Dell Studio 14: Defining Solidby Dustin Sklavos on August 19, 2010 2:49 AM EST
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
Intel Core i5-430M
(2x2.26GHz, 32nm, 3MB L3, Turbo to 2.53GHz, 35W)
|2x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 2x4GB)
ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 1GB GDDR3
(80 Stream Processors, 675MHz/1.6GHz Core/RAM clocks)
|14" LED Glossy 16:9 720p (1366x768)
|Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 7200RPM
|Slot-loading DVD+/-RW Combo Drive
Dell 1501 Wireless (b/g/n)
2 stereo speakers with 2 headphone jacks and a mic jack
|6-Cell, 11.1V, 56Wh battery
1x USB 2.0
1x Combo USB 2.0/eSATA
2x Headphones, Mic
1x USB 2.0
Slot-loading Optical Drive
|Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
|13.25" x 9.48" x 0.98"-1.52” (WxDxH)
|5.25 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD)
|1-year basic warranty
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.