Some people may find this a tale of horror. Why? After five happy years together I have passed my iMac onto a new owner (the current Mrs Adams), and I have replaced it with a Windows 8.1 all-in-one PC. I know that many of my readers are Mac fans and may think this does not compute.

My home office doubles as a room with an overflow wardrobe, a cupboard for things that don’t belong anywhere else, occasionally a clothes horse covered in laundry (enjoyed by Lync conference attendees when I switch the video on) and Mrs Adams’ desk. Until recently Mrs Adams’ desk was unrecognisable as a desk, because of the amount of ‘stuff’ covering it.

Mrs A had an account on the iMac and used it for e-mail and web browsing (mostly on-line shopping). I would often walk back into my office and find the good lady in my seat, and the brief discussion would be something like “you’ve been on the computer all day, I need to get my e-mail and look at things”. Things… mainly shoes. So I would have to pick up my laptop and go to the kitchen. Recently I was finding that the iMac was not ideal for working from home – I was spending parts of the day twisted to the left so that I could access the Windows laptop. Taking these things into consideration, I really needed to:

  1. Provide Mrs Adams with a computer of her own
  2. Get me a Windows PC for working from home

I looked at the Dell XPS 2720, and a colleague recommended it, but at the time it boasted an i5 processor. I decided on a 27-inch all-in-one from another vendor (i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM), but it was out of stock. So I waited… and waited… and I called them and they said it would be in stock “soon” but they didn’t know when exactly. And then one morning it was in stock, so I ordered it. Within a week it arrived. Mrs Adams had cleared her desk, the iMac was moved to the other side of the room, and the new PC was placed on my desk. The set-up was extremely quick, thanks to Windows 8.1’s ability to pass it’s settings, apps, passwords, start screen, etc from a synced Windows account. Office was installed, e-mail was configured, virtual smart-card for VPN done… all set. And that should have been that. However…

On the first day of working from home I noticed that the voice quality in Lync call was, quite frankly, rubbish. The Wi-Fi connection dropped a number of times. By the afternoon I was using my Dell XPS 12 laptop for Lync calls. Later than evening I started to investigate and found that the speed of the network connection on the PC was 21 Mbps. Readers of a technical persuasion will know that that’s not too great. The XPS 12 was running at 135 Mbps, and the Surface Pro 2 was running at 216 Mbps. I did some tinkering with the driver settings and the wireless router, but that was it… 21 Mbps was its top speed. I downloaded an updated driver… no effect. I took the PC downstairs and put it right next to the router, and it climbed to 48 Mbps. Big deal.

I sent an e-mail to the vendor, explaining the problem and stating that I’d updated the wireless driver, and two days later I received a reply, suggesting that I try updating the driver. I called them, got through to technical support, and explained the problem. Would I like to send it in for repair? It’s been out of the box for three days, did they really think that it should go into a repair workshop? They suggested I could have a replacement – okay, possibly, but I asked them to follow my logic. There’s no point in getting a replacement if this is the expected performance of the Wi-Fi, so what’s the deal here? Are you going to tell me that a weedy 21 Mbps is what you would expect, or are you going to say “no, it should be much better than that, something is wrong”? Well?

I don’t know.

And it seems there was no-one who knew the answer to the question.

We can offer you a refund.

I explained that I wanted to keep this PC. It was everything I wanted… aesthetically-pleasing, slim, a lovely screen, a pretty good keyboard, a shit mouse (oh well, I can get a Microsoft Arc Mouse) and overall good performance – fix the Wi-Fi problem and I’m happy. Can you do that? Or even let me speak to someone who gives a shit and may know something about this PC. It seems that was too difficult. Okay, refund please – and it took ten days and five phone calls to obtain the return label that they were supposedly going to send within a couple of hours. I can tell you, I really enjoyed completing the buyer’s survey.

Dell XPS 2720Back to the Dell XPS 2720. During the meanwhile, the specs on this model had been improved. It now featured an i7 processor, a whopping 16 GB of RAM and a 2 TB hard disk (complete with 32 GB SSD to allow Windows 8.1 to boot up in single-digit seconds). I placed the order not long after deciding to give up on the other PC – the web site estimated a week for delivery, but it shipped the same day and arrived the day after.

The design is different to the other PC, which was a 27-inch screen attached to a small connected base unit. The XPS 2720 is more like the iMac in that all of the guts are in the screen unit, and the base is just a foot. It’s chunkier than the other PC, and weighs more, but the 2560 x 1440 touch display is superb and very vibrant (it now makes me realise that the other PC’s display was a bit washed out). It has a Blu-ray drive in the right-hand-side of the screen unit, which is a good reason for the more chunky depth. And well done Dell for not loading it up with crap-ware.

Dell XPS 2720The XPS 2720 comes with an excellent keyboard and a mouse more than good enough to prevent me shelling out an extra £35 for a new Arc Mouse (and the keyboard and mouse use the same wireless dongle so they take up just one of the seven USB ports). The speakers are excellent, much better than the other PC and on par with the iMac. And what of the network speed? 300 Mbps… a bit better than 21 methinks.

Any bad points? Barely. The retail price was £100 more than the other PC, but a nice bit of Microsoft staff discount made the price pretty good so not a big deal. Four of the USB ports (and some other ports that I haven’t used yet) are round the back and a bit tricky to get to, but it does have two USB ports on the bottom-left side of the screen, and a secret one underneath on the right (which is where Dell recommend the keyboard / mouse dongle goes). It’s a tiny bit more noisy than the iMac, the very slight hum of a fan emits from the narrow vent that circumnavigates the screen (rather like the Surface Pro 2’s all-round vent).

Okay, I said the keyboard is excellent, but I had to ask for a replacement – the left-hand shift key kept sticking and that was rather annoying. It sounded like it was going to break so I thought it best to deal with that immediately. I got through to Dell customer service very quickly, they confirmed my order number and service tag, and dispatched a new keyboard / mouse pack the same day (which arrived 22 hours after the phone call).