Dell XPS 730 H2C Performance Gaming System

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Interior Design, Layout & Connectivity



While the updated exterior of the XPS 730 doesn't stray too far from the previous XPS 700 series chassis, the interior is significantly different. One of the greatest complaints against Dell (and several other vendors) and especially the XPS 700 series is the use of a BTX chassis and motherboard. This made upgrading the system nearly impossible since the BTX form-factor never took off and none of the major after-market manufacturers produce BTX motherboards. The XPS 730 is the first in the series to address and fix this problem by offering full ATX compatibility. In fact, Dell has gone to some lengths to make the XPS 730 chassis as upgradeable and future-proof as any high-end after-market chassis you might purchase from the likes of Coolermaster, Lian-Li or Thermaltake.

Dell has also designed the chassis to be
ESA (Enthusiast System Architecture) compliant which allows the system to monitor and report a wide variety of temperature and performance data in real-time. We'll explore the XPS 730's ESA features in detail on a later page.

     

While Dell has ditched the BTX form-factor, they have kept the "inverted" motherboard setup that visually characterizes the BTX form factor. The motherboard is mounted upside down with the CPU near the bottom of the case and the graphics cards near the top. This is a popular alternative to the original ATX standard configuration and it is used by many computer chassis manufacturers such as Lian-Li. The attraction to this alternate motherboard mounting configuration is that in certain conditions, this configuration has been shown to provide superior cooling efficiency.

The XPS 730 features a variety of system monitoring (as per ESA) and special control capabilities for the LED and cooling system (in the case of the H2C version). In previous 700 series models, these controls were handled by the motherboard. This would be a problem if the motherboard were replaced, since all of that functionality would be lost. In the XPS 730, these functions are contained on a separate circuit board which sits to the left of the motherboard, under the cooling shroud. This means you retain all functionality when the motherboard is upgraded. Both the motherboard and the separate control board sit on a removable motherboard tray, which can be unscrewed from the chassis and lifted out. Unfortunately it doesn't slide out the back like in some after-market solutions.

The XPS 730's motherboard (see image below) is a fairly typical looking ATX board that is not unlike NVIDIA's reference design. However, it features a less ornamental cooling solution than most after-market motherboards and doesn't sport an excessive number of copper heat-pipes. The motherboard's chipset is cooled by a single heatsink and the northbridge and southbridge sides of the heatsink are linked by a set of heat-pipes hidden under the heatsink itself. The voltage regulators around the CPU socket have their own dedicated heatsinks connected by a single heat-pipe.

The interior of the XPS 730 is lit by several multi-color LEDs, just like the exterior. There are also a set of LEDs located on the rear of the system. They are strategically placed to illuminate the rear I/O panel and the expansion slots. This is both aesthetically pleasing and very functional since the illumination makes connecting cables in dark environments, such as under desks, much easier. All of the decorative LEDs are part of the chassis and not the motherboard so you do not lose them if it is replaced.

     

Compared to the previous 700 series chassis, the power supply and drive bays remain in the same position. There are four 5.25" drive bays at the top of the case and two externally accessible 3.5" drive bays under them. The power supply is located in the rear-top corner. There are four 3.5" internal hard drive bays located in two columns under the power supply. The position of the hard drive bays leaves little room for the two central 5.25" bays and the area is very cramped. Thankfully the front panel can be easily removed, allowing access to the 5.25" bays from the front.

The chassis has built-in cable management for all hard drive cables. Cables are also installed and pre-routed for all four hard drive bays, even if they are not all in use. This makes upgrading extremely simple since all of the cables are provided and installed. You simply need to push the new hard drive in and connect the cables. Unfortunately, like with the previous 700 series chassis, there is no strict cable management for the other cables in the system. This isn't a large issue since Dell routes the cables behind the expansion cards and for the most part they are tucked out of the way and none of the cables are in a position to degrade airflow within the case.

The original 700 series chassis featured a tool-less expansion card design. Push-tab clips were used to secure the expansion cards instead of screws. The new XPS 730 chassis forgoes that and uses screws. A tool-less design would be favorable but this is less of an issue in this case, at least for H2C systems, since all H2C systems come with a free tool kit complete with a set of screwdrivers, as we saw in our
preview article.

The chassis cooling is configured in a wind-tunnel setup and no air escapes from any side but the front and back. Except for the drive bays at the top, the entire front of the system is basically one big intake grill. The rear of the system is similar in that, except for the I/O shield and the expansion slots, the entire rear of the system is a large grill to allow for exhaust. This makes for a very efficient cooling design and airflow within the case is relatively straight forward. Another advantage to the design is that there are almost no dead-spots where air becomes trapped or isn't moving.

     

In total, the chassis itself has two fans, power supply has its own, another fan for each of the two video cards, and two more for the H2C cooling system for a total of seven fans within the system. These fans are all dynamically controlled and vary their speed depending on the stress the system is under. When all the fans are manually turned up to 100% power, the system sounds like a vacuum cleaner but this never happens during normal operation. During our time with our sample unit, most of the fans operated at well under 50% power.

While the system is at idle, the fans are relatively quiet considering the caliber of hardware it is packing. Under load, the fan speed and noise the system produces increases slightly although the system still remains fairly quiet. While it is certainly louder than a modern office productivity PC, the XPS 730 remains deceptively quiet and doesn't announce its presence to everyone in the room.

Located under the externally accessible drive bays is a fan shroud and the H2C unit. In the air-cooled, non-H2C version, the H2C unit would be replaced by a second fan shroud. The fan shroud holds a caged 120mm cooling fan that intakes cool air and blows it over the motherboard's expansion slots. It is protected by a grill on both sides to prevent stray wires from catching in the blades. This fan manages to move a significant amount of air while remaining fairly quiet.

A small 60mm fan is wedged in between the two columns of hard drive bays. It sucks in air through the first hard drive column and pushes it through the second column and out of the case via a dedicated rear exhaust vent. The chassis has no dedicated exhaust fans. However, judging from the high airflow out of the back of the system, it probably doesn't require them.
 

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