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I was doing my usual rounds at my usual thrift when a PC caught my eye. I knew from the stickers it was a mid 90’s machine and sported a Pentium II. Unfortunately I’m already up to my eyeballs in mid 90’s P1 and II machines and I had no reason whatsoever to buy this machine. Whats more it was priced at $24.99 which is a deal more then I normally would be willing to pay for a machine like this. Despite this it called to me. that case, the normal off white color of the era yet also sporting aggressive frontal styling and slimness. I knew of the Dell Dimension series, a mid-high end line from Dell and despite not owning one in their hey-day I have a sort of soft spot for the series and regularly preferred using them previously for Win 9x machines. After attempting to open the case and gaze on the goodies inside, and failing, I gave up and left. I know I didn’t need this machine yet I felt regret for not picking it up. A few days later I returned to the thrift and to my mild surprise the Dell was still there and the case was open. I took a peek inside and saw it sported an AWE64 which I could defiantly use in other machines as well as an Nvidia RIVA 128, A card I never really played around with. There was no hard drive and it was still overpriced at $24.99 but I gave in and despite my better judgment I bought it. At the very least it would make good material for a blog article I thought. That said, without further adue, the Dell Dimension XPS D300.

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The Dell Dimension line was the name Dell gave to their line of PC’s for homes and small offices and they were usually of decent quality. The XPS line was at least at first reserved for there high end cutting edge machines with XPS standing for Xtreme Performance System, because as we know everything in the 90’s was EXTREME! sometimes even omitting the E for extra XTREMNESS!. The XPS D300 here came out in late 1997 from what I can figure and indeed uses very high end parts for the time. This machine would be one of the last and faster machines “designed for windows 95” before win 98 came out the following year. The D300 here was one of the highest spec PC’s of the D series of XPS computers. I’m not 100% sure whats stock on this machine but I’m pretty sure the second CD drive with the blue highlighting was added by the previous owner but it does match the upper blue case label and goes well with everything. I’m also not 100% sure about that Zip 100 drive below it either but from the pictures I’ve seen online of the D300 most have one installed in the same place so I’m betting the Zip drive is stock. The power button is easily accessible mid case and the smaller reset button a little below it. I don’t know what it is about these machines but I’ve always loved the case styling of the Dell XPS and Dimensions series. The case itself is also thinner then an average PC case.

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We can see here that the case is tool-less to get into and only requires unscrewing one screw that can be done by hand. Under the PSU we have a really nice and large case fan to assist with cooling. Built in ports are a little sparse with two ps/2 ports (that are interestingly none color coded for the time). Two USB ports most likely 1.1, as well as a printer and serial port. Absent is the built in video and to a lesser extent built in audio. This is actually a mark of quality though as usually built in video/audio is of the low quality sort and is easily blown away by most add on video/audio cards. As I don’t think its likely at all that Dell sold their machines without any video or audio cards I can only assume the cards I found installed in mine were stock from the factory. This would make sense as the cards are period correct for 1997 and of higher quality which would also go along with the rest of the D300. Usually I go into the cards near the end but It feels right to go over them now since were on the subject. Keep in mind I don’t know for sure if these are stock cards.

First we will talk about the video card.

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This is the video card I found inside. An AGP Nvidia RIVA 128 from 1997. Since in depth spec information on this model seems to be scarce I can only assume this is the card that came stock with the D300. It does make sense this being a high end machine as the date of the card matches the computer and the RIVA 128 would of been a higher end card to use in 1997 when it was pretty hot stuff competing with the 3DFX Voodoo. It was one of the earlier cards to use the then new AGP bus slot and was one of the earlier cards to integrate 2d and 3d into one card. The Riva 128 makes a decent card for DOS as well as early Windows 3d stuff. Its a great all around card and I’d suggest keeping it installed if you want to keep the machine 1997 stock correct. If not, toss in something more powerful, perhaps from the next generation Nvidia TNT or TNT2 line.

for audio we have…

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A AWE64 CT4500. This would make it the AWE64 Value with only 512kb of RAM. Overall its still a decent card and as I suspected with the video card I also suspect this was the card that came stock with this machine though I was hoping it was a non value edition. Its doesn’t have true OPL FM or a waveblaster daughter board header but its not a half bad card. In DOS it will mostly act like a AWE32 with clearer output and If you hook up an external midi module the AWE64 is free of the “hanging midi note” bug found on just about all Sound Blaster cards from the SB16 to the AWE32. Its a good all around card for DOS compatibility and Windows 9x. Stick with this card or upgrade to the AWE64 gold if you want to stay period correct or plan on using the D300 for DOS heavy gaming. If not, A PCI sound blaster live! or something using the Vortex chip from Aureal. You’ll lose some ease of use and compatibility in DOS as is the case with all PCI sound cards but they will make better overall Windows sound cards in my opinion. (I actually replaced the AWE64 in my machine with a PCI Monster MX300 with a Aureal chip)

Now for the motherboard itself.

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One of the first things to catch the eye is the CPU and the massive copper heatsink. The motherboard itself is a slot 1 motherboard and features the Intel 440LX chipset and the at the time new AGP slot for video cards as well as PCI and ISA slots giving a lot of nice expansion options for building a DOS or Windows machine. The PC speaker is a “beeper” type so it doesn’t produce as great a sound as a true PC speaker. You can also notice in the image above the vertical bay to the left where normally a PC speaker or case fan would go. That bay is for a hard drive but on my system I simply mounted my drive in a more traditional manner In a bay under the Zip drive. I don’t know the type or size of the hard drive that came with this model as it was removed when I received it but my guess is that it was a 2GB+ model hard drive. I installed a simple 1GB model IDE drive to replace the missing drive.

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There is no L2 cache on the motherboard  since slot 1 CPU’s have L2 cache on the CPU package itself.

1) CPU – The CPU in the D300 as the name may suggest is a 300mhz “Klamath” Pentium II. This CPU was pretty hot stuff in late 1997 and would of been a good choice for a higher end PC. The heatsink on this CPU is huge.

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As you can see there is no fan directly on the CPU and my guess is the design here called for the oversized heatsink to be cooled by the case fan behind it.

2) – CMOS battery

3) RAM – 3 sockets for up to 384MB of PC66 SDRAM as I have here.

4) two IDE connectors and above them a floppy drive connector

5) this cable connects the reset/power buttons on the front of the machine to the motherboard.

Even with the praise I’ve given it the machine does have its faults. First of which is the case. Just let me say again I love the case. I love the look and the ease of taking the side panel off with one hand screw BUT I still have not figured out how to take the other side panel off. This prevents me from removing any dead drives and the ones currently installed are screwed in on both sides. I know it sounds silly and there’s probably a manual online…wait, let me Google that real fast…..no, nothing I could find in 5 minutes anyways. just dead ends. its unacceptable when you have to hunt down a manual to take a case apart or maybe I’m just missing something here.

Second issue I had is the password which is set to be there by default. Usually the user sets a password and then if the CMOS battery dies the password dies with it but in the case of the D300 and I suspect most Dells of the time the opposite is true. I received this PC with an obvious dead CMOS battery so after POST I was presented with a road block in the form of a password. What you have to do is find this jumper on the motherboard.

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Jumper pins 2-3 to set the machine to “config mode”. reboot and then go into BIOS and set things to no password. make sure you have also replaced the CMOS battery with a working one or else you will need to do this again after you power down. Power down and replace the jumper to pin 1-2 for “normal mode” Its not a huge deal but it was kinda annoying.

Lastly we have the proprietary Dell power connector.

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This is the bane of most all Dell PC’s from 1996 until about 2000 and you can actually fry your system if you decide to try and use a standard ATX power connector. Basically if your PSU dies its not as easy as grabbing a spare ATX PSU you may have lying around or can find at goodwill for $5 the same day. There are a few adapters I found on eBay that let you hook up a regular ATX power supply for about $6 so that may be an option though I cant comment on there reliability.

The machine performs adequately and truth be told makes a pretty cool Windows 9x machine or even a good DOS PC  depending on what video/audio cards you decide to go with though even the stock cards are well up to either task. The biggest real downside is the Dell PSU but that’s only really an issue if it decides to die on you. As far as OEM machines I would recommend it though I currently definitely prefer using generic cases and building your own machines from scratch this would of been a pretty nice PC for 1997.

Benchmarks for DOS

300mhz Pentium II MMX, 384MB SDRAM, Nvidia RIVA 128

3DBENCH – 179.2

PCPBENCH – 78.5

DOOM – 70.07

Quake – 58.3

20150518_200805This is the Dell Dimension XPS R450 which is at the highest end of the Dimension Pentium II line. Its uses the exact same motherboard as the D300 with the only difference being the CPU is a 450mhz Pentium II. It even still has the oversized heatsink with no fan. Obviously the front of the case is redesigned but offers the same number of expansion options though the lowest slot now needs to be a floppy drive or ZIP drive. I think this machine was altered by the former owner but the Video card was an Nvidia TNT card

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12 Comments

  1. These reviews inject me with a dose of pure nostalgia, and that’s xtremely pleasant. If I may ask: do you use these computers for gaming, or why do you collect. Is it the fascination of computers of the past? The joy that comes from owning old computers… I’d like a PC from the end of the 90’s just for retro PC gaming purposes. I don’t have room for it though, so that’s to be continued.

    • I mainly use them for gaming. I like to keep at least 1 prime example for every PC era or OS. I have a 286, 386, 486, windows 95 and 2 98 machines ect. I just get a kick of playing games on the best hardware for the time period it came out. this is especially relevant to PC’s since there are a lot of PC games that require certain setups to get the most out of them. I’m not really an emulation guy either even though stuff like DOSBOX is nice it just doesn’t do it for me. unfortunately my current space situation is limited so a lot of PC’s I pick up eventually get sold or donated after I write about them. This is usually the case with OEM systems but I do keep a core collection of machines to mess around with and game on. At one point when I had an actual house I had a pc room with something like 20 of my most used PC’s setup and ready to go. The Dell I just wrote about is current being used to play the 1998 DOS port of Akalbeth since that’s the definitive version of the game and it needs to be played in a windows environment. the dell pretty much fits the bill for the time. I understand the room issue. its a struggle for me ATM and a balancing act on what I want to keep and get rid of. There definitely is a sense of fascination and enjoyment when getting a “new” old PC and opening it up, seeing how its layed out inside and then configuring it to its full potential. I’m always finding out new things about PC’s.

  2. If shipping wasn’t so bad and you had room I’d give or trade you one of the small DOS machines I have sitting around here. For instance the Pavilion PC I really have no use for. European and Japanese PC’s are the next frontier for me. unfortunately besides high shipping costs they both present there own problems. for JP its the language barrier and for PC’s from the UK its going to be different video and power standards

  3. I owned one of these. I ordered it in August 1997 when Dell started taking orders for the 300; the machine got delivered late September.

    The Riva, AWE, and Zip were all factory installed, but you had to pay extra for the Zip. If the modem is a Universal Robotics voicemail-capable model, then that was also a factory-installed, extra-cost option.

    I believe the USB ports are 1.1 but I never used them because my machine ran Windows NT 4.0 which did not support USB.

    • thank you for helping confirm the video and sound card were stock. I assumed but wasn’t completely sure.

  4. Nice review – I have a D233, and it’s a nifty machine. The USB is actually 1.0! 1.1 didn’t come until the following year. As for the sound card, I assume you meant 512 *KB* of memory. 😛 Speaking of memory, these will take up to 1.5 GB!

    I changed the optical drive on mine a long time ago, so either the other side panel can be removed, or you don’t need to remove it – I forget which. Next time I get the computer out I’ll see how it’s done.

  5. Removing the other side panel – after you remove the first side panel and the front panel, there are two tabs on the top and bottom of the other side panel at the front of the case. Push up on the upper tab and down on the lower tab while pushing the panel, and it will push out towards the rear, as normal. Not an intuitive design, indeed.

    • Thank you for the reply and information. I corrected the memory for the sound card as well, thank you.

  6. What is the type of drive above the 3.5 inch floppy drive on the Dell Dimension XPS R450?

  7. What is the type of drive above the 3.5 floppy drive on the Dell Dimension XPS R450?


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