The Bottom Line: The DellDimension C521 Slim-line Mini-tower is powerful home workstation that is more than adequate for Windows Vista and Media Center duties.
My wifes four year old Intel Celeron-processor based custom-made computer was getting slower and slower (it seems) as the days passed, so we finally decided to purchase her a new one. I knew I wanted a Dell primarily because I get a nice little discount through work, but I didnt rule out Hewlett Packard either.
I spent two weeks on-line configuring different systems that both fit my specifications: (Dual-core 64-bit processor with at least 1MB cache, SATA hard drive backbone, 1GB DDR2 dual channel memory, DVD/RW drive, and 19 inch LCD). I needed a box that was robust enough to run Windows Vista, yet small enough to fit on my wifes desk, but checked in at under $1000.00. I looked at several models from Dell, and Hewlett Packard, but in the end I settled on the DellDimension C521mini-tower computer.
In The Box
o DellDimension C521 Mini-tower computer o Quick Installation Guide o 19 1907FP LCD Flat Panel Display o Keyboard & Mouse
Computer as Configured:
o Processor Family: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ (2.20GHz 512K x2 Cache) o Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium o Installed RAM: 1.0GB DDR2 SDRAM @ 667MHz o Hard Drive Capacity: 250GB SATA II 7200RPM w/DataBurst Cache o Graphics Card: ATI Radeon X1300 Pro w/256MB o Primary Optical Drive: 48x CD-RW/DVD Combination Drive o Secondary Optical Drive: None o Network Interface Card (NIC): Integrated 10/100 Ethernet o Modem: 56K PCI Data/Fax Modem o Audio: Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS (D) Sound Card with Dolby Digital 5.1; o Speakers: Dell A225 USB Powered Speakers o Monitor Type: Analog/ Digital LCD o Screen Size: 19 inches
Dell designed the Dimension C521 as an entry-level media-center computer and indeed mine shipped with Windows Vista Home Premium pre-installed. The Dimension C521 incorporates the new BTX design into its rather slim mid-tower case. The case itself is a sleek white and silver BTX cassis with large cooling vents cut into the front sides of the case, allowing the fan to draw in a large volume of air. The BTX design calls for more venting slots in the case and a single large fan to keep the innards of the computer cool. The result is a very quite system and I have to strain to hear.
The case is slim-line so the lone DVD player has to be installed vertically and the is only room for one 3.5 inch slot. Inside there is only room for one hard drive, and (3) half-height expansion slots. So upgrading and or expanding the Dimension C521 might prove problematic. And the case only has (6) USB 2.0 ports; (4) in the back and (2) in the front. This may seem like a lot at first glance until you stop and consider that almost everything peripheral shipped that attaches to the outside of the computer does so via USB. The Dimension C521 lacks traditional 9-pin DIN connection for mouse and keyboard, and it lacks 9-pin serial ports and a traditional parallel port for connection a printer.
The lack of an adequate number of USB ports is why I opted for the Dell UltraSharp 1907FP LCD Flat Panel Display; it has (4) USB 2.0 ports arrayed around the bezel.
Dell offers an array of AMD dual core 32-bit and 64-bit processors for the C521; my choice of the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ (2.20GHz 512K x2 Cache) was a balance between cost and performance. Some of the Intel Dual-core processors offered more cache, but I figured 512K per cache would prove enough for my wifes less demanding needs.
The system can be ordered with as little as 256MB of RAM (who does that?); I choose 1.0GB mostly because I knew Windows Vista would demand it. I would like to have bought 2GB, but again it was a compromise between price and performance. Theres a total of (4) slots for RAM which means I could install a maximum of 4GB DDR2 SDRAM @667MHz. Note: the memory is shared with the video card in some instances.
I ordered my wifes Dimension C521 with a 250GB SATA II 7200RPM hard drive, which is more than enough for my wifes needs. There isnt room for another hard drive, so if she ever needed more space, an external drive would have to do, no doubt I would have to connect it via USB or Firewire. Dell offered up to a 500GB hard drive.
Again, because of Windows Vista I got an upgraded video card, the ATI Radeon X1300 Pro with digital output. And the choice of card was yet another reason I chose the Dell UltraSharp 1907FP LCD Flat Panel Display; it has both digital and analog inputs. The integrated sound card is a stock Sound Blaster compatible with a line-in, line-out, microphone, rear surround, side surround, and Sony/Philips Digital Interface (SPDIF) connectors to output the integrated 7.1 audio signal. Not a bad little deal when mated with the HD output of the ATI Radeon X1300 Pro; one could easily turn the Dimension C521 into a multi-media center.
In addition to Windows Vista Home Premium, Dell for includes a 15-month subscription to McAfee's Internet Security Suite, which includes antivirus, firewall, anti-spam, and privacy protection. Other software titles include: Microsoft Works 8.5, and Roxio Creator & MyDVD 9.0 DE.
Despite the limited (expandable) capabilities of the Dimension C521 I do like the unit; it a good compromise between size and performance. The slim-line mid-tower fits nicely under my wifes desk.
Cracking open the C521 is a very simple process thanks to a removable (lift-off) side panel. Once inside you will note that like the chassis itself, all internal components are tool-less, and not as densely packed as the GX series I am used to working on. The path from the hard drive controller connector in the rear of the machine, and the SATA hard drives in the front of the chassis is rather lengthy, so be prepared with a at least a 20 inch 90 degree SATA cable if you want to install a second drive. The density of this design will make itself apparent if one ever does have to swap out the hard drive; you would have to remove the DVD drive in order to get to the drive.
The Dimension C521 runs Windows Vista well right out of the box; no doubt the 1.0GB memory helps in this regard; at least my tests have shown this to be so.
Service and Support
The Dimension C521 comes standard with a 90-day Limited Warranty with At-Home Service and 1 year of hardware warranty support, giving you 24/7-access to phone and online help. I chose to upgrade to a 3-year At-Home Service when I bought the computer; the cost was very affordable.
The Dell Dimension C521 Slim-line Mini-tower is powerful home workstation that is more than adequate for Windows Vista and Media Center duties. Though limited, for the price (just under $1,000.00 including 19 flat panel monitor) the DellDimension C521 is a relatively inexpensive high performance workhorse that will more than meets my wife's current computing needs and future computer needs.
Amount Paid (US$): 997.00 Operating System: Windows Processor: AMD K-2 Processor speed: over 1000 RAM: More than 256 Internal Storage: CD-RW and DVD Hard Drive (GB): Under 4
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About the reviewer
Vincent Martin (vemartin)
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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The Dimension C521 offers the performance and versatility of its big brothers – the Dimension E520 and E521 – with a sleeker, more compact style, making it an ideal fit in your home. But don’t let the small size fool you, the C521 can be a hub for all your home entertainment and multimedia.