Dell Studio 14z Overview

There's plenty to like about the design and appearance of the Studio 14z, although we are unfortunately treated to yet another laptop with a glossy plastic chassis. If you were hoping the Studio 14z would match the MacBook in that area, you'll be sorely disappointed. In order to get MacBook aesthetics, no need to spring for the much more expensive Dell Adamo, but then you're competing with MacBook Air rather than the standard MacBook. The short story is that in terms of aesthetics, the Studio 14z can't match up to Apple, but (depending on configuration) it can save you some money.


Given the limited real estate on a 14" chassis, Dell still manages to cram in quite a few features. One of the better features is dual digital outputs: one HDMI and one DisplayPort connector are available. If you don't have a DisplayPort LCD, you'll need an adapter, but you can always buy such an LCD from Dell. You also get Gigabit Ethernet, three USB ports -- one does double duty as an eSATA port -- and mini FireWire. Dell doesn't include a flash reader by default, but you can purchase a flash reader accessory that plugs into the ExpressCard/34 slot.

When you compare the Studio 14z with your typical netbook, it's easy to understand Dell's frustration with netbooks. The Studio 14z has a better keyboard, it's tons faster than any Intel Atom system, it can play games, and it still delivers reasonable battery life. By comparison, netbooks feel small and have difficult to use displays (1024x600, we're talking about you). We're not particularly pleased with the default 1366x768 LCD, but we're happy that Dell offers a $50 upgrade to a 1600x900 display. Given the choice, we would take the Studio 14z over any netbook in a heartbeat. The catch is that netbooks can still offer twice the battery life in a lighter package, for less than half the price. We definitely wouldn't recommend using a netbook as your only computer, but the 14z can fill that role for most people.

The 14z keyboard has a good layout, with all of the important keys easily accessible. Dell hasn't changed their typical layout in some time, but it's obvious that effort went into designing a good keyboard. We wish we could say the same about other manufacturers, but far too often we find strange decisions in terms of which keys to provide in which to relegate to special Fn+key combinations. Our impression is that Dell has done usability studies and come up with a good layout, and we have no complaints. As an added bonus, an extra $25 gets you LED backlighting on your keyboard -- great for when you need to use the laptop in low lighting conditions.

There are a couple areas where the 14z could still be improved. Of course there is the aforementioned glossy plastic chassis; obviously that's a cost cutting measure, but we would be very pleased to see a return of matte plastic at the very least -- along with matte LCDs. We don't know what the upgraded LCD is like, but we can also say that the default LCD leaves a lot of room for improvement. It's plenty bright, but like many other inexpensive laptops it has very poor contrast ratios. We wouldn't even qualify the Studio 14z as an "inexpensive" laptop, considering many users will spend over $1000 once they add a few desirable upgrades, so it would have been nice if Dell would have sprung for a better display. We also wish Dell could have figured out a way to include a second SO-DIMM slot; 3GB RAM should be sufficient, but 4GB would be better in the option to upgrade to 8GB in the future would be great. Finally, access to the hard drive requires a lot more work than most laptops, making end-user upgrades more difficult than necessary. Some people will definitely want to upgrade to an SSD, and there's potential to break some of the plastic chassis elements if you're not careful.

Index Dell Studio 14z Application Performance
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  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, October 22, 2009 - link

    Newegg has a notebook for $399 right now. Please explain how you justify twice the price. A slightly faster processor, slightly more battery life. Big whoop. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 22, 2009 - link

    It helps to link to what you're talking about, or at least mention the name. Let's assume you're looking at the http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">Acer Aspire AS5517-5671, which currently sells for $400.

    1) 15.6" vs. 14.0"
    2) 6.0 lbs. vs. 4.6 lbs.
    3) AMD Athlon 64 TF-20 (1.6GHz) vs. Core 2 Duo P8600 (2.4GHz)
    4) DDR2 vs. DDR3
    5) 160GB HDD vs. 320GB HDD
    6) "Up to" 2.4 hours vs. 4.5 hours (measured)

    When you combine all of those areas, plus chassis design, the Studio 14z is clearly superior to this particular $400 laptop in every way. Does that mean it's worth the extra money? You'll have to decide that. Keep in mind that the Gateway NV52 (benchmarked in this article) is going to be at least 30% faster CPU than the $400 Acer (2.1GHz vs. 1.6GHz), and the 14z with P8600 is almost twice as fast.

    If all you need is a basic laptop and you want to save money, sure, go for a cheap $400-$500 laptop. Don't expect top performance or battery life, and you won't be disappointed. Unfortunately, don't expect top quality either (but it's possible you'll still get a notebook that doesn't have any issues).
    Reply
  • JimmyJimmington - Friday, October 23, 2009 - link

    Also a different GPU, no wireless N, no blue tooth, no esata, no 1600x900 resolution screen.

    My question would be, if all you care about is saving money, why not go with a $150 netbook refurb? It would certainly be lighter and have more battery life. And if you drop it and it breaks you don't have to feel so bad because you can just go out and buy a new one :D
    Reply
  • hybrid2d4x4 - Thursday, October 22, 2009 - link

    Thanks for the excellent review, Jarred. I really like how you included the POST times, calling out Dell on glossy finish+screen and LCD quality and also adding FPS bars at the native res. One minor request for future reviews of laptops that are obviously unable to handle top-end games: throw in a Source-based game (or some other older engine) for comparison to show what the cutoff seems to be for what kind of game it actually CAN play well with med/high settings at the native res.

    On the POST issue, I wonder if there's something about the GF9400 that makes it POST slowly. My Gigabyte 9400-based mobo takes around 10s as well. I know it's not a vendor-specific issue since a Dell Mini 9 I've had my hands on did it in probably under 5s and booted to XP desktop in exactly 25s (8B SSD, uninstalled factory bloatware). I wonder if the Zotac and Asus 9400 boards also POST slowly...
    Reply
  • jasperjones - Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - link

    very nice review. the comparison you make to the macbook is well-balanced. and i agree that it is a viable--although more expensive--alternative.

    macs tend to be a good deal shortly after their model refresh (since apple tends to keep prices fixed until the next refresh). my problem with macs is that i don't like os x. basically, i run linux or windows as my main os on a mac. given the hint in a comment that anand might review the new macbook, one thing i'd really like to see on anandtech would be benches and battery performance under operating systems other than os x (yeah, i know linux is gonna suck battery-wise but win 7 might be an interesting option).
    Reply
  • Kishkumen - Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - link

    If only it didn't have a glossy screen (or rather had a matte option) I'd be the proud owner of one of these otherwise cool, little laptops.... Reply
  • Pirks - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - link

    You were putting MacBooks there always, in the relative battery life graphs, but now you don't? Did you get enough hate mail from wintrolls or what? Death threats maybe? ;)

    Also, do you intend to do a review of the new $999 MacBook they just released? Mighty sweet machine, could you touch it up and pass your thoughts you know? I'd be VERY interested, thanks!
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - link

    Honestly, I removed the Mac from the graphs more because I know that the testing wasn't entirely Apples to apples. Different browser and web pages mean the Mac may have gotten a boost. Still, when a MacBook can last 3.1 hours with a 45Wh battery on our heaviest load (downloading files, playing a movie, and surfing the web) while a Windows laptop with similar specs can only get 4.5 hours at idle using a 74Wh battery, it's clear that OS X remains better optimized. Reply
  • DominionSeraph - Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - link

    I can't wrap my head around the MacBook run times under OS X. I mean, it ain't like there are magically more c and p states available under OS X. And in your OS Mobility roundup you ran Vista in Power Saving mode -- I know that on my desktop that locks my X2 5200+ into its lowest p-state. If that's applicable to the AMD laptops, then the differences can't be explained by Microsoft OS idle processes causing blips to full-throttle.

    Could you test the MacBook with a MS OS, locked to the lowest SpeedStep setting using RMClock (or the like)? And then try @ max undervolt whilst still locked at idle?

    If max undervolt while locked to lowest frequency can't match OS X at stock settings, I think my head will explode.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 21, 2009 - link

    I can ask Anand to give it a shot... I think he's working on some MacBook articles already so it's definitely something to investigate. But don't discount the possibility that Windows (especially Vista) is preventing the CPU (and peripherals) from entering minimum C-states for long periods of time. Windows seems to constantly "ping" HDDs and other devices to make sure they're still around or something. LOL Reply

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