Dell Studio 15 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (601,330)

Buy Direct From Manufacturer


by Jerry Jackson

Dell continues to try and update their notebook designs this year, and the new Dell Studio 15 is the latest consumer 15-inch notebook that highlights these new designs. Is it possible to take design elements from the 13.3" XPS M1330 and the 15.4" Dell XPS M1530 and make a budget notebook that keeps consumers happy? Take a look at our full review of the Studio 15 to find out for yourself.

We purchased our review unit of the Studio 15 from Staples where they offer set configurations of the Studio 15. Our budget configuration cost $799. Fully customized configurations are available at Dell.com.

As mentioned in our first look, we had hoped to conduct a full review of a custom-ordered Studio 15 machine with an orange colored lid. Unfortunately, the shipping date for our review unit was pushed back more than a month … so we will complete our full review based on the pre-configured model available at Staples.

The specs of this particular Studio 15, the S1535-113P, are as follows:

  • Screen: glossy 15.4" WXGA 1280 x 800 display
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo T5750 (2.00GHz, 667MHz FSB, 2MB Cache)
  • Memory: 3.00 GB RAM
  • Storage: 250GB HD (5400rpm)
  • Optical Drive: Slot loading DVD+/-RW
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel X3100
  • Built-in 2.0MP web camera
  • Ruby Red color lid
  • Ports: 4 USB 2.0, HDMI connector, 15-pin VGA video connector, Ethernet 10/100/1000 LAN (RJ45), AC adapter connector, Audio jacks (1 line-in, 1-line out, 1 Mic-in), 4-pin IEEE 1394 port, 54 mm ExpressCard slot, Consumer IR
  • Battery: 6-cell 56WHr Li-Ion Battery
  • Dimensions: Width: 14.0" (355.6mm), Height: 1.0" (25.3mm) front / 1.3" (33mm) back, Depth: 10.3" (261.5mm)
  • Weight: Starting weight of 6.11 lbs

 


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Build and Design

While we were reasonably impressed with the dimensions of the Dell Studio 17 as a 17-inch notebook, the Studio 15 is a little heaver than other notebooks in its class. While the design of the notebook gives it the appearance that it’s rather thick, it’s actually close to the same thickness (or even thinner) than other 15-inch consumer notebooks.

The first time you look at the Studio 15 it’s as if Dell removed the metal palmrests from the XPS M1530, added a little bulk, and offered a few more ways to customize the look. The end result is an impressive looking desktop replacement. I use the term "desktop replacement" because most people in the market for a 15-inch notebook aren’t planning to haul their notebook everywhere and use it during regular airline travel. Well … no one who cares about the person seated next to them is going to use this on a plane anyway.

While the Studio 15 isn’t exactly a thin-and-light notebook designed for mobility, it does offer solid design and construction. As mentioned above, the Studio 15 takes several design elements from the latest XPS notebooks: the wedge-shaped profile, drop hinge, slot-loading optical drive, and touch-sensitive media buttons are all hallmarks of the XPS M1330 and M1530. That said, there are a few extras in the design of the Studio 15 that you won’t see in the XPS line.


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The Studio 15 is available in your choice of seven colors: Plum Purple, Tangerine Orange, Flamingo Pink, Midnight Blue, Ruby Red, Spring Green or standard Jet Black. Our pre-configured unit came with the "Ruby Red" paint job and it looks absolutely flawless. The matte paint has an almost rubber-like texture similar to the paint used on last year’s Inspiron notebooks and, of course, the XPS notebooks. Dell also took the customization options one step further by offering an optional high gloss "Graphite Grey" color that comes in your choice of black, blue, pink, or red edge trim around the display back and sides.


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Another nice touch is the use of an imprinted design on the palmrest area (also on the display lid if you select the high gloss graphite grey color options). The design looks like a close-up view of a topographical map and is yet another way that the Studio notebooks stand out from the rest of the Dell lineup. On the other hand, if you see this design on the palmrests from a few feet away it looks like someone spilt a milk-based fluid on your notebook and let it dry under the sun.

In terms of overall chassis construction the Studio 15 is quite solid and suffers from virtually no flex or creaks when squeezed and twisted between your hands. The Studio 15 might not tolerate being thrown across the room, but it should survive a drop from your desk without significant damage.


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The one design element I have mixed feelings about is the bottom access panel. Rather than having the typical RAM cover, hard drive cover, and main panel on the bottom of the notebook, the Studio 15 (like the Studio 17) uses a single, massive panel that provides access to all of the notebook at once. This is extremely helpful for those people who want to make multiple modifications or service their notebook. However, removing seven screws and exposing the entire bottom of the notebook is a little intimidating for people who just want to upgrade their RAM.


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Screen

The Studio 15 widescreen display is not the LED variety available as an option on the XPS line, it’s just your regular CCFL style of display that uses a couple of traditional backlights to illuminate the screen. The screen is nice though, it’s very bright at around 200-nits. The glossy finish helps to make colors really pop and is especially nice for watching movies. The Studio 15 we have is just a regular 1280 x 800 XGA resolution, you can get higher resolution displays (1440 x 900 or 1920 x 1200) that will allow you to fit more content on the screen and enjoy movies in a higher-defintion format such as the optional Blu-ray drive. 

The screen on our review unit looks beautiful from straight on. The horizontal viewing angles are likewise great. You won’t have any trouble watching movies on this screen with a couple of your friends. Upper vertical viewing angles are good, but colors did begin to invert at lower viewing angles when the screen is tilted back.


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Keyboard, Touchpad and Media Controls

The keyboard on the Studio 15 is quite good with nice key travel and proper key size and spacing. The keyboard is reasonably firm with only a minor bit of flex near the center of the keyboard and directly above the optical drive. I personally felt that the key presses were a little louder than I like (I prefer quiet keys rather than keys that "clack" when typing).

That said, the Studio 15 is still quite nice to type on and won’t cause many issues for students who need to type long papers for high school or college. There is also an option for a backlit keyboard in case you find yourself working in a dark classroom or lecture hall, but our budget configuration from Staples doesn’t include the backlit keyboard option.


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The touchpad works well and the mouse buttons have excellent travel and cushion with extremely quiet clicks. The good news with the touchpad is that it’s responsive, has dedicated scroll areas and the glossy textured feel is extremely good.


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A series of touch-sensitive media buttons with white LED backlights are located above the keyboard similar to the buttons on the M1330 and M1530. One nice feature about the media buttons is that the LEDs only stay lit for a fraction of a second after being pressed, so they won’t distract you by staying lit all the time.

Dell also includes a Media Center remote control that fits neatly into the ExpressCard slot on the side of the notebook. This is a great accessory for presentations or if you want to control a DVD from across the room.

Ports and Features

The port selection of the Studio 15 is reasonably good for a notebook of this size. Here’s a quick rundown of what you get:


Front: IR port for remote control. (view large image)


Rear: No ports. (view large image)


Left: WiFi on/off, security lock slot, WiFi catcher/locator, HDMI, VGA, two USB, Ethernet, microphone jack, two headphone jacks, ExpressCard slot, 8-in-1 memory card reader. (view large image)


Right: Firewire, two USB ports, slot-loading optical drive, power jack, power button. (view large image)

The built-in HDMI is a very nice thing to have for those that want digital video output. Unfortunately, the combination of HDMI and integrated Intel X3100 graphics leaves much to be desired. In fact, the HDMI output from our Studio 15 lacks audio out (not uncommon on budget notebooks with HDMI, but sad to see when the new budget notebooks from HP and Lenovo carry audio and video over HDMI) and did not work at all with my HDMI-equipped 42" HDTV. The notebook also kept giving me error messages when I tried to connect my HDMI-equipped 22-inch desktop display.

While we’re on the topic of external displays, I’m a little sad to see no lugs/screw posts for the VGA cable. While the lack of posts makes the VGA connection look "cleaner" it isn’t convenient for people who regularly leave their notebook connected to an external monitor. I wouldn’t be bothered by this if the Studio 15 featured a dedicated docking station port such as those used on the Latitude notebooks, but since there is no dedicated docking station connection there needs to be a way to secure a VGA cable.

With FireWire, four USB ports, a media card reader, two headphone jacks, microphone jack, ExpressCard slot and Ethernet port you’re well equipped ports wise.

Some of our editorial staff are huge fans of slot-loading drives and while I think these drives look amazing, I’m not entirely sold on the technology. Slot loading drives don’t like small DVDs or CDs like those you sometimes receive with hardware drivers or in the mail. Another issue is that slot-loading drives tend to be a bit more noisy than traditional tray-type drives. While the drive in the Studio 15 is extremely quiet for a slot-loading drive it still makes more noise than a quiet tray-loading drive.

Speakers

The speaker quality was extremely good compared to most notebooks, but only "acceptable" compared to some 15-inch media notebooks with built-in subwoofers. If you aren’t an audiophile then you’ll probably find the built-in speakers to be more than adequate. Still, if you want deep, satisfying bass you’ll need dedicated speakers or a great pair of headphones.


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The speakers for the Studio 15 are located at the top of the keyboard area above the media buttons. There’s not much to write home about the speakers, they get loud enough with minimal distortion, but the sound doesn’t have the impressive lows you get from dedicated subwoofers.

Performance and Benchmarks

At the end of the day the most important parts of a laptop are the internal components that do all the work. Our review unit came equipped with the Intel Core 2 Duo T5750 processor (2.0GHz) which offers reasonable performance in terms of number crunching and video encoding. The 3GB of system RAM is enough for satisfy Vista and still provide enough RAM for most needs. The 250GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue hard disk drive (HDD) in our review unit is a 5400rpm drive with good performance.

As mentioned above, the integrated Intel X3100 graphics left much to be desired. While integrated graphics generally help with battery life by drawing less power than dedicated graphics cards, the optional ATI Radeon HD 3450 dedicated graphics card would have been a much better choice. On that note, it would have been nice if Dell offered additional dedicated graphics options even beyond the ATI Radeon HD 3450, but I recognize that would position the Studio 15 to compete directly with the XPS M1530. The synthetic benchmarks listed below will give you some idea of how this system performs compared to other systems on the market.

WPrime 32M comparison results

WPrime is a benchmark similar to Super Pi in that it forces the processor to do intense mathematical calculations, but the difference is this application is multi-threaded and represents dual core processors better. Lower numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Dell Studio 15 (Core 2 Duo T5750 @ 2.0GHz)
41.246s
HP Pavilion dv5z (Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80 @ 2.1GHz)
39.745s
Dell Vostro 1510 (Core 2 Duo T5670 @ 1.8GHz) 51.875s
Dell Inspiron 1525 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz) 43.569s
Dell XPS M1530 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)
37.485s
HP Pavilion dv6500z (Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 40.759s
Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz) 58.233s
Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 38.343s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
HP Pavilion dv6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s

 

PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance based on processor, hard drive, operating system, RAM, and graphics (higher scores are better):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Dell Studio 15 (2.0GHz Intel T5750, Intel X3100)
3,998 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)
3,994 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 1510 (1.8GHz Intel T5670, Intel X3100) 3,568 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 4,149 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 5,412 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 4,616 PCMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100)  3,283 PCMarks 
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks


3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance (higher scores are better):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Dell Studio 15 (2.0GHz Intel T5750, Intel X3100) 493 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)   1,599 3DMarks
Dell Vostro 1510 (1.8GHz Intel T5670, Intel X3100) 519 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 545 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv6500z (2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60, NVIDIA 8400m GS)  1,551 3DMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 504 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 4,332 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 2,905 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

 

All of the 3DMark06 scores for all of the systems listed above were run at 1280 x 800 or 1280 x 768 resolution. Clearly, this configuration of the Studio 15 suffers from the use of under-powered Intel X3100 integrated graphics.

HDTune results:


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Heat and Noise

The Studio 15 does a reasonable job keeping heat under control. The system fan and heatsinks in the Studio 15 do a great job managing heat when the system is under load … as we discovered when we ran multiple benchmarks back to back. The fan moves a significant amount of hot air but the noise is reasonably low and isn’t noticeable over background noise most of the time. While the Studio 15 will heat up when stressed, it never gets too hot to use as a "laptop."


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As mentioned previously, noise wasn’t much of an issue with the Studio 15. The slot-loading optical drive made some noise when inserting or ejecting a disk but it was among the quietest slot-loading drives we’ve had in our office.

The hard drive was likewise quiet and it seems as if Dell has done a good job finding ways to minimize the noise coming from the hard drive.

Battery Life

The 6-cell lithium-ion battery provides reasonable battery life for the Studio 15. With Vista’s power management running in "balanced" mode, screen brightness set to 50 percent and wireless on, the 6-cell battery delivered roughly 3 hours and 41 minutes of battery life.

If these numbers aren’t impressive enough for your needs then Dell also offers a 9-cell 85WHr Li-Ion battery for extended battery life. The only potential negative to the 9-cell battery is that the additional cells stick out from the bottom of the notebook which adds to the overall thickness of the Studio 15 and raises the notebook off the surface of your desk.

Conclusion

At the end of the day the Studio 15 is a solid offering in the 15-inch consumer notebook category. The build quality, range of customizable options, expandability, style, and price make this an excellent choice if you’re in the market for a 15-inch notebook. Still, we would have liked to see more graphics card options than just the integrated Intel X3100 and dedicated ATI Radeon HD 3450.

Issues like lack of VGA cable screw posts, dedicated docking station connector, or lack of a simple RAM expansion cover are minor, and many experienced users may find the all-in-one access panel on the bottom of the notebook to be extremely helpful. The pre-configured model we tested suffered from weak integrated graphics that ruined an otherwise enjoyable experience, but configurations with dedicated graphics are available from Dell.com.

That said, we are a little upset over the delayed shipping of our original order from Dell.com and if other customers can expect a delay of a month or more then some back-to-school shoppers will be disappointed this year. Hopefully Dell can resolve these shipping delays.

Bottom line, if you’re in the market for a 15-inch desktop replacement notebook with nice multi-media options then the Dell Studio 15 deserves serious consideration. Although the budget configuration we reviewed is far from being a multi-media powerhouse, it still makes an excellent laptop for average use.

Pros

  • Beautiful design
  • Solid selection of available configurations
  • Reasonable battery life
  • Nice keyboard, touchpad and media buttons
  • Great component layout makes for easy upgrades/repair
  • Good value for the price

Cons

  • No lugs/screw posts for VGA cable and no docking station connector
  • All-in-one access cover on the bottom of the notebook is either great or frustrating
  • HDMI with integrated Intel graphics … bad move
  • No option for better graphics than ATI Radeon HD 3450 at this time


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