8MB Data Burst Cache,Dell OptiPlex755 $0.00
1 341-4005 3.5 inch,1.44MB,Floppy Drive Dell OptiPlex 740,755 and 330 $0.00
1 466-9948 Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2,with Media,DellOptiPlex 320, 740 and 745 English,Factory Install $0.00
1 310-8008 Dell USB 2-Button Entry Mouse with Scroll,Black,OptiPlex $0.00
1 310-9494 iAMT Advanced Hardware EnabledSystems Management, Dell OptiPlex $0.00
1 313-5427 16X DVD+/-RW SATA,Roxio Creator,Cyberlink Power DVD Dell OptiPlex 755 Desktop or Minitower,Black $0.00
1 313-4825 No Speaker, OptiPlex $0.00
1 310-9380 Resource CD contains Diagnostics and Drivers for Dell OptiPlex 755 $0.00
1 341-5470 1394 Controller Card,Full Height,Dell OptiPlex 755 Minitower $0.00
1 310-9504 Energy Smart,Energy Star,EIST for OptiPlex (if applicable) $0.00
1 310-6618 PS2 Serial Port Adapter,Full Height,Dell OptiPlex 330,740 745 and 755 Desktop or Minitower $0.00
1 310-9384 Quick Reference Guide,Dell OptiPlex 755,Factory Install $0.00
1 310-9330 Shipping Material for System Smith Minitower,Dell OptiPlex $0.00
1 985-6030 Basic Support: Next Business Day Parts and Labor Onsite Response Initial Year $0.00
1 989-1587 Dell Hardware Limited Warranty Plus Onsite Service Initial Year $50
1 989-1588 Dell Hardware Limited Warranty Plus Onsite Service Extended Year(s) $183
1 985-0582 Basic Support: Next Business Day Parts and Labor Onsite Response 2 Year Extended $0.00
1 900-9987 Standard On-Site Installation Declined $0.00
1 466-9045 Thank you for buying Intel/Dell $0.00

That was my system for my digital darkroom. The other two systems were the same except that I didn’t order the 1394 card. This system priced out at $1397.00 after discounts, but before tax. Shipping was free.

I ordered the next-to-the-top CPU. Choosing a Q6700 would have been $320 more for only 260MHz more speed. I can always swap the CPU later on.

Some readers may question my choice of 4GB RAM in a 32-bit XP system. While it is true that Windows won’t use all of it, it does use 3.25GB. Dell doesn’t offer this system with a 3GB memory size. 4GB was only $139 more than 2GB.

I also ordered a 30″ widescreen monitor to go with that system:

1 1 223-4890 Dell 3008WFP 30 inch UltraSharp Widescreen Digital EA 1,964.00 1,964.00
      Flat Panel      
1 1 983-5912 *Type 11 Contract – Advanced Ex change, 2 Year Extended EA 0.00 0.00
1 1 988-5588 *Dell Hardware Warranty, Extend ed Year EA 20.00 20.00
1 1 984-2310 *Type 11 Contract – Advanced Ex change, Initial Year EA 0.00 0.00
1 1 988-5587 *Dell Hardware Warranty, Initia l Year EA 15.00 15.00

The systems were ordered on January 13th and were scheduled to ship on January 18th, but actually arrived here on the 17th. That’s amazing service.

The first thing I did upon unpacking the first system was to image the hard drive to my backup server using G4U. This lets me restore things to the as-shipped state without needing to play with restore CDs, system-specific software utilities, etc. Unfortunately, the hardware in the system was too new for G4U to support it, so I resorted to my usual trick of moving the hard drive to one of my utility boxes to do the backup. Dell uses quick-removal brackets for most components (including the hard disk) so the swap was very easy. Once that was done, it was back into the Optiplex for startup.

Upon cabling things up, I discovered that I had ordered the wrong video card for the 3008WFP panel. It uses dual-link DVI, since its maximum resolution of 2560 x 1600 exceeds the limits of a single DVI link. I had assumed that a card listed as “dual DVI” would support dual-link. Silly me… So I ran the panel in 1920 x 1200 mode and ordered a retail Radeon HD 2400 Pro card. I could have asked Dell to swap out the card, but this was arguably my error and they listed the card as on back-order when not part of a system. A note for people who are going to say “why didn’t you get video card X instead?” – I’ve been very happy with ATI cards (in fact, one of the reasons I chose this model was that it included an ATI card) and the newer ATI cards (at least in their retail versions) use a second slot for their cooling fan. As I describe later on, slots are at a premium in this system.

On starting the system up, I was pleased to discover that it was remarkably free of what I call “shovel-ware” – stuff that’s shoveled onto the system to clutter up the desktop and start menu, like “Try AOL for 3 months free!”, “Yahoo! Toolbar”, “Norton AntiVirus Trial Edition” and so forth. I’d much rather install the stuff I want rather than trying to remove all traces of stuff I didn’t want from the system.

I then looked to see what sort of hardware came with the system. The DVD burner was a brand I didn’t recognize (it turns out is is some sort of OEM Philips drive). The hard drive was a Seagate model – very nice. A Vostro 400 (home / home office) system a friend ordered came with a Hitachi Deskstar drive. I prefer the Seagate and I’m glad Dell uses them on their higher-end systems.

I decided to replace the DVD burner with a pair of Pioneer DVR-212D burners. This is a top-rated burner which comes with Cyberlink PowerDVD and Nero Essentials. The version of PowerDVD bundled with the Optiplex had a funky user interface and rather than trying to get it to act like the versions I was familiar with, I just de-installed it and installed the version from the Pioneer accessory disk. Similarly, I de-installed Roxio from the system (I have always loathed that software) and installed Nero.

To be continued… 

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