Dell Studio 14: Entering the Welterweight Ring

When confronted with a machine like the Dell Studio 14 we received for review, it's difficult to find the right approach to take. Flexible mainstream units like this one seem surprisingly rarefied in our field; usually there's something in particular with a build that stands out. There's the video card, or the form factor, or the battery life...something segments it into a particular market. In that light, the Studio 14 could certainly seem unexciting. But there's something to be said for a solid, well-rounded build, and as you'll see, the Studio 14 is exactly that.

Dell Studio 14 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-430M
(2x2.26GHz, 32nm, 3MB L3, Turbo to 2.53GHz, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 1GB GDDR3
(80 Stream Processors, 675MHz/1.6GHz Core/RAM clocks)
Display 14" LED Glossy 16:9 720p (1366x768)
Hard Drive(s) Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 7200RPM
Optical Drive Slot-loading DVD+/-RW Combo Drive
Networking Gigabit Ethernet
Dell 1501 Wireless (b/g/n)
Audio HD Audio
2 stereo speakers with 2 headphone jacks and a mic jack
Battery 6-Cell, 11.1V, 56Wh battery
Front Side N/A
Left Side Kensington
Ethernet
Exhaust vents
1x USB 2.0
1x Combo USB 2.0/eSATA
VGA
HDMI
ExpressCard/34 Slot
SD/MMC Reader
Right Side 2x Headphones, Mic
1x USB 2.0
Slot-loading Optical Drive
Power button
Back Side N/A
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 13.25" x 9.48" x 0.98"-1.52” (WxDxH)
Weight 5.25 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD)
Warranty 1-year basic warranty
Pricing Starting at $599.99
~$900 as configured from Dell

Interestingly, the Intel Core i5-430M in our review unit is no longer available for custom configuration off of Dell's site, but the processors as a whole are bumped up in spec and refreshed. Ours is a dual-core running at a nominal 2.26GHz, able to turbo up to 2.53GHz as thermals permit and performance requires. Dell pairs it up with 4GB of DDR3-1333 in a pair of SO-DIMMs, all connected through Intel's HM55 mobile chipset.

The rest of the build for the most part covers all the bases. Our review unit came with a 500GB 7200-RPM Seagate Momentus 7200.4 hard drive and a frankly swanky slot-loading DVD writer. Networking duties are handled through Dell's capable if unexceptional 1501 wireless-n half-card and Broadcom's NetLink Gigabit Ethernet. Port options are well-rounded: two USB 2.0 ports and a combo eSATA port bring the USB up to a low-but-par-for-the-course three USB ports, and the VGA and HDMI ports provide the necessary monitor connectivity. People who need to expand are thankfully accounted for with an ExpressCard/34 port. And finally, battery life should be respectable given the healthy 56Wh battery that sits flush with the unit.

Where things get a little foggy is the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 on graphics duty. We aren't the biggest fans around here of ATI's 5-series entry-level chip (or NVIDIA's entry-level chips for that matter), owing in no small part to the fact that it isn't really a step forward from the last generation. Like the 4330/4550/4570 of old, the 5470 is still stuck sporting an anemic 80 stream processors on a 64-bit memory bus. The only advances brought to the table by the move to the 5-series are Eyefinity—which isn't relevant here because the unit doesn't have a DisplayPort—and DirectX 11 support, which the chip is just too slow to make use of. The 5470 is outfitted as well as you could hope for, with a 675MHz core clock and GDDR3, but 1GB of video memory is wasteful on a GPU this weak.

The 5470 is also not the default GPU; it's a punishingly expensive $160 upgrade. A step below it at a still irritating $85 is the Mobility Radeon HD 540v with a more reasonable 512MB of video memory, which is basically just a rebadged Mobility Radeon HD 4570. The $75 premium to add 512MB of additional video memory you'll never use along with DirectX 11 support the chip is too slow to take advantage of is frankly a lousy deal. The 5470's only tangible advantage is being built off of a 40nm process that will further reduce power consumption.

Jarred and I have discussed a general displeasure with just how anemic entry-level graphics solutions from both vendors are right now, so all we can really fault Dell for is the pricing on these upgrades. As discrete options the 540v and 5470 are certainly improvements over the Intel integrated HD graphics, but as you'll see when we get to the benchmarks, they still aren't capable of making games terribly playable at even the notebook's low native resolution.

The Studio 14 Examined
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  • bijeshn - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the 'to-the point' review.

    However I would really like to see how the Studio 17 fares in comparison...
    Reply
  • shamans33 - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Same here....I'd like to see Studio 15 and Studio 17 Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE

    Actually finishing up a review of the Studio 17 right now, but here's where I stand on the issues:

    1. I bought mine a month ago, and love it.

    2. It's a little noisy but it's POWERFUL.

    3. Best speakers I've ever heard on a notebook.
    Reply
  • Voldenuit - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Too expensive - this should be $650-700 as configured, not $900.

    Slow GPU.

    Too heavy - should be 4.5 lbs.

    No Blu-ray drive - at $900, it should come with one.

    Low resolution LCD - just because everyone else sucks, doesn't mean Dell should be left off the hook.

    Unexceptional battery life - it's not bad, just "adequate", which sums up the Studio 14 really.

    Agree with the conclusion that it is a thoroughly bland and unremarkable notebook. Where I don't agree is that it is a solid contender. "Don't be the best be like the rest" should be Dell's motto.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    agreed. Reply
  • seanleeforever - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    with all due respect. no one pays retail price for dell.. what happen to those 20~30% off coupons? and 699 out of 1500 dollar coupons?

    900 retail price nicely translate to 600~700 street price.
    Reply
  • neothe0ne - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    You can get the Envy 14 with Core i3-370m (probably faster than the i5-430m) and Radeon 5650 + switchable graphics for $1000. Not to mention the Envy's base Intel 6200 wireless is probably leagues better than "Dell" wireless by their own component upgrade pricing. This Studio 14 for $900 is a crap deal. Reply
  • djjazzyjeff - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    The Envy 14 is an overpriced, gratuitously branded piece of crap. Hideous styling, downclocked GPU and abhorrent trackpad make the Envy 14 a non-starter for most. Reply
  • zoxo - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    what's wrong with the style of the Envy14? My only problems with that machine is the lack of matte screen option, and general availability (especially in Europe) Reply
  • neothe0ne - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    You haven't actually configured and used the touchpad, have you? Reply

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