Dell Studio 17 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (569,019)

Buy Direct From Manufacturer


by Jerry Jackson

Last year Dell finally realized that consumers don’t want another nameless, faceless black and gray laptop that gets lost in the crowd. Today’s mobile generation wants notebooks that are as unique and stylish as possible. The result was the amazingly attractive and amazingly popular 13.3" XPS M1330 and the 15.4" Dell XPS M1530. Taking things one step further, Dell announced the highly customizable Studio 15 and Studio 17 notebooks.

Is the 17-inch Dell Studio 17 as impressive and unique as Dell wants you to believe? Keep reading and you’ll find out.

Our pre-production Dell Studio 17 notebook is equipped with the following specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 (2.5GHz) processor
  • Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
  • 17-inch WUXGA Glossy Display (1920 x 1200)
  • 3GB system RAM – 2 DIMM (DDR2-667)
  • 320GB 5400rpm HDD
  • 256MB (GDDR2) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650 graphics
  • Webcam and Fingerprint reader
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Slot Load DVD+/-RW with Dual Layer DVD+R write capacity
  • Dell Wireless 1510N
  • 9-cell battery (85WHr)
  • Dimensions: 1.18" to 1.69" x 15.46" x 11.36" (H x W x D)
  • Weight: 7.87lbs
  • Other: "Dell Dock" software; 30-day security trial; 3GB Dell DataSafe; Dell Support Center
  • Base Price: $999
  • Price as configured: $1,599 (E-Value Code: 1-DNDPVA1)


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Build and Design

For a number of years the phrase, "Dude, you’re getting a Dell" from old Dell television commercials was synonymous with heavy, thick, and boxy laptops that offered great value but where short on style. In fact, several competing laptop manufacturers developed sleek notebooks over the last five years that attracted consumers mainly due to their more "personal" appearance. The new Studio line from Dell is the latest example of how Dell has finally learned that the package matters almost as much as the contents of the box.

The first time you look at the Studio 17 it’s as if Dell added a few inches to the XPS M1530, cut out the brushed aluminum parts, 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 17-inch notebook aren’t planning to haul their notebook everywhere and use it during regular airline travel.

What the Studio 17 lacks in mobility it more than makes up for in solid design and construction. As mentioned above, the Studio 17 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’s more to the Studio 17 than just design elements from the XPS line.


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The Studio 17 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-production unit came with the "Midnight Blue" 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.

In terms of overall chassis construction the Studio 17 is quite solid and suffers from virtually no flex or creaks when squeezed and twisted between your hands. I don’t recommend tossing the Studio 17 across the room, but it should survive a drop from your desk without significant damage.


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The one design element I’m not 100 percent in love with is the bottom access panel. Rather than have the typical RAM cover, hard drive covers, and main panel on the bottom of the notebook, the Studio 17 uses a single, massive panel that provides access to all of the notebook at once. While this is helpful for those people who want to make multiple modifications or service their notebook, exposing the entire bottom of the notebook is a little intimidating for people who just want to upgrade their RAM.

Here is a quick video for those of you who hate reading reviews:

 

 

Screen

Adding to the lengthy list of customizable options on this notebook, Dell offers the Studio 17 with a WXGA+ (1440 x 900) glossy display, a WUXGA (1920 X 1200) glossy display, or a WXGA+ LED (1440 x 900) glossy display. Our review unit came with the WUXGA (1920 x 1200) glossy display and it looks wonderful. I’m certain it would be even more impressive when paired with the optional Blu-ray drive for 1080p HD movies.

The screen on our pre-production unit looks beautiful from straight on. There was some slight uneven backlighting in the upper right corner of our review unit, but this is a pre-production notebook and the high-resolution display panels used in Dell notebooks usually tend to be better than the lower-resolution offerings. The horizontal viewing angles on our review unit are great. 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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One additional item of note that somewhat falls into the category of the screen is the new "Dell Dock" application included with all Studio notebooks. The Dell Dock is a unique visual interface similar to the Dock in Apple’s Mac OS X or the StarDock Object Dock application. The primary benefit of this application is that it helps you keep your desktop free of clutter and makes using Vista a little more user friendly. Kudos to Dell for adding this to the desktop interface on the Studio 17.


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Keyboard, Touchpad and Media Controls

The keyboard on the Studio 17 is one of the better keyboards I’ve used on a 17-inch notebook. The keyboard is firm with only a minor bit of flex detected near the "K" key. All the keys have excellent travel and cushion. The Studio 17 is really quite a pleasure to type on and the dedicated number pad is something that I personally love to see on larger notebooks. The only complaint I have for the keyboard is that if your fingernails are slightly long they might get caught under the keys, this shouldn’t be a problem for most males though. As you can see below, the keyboard also features a nice backlight function when you’re typing in the dark.

 

 


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The touchpad works well enough, though it’s seems a little on the small side given the size of the notebook. The mouse buttons have excellent travel and cushion, though I did feel like they made a bit too much of a "clicking" sound when pressed. 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.


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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 17 is reasonably good for a notebook of this size. Here’s a quick rundown of what you get:


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Rear: No ports. (view large image)


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


Right: Two head phone jacks, microphone jack, slot-loading optical drive, two USB, 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. That said, 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 17 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, five USB ports (including one of high-power USB devices), 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 17 is the quietest slot-loading drive I’ve seen (or heard) 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 17-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 17 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 T9300 process (2.5GHz) which offers excellent 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 320GB Toshiba hard disk drive (HDD) in our review unit is a 5400rpm drive with good performance but it’s worth mentioning that you can equip the Studio 17 with a second HDD for added storage and performance.

The ATI Radeon HD 3650 dedicated graphics card provides enough power for average gaming or 3D graphics work, but it would have been nice if Dell offered additional dedicated graphics options. 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 Time
Dell Studio 17 (2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, Windows Vista SP1)
31.574s
Asus M70S (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, Windows Vista) 31.132s
Toshiba Satellite L355D (2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60, Windows Vista) 39.732s
Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo X7900, Windows Vista) 30.359s
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, Windows Vista) 31.108s
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Windows Vista) 42.085s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (Intel Core 2 Duo CPU T7400@ 2.16GHz, Windows XP) 41.40s
HP dv6000z (AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.00GHz, Windows Vista) 38.913s
Sager 9260 (Intel Core 2 Duo CPU E6700@ 2.66GHz, Windows XP ) 33.718s
Dell Precision M70 (Intel Pentium-M 780 @ 2.26GHz, Windows XP) 78.992s

PCMark05 comparison results:

PCMark05 represents the overall system performance of a notebook. Higher numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Dell Studio 17 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650) 5,982 PCMarks
Asus M70S (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650) 6,135 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite L355D (2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60, ATI Radeon X1250) 3,305 PCMarks
Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo X7900, NVIDIA Go 8800M GTS) 7,749 PCMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 5,865 PCMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 5,261 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1720 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8600M GT) 5,377 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,925 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,377 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,591 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks

3DMark06 comparison results:

3DMark06 represents the overall graphics performance of a notebook. Higher numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Dell Studio 17 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650) 2,974 3DMarks
Asus M70S (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650) 3,799 3DMarks
Toshiba Satellite L355D (2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60, ATI Radeon X1250) 301 3DMarks
Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo X7900, NVIDIA Go 8800M GTS) 8,801 3DMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 3,775 3DMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 2,934 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1720 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8600M GT) 2,930 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,329 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 532 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks
Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 794 3DMarks

HDTune results:


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Heat and Noise

The Studio 17 does a reasonable job keeping heat under control. The system fan and heatsinks in the Studio 17 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 17 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 17. The slot-loading optical drive made some noise when inserting or ejecting a disk but it was the quietest slot-loading drive 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 9-cell lithium-ion battery provides excellent battery life for the Studio 17. With Vista’s power management running in "high performance" mode, screen brightness set to maximum and wireless on, the 9-cell battery delivered more than 2 hours of battery life. With the power management settings set to "power saver" with wireless off and the screen brightness set to 50 percent the 9-cell battery could deliver more than 2 hours and 39 minutes of life.

While these numbers might not be as impressive as what you get on smaller laptops, this is really quite good for a 17-inch desktop replacement notebook.

Conclusion

All things said and done, the Dell Studio 17 is the most impressive 17-inch consumer notebook we’ve seen so far this year. The build quality, range of customizable options, expandability, style, and price make this an excellent choice if you’re in the market for a 17-inch notebook. Still, we would have liked to see more graphics card options than just the integrated Intel X3100 and dedicated ATI Radeon HD 3650.

While issues like lack of VGA cable screw posts, dedicated docking station connector, or lack of a simple RAM expansion cover might prevent some buyers from purchasing this notebook, there’s a lot to like about this notebook. The Studio 17 has virtually every cool feature you’d want in a 17-inch notebook … with the exception of a built-in TV tuner.

Bottom line, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better 17-inch notebook in the same price range at the time of this writing.

Pros

  • Beautiful design
  • Solid selection of available configurations
  • Reasonable battery life
  • Nice keyboard, touchpad and media buttons
  • Great component layout
  • Dell Dock is a nice feature
  • 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
  • No option for better graphics than ATI Radeon HD 3650 at this time




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