Business desktop PCs nowadays usually aren’t the most exciting affairs, but this specific innovation from Dell is worth your attention. The OptiPlex 7070 Ultra (starts at $769.79; $1,768.25 as tested) is a compact business desktop that fits inside the neck of a monitor stand. It’s simple, currently one-of-a-kind, and has some clear upsides. There are some growing pains, and the PC itself isn’t anything to write home about in terms of raw speed, but it’s an interesting space-saving solution—especially for IT departments looking to streamline setups. The similarly compact Lenovo ThinkCentre M720q Tiny is also worth consideration, while you should take a look at the OptiPlex 7770 AIO if what you’re after is a more traditional all-in-one desktop deployment.
The Invisible Business PC
The design of the OptiPlex 7070 Ultra is undeniably clever. The base concept—a modular, compact business desktop PC that slots into the back of a monitor—isn’t new, as the major PC makers have been offering such models for years. However, we haven’t seen one quite like this. The OptiPlex 7070 Ultra PC itself is thin and narrow, made to slide into a specially built monitor stand and totally hidden from sight. It’s just 1.1 inches thick while measuring 10 inches long and 3.8 inches wide.
There are multiple advantages to this setup. Once installed into the stand (more on that in a moment), the PC disappears from sight and, mostly, from mind. For one, this means the PC itself has essentially zero desk footprint. In tight office spaces this can be invaluable, even if the unit is small. Keeping something off the desk entirely keeps space free, and it also looks neater.
The deployment process for IT departments is potentially much easier, as well. Once a fleet of these systems has been initially installed into their stands, rolling them out to employees is quite easy, and with the monitors attached, you’re killing two birds with one stone. The PC portion is also very easy to service or swap out entirely, without having to replace a whole laptop or screen. You can’t do that with a typical all-in-one design.
You can opt to include one of several stand choices with the PC itself, or no stand at all. I would highly recommend including one of the stand options, since it’s the primary appeal of this system. That said, Dell sells the compact PC on its own, namely for scenarios where you or an IT department are ordering a batch of replacement PCs, redundant backups, and/or already have empty stands. The different stands include a VESA mount, a fixed stand, and a height-adjustable stand. For my testing, I have the adjustable stand, which is a $55 add-on to the price without a stand, and $13 more than the fixed stand.
The actual installation process is pretty simple, though aspects of it can be a little cumbersome. You slide and then snap the PC itself into a cutout in the back of the stand. Neither requires much force, and an instruction label with a diagram makes it pretty clear what to do.
Another label on the inside of the stand cover continues the instructions, but putting the PC in place covers it up—better study how to run the cables first! The cover snaps onto the stand to hide the PC and cables once you’re done; it turns the whole stand into a closed PC case, but you obviously won’t want to put it on until you’ve run the wires.
On that note, the more frustrating aspects of setup largely revolve around cable routing, though they’re not huge issues. You can attach your video-out cables and peripherals to the PC once it’s secured in place, but routing them is a little finicky. As depicted on the inside label, you are supposed to run the cables from the PC’s ports down, under some small plastic hooks, and then back up before slotting them out of the casing. The power adapter has to be run up and into the case in reverse (as in, plugged into the PC as the last step) because the power brick, of course, won’t fit inside.
None of these is a major problem, just little steps to figure out that may add up to some frustration. If you’re setting up a fleet of these, you should have it down after completing your first few. Screwing the stand into the base is super-easy, as is locking on a monitor.
You’ll actually need a monitor, of course, but like the stand, you can choose to add one to your order. Dell shipped us its P2719HC display with this unit for testing, but you have a variety of other options, including smaller 24-inch monitors. The separate screen slotted right into the plate at the end of the monitor stand, and the entire process was toolless.
It’s easy to remove the cover down the line, too, if you need access to the interior. A small switch at the base releases the cover, so you can pull it away to reveal the PC and ports even when it’s attached to the stand and running. The cables do run through the stand, so you can’t fully remove the cover without unplugging, but it’s enough for adding or removing peripherals. When the system is fully up and running and connected to a display, it looks no different from an all-in-one desktop with a non-removable PC.
Ports & Configurations
Speaking of ports, the situation is a little sticky. Once you put the cover on the PC and have the stand set up, there is a single USB 3.1 port and one USB-C port exposed on the left flank. More ports are on the bottom edge of the PC—two more USB 3.1 ports, a USB-C port, an Ethernet jack—but they’re covered by the casing once it’s fully installed. This means you have to plug in your mouse, keyboard, and the like before you close up shop. You could pop the case off and plug them in, awkwardly, but you won’t be able to run the cables properly after the fact.
With just one exposed USB Type-A port, this is an inconvenience for anyone with a lot of peripherals or removable drives. Wireless accessories help (Dell included a wireless keyboard and mouse with our unit, a $32 add-on), though even then one of the ports is taken up by the receiver dongle. You may attach a dock or adapter to your PC, but without one, the port offerings are surprisingly limited (or semi-inaccessible) for this type of desktop. The good news is the USB-C port can support up to three monitors via DisplayPort.
Our configuration is a $1,768.25 model (unit pricing at the time of review, including the optional costs of the monitor, keyboard, and mouse), with a decent feature set for the size. It packs an Intel Core i7-8665U processor, 16GB of memory, and a 512GB NVMe SSD. The mobile-grade CPU isn’t exactly a powerhouse, as you’ll see below, but this isn’t meant to be a fire-breathing workstation, just a capable business PC.
Dell offers plenty of other configuration choices, but our CPU is actually the top option. Other choices scale down to include a Core i3 chip and a couple of Core i5 options. You can also go up or down the memory scale from 4GB to 64GB. Storage options range, similarly, from a 500GB to a 2TB hard drive, or a 128GB M.2 SSD to a 1TB M.2 SSD. If you’re someone deploying a large number of these machines to employees and want specific features or add-ons, Dell serves up many extras to bundle with the desktop, including cables, software, and security solutions.
Speed-Testing the OptiPlex
For comparison testing, I gathered the most similar or relevant desktops I could. These types of PCs don’t refresh quite as often as laptops and other types of desktops do, and these are in a variety of form factors, so it’s a somewhat eclectic list. The following table serves as a cheat sheet for the competition…
The ThinkCentre is the obvious comparison, as another compact business desktop that can be mounted to a display, but this config is much cheaper than the Dell at $764 as tested. The others are different shapes and sizes, and run a variety of prices. The Mac mini ($799 as tested) is Apple’s compact solution, while the Corsair One Pro ($4,999 as tested) is a very high-end machine in a small cylindrical tower. (The Corsair One is here mainly to show what degree of sheer power you can attain in a very small footprint, money no object, if that’s what you need.) Somewhere in the middle is the OptiPlex 7070 Ultra’s full-size cousin, the Dell OptiPlex 7770 All-in-One (as tested, $2,250). All of these should provide context for the 7070 Ultra’s performance, and show you what else is out there.
Productivity & Storage Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the PC’s drive subsystem. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better. The Mac mini is not included here because it can not run these Windows-based tests.
PCMark 10 is an important test for this system, since many of its usage cases will see it churning through this type of work. The 7070 Ultra does fairly well here, notably better than its less expensive compact competitor and not too far off the the heavier hitters. It’s certainly capable of running through daily home and office tasks without much delay, even if it’s not as fast as full-size desktops—think more of the speed of a good laptop, since its processor is a mobile CPU. As PCMark 8 shows, its SSD-based storage is as snappy as the rest, and delivers quick boot and load times.
Media Processing & Creation Tests
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
The 7070 Ultra begins to look less impressive on the media tests, as it hangs much closer (and even behind) the ThinkCentre. Clearly a lot of its cost relates to the unique form factor, but if you’re looking for performance on more strenuous tasks, this isn’t necessarily the best value. The ThinkCentre edged out the Cinebench test, and the similarly less expensive Mac mini isn’t too far behind. The OptiPlex 770 AIO shows what the full AIO experience offers here, and the Corsair blows the rest away, though that is to be expected given its pricing and CPU.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
The story is the same here, with the exception of the Mac mini struggling on Handbrake. The OptiPlex 7070 Ultra isn’t the quickest, but it isn’t meant to be a video-grinding media workstation, either. The next result was better, however.
We run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The OptiPlex 7070 Ultra was surprisingly effective at running through Photoshop, which should be good news to those who use the program on a light basis. If you lean on it heavily, of course, a more specialized machine would be better, but the 7070 Ultra can certainly handle some now-and-then photo editing.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. (The Mac mini is not included on either chart because again, it cannot run these Windows-based tests.)
To nobody’s great surprise, 3D is not this machine’s strong suit. The integrated graphics simply aren’t up to the task of graphics-based workloads, as is the case with any integrated GPU. The Corsair’s GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is the exact opposite end of the spectrum, the most powerful consumer GPU out there, while the OptiPlex 7770 AIO’s GeForce GTX 1050 is a modest solution that offers a clear improvement over integrated graphics.
A Solid Foundation for the Future
In the end, the OptiPlex 7070 Ultra is a very cool concept, but it’s a product I wouldn’t wholesale recommend to every business as is. It’s a first-shot execution of a good idea, while the PC itself is a solid, if not muscular, work computer. Its performance level may indeed be fine for many users, but given that it’s not cheap, you can find other desktops that deliver more performance, similar speed for much less money, or at least more ports and features.
If you’re shopping for a company, the form factor is convenient and space-saving, even if it comes with some cabling hassles and growing pains. The stand solution is elegant for a business PC, and the upside is clear. Even if it’s not a great fit for every workforce, it certainly works, and if it fits your needs I can recommend it as a viable option. Being able to swap out your space-saving PC while retaining your investment in the display is a best-of-both-worlds prospect.
I’m willing to bet this design is here to stay, so if it sounds appealing now, you can get in early. If you’d rather a more traditional or powerful setup, though, consider a full-size alternative like the OptiPlex 7770 AIO, or if you can run with macOS, the Apple Mac mini or an Apple iMac. Although you can’t separate the PC from the display in a typical AIO, a conventional AIO will have more space across which the PC maker can spread the hardware behind the screen, which means a more forgiving thermal situation and, potentially, easier access to the ports.