Dell Optiplex 990 Small Form Factor PC: Punchy Performance, Pleasing Price


With the Optiplex 990 SFF (small form factor), Dell packs tremendous power into an unbelievably compact yet versatile cabinet.

Measuring less than four inches high and a foot wide, the Intel Core i7-based Optiplex 990 SFF is the fastest production Windows PC we've seen in the CRN Test Center; it delivered a top Geekbench score of 9498, easily beating Dell's own Precision T1500 workstation by more than 200 points.

Dell Optiplex 990
Dell Optiplex 990

What's more, with the optional power-sipping 240 watt power supply, the unit consumed just 22 watts during idle times, and peaked momentarily at 93 watts during benchmark tests. According to Jason Robliss, product launch manager for Dell's Optiplex 990 Platform, energy efficiency was among the requirements when designing the recent Optiplex refresh. "It's built with a 90-percent efficient power supply, which gets you the Energy Star rating," which he said is a requirement of many federal agencies.

Robliss says that the target users for one of Dell's smallest business desktops (there's also the ultra-small form factor model) are schools at all levels, labs and other office and public environments, and for anyone working in a constrained workspace and has little or no need to expand. The system we received for testing had one of its two half-height PCIe x16 slots taken by an AMD Radeon HD 6450 graphics card, which is equipped with 1 GB of dedicated video RAM.

The other slot (which is wired x4) was occupied by a wireless-N WLAN half-mini card and its accompanying external Wi-Fi antenna and four-foot cable. Easily mistaken for a coffee cup warmer, this device is supplied, says Dell, to thwart the theft of conventional Wi-Fi antennae that attach with those twist-on BNC connectors. "We sell a lot of these to schools," said a Dell spokesperson. "We were hearing that the Wi-Fi antennas were being stolen, so we developed this alternative, which can hang on the wall and actually gets better reception than the conventional antenna." It attaches to the back of the card with tiny Torx screws; a Torx driver is included.

The tested system also was equipped with a 500 GB solid state hard drive, from which it booted Windows 7 Professional 32-bit, an additional 500 GB SATA drive, a Blu-Ray RW drive, Gbit Ethernet, 10 USB 2.0 ports (four in front), and 4 GB of dual-channel 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (it's expandable to 16 GB using four slots). As for graphics output, there are DVI and DisplayPort ports on the back of the card, plus a second DisplayPort port for tapping into Intel's integrated HD Graphics 2000 video circuit. This system can support as many as four monitors. There's also a pair of PS/2 ports.

Out of the box, Geekbench 2.1.13 reported a high score of 9461, and configuring Windows for maximum performance nudged Geekbench up to a high of 9498. Even better is the pricing, which starts at $1,010. But with Dell instant savings of $431 in effect at the time of this writing, starting price of the Optiplex 990 SFF is $579.