(Note: This story originally appeared in my Release Notes newsletter. Get the good stuff first by signing up. Release Notes drops each Tuesday morning.)
In April I wrote a story detailing how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the design of personal computers, and during an interview with Dell Technologies executive Rahul Tikoo I learned about a modular computer the company makes that fits inside a monitor stand. This is effectively an all-in-one PC, but one whose guts can be easily swapped out.
Good thing, too, because when I ran Windows Update before one last set of tests on the Dell OptiPlex 7090 Ultra, a firmware update from Dell bricked the computer. The system froze on the Dell logo when it tried to boot, and the display appeared scrambled. Dell was able to overnight a replacement module for the 7090, which easily slid into place.
While having a review unit die on the desk is never a good thing, it illustrates one of the selling points of the machine’s unique design: When trouble comes calling, getting back up and running can be a snap (assuming you can quickly get your hands on a replacement module).
The OptiPlex 7090 Ultra is aimed at businesses that need to deploy multiple PCs onto workers’ desks, sometimes on a grand scale. But in this new world of work, that desk might just be in your home. Because it takes up minimal space, it’s ideal for those users short on square footage. While it’s powerful enough for most business uses, don’t expect to be playing graphics-intensive games on it after hours. But as a home multimedia system, or even for modest creative endeavors, it’s a good choice.
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The model I tested came with an Intel Core i7 processor running at 4.8 GHz; Intel Xe graphics; 16 gigabytes of DDR 4 memory; a 256-GB SSD; and support for Wi-Fi 6 connections. The monitor Dell sent was a 24-inch Video Conferencing Monitor with full HD resolution at 1,920-by-1,080 pixels, a 5-megapixel webcam that pops up from the top of the screen, high-performance microphones, decent speakers and a button that launches Microsoft Teams (though you can configure it to use Zoom instead). You can use almost any Dell monitor, though, including those that are much larger. When you order, just make sure you get a stand that supports the monitor size.
Setup is straightforward. The computer module is about 10 inches long, 4 inches wide and .75 inch thick. You connect the cables you want to use on the bottom of the module – there are plastic guides that keep everything neat – and then slide it into a sleeve that, in turn, attach to the stand. The one downside to this is that adding or removing a cable requires that you slide the module out of the stand. It’s not a difficult procedure, but it would be nice if those ports – two USB-A, 1 USB-C, Ethernet, DisplayPort, HDMI and power – were more accessible.
Fortunately, there are several ports along the sides: USB-A, USB 4/ Thunderbolt 4, an audio jack and a Kensington lock port for security. And the 24-inch monitor is bristling with ports, and when connected via USB-C to the computer it serves as a much-needed hub.
The OptiPlex 7090 is certainly fast enough for most business tasks, and even some less serious endeavors. Apps opened quickly, video streaming on my Wi-Fi 6 home network was smooth and stutter-free. You’re not going to feel constrained unless you’re running intensely demanding applications such as games. I know – I tried getting id Software’s “Doom Eternal” to run. It required downloading newer drivers from Intel and even then, performance was more like seconds-per-frame rather than frames-per-second, even at the lowest-resolution settings.
The amount of junkware is minimal. But the software load includes the Dell Optimizer, which uses artificial intelligence to understand when and how you use certain apps and boost their performance. It also uses AI to improve audio quality by tweaking the mic and speakers based on the noise in your room. The sound I heard during some test Zooms was great, and the person at the other end said I sounded very good.
The 24-inch Teleconferencing monitor includes a soundbar along the bottom of the screen, but it’s strictly tuned for voice. Music sounds tinny and bass is almost non-existent, but voices during teleconferences sound just fine. The HD-quality display is excellent, with a 60-Hz refresh rate. Colors were realistic and video was vibrant after I used the included Intel graphics software to boost its brightness.
The model I received, with an adjustable monitor stand designed for 19-inch to 27-inch displays, was about $1,200 as configured on Dell’s website.The 24 Video Conference Monitor is $470. Paired together, they’re a good value for getting work done in the office or at home.
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