Friday, 18 December 2009

Review: Dell Studio 17

Being an I.T. boy, if you believe in stereotypes you might think I'd have loads of computers everywhere, whirring away, lights flashing. But since my PC blew up last year, I've only had my work laptop to use.

So the time came when I got sick of typing my password into the encryption program, then waiting five hours for it to boot up and then to get logged into the laptop, only to forget why I switched it on in the first place. Grudgingly at first, I decided that now was the time to get a new computer all of my own.

It took me ages to choose a laptop. I wanted a fairly high spec machine, since I'll be using it for software development as well as some image editing, and I didn't want to have to replace it after just a year. Plus, if I decide to buy a PC game or two I'd like it if it could run it (even in lower resolutions).

After hours poring over which machine to choose, it came down to a short list between the Sony Vaio VGN-AW11M/H, the HP HDX18 and the Dell Studio 17.

I was tempted by the Sony, but the Vaio brand comes at a premium and the reviews said it was too slow to be a proper desktop replacement machine (plus, it's just a big black slab of a thing). The HP machine was very nice to look at and very quick, but too expensive (a rip off, actually), and in the end I decided an 18 inch screen was a little too large anyway. So I spec'd up my machine at Dell:

CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 (2.26GHz, 1066MHz FSB, 3MB cache)
Display: 17in Widescreen WUXGA with Truelife - CCFL (1900x1200)
Memory: 4096MB (2x2048) 800MHz DDR2 Dual Channel
Storage: 500GB Serial ATA (5.400RPM) Dual Hard Drive (2x 250GB)
Graphics: 256 MB ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3650
Optical Drive: Slot loading Blu-ray Disc (DVD+/-RW + BD-ROM) Drive
Network: WiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n), Bluetooth, built in Vodafone mobile broadband
Other: Backlit keyboard, 2.0 megapixel webcam

I plumped for the spec above, and managed to get 16% off.

The spec is very similar to that of the HP HDX18, but cost me about £200 less. When it arrived on Friday, I was immediately impressed by it. To be honest, I wasn't expecting to like the appearance of the machine too much since Dell's previous offerings have been as dull as a day locked in a room with John Major. But it's nice. The very solid build quality, the nice plastics, the backlit keyboard, a glossy screen and a decent pattern on the lid come together to form a handsome machine.

The first thing I did was turn the dreaded User Account Control off, and delete all the crap which Dell preinstalled on the machine. And so far, I'm more than happy with the performance.

Most of the other Vista machines I've seen (none have been particularly high spec, to be fair) have shown signs of poor performance when loading up the windows sidebar, and some of the property screens on Control Panel, among other things. But this machine doesn't do that - it loads pretty much everything nice and quickly, fast enough to avoid an irritating wait for windows to render. One benchmark test I had concocted was to see how fast it could convert a 70*40cm GIMP XCF image I'd been working on from RGB to Grayscale. On my work machine (Dell D610, 1.8Ghz CPU, 2 GB RAM), it took about twenty seconds, but on the Studio 17 it took about half that.

I paid a bit more and got the upgraded screen (the 1900x1200 WUXGA with Truelife one), and I was not disappointed. It's incredible. Being an extremely high resolution panel, everything on the screen is small, so you can fit a lot on it. Some people hate that, but I like it since I have loads of windows open at once. When playing a video or looking at photos, it really comes into its own, and if you were considering a Studio 17, then I'd upgrade the screen every day of the week. If you don't like the small text of the high resolution screens, you can increase the DPI settings to make everything a bit bigger (but this kind of defeats the purpose of having the high res panel!).

The battery life is alright, but I didn't expect much from a machine of this size. I think I'm getting about an hour and a half from the battery, which is acceptable to me since it'll be plugged in most of the time anyway.

It's heavy though. Heavier than Michelle McManus leaving McDonald's on a JCB. So it's not really all that portable, but I think if you get a decent messenger bag style case, you'd be able to carry it about without any problems. The weight doesn't really bother me since I don't intend to travel around with my laptop too much, just when travelling sometimes and maybe the odd client visit.

My only gripe with it is that there's too much light leakage from underneath the keys, it gets a bit irritating when you're working on the laptop when its on a desk. But the backlit keyboard is still worth the extra cash.

So in summary, it's a fast, well built machine with a stunning screen and nice features. Fortunately, with my wallet being several hundred pounds lighter, I'd recommend it to others.