Dell Studio XPS 16 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (754,665)

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by Jerry Jackson

The Dell Studio XPS 16 is designed for those who want power, cutting-edge features, and style. If you’re someone who likes to make a statement with your notebook, the metal and leather looks of the Studio XPS 16 will help you in that area too. Sleek design combined with a 1080p display and powerful components come together to make for an awesome notebook. But is the Studio XPS 16 compelling enough to make shoppers spend some extra cash during tough economic times? Let’s take a closer look and find out.

Our review unit of the Dell Studio XPS 16 features the following configuration:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 (2.4GHz)
  • Memory: 4GB – 2DIMM DDR3
  • HDD: 320GB 7200rpm
  • Graphics: ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3670 (512MB)
  • Display: 16.0″ 1080p Full HD RGBLED LCD with 2.0 MP Webcam
  • Optical Drive: 4X Blu-ray Disc Combo Drive (DVD/CD +/- RW +BD Read)
  • OS: Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64 bit)
  • Software: 15-month Trend Micro security subscription, Microsoft Works 9
  • Wireless: Intel Wireless 5100
  • Mediabay: 8-in-1 Media Card Reader
  • Battery: 6-cell and 9-cell batteries
  • Other: Facial Recognition Security; Dell Dock; Dell Video Chat; 2GB Data Safe Online
  • Dimensions: 0.95″-1.34″ x 15.15″ x 10.02″ with 6-cell battery (H x W x D)
  • Weight: 6.53 lbs with 6-cell battery
  • Price as configured: $1,804 (Starting price: $1,199)

Build and Design

Dell has successfully managed to turn around its corporate image over the last year or two. During the first half of this decade most consumers criticized Dell for making heavy, thick, and boxy laptops that offered great value but where short on style. While Dell sales floundered several companies like HP, Apple, and Sony made significant market gains by developing sleek notebooks that offered a more “personalized” appearance. Dell started to change all that in late 2007 with the XPS M1330 followed by more attractive notebooks in the XPS, Inspiron and Studio notebook lines. Following the huge success of the XPS line, Dell is now making the XPS brand a “modifier” for all their notebooks. In other words, you could buy a nice Studio 15 notebook or get better performance, superior build quality and more style with the new Studio XPS 16.

The first time you look at the Studio XPS 16 it’s clear that this is something entirely new for Dell. They’ve taken the sleek lines and brushed aluminum accents from the XPS line and combined it with the multimedia features and a few chassis design elements from the Studio line to create a solid desktop replacement. I use the term “desktop replacement” because most people in the market for a 16-inch notebook aren’t planning to haul their notebook everywhere and use it during regular airline travel.

What the Studio XPS 16 lacks in mobility it more than makes up for in solid design and construction. As mentioned above, the Studio XPS 16 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 XPS 16 than just design elements from other Dell notebooks.

Another nice touch is the use of leather on the lid over the hinge area. We’ve seen leather-wrapped notebooks before, but this subtle use of leather looks a little more appealing and might even be practical. Since many people carry their laptops in their hand with the hinges pointed down this leather area provides a soft, textured surface for you to hold and keep a tight grip on your notebook.

In terms of overall chassis construction the Studio XPS 16 is quite solid and suffers from virtually no flex or creaks when squeezed and twisted between your hands. Construction is mostly magnesium alloy and some plastic with brushed aluminum accents around the hinges and the outer edge of the notebook. The Studio XPS 16 isn’t quite as rugged as the Dell Latitude or Precision business notebooks but it should survive a drop from your desk without significant damage.

The one design element I have mixed feelings about is the bottom access panel. Rather than have the typical RAM cover, hard drive cover, and main panel on the bottom of the notebook, the Studio XPS 16 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 it also means you have to remove 10 screws from the bottom of the notebook just to upgrade the RAM.

Screen

The 16.0″ 1080p Full HD RGBLED display is, in a word, gorgeous. Unlike standard LCD technology used in most notebooks, the RGBLED LCD offers richer, deeper colors and excellent contrast that make it ideal for watching HD movies from the built-in Blu-ray player or for editing high-resolution photos from your digital camera.

The 1920 x 1080 screen on our review unit looks beautiful from straight on and has fantastic horizontal viewing angles so you can easily watch a Blu-ray movie with three or more of your friends sitting around you. Backlighting was mostly even across the surface of the screen in our review unit. Upper vertical viewing angles are good, but colors did begin to invert at lower viewing angles when the screen is tilted back. That said, unless you plan to view your laptop’s screen from the floor looking up this won’t be a problem.

What might be a problem is the fact that Dell only offers the Studio XPS 16 with a “frameless” glossy display … the type that uses a separate glossy protective layer in front of the actual display panel. This gives the screen a very modern look, but the trade-off is a signficant amount of reflections on the surface of the screen under strong indoor lights. Outdoors under direct sunlight the screen reflections are so strong it can be extremely difficult to see anything on the screen.

If you keep your office lights dim or live in your parents’ basement with the lights turned off this won’t be a problem.

Keyboard, Touchpad and Media Controls

The keyboard on the Studio XPS 16 is one of the nicer keyboards I’ve used on a desktop replacement notebook. The keyboard is firm with only a minor bit of flex detected near the “Enter” key. All the keys have excellent travel and cushion. Unlike the Studio 17, which featured a dedicated number pad, the fullsize keyboard on the Studio XPS 16 looks smaller than it actually is thanks to the massive speaker grills located on either size of the keyboard (more on that later). The only complaint some may have is that the keys are “flatter” than the ones used on other Dell notebooks, so touch typists might have a learning curve when using this notebook. The keyboard also features a nice white LED backlight function when you’re typing in the dark.

The Synatics touchpad works well enough, though it seems a little on the small side given the size of the notebook. The mouse buttons have excellent travel and cushion 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.

A series of touch-sensitive media buttons with white LED backlights are located above the keyboard similar to the buttons on the Dell Studio 17. The media button LEDs stay lit constantly rather than turning off after a fraction of a second, so they might distract you and reduce battery life by staying lit all the time.

Ports and Features

The port selection on the Studio XPS 16 is quite good for a notebook of this size and even has a few surprises. Here’s a quick rundown of what you get:


Front: Indicator lights and IR port.


Rear: No ports, just battery and heat exhaust.


Left: Security lock slot, VGA, TV tuner antenna jack (under rubber cover), Ethernet, DisplayPort, HDMI, two USB, microphone jack and two headphone jacks.


Right: ExpressCard slot, card reader, FireWire, slot-loading optical drive, combo USB/eSATA port, and power jack.

The built-in HDMI is a very nice thing to have for those that want digital video and audio 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. On the plus side, the addition of DisplayPort makes up for any complaints I might have about video outputs on this machine.

With FireWire, three USB ports (including one combo USB/eSATA port), 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 XPS 16 is one of 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 thanks to the two large stereo speakers and built-in subwoofer. If you aren’t an audiophile then you’ll probably find the built-in speakers and subwoofer provide a fantastic range of highs, midtones, and deep bass. These speakers are more than enough to enjoy a feature film or share the audio from a webcast in a large office. While listening to some “Chad Vader” clips on YouTube it sounded like Chad was in the room talking to me.

The speakers for the Studio XPS 16 are located on either side of the keyboard next to the top two rows of keys. The speaker grill surface extends to cover the entire height of the keyboard, and it seems like Dell designers could have done something more with this extra space rather than just put empty speaker grills next to the keyboard.

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 P8600 processor (2.4GHz) which offers excellent performance in terms of number crunching and video encoding. The 4GB of DDR3 system RAM is enough to satisfy Vista and still provide enough RAM for most needs. The 320GB Seagate Momentus 7200.3 hard disk drive (HDD) in our review unit offers good reliability and excellent performance.

The Studio XPS 16 comes with a significant amount of software pre-installed that could be called bloatware. The numerous proprietary Dell applications and security software tends to slow the system down during the initial startup and sometimes makes life a little more complicated if you’re used to managing your power or wireless settings within Windows and a Dell program overrides your changes.

The ATI Radeon HD 3670 dedicated graphics card provides enough power for just about any gaming or 3D graphics work, so everyone from average users to hardcore gamers should have something to like here. 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 XPS 16 (Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.4GHz) 31.827s
HP HDX 18t (Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz) 27.416s
Sony VAIO FW (Core 2 Duo T9400 @ 2.53GHz) 30.373s
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

PCMark05 comparison results:

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

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Dell Studio XPS 16 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3670 512MB) 6,303 PCMarks
HP HDX 18t (2.8GHz Intel T9600, Nvidia 9600M GT 512MB) 6,587 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FW (2.53GHz Intel T9400, ATI Radeon HD 3470)  6,002 PCMarks
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

3DMark06 comparison results:

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

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Dell Studio XPS 16 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3670 512MB) 4,855 3DMarks
HP HDX 18t (2.8GHz Intel T9600, Nvidia 9600M GT 512MB) 4,127 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FW (2.53GHz Intel T9400, ATI Radeon HD 3470) 
2,598 3DMarks
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

All of the 3DMark06 scores for all of the systems listed above were run at 1280 x 800 or 1280 x 768 resolution. For those interested in the performance at full 1920 x 1080 resolution, the Studio XPS 16 produced a 3DMark06 score of 3,501 3DMarks.

HDTune results:

 

Heat and Noise

If the Studio XPS 16 has an Achilles’ Heel it might be heat. Our review unit gets quite hot whenever the processor or graphics card are working hard. After running multiple benchmarks and watching 30 minutes of a Blu-Ray movie the Studio XPS 16 got uncomfortably hot … the kind of heat that will make your legs sweat under your jeans. Granted, our test configuration has a powerful processor and dedicated graphics card that can both generate significant heat, but the system fan just didn’t seem to pull heat away from the notebook. Bottom line, if you are sensative to laptop heat then high-end configurations of this notebook might be a little too hot to use as a “laptop.” The temperatures listed below are in degrees Fahrenheit.

As mentioned previously, noise wasn’t much of an issue with the Studio XPS 16. The slot-loading optical drive made some noise when inserting or ejecting a disk but it was one of 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. The cooling fan was quiet, but considering how hot this notebook got during our tests we would have tolerated more fan noise if it meant a cooler lap.

Battery Life

The Studio XPS 16 comes with either a 6-cell battery or a 9-cell extended-life battery. The 9-cell lithium-ion battery provides excellent battery life at the expense of a slightly larger and heavier notebook. With Vista’s power management running in “balanced” mode, screen brightness set to 80 percent and wireless on, the 9-cell battery delivered 2 hours and 50 minutes of battery life. The 6-cell battery, as expected, produced about 2/3 as much battery life … coming in at just under two hours.

While these numbers might not be as impressive as what you get on smaller laptops, this is reasonably good for a 16-inch desktop replacement notebook.

Conclusion

Anyone looking for a cutting-edge multimedia notebook should instantly fall in love with the Dell Studio XPS 16. The stylish design and solid build quality combined with excellent performance and great features make this one of the better desktop replacements for consumers. That said, all this style and power comes at a price … both literally and figuratively. Not only is the Studio XPS line priced above the Inspiron and current Studio lines but the Studio XPS 16 only offers glossy screens which are sometimes extremely difficult to view under direct sunlight. The system also gets extremely hot because of all the hardware packed inside, and the pre-loaded bloatware might be frustrating to some owners.

Still, the Dell Studio XPS 16 is one of the better choices among 16-inch multimedia notebooks.

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Nice keyboard
  • Solid performance as configured
  • 1080p display with excellent color and contrast
  • Good port selection

Cons:

  • Glossy screen with glossy protective layer
  • Gets a little too hot
  • Battery life okay but not great
  • Pre-loaded bloatware helpful to some, annoying to everyone else


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