HP Slimline's bigger brother: Dell Studio Slim 540s

Discussion in 'Small Form Factor Systems' started by chklin, Dec 14, 2008.

  1. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    In the beginning there was a Slimline...

    I like small computers. A long long time ago, I built a computer in a full tower case, and I imagined someday I would fill the case with all kinds of goodies. Well, that never happened. I am happy with one optical drive and two hard drives, and the important stuff (CPU, RAM, and video card) does not really take up that much space anyway. So I gave up on big computers in favor of small ones.

    For the longest time, the only way to get a small computer is to build one yourself. But times have changed, and the big boys have decided to join the game. For the past year, my main computer was an HP Slimline desktop PC. It was great: pretty, small, quiet, it does its job and stays out of my way. However, lately I started to feel its limitations in terms of power supply, form factor, and motherboard capabilities. The Slimline turns out to be a little too small, and the design a little too old for my needs.

    I tolerated it for a while, but then a promising alternative went on sale, and I seized the opportunity. I sold my Slimline and am now a proud owner of a Dell Studio Slim 540s desktop PC.

    The perspectives of this review

    In this review I try to give you an impression of the Studio Slim from the perspective of a former Slimline owner. The pros and cons in this review are only in comparison to a Slimline, and I will not talk too much about features shared by both machines. There will be no performance figures; you can make good guesses based on the hardware specification. Instead I will focus on system design, construction, features, and other issues that affect usability, so that you can make an informed choice the next time you buy a small desktop PC.

    Why did I do it? Why?

    Let's start with a few "why" questions. Why did I choose to buy a complete system when I could have built a computer myself or go with a barebones instead? Building a SFF computer involves many unknowns, and I don't want to risk getting a motherboard that does not fit well into the case, or letting a missing part delay the build. Barebones eliminate that particular problem, but most ones I have seen either use old designs or are expensive (or both). I do not much care for high-end parts, so buying a complete system gives the best bang of the buck.

    Why did I buy another slim computer instead of a mini-tower or a cube-type SFF (like the Shuttle PCs)? You can chalk that up to personal preference: I happen to have the ideal spot to fit a slim case next to my desk. Besides, I can get decent video cards and TV tuner cards in low-profile, so to me the extra width of a tower case represent wasted space --- something I try to avoid.

    To be continued...
     
  2. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    Dimensions and external design

    The most obvious difference between the HP Slimline and the Dell Studio Slim is the size. The Studio Slim is a little slimmer, but significant taller and deeper. Here are the dimensions (H x W x D):

    Dell Studio Slim: 14.2" x 3.9" x 17.1"
    HP Slimline: 10.9" x 4.2" x 13.4"

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Dell, however, puts the extra space to good use. Here is a summary of available expansion spaces (Studio Slim vs. Intel Slimline):

    5.25" drive bays (1 vs. 1)
    3.5" drive bays (3 vs. 1)
    DDR2 memory slots (4 vs. 2)
    PCI-e x16 slots (1 vs. 1)
    PCI-e x1 slots (2 vs. 1)
    PCI slots (1 vs. 0)​

    In addition to leaving more room for drives, the bigger case also allows Dell to put in a MicroATX motherboard which itself leaves more room for expansion. Thermal management also benefits from the extra space, and Dell has clearly put some thought into maintaining a good airflow.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    At the front, there is a row of vent holes right next to the HDD bays on each side of the case. Toward the back, the side vent mesh serves as CPU fan air intake, and at the top is the exhaust for the case fan. Here you see the benefit of having a case designed for a specific motherboard: the intake is perfectly positioned to face the CPU fan, and the case fan is right on top of the CPU heaksink. The two fans work in concert: cold air comes in, and hot air goes out.

    To be continued...
     
  3. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    Internal design and construction

    Computers from big-names have a reputation of being difficult to work with, because the companies would rather have you to pay them to do with work instead. I am happy to report that this is not the case for the Studio Slim. The case is very well constructed; solid, but smooth all around with no sharp or rough edges. The side panel is secured by two thumb screws, and right underneath is a metal structural support beam that run from the front to the rear of the case.

    [​IMG]

    The support beam is locked in the rear by a latch that also secures the expansion cards, and you can release the latch with a push of your thumb and then completely remove the beam. (The two ends of the beam is helpfully labeled "Front Side" and "Rear Side" to help you put it back in the right way.) That allows you complete access to the expansion slots --- without any tools.

    [​IMG]

    Here is a shot of the internals with everything out of the way. You can see (in clockwise order):

    CPU fan and heatsink
    Memory modules
    DVD drive
    A corner of the hard drive
    Power supply
    Expansion slots​

    I want to point out two things in this picture. First, the computer offers excellent cable management: most of the cables run along the front edge of the motherboard behind the drives, where they do not interfere with the air flow around the CPU. The only notable exception is the 4-pin brown-black CPU power cable, but you can tuck that onto the small arm on the support beam and get it out of the way.

    Second, the PSU is at the bottom of the case (instead of at the top, like in most slim cases I have seen). I think this decision has to do with thermal management. Imagine that you have a pretty long video card in the PCI-e x16 slot: the card would effectively partition the case in half. The upper half has the CPU fan and the case fan to help with the airflow, but neither of them helps with heat in the bottom half. The PSU at the bottom creates a second airflow: from the HDD vent to the PSU intake, and out through the PSU exhaust. This way we ensure that there is good airflow throughout the case.

    To be continued...
     
  4. mrmylanman

    mrmylanman [H]ard|Gawd

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    That reminds me of one of the older Optiplex computers that a lot of companies and schools use, only not ugly. Not bad.
     
  5. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    Temperature and acoustics

    One thing I like about the Slimline is how quiet it is. While the top of the case (where the PSU is) gets quite hot, the computer itself is essentially silent when under light load (which is probably 90% of the time). I sit about two feet next to the Slimline and I could hardly hear a thing, even in the dead of the night. That is truly wonderful.

    That is, unfortunately, not so with the Studio Slim. I have had loud computers before, and the Studio Slim is not loud. It is, however, audible in a quiet room. The noise is soft and gentle, and it disappears when the heater in the house blasts warm air through the ducts, so objectively it is not really that bad. But coming from a silent computer, the noise sounds just awful. Removing the video card and unplugging the case fan does not help much, so the noise has to be from either the CPU fan or the PSU fan.

    On the other hand, there is good news on the thermal front. My room is at 20 degrees C, and the computer stays pretty cool: I have a Q8200 CPU, and it stays between 25 and 35 degrees C at idle. When under full load for an extended period of time, the core temperature rises a little (one core goes to 60, two at 55, and one at 50), and I expect that applying some Arctic Silver AS5 will bring down the temperature some more. The fans are very effective; once I reduce CPU load, the temperature drops back to normal in a few minutes.

    Fan noise stays pretty much constant between idle and load. During heavy load, CPU fan ramps up from 1700 RPM to 2100 PRM, and the case fan from 1600 RPM to 1800 RPM. Clearly both fans are thermally controlled, if there is a way to reduce fan speed at idle, we could perhaps drop the idle noise to the Slimline level.

    Well, that is all I have to say for the moment... I am happy to answer questions if you post them in the thread!
     
  6. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    Yeah. I looked at Optiplex briefly; the looks I can tolerate, but it is the price that I cannot stomach...
     
  7. swatbat

    swatbat [H]ardForum Junkie

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    Same machine as the vostro 200 slim line. We support like 20 or 30 of them in the field. Seem to be good machines.
     
  8. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    They are quite similar, but there are differences as well. Vostro 220s has 2 DIMM slots (max 4GB), and the Studio Slim 540s has 4 (max 8GB). The 220s does not have built-in HDMI, and the 540s does. The 220s supports processors up to C2D, and the 540s supports C2Q as well. The Vostro is a little smaller than the Studio Slim.
     
  9. beowulf7

    beowulf7 [H]ardForum Junkie

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    Thanks for the review, I enjoyed the narration and pics. :) What was the cost difference between the Slimline and Studio Slim? Looks like overall, you're glad you made the jump. :cool:

    (One small correction - the order of your Dell's internals is in clockwise order, not CCW.)
     
  10. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    Thanks for pointing out the error --- I sometimes have trouble with left and the other left :D

    I am indeed quite happy with the Studio Slim. Getting a new computer is always exciting, and now I have a quad-core processor that I can use for my new programming project. There are other things too. For example: hardware monitoring actually works! And I now have dual-channel memory! And Gigabit Ethernet! And PCI-e 2.0 too!!

    Yeah, I know, I know, these are just little things which do not really matter. However, they do add up and give me the warm feeling that I got myself a nice, modern, and capable computer, instead of just a "good enough" system that manages to get the job done today (just barely) but has little room to grow. Some of that is equipment fetish; so take it for what it's worth. But I can now install (and have in fact installed) an XFX 9500GT and a Hauppauge TV tuner without worry --- I could not have done that with the Slimline.

    The cost difference depends, obviously, on how much you paid for your Slimline. The Studio Slim costs me about $750 shipped (EPP, DPA discount, and living in a state with no sales tax). Here is what I get for the money:

    Q8200 CPU
    Vista Home Premium
    6GB DDR2-800 SDRAM
    500GB Harddisk
    16X DVD+-RW Writer
    S2490W 24" LCD Monitor​

    The monitor (which goes to the wife ;)) retails for $350, but you can get it for a bit less than $300 when on sale. Make your own calculations.
     
  11. mrmylanman

    mrmylanman [H]ard|Gawd

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    Wow you got all that and the monitor for $750? Not bad at all.
     
  12. tsmorty

    tsmorty n00bie

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    Awesome review. Thanks for the time and effort put into it. Sounds like without the monitor you could have trimmed it even lower on the price front. I may go this route if the slimline we just got doesn't hold up. :)
    Thanks
     
  13. beowulf7

    beowulf7 [H]ardForum Junkie

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    chklin, wow, that is a great deal! That means you could get a very good Studio Slim for < $500 sans monitor (which would be the case for an HTPC using the TV as a monitor). :cool:
     
  14. Freezebyte

    Freezebyte 2[H]4U

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    Just ordered/built one a few weeks ago for my inlaws. Their 3 year old BTX Dell was overheating on the mobo chipset again and it was time to retire it. Kinda anxious to tear it apart and see it for myself.
     
  15. frumpy_uk

    frumpy_uk n00bie

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    chklin : Great review there. I would like to offer up a criticism of this PC, and see if anyone can advise.

    I received a 540S studio slim two weeks ago. On the whole I'm very happy with it, but the low quality PSU is a big issue for me.

    Mine sits in pride of place in my living room, I use it as a media center.

    I got in touch with Dell tech support regading the noise of the PSU fan. Although I didn't mention it to them, there is also a high pitched and irregular (and fairly quiet in comparison with the fan) fizzing/buzzing noise.

    I agree with your observation that the fan noise is pretty constant. I unplugged (briefly of course) the case fan & the CPU fan and there was almost no drop in noise - proving the PSU fan to be the culprit. Also, the PSU fan speed isn't variable which explains why the noise is constant.

    Last week, Dell came and replaced the PSU but the fan noise was exactly the same (fizzing still present too). So from that I deduce that the noisy fan isn't a fault, it's just a noisy fan - same goes for the fizzing.

    Yesterday I swapped the fan for a Noctura NF-R8, which made a huge difference. The 3 fans now whisper along, which I'm very happy about. However.... that fizzing sound is now much more obvious.

    So my next option is to upgrade the PSU. I'm a PC hardware novice, but from what I have now found through google, it appears that the PSU is TFX and is proving imposible so far to upgrade. I also read that the fizzing noise indicates that the PSU is low quality (although the cr*ppy PSU fan was already a pretty good clue).

    I would recommend any prospective owners to be very cautious about buying this PC if the intention is to use it as a HTPC. It's certainly not too noisy to do decent service in a home office or as a games machine, but for me at least, the noise level detracts from the enjoyment of movie watching. I think that's a real drawback for a PC which Dell markets as a living room device.

    If anyone can help with recommendations for a replacement PSU I'd be grateful. Related thread is here : http://www.hardforum.com/showthread.php?p=1033459954#post1033459954


    cheers
    Paul
     
  16. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    Paul,

    Thanks for identifying the source of the noise! I am sorry to hear about your experience... it is weird that Dell did not spend more energy silencing a computer that is obviously aimed at the HTPC market.

    What do you mean by fizzing noise? Some kind of metal vibration? I don't think I have heard anything weird in my machine. Currently I have no plans to touch my PSU; maybe someday I will replace the fan like you did when I am reasonably sure that I won't be sending it back for warranty service.

    Choosing a PSU for a slim case is difficult. Since the market is so small, there are only few choices, and even fewer reviews. If you decide to replace your PSU, please let us know how it works out for you!
     
  17. beowulf7

    beowulf7 [H]ardForum Junkie

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    chklin, could you comment on how much light the Slimline and Studio Slim produce? If this small PC is used as an HTPC in a dark room, obviously LED lights, etc. would be very distracting. Thanks.
     
  18. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    They produce light in different ways. The Slimline projects blue light upwards through its big power button at the top of the front bezel, and there are (someone correct me if I am wrong) a few orange indicator lights in front (not very bright). As for the Studio Slim...

    [​IMG]

    The power button is small, but back-lit by a bright white LED. The HDD indoctor, which is close to the bottom, is visible but quite dim. How much the power button LED bothers you depends on where you sit. Imagine a 15-degree beam straight from the power button. If you are in the beam, the LED can blind you in the dark. If you are not in the beam, you can still see the LED, but it will not attract your attention.

    Also IMO the Studio Slim is easier to electric-tape than the Slimline.

    P.S. I take that back. The power LED on the Studio Slim is definitely distracting in a dark room even if you are not in the beam.
     
  19. frumpy_uk

    frumpy_uk n00bie

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    I second that. I'm going to colour in the lens with a black marker pen.

    <What do you mean by fizzing noise?>chklin: It's an electrical sound, not mechanical. So like the noise made when something isn't plugged in properly, you can hear a fizzing, crackling noise. Not very reassuring. I can imagine it's pretty much drowned out by the PSU fan most of the time, especially if it's used in an office environment rather than a living room.

    cheers
    Paul
     
  20. beowulf7

    beowulf7 [H]ardForum Junkie

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    Thanks for the quick reply. What a shame that a computer that will often be used as an HTPC (given its small form factor) doesn't have any settings either in the case or in the BIOS to dim or turn off the light completely. :mad: Yes, it looks like a ghetto duct tape solution may have to be utilized. :(
     
  21. CrimandEvil

    CrimandEvil Dick with a heart of gold

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    Huh?
    1.) I don't see anything about this system that screams "HTPC" to me.
    2.) Clearly it's not designed nor set up as one which is why it has that blue light thing with no dimming options.
    3.) Just cause it's small doesn't make it an HTPC nor a candidate for one. When the Atom boards first started coming out everyone seemed to be going ape shit for them labeling them as "perfect for an HTPC" when it was pretty clear that wouldn't be suited it at all. Every time something small comes around everyone thinks it would make a perfect HTPC when most of the time it wouldn't.
     
  22. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    Well, we all have different standards, but for me, the built-in HDMI port is a big flashing "buy me as a HTPC" sign. The description on the Dell website also refers to home media centers.

    But of course, as you hinted, just because someone want to sell you something as a HTPC does not necessarily mean that it is actually fit for the purpose.
     
  23. CrimandEvil

    CrimandEvil Dick with a heart of gold

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    HDMI is the new "in" thing, good thing you can actually convert it too DVI. From the looks of it the mobo uses either a G33 or a G35 which both are known as terrible chipsets for HTPCs due to their broken hardware acceleration of HD content.

    Now, slap a decent video card in there (4550ish) and you'd be good to go with a decent little setup. But not with the onboard Intel video.
     
  24. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    The mobo uses G45 which, according to AnandTech, has pretty good HD playback acceleration with the latest drivers.
     
  25. beowulf7

    beowulf7 [H]ardForum Junkie

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    Well, I was going by your #3. Most people who want an HTPC care about its footprint so that it blends in w/ the rest of the HTS and is not as noticeable. For regular computer usage, footprint is not as important, unless there's a shortage of real estate on the desk.

    In general, it's a PITA when vendors don't allow the disabling of annoying lights. I've read many reviews complaining abuot blinding DVD/HD DVD/Blu-ray players that don't allow for dimming or disabling of the LED light(s).
     
  26. KrylonArt

    KrylonArt [H]ard|Gawd

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    You are right, Dell simply refers to it as a "home media center" instead of "home theater PC".
     
  27. Hollywood406

    Hollywood406 n00bie

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    Hi chklin,
    First off I'd like to say thanks for such a comprehensive review of this PC. The photos were great too. I also purchased one and I had a few questions that maybe you can help me answer.

    I don't have an issue with noisy fans but I may have the reverse. My processor overheats and shuts down. I noticed that you mentioned your core temps were in the 20-30's range at idle and the 50-60's under load. Mine is in the 50's at idle and when I run OCCT load test, it drives the temps to 70 and shuts down after 10 min. running time.

    I also noticed that you mentioned fan speeds. I never noticed a large difference in the fan noise when running the test. I was hoping that I would hear the fan speed increase with the rise in core temp. How did you determine fan speed? Is there an app that I can download to monitor that? I downloaded HWMONITOR but it only shows core temps.

    My son mentioned that maybe the thermal paste for the heatsink was applied improperly and might need to be checked or re-applied. It's brand new (just a day old) and I don't want to void the warranty. I do have a call in to Dell support for this issue and I'm waiting their response too. Thanks for any help that you can supply!

    By the way, my specs are as follows:

    Intel core 2 quad Q8200
    3g memory
    640g hard drive
    250w power supply
    dvd
    windows vista home premium 32bit
     
  28. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    Hi Hollywood,

    Sorry to hear that you are having trouble with your Studio Slim. I monitor my fan speeds with SpeedFan. The latest version supports the Asus F8000 monitoring chip on the Studio Slim, and it should report fan speed and motherboard temperature measurements.

    Your son may be right about the cause of the problem. However, given that the machine is brand new, I think you are right to call Dell and have them sort the problem out. Overheating is not normal, and since Q8200 is a low-frequency, 45nm chip with (relatively) low power consumption, the built-in fans should be able to provide adequate cooling.

    I hope Dell will be able to make things right for you, and keep us posted!
     
  29. Hollywood406

    Hollywood406 n00bie

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    Thanks for the reply. I did find SPEEDFAN but I didn't load it. I actually gave up on the Dell when the PC locked up during the Dell utility hard drive read test. Also the network connection would drop if I moved the case or touched the cat5e cable or RJ45 connector. The audio never worked and last but not least I saw a blue screen a couple times and once the display blanked out with just the task bar at the bottom displayed! Oh No! haha This was not what I expected.

    I have to admit that the Dell service was ready to help me and replace whatever was wrong with it but at this point They would have had to replace at least the motherboard and the hard drive. Who knows how long the power supply would have lasted. I took it back to Staples and got a refund. I'm actually better off since my son and I are going to build our own.

    Thanks again for the help.
     
  30. beowulf7

    beowulf7 [H]ardForum Junkie

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    What do you folks think of the Dell Vostro 220s Slim Tower, whose dimensions are: 354mm X 100mm X 415mm (13.95" x 3.94" x 16.3")? Dell is currently running a deal on it for $365 (w/ ship) + tax.
     
  31. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    I have no personal experience, but swatbat said upthread that they are good machines. Disk and RAM are cheap, so unless you need one of the Studio Slim features, the 220s looks like a great buy at this price (which IIRC also includes an UltraSharp 2009WFP monitor).
     
  32. beowulf7

    beowulf7 [H]ardForum Junkie

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    Thanks, yes, they do look very similar, except the Vostro 220s is slightly smaller than the Studio Slim 540s. It looks like Dell jacked up the price on the 220s and isn't giving away that 2009WFP for free anymore. Looks like they'll be sending cancellations (I ordered one). : \
     
  33. frumpy_uk

    frumpy_uk n00bie

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    My problem - cr*ppy PSU - is now fixed. Unfortunately although Dell were very helpful I had to resort to buying my own replacement.

    I went for a SeaSonic PSU which fits perfectly, is 300W instead of 250W and is near as makes no odds to silent. I'm delighted. If anyone's interested they can request details by replying to this thread.


    BTW colouring in the LED with a black marker pen fixed the too-bright LED issue for me.


    Lastly, I'm using xbmc to play BluRay rips at 720P (max resolution of my small Bravia TC) - no problems with this PC (3GHz core2duo, 2Gb RAM).

    cheers
    Paul
     
  34. chklin

    chklin Limp Gawd

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    Is this what you bought? http://www.seasonicusa.com/tfx.htm

    80 Plus certified, dual 12V rail, looks nice! Too bad I cannot find anyone selling it in the US. Can you post a few pictures? What connectors does it have? (How many SATA? Any PCI-e 6-pin?)
     
  35. frumpy_uk

    frumpy_uk n00bie

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    Yes, that's it. More details in the datasheet on this page : http://www.seasonic.com/product/pc_tfx.jsp

    24 + 4 Pin (P4 connector) ATX 2.0
    4 Power ports (HDD, CD-Rom, etc.)
    2 Floppy ports
    2 SATA ports (12 V + 5V + 3,3 V)

    As far as purchasing one in US it might help if you search for ss-300 tfx. This is where I bought mine, no problems to report : http://www.sh-edv.eu/product_info.php?products_id=410. They say they will ship to other countries on request so if you don't find any local retailers you could try these guys.
     
  36. beowulf7

    beowulf7 [H]ardForum Junkie

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    My Dell Vostro Slim is on its way! :cool:
     
  37. sap

    sap Limp Gawd

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    Is the Studio Slim supported by ESXi? Dell has a coupon for 25% off on $1299 or more. Made mine with the high-end C2Q, 8GB RAM, etc. and it ends up being $975. If this thing can run ESXi, I'm afraid I'll buy it :(
     
  38. beowulf7

    beowulf7 [H]ardForum Junkie

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    It arrived on Fri. Now I need to find the time to set it up. :)
     
  39. linus_xyz

    linus_xyz n00bie

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    Chklin, I'm curious about why you're so confident that that XFX card will work in the 540S. The box wants you to have a 350W power supply. I installed the card on my 540S and things seemed to be going well, until I decided to access the DVD burner. That's when the computer shut itself off. When I turned it back on, the DVD burner was broken.

    I just replaced the DVD burner, but, obviously, the 9500 GT is no longer an option for me. Maybe a safer card like the ATI 3450 or 4550 or ... possibly... 3650? Not sure. Let me know what you think.

    Also, under load my fans take off to max RPM's (5000 or so) and sound like a vacuum cleaner. Very annoying. I'm curious why your system seems quieter. Maybe because you have a discreet video card.
     
  40. beowulf7

    beowulf7 [H]ardForum Junkie

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    I'm doing some research for a HTPC-targeted video card to put in my Dell Vostro 220s (which is similar to the Dell Studio Slim 540s, from what I understand). If anyone's interested, here's the thread.