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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  • jasperjones - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    You must think your readers are somewhat dumb. I don't see any reason why, in recent reviews, we're being shown the table with system specs twice.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, August 20, 2010 - link

    As a convenience so you don't have to memorize the specs every time you look at the first page. :)
  • Hrel - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    yeah... 900 dollars?! Only way this laptop is worth that is if you put an ATI 5650 GPU or better in it, and a screen with a resolution of 1600x900 or better.
  • taltamir - Friday, August 20, 2010 - link

    with a GPU that crappy, why bother at all?
    The only two options should be the 5650 (or faster) or no discrete GPU at all (saving both money, power consumption, and weight)... having a crappy discrete GPU is a DRAWBACK not a plus for a laptop... its still not playing any games.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 20, 2010 - link

    That's only partially true. Even the 5470 and 310M are about 2.5 times faster than the best current IGPs (with the exception of the G320M that's only used in Apple MacBook, since NVIDIA can't make Core 2010 chipsets). If it were a $75 upgrade, that would at least be something you could justify, but $150 is what it costs to get the 5650/335M level, which are another 2.5X increase over these entry GPUs.
  • synaesthetic - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    These GPU upgrades are barely worth $50 extra on the price. Asking $150 is absolutely ludicrous.

    But really, no laptop maker offers reasonably priced discrete GPU upgrades except for Sony (where they are almost always $50 extra regardless of what type of GPU you get).

    As another poster mentioned, this machine is not a good deal. In the 14" space, the HP Envy 14 and the Sony Vaio CW rule the roost. Especially if you catch the Vaio CW on a Best Buy sale, where you can get the CW27FX variant with the i5-520M, 1600x900 LCD, NV GT330M and a BD-ROM drive for $950.
  • asmoma - Sunday, August 22, 2010 - link

    I'm curious about the performance and the battery life/energy usage of the phenom pxxx and the kite platform. Is someone at anandtech working on a review? :)
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, August 22, 2010 - link

    Yes... when the replacement gets here. We got an early piece of hardware, and unfortunately all the wrinkles weren't ironed out.
  • Avenger19 - Sunday, August 22, 2010 - link

    I would like to wade in with my 2c worth. I have owned a Studio 14 for about 1 month, I7 720, 8GB ram, Crucial C300 SSD. I am very happy with the configuration, the only downside is the relatively wimpy ATI video chip. I have a 5870 SLI machine for those tasks. The size and weight are perfect for me The "lack" of LED indicators are a blessing for me. Highly recommended.
  • geforcefly - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    My Studio 1458 has been a really good laptop for me. And one of the few 14" machines that has an LED backlit panel, slot load DVD, Core i5, AND an optional extended-life battery. I love the clean design and my i5-430 will outperform the old T9900. 4GB, 320GB, and 1,366x768 is plenty of pixels without having to look though a magnifying glass.

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