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.
subjective and objective performance
Compared to the M1530 tested earlier, the new system is in day-to-day experience much faster -- perhaps not surprising given the faster parts, but a change which is appreciated all the same. Vista in particular has a responsiveness that was almost, but not quite, present in the earlier test. That's most likely attributable to the 2GB of memory onboard as well as minor performance enhancements made in Vista Service Pack 1.
For gaming, that memory is also likely the deciding factor; gone is the choppiness that plagued Team Fortress 2 and other titles in the past. The Mobility Radeon HD 3450 should also be slightly faster than the GeForce 8400M GS in the earlier notebook and contributes to what seems an overall better frame rate that was enough to make the difference between struggling to play and playing almost as well as on a desktop. Having said this, the graphics option still puts a hard limit on what the Studio 15 is capable of: it's a fast system for an average user who may only play games casually, but it's merely average or even entry-level for gamers.
The benchmark test focused on for this review, Futuremark's 3DMark06, produces unusual results: despite the clear advantages for at least processor speed and RAM and the likely advantage of the graphics hardware, the Studio 15 actually performs slightly slower in two of the game environment tests and isn't fast enough elsewhere to outpace the allegedly slower M1530 in the overall benchmark score. An unexplainably low CPU score may well be the primary factor and is likely due to a flaw in the software, though even with a corrected score it would be difficult to explain the primarily video-oriented results, which should also skew more heavily towards the newer and theoretically faster AMD graphics. It's possible that NVIDIA's GeForce drivers are better-optimized for 3DMark than AMD's own for the Mobility Radeon HD part.
3DMark06 benchmarks (fastest scores in blue)
Regardless of tests, the single-digit frame rates for the Studio 15 make it clear that the system at its best still isn't designed for very visually advanced games like Crysis, which 3DMark is designed to represent; it's strictly a mid-range system, and in fairness to Dell few, if any, notebooks at Studio-level pricing are capable of playing the most modern games at good frame rates with at least medium detail.
For this review onwards, Electronista will be more selective about including additional benchmarks for notebooks, as portables using the same hardware generation are rarely going to vary wildly; expect them now only when there's a clear generational jump or the components vary wildly between a new system and recent models.