Dell XPS Desktop (8950) review: A larger, faster design

The Dell XPS Desktop sitting on a table.

Dell XPS Desktop (8950

MSRP $750.00

“The Dell XPS Desktop (8950) takes an already great design and updates it with modern furnishings.”

Pros

  • Sleek, minimalist design
  • Highly configurable
  • 12th-gen Intel and Nvidia RTX 30-series options
  • Inexpensive
  • A few options for upgrades

Cons

  • A bit loud
  • Pricey upgrades

Last-gen’s Dell XPS Desktop sits atop our list of the best desktop computers, and the new 8950 model replaces it. It’s an iterative update to one of our favorite designs at Digital Trends, this time packing the power of Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors.

Although the XPS Desktop 8950 is an iterative update, I’m a fan of the changes. Optional liquid cooling allows for a more powerful processor, and the increased chassis size leads to better airflow and thermals. Upgrades are still tough, but the XPS Desktop balances raw power and a manageable form factor in a way no other desktop does.

Design

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The XPS Desktop 8950 doesn’t look much different than last gen’s 8940 on a screen, but it has some serious changes. It’s 42% larger than the previous model by volume, and Dell puts the extra space to good use. A larger case means more room for cooling, as well as room for water cooling. On unlocked K-series processors, you get a 120mm all-in-one liquid cooler which significantly reduces noise.

You have the option between Night Sky (black and silver) or Platinum Silver (white and silver), but the Platinum Silver option comes with a penny-pinching $30 upcharge. Dell did away with the Special Edition model that was around with the previous version, but the premium for a white chassis remains.

I’m a big fan of the changes Dell made with this design.

Around the case, you’ll find a lot more room for airflow. There are intake vents at the front of the case, as well as a vent on the side panel for the GPU. Dell increased the length of the case, too, so you don’t have to worry about your GPU getting friendly with your front intake fans like you did with the previous version.

I’m a big fan of the changes Dell made here. The XPS Desktop is much larger than it used to be, but it doesn’t feel that way. It’s still a small machine at 14.68 inches tall, 6.81 inches wide, and 16.8 inches deep, and Dell’s changes help improve airflow, noise, and thermals significantly.

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

I’m not a fan of how Dell nickels and dimes for small cosmetic changes, though. The Platinum Silver option is only $30 more expensive, for example, but it requires you to also pick up a $50 optical drive upgrade. If you want a larger power supply and the Platinum Silver color, you’re looking at a $130 premium for what should be included as standard.

Specs and pricing

One of the perks of the XPS Desktop is how customizable it is. You can pick up the base configuration for an inexpensive but competent home office PC, or you can trick it out with the latest Intel processors and Nvidia graphics cards. Dell sent me a midrange configuration with a Core i5-12600K and RTX 3060 Ti.

CPU Intel Core i5-12600K
GPU Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti
Motherboard Dell Z690
Case Dell XPS Desktop mid-tower
Memory 16GB DDR5-4400
Storage 512GB NVMe SSD, 2TB HDD
Power supply 750W
USB ports 7x USB-A (4x rear, 3x front), 2x USB-C (1x rear, 1x front)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth

As configured, this exact machine will run you around $1,750. That’s a great deal right now, as building a similar machine on your own would cost close to $2,500 due to inflated graphics card prices. DDR5 is a big deal, too. DDR5 memory is similarly overpriced at the moment, but Dell offers it as standard on the XPS Desktop. Just make sure you opt for two sticks of RAM — Dell offers a single stick option, as well.

My configuration came with an unlocked processor, as well as a Z690 motherboard, so overclocking is an option. It’s nice to see compared to last-gen’s XPS Desktop 8940, which would arrive in some cases with an unlocked processor but not the Intel chipset to support it. Although overclocking is possible, it may not be practical. The XPS Desktop is small and doesn’t have a lot of thermal overhead.

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The base model runs $750. It includes a Core i5-12400 processor without a discrete graphics card, along with a single 8GB stick of RAM and a 256GB NVMe SSD. What’s special about the XPS Desktop is how you can scale it up, though. You could spend as much as $4,000 for a Core i9-12900K, RTX 3080 Ti, 64GB of DDR5 memory, and 4TB of storage split evenly across an NVMe SSD and HDD.

It’s an impressive amount of bandwidth for what is, by comparison to the hardware inside, a quant desktop PC. That said, I have some reservations about how the power supply will hold up with a tricked-out configuration. As I pointed out in my Maingear Vybe review, 750W is just barely enough for high-end GPUs. Unfortunately, you don’t have the option to spring for a larger power supply to go along with these components in the XPS Desktop.

Internals and upgradability

Dell promises “endless expandability” for the XPS Desktop on its product page, which isn’t exactly true. The tool-less side panel isn’t actually tool-less — you need a screwdriver or at least a coin to unlock the latch — and the options for upgrades, while present, aren’t usually practical.

At a high level, the XPS Desktop uses two proprietary components: The motherboard and the power supply. The motherboard isn’t a big deal, as it includes four DDR5 RAM slots, extra SATA connections, and a socketed CPU. The power supply is a different matter. 750W is the maximum for the XPS Desktop, which doesn’t leave any room for growth on high-end configurations.

You can slot in a new graphics card or other devices, but you’re always constrained by the 750W power supply. The power supply is removable, but its proprietary form factor means you can’t swap it out with a standard ATX power supply.

I don’t want to disparage the XPS Desktop. You save some money by going with this kind of design.

There are a few other issues that make upgrades tough. The extra PCIe slots — which Dell says ” can be used to add sound cards, additional hard drives, PCIe SSDs or accelerator cards” — are dangerously close to the graphics card. Assuming you can even fit an expansion card into the PC, you’d choke off airflow to the GPU.

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

There’s no room for cable management, either. The front chamber is all you get, so you’ll have to zig-zag cables across the machine to get everything hooked up. A particularly annoying case of this is with the second hard drive slot. Dell routed an extra SATA power cable up to the second hard drive bay, but not a second data cable. And given how short most SATA cables are, you’d have to run it straight across the machine to reach the motherboard.

I don’t want to disparage the XPS Desktop here because its lack of upgradability is kind of the point. You save some money by going with this kind of design. Just don’t let the product page trip you up with promises of “endless expandability” because those claims fall flat in real-world conditions.

Performance

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The latest XPS Desktop shows off Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors, which are the cream of the crop in the world of CPUs right now. The modest Core i5-12600K inside my configuration is a monster, vastly outpacing even the most expensive Intel CPUs from the last few generations.

Dell XPS Desktop 8950 (Core i5-12600K) MSI Aegis RS 12 (Core i7-12700KF) Custom PC (Core i9-10900K)
Cinebench R23 multi-core 16,798 20,445 13,614
Cinebench R23 single-core

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