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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  • XZerg - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    It would be nice to post the basic specs and the upgrades and their costs. This will help us understand where the extra money is going from the basic price...
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Honestly, Dell changes system configurations and options on their site more often than most people change underwear. We got this notebook less than a month ago and it's already obsolete in certain ways.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    "After all, the Xbox 360 is nearly five years old, and 720p is the target for that console." Even the latest and greatest and slimmest xbox 360 still burns over 80 watts playing a game. I'm sure a notebook would produce great gaming benchmarks if it pulled that much power.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    The Xbox 360 revisions haven't had the chance to really change things up. Yes, they did a process technology shrink, but they still have to maintain 100% compatibility with the original Xbox 360 so there are limitations to what they can do. I also don't think the CPU/GPU in the Xbox 360 gets the same level of power friendly optimizations that laptop parts get, but then the manufacturers aren't very forthcoming about console architectures and such.

    Anyway, look at the 5650 and 335M; they consume around 20W max on the 5650 (15W for the 5470... Dell really couldn't get 5W extra out of the chassis?), and 28W max on the 335M. Idle power draw is down around 5W on both. At 100% load, such a laptop would be about 20W less than the 360, but that's well within reason. If MS binned 360 CPUs/GPUs for minimum power draw like mobile parts, they could easily get below 80W.
  • skrewler2 - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    It would be more interesting to see how this compares to something like a Thinkpad?

    Or any other laptop for that matter...
  • Kishkumen - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Dear College Students,
    You don't want this laptop, You don't want a glossy display because you want to be able to go outside and study once in a while. Also , you want a nice matte display, with a nice, high resolution, say 1920x1080 or hell even 1600x900 so that you are more productive in your work and can get better grades. This is not the laptop for you. If you can't afford a better, new business class laptop, look for a used one (say one or two years old) with a good display and just buy a new battery. You'll be much happier. I would be anyway.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    It depends what sort of work you're doing. If all you need to do is write papers in Word, screen resolution is generally a non-issue. You look at one or two paragraphs at a time and go from there. If on the other hand you want to do video and photo editing, resolution becomes far more important.

    The glossy stuff is a different matter of course. I wish there were non-business laptops with matte LCDs still. But, buying used is a bad idea IMO. Laptops don't usually last more than 4 years of constant use, batteries stop holding a charge after 1-2 years, hinges wear out, and battery life is something that has just as much impact on usability for college campuses as the screen. Take a 15.6" LCD with a matte display and you're probably looking at 2-3 hours battery life in most cases. If it's used, more like 1 hour if you're lucky, unless you spend $100 on a new battery.
  • AnnonymousCoward - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    He addressed the battery issue by saying to buy a new one.

    I disagree that resolution is ever a non-issue. Who wants to only be able to see 2 paragraphs at once? And if you do any formatting or visual organization to the paper, you will want to see each page at once. That doesn't work with 768.
  • justniz - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link I avoid all laptops with ATI graphics.
  • semo - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    when you plug in a microphone or headset through linein, do you have to change any driver settings and are those settings remembered.

    I have a studio 1557 that asks me to confirm linein settings every time i plug in a headset and even between restarts. My other laptop will start using an external mic even in the middle of a conversation. Im sending it back and if they cant fix i will be looking for a replacement

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