This PC's Got Legs

By Eric Grevstad | Posted January 05, 2007

Dell's OptiPlex 745, the top of the company's business PC line, pairs Intel's Q965 chipset with your choice of Celeron, Pentium D or cutting-edge Core 2 Duo processors. Scheduled for a 15-month life cycle, the 745 is available in four sizes: a conventional mini-tower, the desktop chassis of our review unit, a small form factor slim-line, and an ultra-small form factor meant to attach to the back of an LCD monitor. The latter two are exclusive to the 745 model.

All four flavors come with Intel's GMA 3000 integrated graphics (where the graphics are part of the chip instead of a separate graphics card), but all save the smallest can be upgraded to PCI Express x16 graphics in the form of a dedicated 128MB ATI Radeon X1300 or 256MB Radeon X1300 Pro graphics card.

Balancing the Budget
OptiPlex 745 prices on the small-business section of Dell's Web site start at $661. Our configuration included a Core 2 Duo processor; 1GB memory; an 80GB, 7,200-rpm disk drive; a DVD±RW drive, a Radeon X1300 Pro graphics card with dual VGA outputs; a 13-format flash-memory-card reader and a PCI card with two 1394/FireWire ports.

The result is no bargain, but not outrageous for a business desktop with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2 encryption and authentication chip and an array of other network management tools, as well as sufficiently future-proof hardware for years of productivity. With Dell's 17-inch LCD monitor, the total came to $1,672 discounted to $1,547 (prices listed on the Web site can change frequently and without notice).

Ordering a Windows Vista Business upgrade for the preinstalled Win XP Professional would add $10, as would. Specifying a 250GB instead of 80GB hard drive costs $38. Doubling system memory to 2GB is $139 (4GB is $661).

Dell also touts the OptiPlex 745 as an energy- and money-saver, combining the modest power consumption of the Core 2 Duo and its SpeedStep technology with other Energy Star items such as an extra-efficient power supply and a BIOS setting that defaults to system sleep mode after just 15 minutes of inactivity. All told, the company claims, the 745 trims about 40 percent off its predecessor's electric bills.

Pressing a latch pops the 4.5 by 15.7 by 13.9-inch desktop's top (well, side, since it's designed to stand vertically), revealing a crowded but not cluttered interior. The Core 2 Duo processor is, as usual, invisible under a hefty heat sink and the hood of a cooling fan — the last, Dell notes, positioned to measure ambient as well as CPU temperature in case the 745 sees use in a warm environment such as a factory floor. The 280-watt power supply has a fan of its own, but we noticed neither fan — the PC was commendably quiet in day-to-day operation.

All the Extras
Two USB 2.0 ports accompany headphone and microphone jacks on the front of the case, with six more USB ports — plus parallel, serial, Gigabit Ethernet and audio line-in and -out ports — at the rear. As mentioned, an internal PCI card offers two FireWire ports and the ATI graphics card packs S-Video and DVI ports, the latter provided with a Y cable to drive two VGA displays.

You can use one of the USB ports to plug in a connecting cable for the Dell 1707FPV display, which serves as a four-port USB hub itself. Definitely an upscale instead of run-of-the-mill office-cubicle monitor, the 1,280 by 1,024-pixel flat panel is an excellent match for the desktop, with both analog VGA and digital DVI inputs and an audio jack for an optional speaker bar ($29) that fits beneath its slim bezel.

The 17-inch screen delivers sharp text and bright colors, helped by a rated 280 nits of brightness and stellar 1,500:1 contrast ratio. Its base is helpfully height-adjustable as well as tilt- and swivel-capable, and it pivots between landscape and portrait orientation.

Our only stumble with the 1707FPV was that Dell doesn't supply a portrait/landscape switching utility such as Portrait Display's Pivot Pro, so you must use the ATI driver's Catalyst control center to turn the screen image 90 degrees and back. The latter works well once you burrow into its menus to set up hotkeys for toggling horizontal and vertical modes, but we wound up fumbling with up-is-left, down-is-right mouse maneuvers once or twice in the process.

The monitor was our favorite of the OptiPlex peripherals: Dell's base-model keyboard proved adequate, but a plasticky typing feel kept it off our win list. And we can't believe that anyone would be so mean as to saddle employees with the scratchy rolling-ball mechanical rather than optical mouse that shipped with our system. Speaking of peripherals, a biometric fingerprint reader to bolster TPM and logon security is a $39 option.

Almost as Good As a Key to the Executive Washroom
PC gamers are unlikely customers for the 745, and the system's 3D graphics performance confirms that despite the Radeon X1300 Pro card. But office workers aren't supposed to play games, and the OptiPlex is otherwise strong enough to survive many more than its product-cycle 15 months of office work (except for needing a memory upgrade if the office switches to Vista).

Our system's software bundle included Wave Systems' Embassy Trust suite to get the most from the TPM hardware; a full set of administrative IT management tools; CyberLink PowerDVD and Roxio CD/DVD utilities; and a 15-month subscription to McAfee Security Center. Microsoft Office Basic, Small Business, and Professional are $145, $275, and $345, respectively, with free upgrades to Office 2007. The standard warranty includes three years of next-business-day on-site service. Stepping up to same-day service plus priority phone support adds $218.

In just five months, the Core 2 Duo has zoomed from upstart to first choice for anyone planning at least a year or 18 months of productivity from a PC purchase, and small businesses shouldn't deny themselves the chip's performance.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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