The Studio is a good choice but bulky for its role. (July 20th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Dell
Price: $1,344 (2.5GHz, LED screen, Radeon HD 3450)
- Build and looks a step up from the Inspiron.
- Good minimum specs; moderately fast at the high end without spending much more.
- Excellent 1440x900 LED-lit display option.
- Ample expansion.
- Very customizable.
- Good battery life compared to earlier Dell systems and some rivals.
- Dell Dock and Dell Video Chat help out newcomers.
- Bulky for a designer notebook.
- Options somewhat hobbled for the sake of preserving XPS sales.
- Radeon HD 3450 only a mild help to 3D performance over earlier systems.
- Coming out just before Centrino 2 systems; may be best to wait before buying.
ports and expansion
One surprise for the Studio is a revised port layout: M1530 gone are the front audio jacks from the M1530 and the Inspiron 1525, which now get pushed to the side. Dell notably also replaces the S-video output of the XPS system with a second USB port (already present on the Inspiron), a move which is arguably more practical given how few users truly need the analog video format.
This leaves the Studio virtually identical in most respects to other Dell portables, though that's not necessarily a flaw. Four USB ports, a full-size ExpressCard slot, a card reader, and both HDMI and VGA out largely cover everything the notebook could be used for, although the usefulness of VGA for a home notebook is still questionable. The support for 3G wireless over Sprint or Verizon's 3G cellular networks is an option thanks to half-size card slots inside, though it's hard to say whether the same sort who would save by choosing a Studio would still be willing to pay extra for wide-area Internet service.
configurations and the test system
Like the 15-inch XPS model, Dell makes it a point to give the Studio 15 a relatively high performance floor; the slowest processor is a 2GHz Core 2 Duo, albeit one with a slightly slower bus speed versus most newer chips (667MHz versus 800MHz); the company also heeded warnings about memory and gives the Studio a minimum 2GB of memory, although with Windows Vista it's still recommended that users fit as much memory as they can reasonably afford.
The options checklist is slightly larger with the Studio than on the Inspiron equivalent with both the aforementioned 3G support and dedicated graphics, though it's becoming clear that Dell is segmenting the line in a way meant to push buyers up to more lucrative lines. The Studio 15 has the choice of a Blu-ray drive, but only a combo reader that won't write the HD format; there are no solid-state drive choices; and the fastest video option is a Mobility Radeon HD 3450 rather than the mid-range or higher options available in the Studio 17 or the XPS line. It's enough for many, but it feels arbitrarily limited. It's also curious that Dell doesn't allow any official Intel 802.11g or 802.11n Wi-Fi options at press time.
The review sample is one of the fastest models, though not the most feature-rich: it has both the 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo and Mobility Radeon HD options as well as the 1440x900 display and 802.11n wireless, all of which should in theory combine to make a fairly quick system in tests.