Dell Studio 17: good looks and plenty of firepower

Sitting halfway between the entry-level Inspiron range and the high-end XPS series is Dell’s new line of Studio laptops designed for those who want more individuality in their notebook. Well on the laptop lid anyway which is available in no less than eight different eye-catching colours including tangerine-orange plum-purple spring-green and flamingo-pink.

We received the 17-in screen version for review but it’s also available with a 15-in display if you want something a little more portable. There’s no mistaking the Studio 17 for anything other than a desktop replacement as it measures a chunky 4.3cm at its thickest point and tips the scales at 3.57kg.

The upside of it taking up a good portion of available desk space is that it doesn’t lack for many features and the extra-large screen and keyboard make for a luxurious computing experience. The Studio 17’s good looks are backed up with a lot of firepower under the hood; our review system ran a 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 Penryn processor (6MB L2 cache 800MHz FSB) with a generous 4GB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM and an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650 graphics card with 256MB of dedicated memory.

This translated into a respectable PCMark05 score of 5674 putting it slightly ahead of the last multimedia-centric notebook we reviewed the Acer Aspire Gemstone Blue 8920G. The Radeon HD 3650 graphics card isn’t grunty enough to play any 3D games released in the last year at a decent clip (reflected by the 3DMark06 score of 2941) but it’s more than adequate for playing DivX and YouTube videos smoothly in addition to rendering Vista’s Aero Glass graphics.

The 17-in display is simply gorgeous boasting a huge 1920 x 1200-pixel resolution and exceptionally wide viewing angles. It’s coated with a glossy non-reflective finish that makes colours pop off the screen and the above-average pixel count makes text and graphics look sharper than we’re used to seeing on a laptop. This works against it when playing DVDs though as we could see more noise and blurriness in the upscaled video. Movie buffs should consider the optional combo Blu-ray BD-ROM/DVD writer drive (an extra $245.30) to take advantage of the high definition display and built-in HDMI port for outputting the display to a HDTV.

Multimedia is the Studio 17’s forte making it a viable hub for digital entertainment. In addition to a good-sized 500GB hard drive (composed of two 250GB SATA 5400rpm disks) Dell has loaded its own MediaDirect software for managing content and it’s a much nicer front-end than the cluttered Windows Media Player interface not to mention faster than Windows Media Center. Touch-sensitive multimedia and volume buttons sit above the keyboard (as well as a dedicated launcher for MediaDirect) and you also get an AverTV digital TV tuner that fits into the ExpressCard slot and a two-megapixel webcam with accompanying Dell Video Chat software. For sharing music with a friend it’s also got dual headphone jacks.

The Studio 17 isn’t the sort of machine you’d haul around for extended periods of time so the one hour and 34 minutes of run-time we got from playing a DVD (using the standard 6-cell battery) is plenty for occasional separation from the power brick.

Dell has taken full advantage of the Studio 17’s larger footprint by packing it with ports and connectors; it comes with five USB 2.0 ports HDMI FireWire VGA infrared ExpressCard and an eight-in-one memory card reader on-board as well as an external USB RJ45 modem jack for those still clinging to dial-up. Otherwise the 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet covers standard network and Internet connectivity and you can add built-in mobile broadband as an optional extra. To top it all off Dell also throws in a two-year next business day parts and labour warranty.