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Dell OptiPlex 755 Review: Windows 7 in the Workplace
by J.R. Nelson -  6/3/2009

Microsoft has announced that Windows 7 will be generally available right at the tail end of October, later this year.  We've discussed before what that might mean for consumers, but what about businesses?  Many enterprise customers have simply skipped Windows Vista; whether it was due to pricing, application support or just the PR disaster surrounding Microsoft's last OS is now irrelevant.  Windows XP, for all its stability, is starting to show its age and Windows 7 is looking more attractive by the day.  Let's take a look at a late model Dell Optiplex 755 PC, a standard business desktop, and see how it looks running Windows 7.

Specifications

In 2007, this desktop could have cost more than $1200.  Given the longterm plans followed by many corporations, it behooves them to check out ways to increase the lifespan of a given piece of equipment. Updating the OS may be just the key.

Build and Design
The most noticeable thing about Dell's OptiPlex 755 is its diminutive stature.  Small for a desktop, the machine takes up significantly less space than even a mini-tower.  It's definitely bigger than a  Mac Mini, but not by too much; it's just a bit bigger than Dell's own Studio Hybrid desktop.  Just like the Studio Hybrid, the little OptiPlex can be set on its side or end, depending on how your desk is arranged.

It's obvious that Dell has been working on cramming a lot of components into a small chassis for some time; opening the OptiPlex up shows very little free space wasted inside of the case.  Dell used a combination of notebook and desktop parts to put together the OptiPlex 755; while there's a full-on desktop hard drive, offering more and faster storage for cheaper, they managed to fit in an optical drive by going with a laptop-style tray drive.  Interestingly, the tray drive can be pulled out; it's conceivable that much like Dell's laptop media bay, you can probably shove a 2.5-inch hard drive in there and double up on storage.  One of the biggest reasons the OptiPlex could be made so small is that, similar to the Mac Mini, Dell used an external power supply that removes a lot of bulk and not an insignificant amount of heat.

Unfortunately, all that stuff crammed inside can still generate fairly high temperatures; to alleviate some of that, Dell put vents in the front, top and rear of the device.  There's also a couple of fans inside to force air in and out.  As a result, the OptiPlex isn't the quietest little desktop we've tested before.  It's not loud, but the fans do generate a noticeable whir.

The OptiPlex 755 is light, which isn't too surprising for such a small desktop, even if there is a lot of technology shoved inside.  It still manages to feel heavier than it looks, but it's very easy to move around and deploy.  Getting inside the case isn't much of an issue; Dell has really started to embrace screwless designs and this is no exception.  A little blue knob on the back of the 755 turns just a bit to the right, unlocking a lever inside of the machine.  A side panel pops off, granting access to the computer's interior.

There's essentially no free space inside of the machine, save for an empty RAM slot. Despite the cramped environments, however, moving around inside is fairly easy.  Chances are the only things that would ever need replacing or upgrading on this machine are the hard drive and the RAM, and Dell's engineers had the foresight to make access to them clear and unobstructed.  Since the hard drive is a traditional 3.5-inch desktop drive, it does manage to sit over forty odd percent of the room in the chassis.  In an attempt to keep the processor maximally cool, a plastic sleeve sits over top of it, connecting it to the external vents and channeling the air from the fans in a direct path over the heatsink.

One interesting note about the Optiplex 755's design is that it isn't precisely square.  The back frame of the machine starts out straight, then bends upward as it nears the top.  The side panel is shaped to snap on, but between the not quite squareness and the little knob, it can be a touch difficult to get the panel back on.  It's worth a double check to make sure the door is secured before moving the machine anywhere.

Inputs and Expansion
The front of the OptiPlex has what has essentially become the basic desktop standard: analog audio in and out, and two USB 2.0 ports.  As mentioned earlier, there's a tray-loading laptop optical drive on the front, just like on Dell's notebooks.  It would be interesting to see if this could be used as a traditional media bay as on their notebook lines.

The back of the machine is an interesting mix of old and new ports, with five more USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet in, analog audio in and out, serial and parallel ports round out the add-on port selection.  There's also DVI-I out video as well as the plug for the external power supply.

Performance
Here's where it's interesting.  While an older business computer, the drive had fairly recently been reimaged to its Windows XP Professional installation.  While it performed well enough, it actually performed equally as well under Windows 7, and felt like it started faster, to boot.

wPrime CPU performance comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Desktop Time to complete wPrime 32M
Lenovo ThinkCentre M58p (Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 @ 3.16GHz) 24.194s
Dell Studio Hybrid (Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.10GHz)  35.582s
Dell OptiPlex 755 (Intel Core 2 Duo E6550 @ 2.33GHz) 36.582s
Lenovo A600 All-in-one (Intel Core 2 Duo P7450 @ 2.13GHz) 37.363s
Apple Mac Mini (Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.0GHz) 38.754s

PCMark05 overall system performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop PCMark05 Score
Lenovo ThinkCentre M58p (Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 @ 3.16GHz) 7738 PCMarks
Lenovo A600 All-in-one (Core 2 Duo P7450 @ 2.13GHz) 5589 PCMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850 @ 2.16 GHz 5189 PCMarks
Apple Mac Mini (Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.0GHz 4593 PCMarks
Dell OptiPlex 755 (Intel Core 2 Duo E6550 @ 2.33GHz) 4235 PCMarks

3DMark06 overall graphics performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop 3DMark06 Score
Lenovo A600 All-in-one (Core 2 Duo P7450, ATI HD3650) 4265 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkCentre M58p (Core 2 Duo E8500, ATI HD3470) 2478 3DMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850, NVIDIA 9300M GS) 1820 3DMarks
Apple Mac Mini (Core 2 Duo P7350, NVIDIA 9400M) 1714 3DMarks
Dell OptiPlex 755 (Intel Core 2 Duo E6550 @ 2.33GHz) 206 3DMarks

HDTune results:

Windows 7 superbly on the 755.  It's not so suprising that the hardware in general managed to push it, but that even with the relatively anemic GMA 3100 (not to be confused with the X3100), Windows 7's desktop manager and Aero effects all ran fine.  

Power and Noise
The OptiPlex 755 isn't designed to be a low-power machine, not by a long shot.  Still, for being a solid performer, it manages to come in at a respectable point in the field.  When off, the system will often still pull down a watt of electricity.  Right after shutdown, this will spike up to 8 or 9 watts for some reason, then go back to 1.  Idling, the system consumed an average of 46 watts of power; even taxing the system only pushed to a little under a hundred watts.  It's not quite eco-friendly, but not too bad, either.  Being confined to such a small space, however, means that the hardware will putting out some heat, and that means fans and airflow.  The OP755 performs adequately in this space; the fans are audible, yet not overpowering.

Conclusion
The Dell OptiPlex 755 is a decent little machine, despite being a couple of years old.  It's ultra small form factor lets it sit on smaller desks and cramped cubicles without taking up too much room, and the 3.5-inch hard drive means it can be upgraded to 1 or even 2 terabytes of storage.  Using a notebook tray-loading optical drive in the front proved to be a smart move for Dell; while most desktop computers that use this or similar form factors are forced to forego using optical disks, the 755 doesn't.

Even though it's around two years old and possessing very weak 3D performance, the OptiPlex 755 manages to run Windows 7 very well.   The OP755 is indicative of many business desktops: low to moderate computational ability paired almost non-existant graphics.  Despite all of this, Microsoft's newest operating system runs fine.  It's clear that they've learned from at least some of their mistakes committed during Vista's initial launch.  Maybe this time around business won't need to be so hesitant and reticent to upgrade to Redmond's latest efforts.

Pros

Cons
  • Not loud but not quiet either
  • 3D performance enough for Windows 7 but still anemic
For a more complete look at the features and capabilities of Microsoft's next-generation operating system, be sure to check out our software site's look at the Windows 7 Release Candidate!