Just Back from the Edge

My nine-year-old Acer Veriton desktop has sadly reached its end of life as far as Microsoft Windows is concerned. Intel is no longer supporting Windows 10 with its second-generation Sandy Bridge CPU. No amount of upgrading or configuration can fix that.

So after some careful consideration I concluded that there were 3 possible courses of action:

  1. Completely build a new system from scratch. I have done this before for a Linux-based machine but never with Windows.
  2. Buy a lower specd Windows machine and replace/upgrade parts as needed to get what I need. This was the approach I took with the Acer. It was a solid enough basic business machine but needed quite a bit of upgrading to run my Train Sim games.
  3. Just get what I need out of the box.

#1 is probably the most cost-effective way in normal times. But the times right now are far from normal. Good processors have been hard to source, and above all there is a critical shortage of graphic cards. Prices are through the roof.

#2 might work if I was willing to wait for months, but at the end of all the upgrades I usually have a bunch of leftover parts I replaced. It took years to get my Acer shipshape.

So option #3 – a pre-built system – seemed like the best way to go. But which make? Which model? What options?

There are many prebuilt machines out there – most come from stores like Amazon or Staples or Best Buy. In researching what was available I discovered that many of these machines:

  • Had a real gaming appearance with all kinds of LED fans and flashing lights. I didn’t want to look like a teenybopper using a desktop like this.
  • Either did not have enough memory installed, or had inadequate primary storage for games and the operating system. I would be upgrading from the get-go.
  • Were large and heavy. I have limited space on the small shelf attached to my computer desk.

So I wanted something fairly compact, fairly understated, with the option to customize a bit. All this led me back to Dell Canada’s website. And they were having a sale.

I ended up speccing out a Dell XPS 8940. I splurged a little but I think it’ll be OK. I won’t have to shop for parts and everything seems to fit together.

Let’s run down the stuff I got.

  • Case – you can see above it’s rather businesslike. It’s a small mini-tower and fits very well on the desk. It is lightweight and about 2/3 the volume of a typical case from 2012.
  • Processor (CPU) – something old, something new. It’s an Intel i7-11700. That is the latest Intel desktop design (the new) but it’s built on (the old) 14 nm fabrication process that’s been around for 5-6 years. It is the non-overclockable version so not exactly a gamer’s chip. My simulation games are not demanding, and this processor can run them capably while staying cool and quiet.
  • Memory – 32 GB DDR4 2933. Maybe a bit of overkill here as I had 16 GB before. However, I am future-proofed with this much RAM. There is faster memory out there, but I’ll never need it.
  • Storage – 1TB SSD (NVME) and 2 TB regular HDD. This is a perfect combination and was only available by customizing my machine. Glad I did.
  • Video Card – Nvidia RTX 2060 6 GB VRAM. This is Nvidia’s last-generation card but you cannot get the latest 3060 version at any price right now. It’s a solid card – better than what I had in the Veriton box.
  • O/S – Windows 10 Professional – I think if you are going all out on a machine like this, you might as well get the best version of Windows.

It took about 10 days from the time I placed the order for Dell to put the system together and ship it to Almonte. That is not bad for a custom config.

I’ve been running the new desktop box for a week now, and if I had to describe it, I would say it’s “just back from the edge” of technology. It’s not a full-on gaming machine, but it handles itself well. It can deal with any email, web surfing or office task easily. It’s great for photo editing. I have copied some large file folders with ease.

Some YouTube and Internet forum correspondents have criticized the 8940 for its Dell proprietary parts, less than robust cooling, and lack of upgrade potential. That doesn’t affect me; I have found it to be quiet and cool in the tasks I have done, and I have specd the machine pretty much the way I would want it now and in future.

I’m just going to enjoy the new computer experience and hope everything lasts. Given my experience with past Dell desktops, there’s a good chance of that happening.

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