Dell Studio Slim Review

by Reads (49,569)

Dell has made an effort in recent months to really turn around their product offerings with regards to style and design.  No doubt due to the redoubling sales of Apple computers, computer manufacturers are finally making an effort to court the style-conscious consumer, and we should all be thankful.  The Dell Studio Slim is a compact, thin desktop with aspirations of a home theater bent.  With a quad core processor, hybrid TV tuner, 64-bit operating system and its sleek design, we’ll look at this new offering from Dell and tell you whether it deserves a prized place next to the rest of your equipment.  Read on for our full review.

 

Specifications

Our Studio Slim desktop came with the following specifications:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 processor @ 2.33GHz (4MB L2 cache, 1333MHz FSB)
  • Memory: 4GB DDR2 SDRAM @ 800MHz
  • Hard drive: 640GB SATA @ 7200RPM
  • Optical drive: Blu-ray read, CD/DVD+-RW
  • Sound: integrated 7.1 HD audio
  • Video card: ATI Radeon HD3450 w/256MB RAM
  • Happauge HVR1250 hybrid ATSC/NTSC TV tuner with Media Center remote control
  • 19-in-1 card reader mediabay
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g/n
  • Networking: 10/100/1000 ethernet
  • Dell wired keyboard and mouse set
  • 30W 2.1 speaker set with subwoofer
  • 250W power supply
  • Chassis cable lock slot
  • One year limited warranty with in-home service (after remote diagnosis)
  • Dimensions: 14.2″(H)x3.9″(W)x17.1″(D)

This Dell Studio Slim configuration carries a suggested retail price of $989 at the time of this review.

Build and Design

As I mentioned earlier, Dell has really turned around in the style and build department, even in the low and mid-range line of its computers. The new Studio lines represent a marked departure from the boring, grey boxes of old. The new Studio Slim is a compact desktop with a silver and glossy tuxedo black finish. Despite its compact size, it’s actually fairly heavy – but that’s not a complaint, since it’s also a sign of quality components. The case is almost entirely composed of metal, with a plastic front.  The build quality is very sound; it’s definitely a step up and away from the mostly-plastic construction that plagues so many big computer companies these days.

The system is designed to be used both vertically and horizontally, with rubber feet on the bottom and one of the sides. While most towers would are really built to be used this way, Dell’s engineers looked at this from the first. The optical drive is mounted vertically, so when used horizontally, it’s just a regular drive. All of these optimizations belie the system’s intended use in a home theater setting, where users traditionally have lots of components in narrow shelves. The black glossy front also goes well with traditional home theater pieces.

The extra rubber feet are an appreciated touch.  At less than four inches thick, the Studio Slim can go almost anywhere.  It would easily be at home on a crowded audio/video shelf, beneath a desk, or beside a monitor.  You could even go a little old school and set the display on top of the computer; between its metal construction and the typical light weight of most modern displays, it wouldn’t be much of issue and it would save a fair amount of space. 

 

The case slides off after loosening a couple of thumbscrews.  It’s actually really nice that computer manufacturers are finally starting to understand that consumers will be opening their computers up, whether to do repairs or upgrades, and facilitating that process.  Once you get the side panel off, you can see that there isn’t a whole lot of room inside — not that this is surprising as it’s called the Studio Slim for a reason.  The bar going across the middle of the case provides added stability and serves to hold PCI cards in place — you can unclip one edge and raise it up, then just add or remove a card as needed.  Like the thumbscrews, this lets you make modifications fairly quickly.

While the computer itself is, as stated, fairly compact, Dell has done what they can to increase airflow within the case; here you can see an additional fan at the top (when standing vertically) to enhance the cooling abilities of the processor’s fan.  Despite the reduced case volume, the Studio Slim manages to include four slots for RAM, letting you add up to 8GB when used in conjunction with a 64-bit operating system.  The only real complaint I have is that access to the RAM especially is obstructed by the optical drive.  Further compounding the issue is the wiring layout.  It would be nice to see manufacturers make a little more effort to alleviate the issues stemming from haphazard wiring but I do understand the difficulty in achieving a clean look when dealing with smaller form factor PCs.

Inputs and Expansion

A big problem with many compact desktop PCs is that manufacturers often skimp on expandability.  This isn’t really a problem with the Studio Slim (helped by the fact that this desktop, while thin, is still taller and deeper than some small form factor PCs).  Inside the case there are four expansion slots — one PCI, two PCIe x1 and one PCIe x16.  Three of them are already taken up with components, however, limiting your options for expansion. 

Dell managed to add in six USB2.0 ports, with two in the front and four in the back.  The front panel also contains the Dell mediabay, which is a 19-in-1 card reader that fits into an open 3.5″ drive bay.  As you can see, the front panel is very glossy, making it a target for gratuitous fingerprints and accidental portraiture.  The front of the computer also offers up the standard audio in and headphone jacks. 

The rear of the system has the aforementioned extra USB ports, as well as audio in- and outputs for the integrated sound.  Digital out through S/PDIF is also available.  There are also an abundance of video ports available; the integrated video can be outputted through VGA (the covered slot beneath the S/PDIF port) or HDMI.  If the Studio Slim comes with the discrete HD3450 graphics, then an additional DVI and HDMI port are offered.

Dell also put the power supply for the Studio Slim in the bottom of the machine, following a more modern take on computer design.  Personally, I prefer it this way as it both adds stability and helps with cord management.

Software

Our review unit came with a 64-bit edition of Windows Vista Home Premium.  It’s nice to see manufacturers finally start taking a stand and offering up 64-bit versions of the operating system.  It isn’t that it improves performance (although arguments can sometimes be made for stability) but that the more people use 64-bit operating systems, the better driver support equipment makers will be forced to offer. 

In addition, like all new consumer computers being offered by the Round Rock giant, the Studio Slim comes with the Dell Dock pre-installed.  In all likelihood this is a strike against Apple’s OS X dock, but the two don’t really compare.  While docks can be handy, the Dell Dock is a bit odd since you have it running at the top of the screen while the traditional Windows taskbar runs at the bottom.  I’m not a huge fan of it, but it certainly has its uses.  I suspect, however, that it will be made obsolete when Windows 7 launches, since Win7’s superbar offers much of the same functionality but taken to a higher level.

Peripherals

The standard version of the Studio Slim comes with the very basic Dell wired keyboard and mouse.  While they are perfectly functional, it’s likely worth an upgrade to the premium or wireless set.  The same goes for the included remote control for the Hauppage TV tuner.  It’s functional and relatively stylish, but it suffers from the same thing that so many remotes suffer from with regards to usability and button creep.  It’s perfectly serviceable but not terribly intuitive.  Dell also includes an IR receiver for use with the remote control as well as two IR blasters to control digital cable or satellite boxes with the tuner.

Our unit also came with a set of Dell’s A525 2.1 speakers with a subwoofer.  At 30 Watts, they’re not the most powerful speakers in the world, but they’re fine for occasional desktop use.  With some audio, the speakers do feel a little muddy, but I suspect that they’re acceptable for most users.  If you plan on using it as part of a home theater setup, there are obviously more appropriate speaker systems available.

Performance and Benchmarks

The Studio Slim is a capable machine when it comes to number crunching, aided with its quad-core processor and 4GB RAM (upgradable to 8).  It’s unfortunately let down by its video card, though there are certainly ways to improve that on one’s own. 

wPrime is a PC performance benchmarking program that forces the computer to perform recursive mathematical calculations. This program is multithreaded, meaning we can take advantage of more than one core of a processor at a time, resulting in a more realistic estimate of a computer’s performance.

wPrime benchmark comparison results (lower numbers mean better performance):

Desktop wPrime 32 time
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Core 2 Extreme QX6850 @ 3GHz) 13.869s
Dell Studio Slim (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 16.301s
Gateway GT5670 (AMD Phenom 8400 @ 2.1GHz) 27.65s
HP Pavilion Slimline s3500f (Athlon X2 5400 @ 2.8GHz) 29.733s
HP Compaq dc5850 (Athlon X2 5000B @ 2.6GHz) 31.421s
Dell Studio Hybrid (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.10GHz) 35.582s
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850 @ 2.16 GHz) 39.544s

PCMark05 overall system performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop PCMark05 Score
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Core 2 Extreme QX6850 @ 3GHz) 9,999 PCMarks
Dell Studio Slim (Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 @ 2.33GHz) 6,887 PCMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850 @ 2.16 GHz) 5,189 PCMarks
Gateway GT5670 (AMD Phenom 8400 @ 2.1GHz) 4,981 PCMarks
HP Pavilion Slimeline s3500f (Athlon X2 5400 @ 2.8GHz) 4,593 PCMarks
Dell Studio Hybrid (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.10GHz) 4,305 PCMarks
HP Compaq dc5850 (Athlon X2 5000B @ 2.6GHz) 3,986 PCMarks

3DMark06 overall gaming performance comparison results (higher scores mean better performance):

Desktop 3DMark06 Score
Lenovo ThinkStation S10 (Core 2 Extreme QX6850, NVIDIA FX4600) 10,327 3DMarks
Dell Studio Slim (Core 2 Quad Q8200, ATI HD3450 256MB) 1,820 3DMarks
HP TouchSmart IQ506 (Core 2 Duo T5850, NVIDIA 9300M GS) 1,714 3DMarks
HP Compaq dc5850 (Athlon X2 5000B, ATI HD3100 IGP) 1,041 3DMarks
Dell Studio Hybrid (Core 2 Duo T8100, Intel X3100) 528 3DMarks
Gateway GT5670 (AMD Phenom 8400, NVIDIA 6150SE) 403 3DMarks
HP Pavilion Slimeline s3500f (Athlon X2 5400, NVIDIA 6150SE) 350 3DMarks

The Studio Slim also managed to get 4,847 PCMarks in PCMark Vantage.

HDTune results:

 

Power Consumption and Noise

Despite its discrete graphics and fairly powerful processor, the Studio Slim manages an idle power draw of 72 Watts.  While we’ve seen desktops with a lower draw, it requires low-power components, which typically means lower performance.  At its maximum, the system only draws 125 Watts, making it one of the most power efficient quad core systems I’ve seen.  Given how efficient sleep states are these days, it’s becoming easier and easier to leave computers on all the time without much of an impact on your electricity bill.

The system never gets very loud, because it never gets very hot.  The fans are barely audible at the low end of the scale, and not much louder when things ramp up.

Conclusion

Dell has created a stylish desktop that could easily be at home on a desk or as part of a larger home theater setup.  The Studio Slim is an attractive, compact desktop that ends up being very capable without being too expensive.  Windows Vista Home Premium brings with it all of the features of Windows Media Center, which is actually one of the best pieces of home theater PC software out there.  It’s not all peaches and cream, however, as there are things Dell could have done a lot better.  Given the computer’s obvious intent as part of a home theater setup (at least in higher-end models), it’s unfortunate that you have to hook up a USB IR receiver in order to use the remote, and then hook up two IR blasters into the IR receiver itself, leading to a small chain of cables in the back of your setup.  It would also be nice to see the system with a beefier graphics card, since the rest of the system is more than powerful enough to handle modern games, and it would be nice to take advantage of the (probably) 1080p screen it ends up being connected to.

It must be said, though, that those are fairly minor complaints with what is largely a well-conceived system.  The Studio Slim is powerful enough for a majority of consumers while stylish enough to leave in the open.  Add in the fact that you can get a quad-core processor, 4GB RAM, a 64-bit OS and a Blu-ray drive all for under a thousand dollars, and the value starts looking better and better. At the end of the day, Dell’s Studio Slim fills a niche — it’s stylish, inexpensive and still packs a punch.  If you’re looking for a new compact computer, or even a new HTPC, it’s definitely worth a look.

Pros

  • Stylish exterior
  • Blu-ray drive
  • Lots of video and audio ports
  • Ready-to-use HTPC

Cons

  • Glossy front finish is fingerprint magnet
  • Hinges covering mediabay and optical drive could be sturdier
  • Using external IR receiver and IR blasters could make hookups messy



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