Editors' note: This review is part of our Winter 2009 Retail Roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
Dell's Studio line of laptops sits between the inexpensive Inspiron line and the high-end XPS line, incorporating some of the design cues of the XPS systems, such as their tapered bodies, with a mainstream set of components. (Recently, Dell has further muddied the waters with a hybrid Studio XPS brand, as well.)
For only $100 more than the extremely basic 15-inch Dell Inspiron I15-157B, the $749 Dell Studio S17-162B trades up to a bigger 17-inch screen and adds 802.11n Wi-Fi and touch-sensitive media controls--although the RAM, hard drive and processor are the same as the cheaper, smaller model. Throw in surprisingly good battery life for a 17-inch laptop, and you get an inexpensive choice for anyone looking for a budget desktop replacement.
It's also worth noting that we went on Dell's Web site and configured a Dell Studio 17 as close to this system as possible, and it was $200 more expensive than the retail S17-162B version.
|Price as reviewed||$749|
|Processor||2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400|
|Memory||4GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions||15.5 inches wide by 11.4 inches deep|
|Height||1.2 - 1.7 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.0 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||8.0/8.8 pounds|
The design of this retail-only fixed-configuration laptop is similar to the 15-inch Dell Studio S1535-143B we looked at as part of our Holiday 2008 Retail Laptop Roundup, with its large side hinges curving the screen down at a sharp angle, and a tapered body that's thinner at the front edge by about half an inch.
The keyboard's keys are slightly tapered, but with a flat surface, and we found it comfortable and easy to use, if a bit clacky. The row of touch-sensitive media control buttons above the keyboard is quick and responsive, and there's also a button for launching Dell's largely superfluous MediaDirect software (its version of Windows Media Center), as well as an eject button for the slot-loading optical drive. As in the case of most 17-inch laptops with a separate number pad, the somewhat undersized touch pad is offset to the left, so as to line up with the middle of the keyboard's space bar.
Unlike the customizable, direct-from-Dell version of the Studio 17, this model is only available with a 1,440x900-pixel resolution LCD screen, which is usually restricted to the most inexpensive 17-inch systems. Ordering direct, you can trade up to a 1,920x1,200 LCD or LED screen, which is a better choice for HD-content viewing.
|Dell Studio S17-162B||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA-out, HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone (2x)/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||5 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), mini-FireWire, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The S17 has a generous set of ports and connections for a budget laptop, including 802.11n Wi-Fi, an eSATA port, and FireWire (a relative rarity these days among laptops in any price range). That makes the omission of Bluetooth--increasingly common and useful for mice, headphones, and other accessories--even more noticeable.
The majority of the systems in the Budget section of our Winter 2009 Retail Roundup (covering laptops from $600-$900), including this one, use Intel's 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T6400 CPU. Predictably, performance among the Intel-based systems was virtually identical, and the S17 was evenly matched with the cheaper Dell Inspiron I15.
Any of these T6400-powered systems are perfectly adequate for basic Web surfing, working on Office documents, and media playback--although running too many applications or opening too many windows at once can lead to some slowdown.
Thanks to a huge 9-cell battery that sticks out significantly from the rear end of the system, the S17 ran for an impressive 4 hours and 22 minutes on our video playback battery drain test. Desktop replacement laptops aren't meant to spend much time away from the wall socket, so we were surprised to find it had the longest battery life of any system in the Budget section of our Winter 2009 Retail Roundup, with the exception of HP's Pavilion dv5-1235dx.
Dell includes an industry-standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty with the system, and the Dell Web site has a robust collection of support tools, including online chat, a Flash-based question widget, and 24-7 toll-free telephone support. Retail stores offer a variety of extended warranty plans with your laptop purchase, but they're generally expensive and hard to use, so we do not recommend them.