Introducing the Dell Studio 17

The Dell Studio 17 we have on hand for review today is an interesting critter with a fairly worthwhile backstory. Oftentimes when you get to the 17" form factor you're dealing with bulky desktop replacement machines that offer questionable value over just buying a desktop, or at least that was the belief I held before I started shopping for one. Now that I'm no longer in school I don't need a 14" "does-it-all" notebook; instead, I can use a 17" when travelling for extended periods of time as a comfortable workstation, or as a monitor when I'm out on a shoot. And when I want to be a complete dweeb writing in public in a coffee shop so someone can see me and be so curious, I can use a netbook or ultraportable notebook. And after a lot of research, I finally decided the Studio 17 was the one for me.

So consider this a case of an AnandTech writer eating his own dog food, so to speak: this isn't just the machine I'll wind up recommending to you, it's the one I've actually used for myself over some time and aggressively put through its paces. The model I purchased is no longer available from Best Buy as Dell changes specs on their hardware with alarming frequency; mine went for $949, while configuring a comparable machine direct from Dell these days is $1,200. So what's in it?

Dell Studio 17 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-720QM
(4x1.6GHz, 45nm, 6MB L3, Turbo to 2.8GHz, 45W)
Chipset Intel PM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650 1GB DDR3
(320 Stream Processors, 550MHz/1.4GHz Core/RAM clocks)
Display 17.3" LED Glossy 16:9 900p (1600x900)
Hard Drive(s) Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 7200RPM
Optical Drive Slot-loading Blu-ray DVD+/-RW Combo Drive
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
Dell Wireless-n 1520
Audio HD Audio
2 stereo speakers plus subwoofer
Microphone plus two headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1 audio
Battery 9-Cell, 11.1V, 85Wh battery
Front Side N/A
Left Side Kensington
Ethernet
VGA
DisplayPort
HDMI
eSATA/USB 2.0 combo
Antenna (not functional in this unit)
ExpressCard/34
Mic, 2x Headphones
Right Side 4-pin FireWire
SD/MMC Reader
USB 2.0
Optical drive
USB 2.0
AC Adaptor
Power button
Back Side Exhaust vents
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 16.28" x 11.04" x 1.1"~1.54” (WxDxH)
Weight 7.6 lbs (with 9-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
103-Key keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD)
Slot-loading Blu-ray drive
Second hard disk bay
Warranty 1-year basic warranty
Pricing $949.99 as purchased, no longer available
Starting at $699.99 at Dell.com

Spec-wise the Studio 17 on hand probably isn't that exciting, but at least it's fairly well-rounded. The Intel Core i7-720QM quad-core processor runs at 1.6GHz nominally, turboing up to 2.4GHz with two cores or 2.8GHz on a single core, effectively shoring up performance weaknesses in applications that aren't heavily threaded. Since Intel's mobile quad-cores don't have integrated graphics the way their modern dual-cores do, graphics are handled by a slightly outdated ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650 equipped with 1GB of video memory. Unlike the desktop 4650, the mobile variant is almost always outfitted with DDR3, and the one in the Studio 17 is no exception. Note that the currently shipping Studio 17 on Dell's website uses a Mobility Radeon HD 560v: this is the exact same graphics hardware, but rebranded.

Dell ships the Studio 17 with 4GB of DDR3-1066 standard in two DIMMs, but you can upgrade to 8GB for $250 from Dell—or for under $200 if you do it yourself. The standard issue hard disk is also a respectable 500GB, 7200RPM Seagate Momentus 7200.4, and users who would like to upgrade to an SSD will be pleased to note the Studio 17 features two drive bays, allowing you to continue to use the existing drive for storage. Mine didn't come with the drive tray necessary to use the second bay, but that accessory can be purchased fairly cheaply online. Rounding out storage is a slot-loading combination blu-ray reader and DVD+/-RW drive.

The rest of the configuration is remarkably flexible: there's a wide variety of ports, including two USB 2.0 (three if you count the eSATA combo port), the rapidly vanishing 4-pin FireWire port, an ExpressCard/34 slot, and even a modern DisplayPort. Wireless duties are handled by Dell's adequate 1520 wireless-n solution, but modern Studio 17s now ship with Intel Centrino 6200 wireless standard. I was disappointed that my unit didn't include internal bluetooth, but that can also be added on for $20 if you custom order the notebook.

A Closer Examination of the Studio 17
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    We list the gaming results mostly for people that *are* interested in those areas. We've decided to settle on testing "midrange" GPUs at Low, Medium, and High settings. We could put all the results on one page, but then it would be a really long page. Anyway, if you go by word count, the article is 3600 words long, and the gaming and graphics pages comprise a total of 800 words over four pages. Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    I did when I first got the Studio 17, but the most recent BIOS update largely alleviated that issue. The thing runs a little toasty, but it's a huge notebook and the extended battery makes it abundantly clear it's not supposed to be used on your lap.

    I did my research before picking this one up, and haven't run into that BIOS issue or the AC adaptor issue.
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Why does this not have a Mobility Radeon 5850? Or at least a 5830? There's more than enough room, if a 5830 can be shoved into an Envy 15...

    What a waste.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Price, heat, and battery life.

    The Studio 17 is fairly large, but compared to some gaming notebooks it's actually not as bulky. And I can tell you the cooling system is on the "eh" side...going to a high-end GPU like that would tax it too much.

    Also, 5830/50/70 all play hell on the battery, as the G73 results demonstrate.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Now if he made the argument for HD 5650 or *maybe* 5730, that would be reasonable. Those aren't as fast as the 5800 series, but they're faster than old 4650. Of course, Dustin bought this as a bargain at Best Buy, which is probably why he has the older 4650... not that 560v is any different. Reply
  • seapeople - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Yay, some love for 17 inchers! I'm glad you didn't go down the "Any laptop over 14 inches is a behemoth tank that you need a fork lift to carry around" road. Even if you did claim that battery life doesn't matter on a big laptop.... which is fairly silly. A long battery life on this laptop means the same as any other laptop -- that when you take it with you somewhere, you don't need to get out (or bring) the charger, which is even bigger on something like this.

    Also, I can fit my 17" Dell in a backpack which is small enough to count as your "personal bag" on an airplane (i.e., fits under the seat). Battery life is somewhat important in airports considering the lack of outlets.
    Reply
  • Lingyis - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    well, that's not cool. i just bought a studio 17 a couple days ago based on anandtech. really shouldn't do that too often to maintain anandtech's good reputation.

    fortunately, my specs are completely different. i5-520, no discrete graphics card, RGB 1080. the truth is that i bought it pretty much 99% for the RGB 1080 screen, which if it's anything like the XPS 16, should be awesome (XPS 16 no longer offers RGB screen as an option). another reason for the 17' is so that i don't need to lug around a numpad with me.

    i won't do any gaming (well, nothing graphics intensive anyway) on the machine, pretty much using it either to remotely log on to work machines or run some local calculation jobs (mostly single-threaded) so hopefully battery life would be quite a bit better than what's tested here.

    so fingers crossed. i don't think i'll like the keyboard (tried it out at best buy) but hopefully i'll get used to it and i'll end up loving the screen and, as a result, the laptop. i guess worst case i'll just get a keyboard when i'm not on the road.

    that's the thing--studio 17's have so many configurations. i probably have buyer's bias at this point, but to go back on your rec based on just one config is just... not worth the humble pie.

    ps. XPS 16 only has the "WLED" option these days, which i don't know how it's different from regular LED. any idea how it stacks up to the "RGB LED"?
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure I understand how I'm reneging on my rec, especially since I'm actually using it myself and kept it. I love mine.

    How am I reneging?
    Reply
  • Lingyis - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    okay i guess you're not. i misread one of the lines.

    i have a question though: do you have a fan issue? i just got mine yesterday and the fan goes on and off every 10 seconds or so and it's driving me absolutely nuts. i'm not running anything intensive, just browsing the web or something.
    Reply
  • Lingyis - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    well okay i contacted dell customer support they said they'll send somebody to replace the fan unit. hopefully the resolves the issue.

    the guy was really pushy trying to sell me the complete warranty plan. but i'm thinking of replacing the hard drive with a SSD at some point in the future so i don't think it's worth the money.
    Reply

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