Dell Studio Hybrid review: Dell Studio Hybrid

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MSRP: $874.00

The Good Flexible design lets you customize appearance and positioning; best combination of looks and specifications among supersmall desktops.

The Bad Standard budget PCs offer better price-performance and more upgradeability; laptops deliver better space economy with similar specifications for the dollar.

The Bottom Line If you're considering all of the computers in the $700 to $1,000 price range, the Dell Studio Hybrid is not very compelling. However, if you limit yourself to the very specific niche of small PCs, you'll appreciate this system's clever design and its relatively powerful hardware.

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6.6 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 5
  • Performance 6
  • Support 8

It's hard for us to recommend the Dell Studio Hybrid desktop for any practical purpose. As a desktop for productivity, you can get more bang-for-your-buck from a typical budget-priced midtower PC. And if your goal is either space-saving or using this system as a media PC, we'd instead point you to a similarly priced laptop, which has an integrated display, will perform most of the same functions, and is also portable. Still, we imagine that for some of you, the Studio Hybrid's unique design holds plenty of appeal. Compared with other desktops in its small-scale cohort, Dell's entry is actually one of the best equipped. If aesthetics are your chief concern, the Studio Hybrid will reward you with its good looks and respectable computing power.

The Studio Hybrid starts at $499, but upgrades to the processor, memory, hard drive, and wireless networking adapter push our review configuration up to $874. When the Studio Hybrid first appeared to the world in April, it wore a bamboo sleeve. Our review unit came with the translucent gray plastic sleeve, and you can buy other plastic ones for $20 each. The bamboo shell is also available, for an extra $130.

The Studio Hybrid's clever stand gives you multiple positioning options.

Standing upright with the sleeve on, the Studio Hybrid measures 8.75 inches tall by 3 inches wide by 8.25 inches deep. Take the unit off its stand, remove the sleeve, and lay it flat, and its dimensions change to 2.5 inches tall by 7.5 inches wide by 7.25 inches deep. Compared with the Mac Mini or the forthcoming Asus Eee Box, the Studio Hybrid is a bit bigger in either configuration, but it's also clearly smaller than your average midtower PC. You can take the Studio Hybrid off its stand by simply pulling the two apart, and the sleeve slides off once you remove a screw. You can even reconfigure the stand to support the system horizontally. However, if you want to change its position, you can do so easily.

While it might be tempting to classify the Studio Hybrid as part of the recent Netbook/Nettop trend in small, cheap computers, the Dell's base price and specifications elevate it out of that category. Even the base $499 configuration skirts the edge. And unlike the Shuttle XPC K-4500 or the Eee Box, the Studio Hybrid has an optical drive, which would seem to disqualify it from the cloud computing club. Thus, it's fair to treat the Studio Hybrid as a competitor to standard desktops in its price range.

  Dell Studio Hybrid Gateway DX4200
Price $874 $749
CPU 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 2.2GHz AMD Phenom X4 9550
Memory 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM 6GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 128MB (shared) Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics chip 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450
Hard drives 250GB, 5,400rpm 640GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit) Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)
TV Tuner No No

Based on this comparison, it should be obvious that the Dell system fails the specs-for-the-dollar test. Even forgetting that the Gateway DX4200 is a 64-bit system (although with perhaps more memory than is really useful at the moment), its discrete graphics card, full-size desktop hard drive, and its lower price tag are clear indicators that it will deliver more performance for the price. And true, the Gateway can't answer the Dell's wireless networking capability, but that's easily solved with a $75 after-market upgrade.

If the Dell's on-paper specifications fall short of the desktop market standard, its performance was actually a bit surprising, in more ways than one. Yes, it came in last on our Photoshop test, and second to last on our multitasking performance. But that's not a shock. Its third-place finish on our iTunes test is heartening, considering that you might actually use this system for music encoding. On the other hand, we were disappointed by its Cinebench scores, especially as they only kept pace with those from a Gateway laptop.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
ZT Affinity 7225Xi-35
Gateway DX4200
Gateway T-6836
Dell Studio Hybrid

Overall, we expect the Dell Studio Hybrid will accomplish most of what you expect it to in a reasonable amount of time. Gaming and high definition video editing are out, and heavy multitasking will likely bog it down, but it should handle most other consumer-level computing tasks easily enough.

It's likely no surprise that this system comes up short on performance compared with other mainstream PCs. If you're not interested in the Studio Hybrid for its benchmark scores, we don't blame you. Thanks to its small size, it's easy to imagine the Studio Hybrid serving as a basic family computer, and its good looks might inspire you to display it prominently. Connect an HDTV to the HDMI port on the back of the Dell and suddenly it's a living room PC. According to Dell, it will offer a Blu-ray drive option for an extra $250 in August, but we submit that a laptop would be a better choice for solving the above problems.

We'll point to the Gateway T-6836 which appears on our benchmark charts. It's not only faster than the Studio Hybrid on our Photoshop test, but it also costs $50 less, it offers the same amount of hard drive space (on an equally slow 5,400rpm hard drive) and will ultimately take up less space because its screen and keyboard come built-in.

If you have the Studio Hybrid in mind as a Blu-ray-equipped living room PC, you can instead configure HP's Pavilion dv5z with a Blu-ray drive and almost identical specifications for $50 less than it would cost to add Blu-ray to our Studio Hybrid review unit. And of course, both of these laptop alternatives offer portability that the Studio Hybrid can't.

The Studio Hybrid sans stand and outer shell.