Dell XPS Desktop (8950) Review

The XPS Desktop (starts at $749; $1,802 as tested) is Dell’s premium desktop PC. It’s been redesigned since we last reviewed it, with a classier, easier-to-upgrade chassis and Intel’s 12th Generation “Alder Lake” silicon for improved performance. Though Dell’s own Inspiron Desktop offers more bang for the buck than the base model XPS, the sky is the limit for this tower’s configurations, which scale to a liquid-cooled Core i9-12900K processor and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti graphics. It earns our Editors’ Choice award among performance tower desktops that aren’t exclusively for gaming or business.


The Redesigned XPS, Inside and Out

Dell’s extensive configuration options allow you to tailor the XPS Desktop for productivity, gaming, or creative workflows—or all three. Our review configuration is well suited for the last two, with a 10-core, 3.7GHz (4.9GHz Turbo Boost) Core i5-12600K processor, an 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti graphics card, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD with Windows 11 Home, and a 2TB hard drive. The standard warranty is one year.

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Dell XPS Desktop (8950) side view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Comparisons to other desktops are elementary given the XPS Desktop’s remarkable configurability; for instance, Dell even allows you to order the highest power supply option (750 watts) with integrated graphics so you can install your own graphics card. Our review unit competes with gaming desktops; the HP Omen 25L is $2,028 on HP’s store, though with a non-K series CPU (a Core i7-12700). NZXT’s Streaming PC (similar to its Starter PC Plus) is $1,699 with a lesser-performing AMD Ryzen 5 5600X CPU, though a faster GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card. Overall, the XPS Desktop is fairly priced as tested.

The $749 base model is the one we’re least likely to recommend, as you can get its six-core Core i5-12400, 8GB of RAM, small 256GB SSD, and integrated graphics in Dell’s Inspiron Desktop for $599, though that doesn’t tower ‘t offer dedicated graphics. Thus, for more than a basic home PC, the XPS Desktop is the go-to.

The XPS Desktop looks nothing like a gaming tower, despite our review unit being configured like one, and that’s part of its allure. Dell offers Platinum Silver (as seen on our review unit) or a dark blue called Night Sky. The former has special aluminum feet that make it 0.71 inch taller than the Night Sky chassis, which has rubber feet.

Dell XPS Desktop (8950) side view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

This redesign addresses the chintzy feel of the previous model. Minus the plastic grate, the front panel is now aluminum. The rest of the chassis is rolled steel. Altogether, it looks and feels more appropriate at this price.

A potential downer is that the XPS Desktop is larger and heavier than before, now solidly in mid-tower territory at 15.4 by 6.8 by 16.8 inches (HWD) and with a starting weight of 16.8 pounds. That said, the extra depth especially improves cooling and accommodates full-size graphics cards.

Dell has maintained the XPS Desktop’s excellent front input selection, which includes a full-size SD card reader, a headset jack, three USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports (the bottommost with sleep and charge), and one USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type -C port. Our review unit also has the optional tray-load DVD burner.

Dell XPS Desktop (8950) DVD burner

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Meanwhile, around back you’ll find four more USB Type-A ports (two 3.2 Gen 1 and two legacy 2.0), gigabit Ethernet, DisplayPort video output, and six audio jacks (microphone, line-in, line-out, optical, and two surround).

Dell XPS Desktop (8950) rear view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Thunderbolt 4 is missing, but the USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 port is good for 20Gbps transfers.


More Configurable and Upgradable Than Before

As noted, there are advantages to the XPS Desktop’s larger size. Unlike the previous model, it accommodates full-size (310mm) graphics cards and liquid CPU cooling, and it has two 3.5-inch bays (up from one in the previous model).

Dell XPS Desktop (8950) rear view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

To get inside, you’ll need a screwdriver to loosen the rear latch’s lock screw. After that, pulling the latch rearward releases the left panel. The right panel is riveted and doesn’t come off.

The proprietary motherboard is roughly ATX size (12 by 9.6 inches), the exception being the odd-looking extension at top right for the front panel connectors. (It’s just visible in the photo below, extending right from the silver strip printed on the board.)

Dell XPS Desktop (8950) inside view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Even though this board doesn’t support BIOS-level CPU overclocking, it’s good to see Dell using Intel’s Z690 enthusiast chipset versus the lower-tier B660 or H610/H670. It also utilizes the latest DDR5-4800 memory standard, which offers much more bandwidth than DDR4-3200, though it inevitably raises the XPS Desktop’s price a bit. (DDR5 is about twice as expensive as DDR4.) Four DIMM slots support up to 128GB of RAM (four 32GB modules).

This board furthermore supports PCIe Gen4 x4 storage, with two M.2 2280 slots. The 512GB PCIe 4.0 drive installed below the CPU should have been covered by a heatsink, though that’s not a major offense. The other M.2 slot is to the right of the DIMM slots, and right of those is a Killer AX1675x supporting Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 6E.

Dell XPS Desktop (8950) inside view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Two 3.5-inch drive cages along the top panel provide more expansion possibilities. Power is run to both. The 2TB hard drive installed at upper right has a tool-less caddy.

Dell XPS Desktop (8950) inside view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

This unit has an Intel Core i5-12600K processor with optional liquid CPU cooling. Air cooling is adequate for the XPS Desktop’s 65-watt CPU options, such as the Core i7-12700, but liquid is worth the $50 upcharge for 125-watt K-series chips that run at higher clocks.

Our unit’s short 8-inch GeForce RTX 3060 Ti graphics card is more than adequately powered by the 750-watt power supply, which can handle up to 350-watt cards, such as the GeForce RTX 3080 Ti and the AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT. The power supply is proprietary, so if you plan to add powerful components, it’s a sensible $50 upgrade over the standard 460-watt supply. It carries an impressive 80 Plus Platinum (94% efficiency) rating, as OEM power supplies often do.

Dell XPS Desktop (8950) rear view

(Photo: Molly Flores)

This tower’s airflow goes front to back, with a 120mm front intake fan and a 120mm rear exhaust, the latter pushing air through the liquid cooling radiator. The power supply has two small fans. A grate in the left panel is positioned so the graphics card’s heat exhaust goes through it, instead of being contained within the chassis. A lack of dust filters is one nitpick, though the front fan is easily removed for cleaning by popping a tab. All the fans were reasonably quiet in my testing, no louder than expected.

As for cabling, it’s neat enough for a non-boutique desktop, even though the cables aren’t routed exactly, only being bundled or zip-tied to prevent tangles. Fortunately, you won’t see any of that unless the side panel is open. The XPS Desktop is also clean software-wise; Dell’s only real contribution to Windows 11 is its SupportAssist app, which makes system updates and drive cleanup fairly painless.


Unassuming Power: Benchmarking the XPS Desktop 8950

As a refresher, our $1,802 XPS Desktop test unit uses a Core i5-12600K processor, an 8GB GeForce RTX 3060 Ti graphics card, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a 2TB hard drive.

I paired the XPS Desktop against several gaming towers for our benchmarking comparisons. It should be faster than the Lenovo Legion Tower 5i and the NZXT H1 Mini Plus, which use previous-generation Intel silicon and lesser graphics cards, though catching the MSI Aegis RS, better equipped with a Core i7-12700K and a GeForce RTX 3070, will be a stretch. The last tower for comparison is the massive HP Omen 45L, which we reviewed in a money-is-no-object configuration. Nonetheless, the XPS Desktop could be configured closely to either of those towers to perform the same or better. See all those towers’ basic specifications in the table below.

Productivity and Content Creation Tests

Our first test is UL’s PCMark 10, which simulates a variety of real-world productivity and office workflows to measure overall system performance and also includes a storage subtest for the primary drive. The XPS Desktop scored well in the main test, with almost twice as many points as we consider a good indicator of a highly productive PC, and led the storage test, thanks to its PCIe 4.0 SSD. (Our review unit uses a Micron 3400.)

Our other three benchmarks focus on the CPU, using all available cores and threads, to rate a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon’s Cinebench R23 uses that company’s Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs’ Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular apps ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we use the open-source video transcoder HandBrake 1.4 to convert a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p resolution (lower times are better).

Our final productivity test is Puget Systems’ PugetBench for Photoshop, which uses the Creative Cloud version 22 of Adobe’s famous image editor to rate a PC’s performance for content creation and multimedia applications. It’s an automated extension that executes a variety of general and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks ranging from opening, rotating, resizing, and saving an image to applying masks, gradient fills, and filters.

The XPS Desktop’s Core i5-12600K helped it scored well throughout, behind the Core i7 MSI and the Core i9 HP in predictable increments. (Again, the XPS Desktop is available with either CPU.) Its performance gains over the NZXT’s eight-core “Comet Lake” Core i7-10700K show how far CPU performance has come in two generations. (Our Core i9-12900K review explains Alder Lake’s new hybrid architecture.)

Graphics and Gaming Tests

For Windows PCs, we run both synthetic and real-world gaming tests. The former includes two DirectX 12 gaming simulations from UL’s 3DMark, Night Raid (more modest, suitable for systems with integrated graphics) and Time Spy (more demanding, suitable for gaming rigs with discrete GPUs). Also looped into that group is the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which we use to gauge OpenGL performance.

Moving on, our real-world gaming testing comes from the in-game benchmarks of F1 2021, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Rainbow Six Siege representing simulation, open-world action-adventure, and competitive/esports shooter games, respectively. On desktops, we run them at their highest quality presets (F1 2021 at Ultra High and Valhalla and Siege at Ultra) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions.

Equipped with a GeForce RTX 3060 Ti, the XPS Desktop is a fine choice for 1440p fragging and can even swing 4K close to 60fps if the details are dialed back. That card is much faster than the NZXT’s GeForce RTX 3060, though the Dell’s Alder Lake CPU helps widen the gap, too. Meanwhile, the GeForce RTX 3070 in the MSI shows expected improvements, and the HP’s GeForce RTX 3090 naturally rules the roost. The XPS Desktop wouldn’t be too far off the HP with a GeForce RTX 3080 Ti.


A Classic Tower That Does It All

Dell has a winner on its hands with the XPS Desktop. This chic tower is so widely configurable that it can compete with most consumer desktops out there, from sub-$1,000 home PCs to bleeding-edge creative and gaming desktops. The $1,802 model we tested is more in the spirit of what it does best, offering ample performance for creativity and gaming without necessitating a large, flashy tower. It’s easy to expand and Dell unusually lets you order it with future upgrades in mind. All the complaints we have are nitpicks at best. For a high-performance tower without any drama, the XPS Desktop is aces.

The Bottom Line

Dell’s redesigned XPS Desktop has a spiffy new look and extensive configuration options that suit it for just about any performance-forward task.

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