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
Exhaust vents
1x USB 2.0
1x Combo USB 2.0/eSATA
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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  • Friendly0Fire - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Uninformed much, wow. The styling is a matter of taste and if you dislike it, go grab your favorite cheap plastic fest, or do you prefer the elitist Macbook?

    The GPU, wow big deal I couldn't see more than a 1 or 2 FPS difference. Still plays all games really well.

    Trackpad, get some program to customize it.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    ...nearly five hours on a six-cell with a dedicated GPU is unexceptional?

    What's it gonna take to impress you people?

    It's true, the machine's a bit heavy, but it's well-built, too, has excellent expandability, and performs very well. I've played with a few 14" notebooks, this is probably one of my favorites.
  • OCDude - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Why do all laptops under $1000 have to be 1366x768? That is a crappy resolution if you actually want to get any work done on the thing... *sigh*
  • zoxo - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    It's not just the resolution, but the gloss. I really wish they'd stop shoving these craps down our throats.
  • bhima - Saturday, August 21, 2010 - link

    AMEN BROTHER! The only reason I will probably get an ENVY 15 instead of say, a Sager or ASUS is because it actually offers a FHD matte screen. Seriously, I don't understand why people like glossy monitors. It isn't because of picture quality, because if that were true, the majority of IPS panels would be glossy but they are not.
  • tipoo - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    My Studio 15 has a 1920x1080 screen...Its awesome, I hate going to lower resolution ones now.
  • ESetter - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    I don't get the critcism related to the GPU. Some computers are just not meant for videogames and the Radeon 5470 is perfectly fine for other usage scenarios. I believe the majority of the notebook market isn't interesting in gaming at all.
  • rootheday - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    I think the point is: What value does the 5470 add here over the Intel HD graphics that are included in the processor? For the market that doesn't care aobut gaming, the Intel graphics offers great battery life, good video playback, etc - and you could save $100+ off the price.

    Dell isn't the only one to do this - if you look at laptops online, you will find lots that advertise as "1GB ATI discrete graphics" or "512MB NVidia discrete graphics" - but are equipped with the NV310 or the ATI5470 like this one. It looks like the only one who benefits here is the OEM who applies a big markup to the card... in a world of very thin margins for OEMs and ODMs, this is one area where they have found they can still milk the customer out of more money with relatively little benefit.
  • mino - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Give me Radeon 9600M over HD anyday!

    One word: DRIVERS !!!!

    (posting this from G45M and regretting saving $100 back then)
  • ESetter - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Three main reasons:

    1) No memory & memory bandwidth stolen from the CPU. Memory used by an integrated GPU can be siginficant. Moreover, I run some CPU-memory intensive code and I want to be sure the memory bus isn't loaded by the GPU.

    2) Better drivers and compatibility with graphics APIs (especially OpenGL). I remember writing a simply 2D OpenGL application which had trouble rendering on Intel GPUs.

    3) Better UI performance. I've got a Mobility Radeon HD 5470 myself and Aero performance is noticeably smoother than on my previous notebook with a GeForce 8400M. My desktop with a GeForce GT 220 and double of the video RAM is also significantly smoother than my current notebook. I'm not sure how current Intel GPUs compare to the 8400M but I expect them to be in the same league if not inferior.

    I'm not sure, but maybe video playback is also better on dedicated GPUs.

    Overall, I think there are good reasons for choosing a low-end discrete GPU even if you don't play videogames.

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