Dell Studio XPS 16: the Eyes Have Itby Jarred Walton on April 2, 2009 6:00 PM EST
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The Studio XPS 16 comes in a 16" chassis, similar to the Acer 6920G we reviewed last year. In fact, there are many similarities between the two products, with multimedia functions definitely being a key component. The Dell Studio XPS 16 tends to focus a bit more on performance than the Acer 6920 line, with a higher performance GPU included in all models. As with the majority of Dell products, you can also custom build a Studio XPS 16 rather than choosing among several different preconfigured models. We'll start with an overview of the configuration options.
|Dell Studio XPS 16 Specs and Configuration Options|
|Processor||Core 2 Duo P8600, P8700, T9550, T9800 (subject to change)|
|Chipset||Intel PM45 + ICH9M|
|Memory||2x2048MB up to 2x4096MB DDR3-1066|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3670 512MB|
|Display||16.0" Edge-to-Edge Glossy White LED 720p (1366x768)
16.0" Edge-to-Edge Glossy RGB LED 1080p (1920x1080)
|Hard Drive||Up to 256GB SSD or 500GB 7200RPM|
|Optical Drive||8x DVDR SuperMulti or 4X Blu-ray Combo Drive (DVDR + BD-ROM)|
|Networking||Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet (BCM5784M PCI-E)
Intel WiFi Link 5100 or 5300
Bluetooth v2.0 (optional)
Mobile Broadband of AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon (optional)
|Audio||2-Channel Sigmatel 9273 HD Audio (2.1 Speakers)
Optional ExpressCard Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme
|Battery||6-Cell 56Whr, 9-cell 85Whr|
|Left Side||Kensington Lock
2 x USB 2.0
Microphone, 2 x Headphone
SD/MMC/MS Pro reader
1 x Mini FireWire
Slot-load Optical Drive
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
|Back Side||Heat Exhaust|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium 32/64-bit
Windows Vista Ultimate 32/64-bit
|Dimensions||16.2" x 12.0" x 1.7"-2.5" (WxDxH)|
|Weight||6.41 lbs (with 6-cell battery)|
87-Key Backlit Keyboard
15-month McAfee, Norton, or Trend Micro Internet Security (free)
|Warranty||1-year standard; up to 4-year extended (add up to $700 with Complete Care)|
|Price||Starting at ~$1100 online|
At the heart of the XPS 16, you can select from several different dual-core processors. These range from the 2.4GHz P8600 up to the 2.93GHz T9800. Note that the 8000 series processors include 3MB of cache while the 9000 series includes 6MB, so even at the same clock speed you can expect a 5 to 10% performance boost. The unit we received for testing includes the least expensive P8600, but it's unlikely most people will need more processing power in a laptop. If you do need more power, you might want to look at offerings that allow you to select a quad-core CPU, like the Gateway P-7808u FX or Toshiba X305 - both of which are larger and cost more than a standard Studio XPS 16.
Graphics duties are handled by the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3670 512MB, which is capable of handling most modern games at moderate resolutions. As you might expect, playing through demanding titles at the native 1080p resolution of the upgraded LCD often results in very poor performance, but you can always run games at 720p or 1366x768 - or with lower detail settings - to improve the situation. In terms of overall performance, ATI's HD 3670 will generally outpace most of the midrange mobile NVIDIA products; you need to get into the 9700M, 9800M, or the GT 200M GPUs to clearly surpass the HD 3670.
Of course, besides the performance question there's also the matter of drivers, and NVIDIA has really stepped things up in that area by offering reference mobile drivers for most NVIDIA laptops. We didn't encounter any issues with the included ATI drivers on the Dell Studio XPS 16, but we know from past experience that such problems can and do occur, and it would be great if users could find updated drivers from ATI/AMD rather than waiting on the manufacturer. To their credit, Dell is usually pretty good about releasing updated drivers, at least early in the product lifecycle; however, we know plenty of users that have been left out in the cold in the past, especially once a laptop is more than a year old.
As a side note, the drivers initially installed on the laptop were version 8.512-080703a - if that doesn't make sense, the second field is apparently the date of the driver build, which in this case is July 3, 2008. Yeah, that's a bit out of date, considering this laptop wasn't even available for purchase until early 2009. Dell has released updated drivers (version 8.59-090213, available from Dell as of March 29, 2009), but we're not sure how the old original drivers ended up on the laptop in the first place. This is supposed to be a standard retail build, so hopefully this was just an oversight on our test system. The latest drivers do improve performance somewhat, but it's only a difference of about 3-5% in spot testing of several games. Rather than delay this article further, we kept the testing results from the original drivers.
The remaining specifications are about what you would expect from a modern midrange to high-end notebook. Our sample laptop shipped with a Blu-ray drive and the upgraded LCD - and again, we can't stress how much we like the high-end LCD option. SSDs are available in sizes up to 256GB, which is quite large for a $400 SSD! It's not an Intel or Indilinx model, but one reader indicates the SSD uses a new Samsung controller and performs quite well. We'll reserve final judgment until we can personally test it, but a price of "only" $1.56 per GB for a good quality SSD would be a great deal.
We have to applaud Dell in regards to memory options on the Studio XPS 16. Even the entry-level $1100 configuration comes standard with 4GB (2x2GB) of DDR3-1066 memory. Upgrading to even more memory is possible, but the price hike is steep starting at $400 for 5GB (1x4GB + 1x1GB). That's not too surprising, as 4GB SO-DIMM modules are quite a bit more expensive than their 2GB counterparts. 2x2GB will cost somewhere between $50 and $75; a single 4GB DDR3 SO-DIMM on the other hand currently sells for over $350. Ouch! So unless you really need more memory, we recommend sticking with 2x2GB for now.
As configured, our test system has a price of around $1600 with the default 1-year warranty. That includes a 320GB 7200RPM HDD, Blu-ray drive, Bluetooth, and the 1080p LCD. If you start with the basic $1100 model and just add the LCD, you can get everything we really want from the Studio XPS 16 for $1350.