Despite the rapid growth in laptop sales over the past decade, the more things change the more they stay the same. You would think with the potential to snag a piece of the lucrative mobile market, we would see more innovation from smaller companies. We do have to give ASUS credit for kicking off the netbook "revolution", but elsewhere the status quo is well entrenched. If you're okay with OS X, Apple continues to release some of the best designed laptops. On the Windows side of the equation, HP, Dell, Lenovo, Sony, Acer/Gateway, and a few others compete for your dollars. If you're looking for something affordable, however, and you don't want a netbook, you can generally eliminate many of those names. Today we have Dell's Studio 14z in our labs for testing, a reasonably affordable laptop that does a good job balancing features, design, and performance. Here's what you can get.

Dell Studio 14z Specifications
Processor Pentium Dual Core T4200 (2.0GHz 800FSB 1MB L2)
Core 2 Duo T6500 (2.1GHz 800FSB 2MB L2)
Core 2 Duo P8600 (2.4GHz 1066FSB 3MB L2)
Chipset NVIDIA nForce 730i
Memory 3GB DDR3 (Max 5GB):
1x1024MB DDR3-1066 CL7 Onboard
1x2048MB DDR3-1066 CL7 SO-DIMM
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 9400M G
Display 14.0" 1366x768 LED Backlit Standard
14.0" 1600x900 LED Backlit Upgrade
Hard Drive 2.5" 250GB to 500GB 5400RPM or 7200RPM
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
802.11bg or 802.11n WiFi
Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (optional)
Audio HD Audio (2.0 Stereo Speakers with headphone/microphone jacks)
HDMI and DisplayPort audio out
Battery 6-Cell 56Wh or 8-cell 74Hw
Front Side None
Left Side HDMI
DisplayPort
Cooling Exhaust
1 x USB 2.0
Gigabit Ethernet
Kensington Lock
Right Side ExpressCard/34
2 x Headphone jacks
Microphone jack
Mini 1394A Firewire
1 x eSATA/USB
1 x USB 2.0
AC Power connection
Back Side None
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Windows 7 Business 64-bit
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
(Test system shipped with Vista Home Premium 64-bit)
Dimensions 13.23" x 9.02" x 0.79-1.22" (WxDxH)
Weight 4.3 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras 1.3MP Webcam
Warranty Standard 1-year warranty
2-year or 3-year extended warranties available
Price Online Prices start at $699.
Price as configured: $1019 (with $159 rebate).

The base model 14z starts at around $700, but there are definitely compromises. The biggest compromise is going to be in the processor department, where the Pentium Dual Core T4200 might be "fast enough" to easily outpace any netbook, but it's not going to truly impress in terms of performance. The next bump up, the Core 2 Duo T6500, doubles the L2 cache, and increases clock speed by 5%, for a net increase of around 20% and a cost of $75. The top-end processor supported in the 14z (at present) is the Core 2 Duo P8600, which gives you 3MB L2 cache and a 2.4 GHz clock speed for $200 more than the T4200, again in improving performance by about 20% compared to the T6500. Depending on how much CPU performance you desire, all three processor options are viable; simply adding the P8600 will increase the price of a 14z by almost 30%, but you should get better than a 30% boost in performance.

Unlike some laptops, configuration options on the 14z are relatively limited. Other than the choice of processor, the only other major component decisions you'll have are the amount of memory (3GB or 5GB), the hard drive, and whether you want to spring for the 1600x900 LCD or stick with the default 1366x768 model. (Somewhat confusingly, Dell and others insist on calling 1366x768 displays "720p".) We would also recommend the 8-cell battery to improve battery life by about 35%. You also get to choose between five different colors (black, red, blue, green, or purple) and the usual selection of warranties, operating system, software, etc.

The overall package is good, but as with many thin and light systems you'll have to forgo an integrated optical drive. Dell also limits memory expansion to a single DDR3 SO-DIMM slot, with 1GB of RAM soldered onto the motherboard, so the upgrade from 3GB to 5GB RAM will cost a painful $275. Personally, I'd also like to see another option for color: white; all the others are either too garish (a yellowish "spring green" or "plum purple" -- yuck!), and the black chassis picks up fingerprints like a police detective canvassing a crime scene. The big selling point is of course size; starting at 4.3 pounds and with a relatively small 14.0" chassis, this is a laptop designed to be carried around rather than left on your desk. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that Dell uses NVIDIA's nForce 730i chipset, which means you can get a Core 2 Duo processor and integrated graphics that don't suck.

One of the interesting points of comparison is going to be Apple's standard MacBook. The 13.3" LCD is slightly smaller but the MacBook weighs 4.7 pounds making it slightly heavier. It also includes an optical drive and two SO-DIMM slots. Both use the GeForce 9400M/nForce 730i chipset. Apple lists the battery life for the MacBook as "up to 7 hours" while Dell claims up to 6.5 hours with the 8-cell battery upgrade. If Dell can deliver, we'll have a real contender for battery life compared to MacBooks using similar components.

Dell Studio 14z Overview
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  • beastyben1 - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - link

    the speakers are the best I've had in a laptop. very loud and clear. Reply
  • BPB - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - link

    Got this a few months ago for my daughter and we have been VERY happy with it. I believe we went with an 8400 CPU, and I do think as mentioned they were offering higher than the 8600 option mentioned in the article. My daughter got her's in pink, by the way. I guess they got rid of that color option. We went with the higher res screen and backlit keyboard. Again, very, very happy with it. Reply
  • beastyben1 - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - link

    I've owned this laptop since August.

    Everything is perfect, except the worst touchpad drivers I have ever used. Sticks, freezes just terrible. Must use a mouse. Otherwise I love it. T6500, 8-cell, 1600X900 LED.
    Reply
  • FATCamaro - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - link

    How do you people accept this kind of junk. I'm glad I switched to Mac once I started buying laptops. Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - link

    Your single interpretation of defect means absolutely nothing in regards to the quality of the laptop. Having said that why in the world you any one of you start a "mine is better than yours" or "Mac is better than Windows PC" debate? It's pointless and childish.

    You're going to have to face that fact that there is NO SINGLE product made without defects. There is no Quality system that will give your 100%, and no TPS doesn't either.

    But you all know this and yet lower yourself to this type of discussion. I wouldn't mind so much if this was in other tech sites but I don't like it on Anandtech where there are typically very knowledgeable and respectful users.

    And lastly I'm 100% sure none of you voicing your opinion is not even in the industry or manufacturing/logistic to know what you're saying other than Google-ing. Trust me when I say this, there are no perfect product. What you call junk isn't junk and what you hail as the mightiest is not either. All you can do is try to Google, or what I call it research, as much as you can and hope that what you paid for isn't in one of the bad ones made.
    Reply
  • Eagle17 - Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - link

    I have a macbook pro with the santa rosa chips. I have frequent problems with it. I am on my third battery (at $130 ea) the backlit keyboard does not always light up anymore, only 2 usb slots, a funky not always works hold two fingers and press the button for right clicks. The OS is so/so I would be just as happy with linux since there are not many native macos applications that I find usefull.

    the unit is all aluminum which at first glance makes it seem very sturdy however in the three years i have owned it the lid has started to stick and requires more force to open. And like most modern laptops it does get blistering hot.. the metal case just makes that worse.

    The led backlit screen is very good though. that is the one thing i really like about this device. maybe the only thing.
    Reply
  • JimmyJimmington - Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - link

    "And like most modern laptops it does get blistering hot.. the metal case just makes that worse."

    I don't know what you mean by "most modern laptops." If a laptop is too hard to put on your lap then it's poorly designed.
    Reply
  • Eagle17 - Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - link

    sorry I mean the last few C2D laptops I have had (2 hp 8xxx series, the macbook pro, and a lenovo t500) they all get pretty hot althought the macbook is the worst.

    both of my atom based netbooks are just fine though. (acer 9in and asus 1005ha)
    Reply
  • Pirks - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - link

    Junk? My Alineware notebook pwns any MacBook Pro and dances on its unicorpse, including the top of the line MBP 17, because it has faster hardware. The Alienware's trackpad is shitty, you're right on that, PC trackpads are mostly shit these days compared to Macs but my Alienware still plays all my games REAL fast while MBP craaawls slooowly given same resolution and detail settings... so to each his own. When MBP starts playing games as fast as my Alienware then I may think about it, but it'll never happen, alas. At least not with Jobs at helm. Reply
  • beastyben1 - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - link

    like Macs are not subject to faults? I'd much rather have this. my .02. Reply

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