Dell – Studio 17 review

Core i7 desktop replacement with multi-touch screen
Photo of Dell – Studio 17

Dell has added yet another family line to its already comprehensive line-up of notebooks; the Studio. Currently available in 15-inch or 17-inch models, the Studio line-up sits between the Inspiron range and the higher end, more expensive XPS line.

Dell has suddenly found colour in a big, big way for its notebook ranges and the Studio comes in a range of colours. Or, if you fancy being really different, there are five Dell Art lid designs by artist Mike Ming. However, bear in mind that if you choose one of these designs it will cost you an extra 49 quid, but more importantly will apparently delay you getting your notebook by a staggering 15-30 days extra.

The rest of the colour choices are included in the price and don’t delay you getting your hands on a laptop, and you have quite a choice, both plain and patterned; it’s getting more like buying a new car these days than a notebook.

Anyway, the choices are Midnight Blue, Spring Green, Tangerine Orange, Bubblegum Pink, Plum Purple and Ruby Red, all with a satin finish. Plump for a boring old matt black model and you save yourself £29. If you want conservative Graphite Grey you can have it, but these come in four trim colours – see what I mean about being like a car? – and a pattern Dell calls Topo, which, depending on whether you want to be kind or not, looks like a series of water stains or the contour lines on a map. For this review Dell sent us one of these graphite grey models with black trim (the other trim options being pink, red and blue).

Whichever option you choose the finish is extremely well done but, although you may want to show it off to all and sundry, the Studio 17′s weight of 4.1kg (including power brick) may make you think twice about it.

Powering our Studio 17 was an Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 processor with a clock speed of 2.4GHz, an 800MHz FSB and 3MB of L2 cache. Should you want even more performance, then as is the norm with Dell there are a couple of other options, both with 6MB caches; T9300 with a 2.5GHz clock (+ £79.99) and the 2.6GHz T9500 (£270 extra).

Backing up the CPU is 4GB of PC2-5300, 667MHz, DDR2 memory which gives the Studio 17 plenty of power to complete just about any task you ask of it, ably shown by a PCMark05 score of 6,025 and 3,556 in the more up-to-date and stressful PCMark Vantage.

As with the rest of the system, the keyboard and key-bed are well built. There is practically no flex in the bed, while the keys are nice and responsive when typing. The keyboard comes with a dedicated number pad, too. Above the keyboard there is a row of white back-lit media buttons which are touch sensitive and work alongside the slim-line Media Center remote control that Dell bundles with the system; when not in use this sits in the Express Card slot.

The graphics are powered by a 256MB ATI Mobilty Radeon HD3650 which, although fine for everyday use, is somewhat limiting for games play, something borne out by the World In Conflict test result of just 19fps. Even turning down the resolution and dropping the in-game detail won’t improve things enough to give you a rewarding gaming experience, although older games will be fine.

Output from the HD3650 feeds a 17-inch (hence the name) WXGA+ WLED screen with a native resolution of 1,440 by 900 pixels. This comes with Dell’s TrueLife coating and is really very good. If you want to push the signal out to other screens there are VGA and HDMI ports.

For storage our Studio 17 came with 500GB of space via two separate 250GB drives. If you need more then you have the option of two 320GB drives for a total 640GB of space, costing an additional £80. Built into the unit is a Blu-ray drive.

To connect to the outside world there is 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet and, last and probably least, a good old 56Kbps modem. Both the WiFi and the Bluetooth modules are Dell products which is why our review sample didn’t carry an Intel Centrino badge.

For a notebook that weighs 3.7kg on its own, you could say that worrying about battery life is pretty pointless, as it’s going to spend most of its life plugged into the national grid. But anyway, when tested with MobileMark 2007, the standard 6-cell battery produced 135 minutes for the DVD test, 170 minutes for the Productivity test and 190 minutes for the Reader test. For added life and weight there is an optional 9-cell battery for an extra £99.88.

Apart from the Vista OS there is also Microsoft Works 9.0 bundled with the Studio 17, plus you get Dell’s new Dell Dock application which will be familiar to OS X and StarDock Object Dock users. Dell backs the laptop with a one-year return-to-base warranty.Despite touch-screen displays taking off on both mobile phones and portable media players, manufacturers have had a something of a tough time in persuading the public that they need one on a laptop. Indeed, anyone wanting a traditional clamshell-style laptop with a touch-screen won’t exactly find themselves spoilt for choice.

However, with Microsoft adding built-in touch features to Windows 7 we’re now starting to see some new models come to market, with the latest being Dell’s Studio 17.

The Studio series actually debuted back in 2008 (read our original Studio 17 review) and was intended to bridge the gap between Dell’s entry-level Inspiron laptops and the high-end XPS portable gaming machines. Now the line-up has been refreshed, with the most interesting addition being the multi-touch Studio 17 we have here.

As its name suggests, the laptop is built around a 17-inch (17.3-inch to be precise) touch-screen display with a native resolution of 1600 x 900 pixels.

The display uses a capacitive touch panel that can recognise up to four fingers at any one time, although the pre-installed Windows 7 Home Premium is based more around two-fingered gestures (pinch to zoom, two-fingered swipe to scroll, etc.). As time goes on, we expect to see software developers making more use of three- and four-fingered commands.

Dell includes a small suite of special multi-touch applications, but while they’re a good way to showcase what the Studio 17 can do, they also highlight the gimmicky nature of touch-screens on laptops. The photo application, for example, is clever in that you can hurl your snaps around the desktop with the flick of a finger, but we can’t see too many people actually using it to show their photos to friends.

There are also a series of touch-based games. Again, although interesting at first, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be playing them longer than a few minutes.

While the touch side of things might be more of a gimmick, the Studio 17 is powered by some solid components. The processor comes in the form of a quad-core Intel Core i7-720QM; all four cores run at 1.6GHz, and with a bit of help from Intel’s Turbo Boost, clock speeds can rise to 2.8GHz when required.

Along with a suitable 4GB of DDR3 memory, the Studio 17 also ships with an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650. It’s by no means the fastest of mobile graphics cards, but with a little help from the powerful processor it makes playing games on the Studio 17 a real possibility. In Crysis, we managed just under 16fps with the resolution at 1600 x 900 and detail set to High. Scale things back a little and the frame rates soon improve; when we dropped it down to 800 x 600 over 100fps was recorded.

There are no surprises in terms of network-related features, with Bluetooth, 802.11n wireless and Gigabit Ethernet all catered for.

As far as overall build quality goes, the Studio 17 is a solid enough beast. The lid is robust while the rest of the chassis is reassuringly sturdy. Perhaps our only concern is the flexing of the keyboard; we’re used to seeing the keyboard flex on cheaper laptops, but on a laptop of this price it’s slightly disappointing. On the plus side, the keyboard is backlit, making typing in dimly-lit environments a breeze. Should you prefer typing in complete darkness, this backlight can be switched off.

For the sound system, Dell’s gone for a 2.1 speakers system, with the sub-woofer sitting on the underside. Loud, clear and accompanied by plenty of bass, the Studio 17 is great for listening to music on.

If you want to hook up an external display you have three options: VGA, HDMI and the not-so-widely-used DisplayPort. The rest of the ports are pretty standard and include three USB (one of which doubles up as an eSATA port), mini Firewire and a multi-format card reader. Dell’s also opted for a slot-loading DVD drive, which adds a touch of class to proceedings.

There’s a decent amount of storage space thanks to the 500GB Seagate drive. And, unlike most laptop hard drives, this one has a spin speed of 7,200rpm, which gives a nice little performance boost. However, faster hard drives also take their toll on battery life.

That said, with its nine-cell, 85Wh battery the Studio 17 did reasonably well in our tests and kept going for just under two hours when charging along at full speed. When used a little more sparingly, we managed to get over the three-hour mark. But weighing 3.5kg, it’s not like you’ll be taking it on too many journeys away from a wall socket.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that, as with all Dell laptops, it’s possible to customise the Studio 17 before you buy. Our review sample clocked in at just over £1,000, but you can shave money off that by scaling back components such as the processor as well as ditching Bluetooth and the keyboard backlight.

Company: Dell

Contact: 0844 444 4699

The Studio series neatly dovetails in between two well liked product lines and certainly lives up to its name in the choice of colours and styles for the lid, but it could do with a boost in the gaming department.