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Dell Studio Hybrid review: Dell Studio Hybrid

Dell Studio Hybrid

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
8 min read

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.


Dell Studio Hybrid

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.

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.

Even if we're not fans of the Studio Hybrid's overall value or its benefits to space economy, we readily concede that it's a cute little PC. We'll even give it credit as the best equipped of these little computers. HP's SlimLine is not as attractive, even if it is better equipped. And if Mac Mini competes on looks, the Dell gets the nod for its more up-to-date specifications.

It's also apparent that Dell had Apple in mind when it designed the Dell Dock software. When the Studio Hybrid boots into Windows, you're presented with a row of icons along the top edge pointing you to the Web, to e-mail, and to other various applications. They even grow larger when you drag your mouse over them, similar to Apple's OS X icon dock. You can add your own shortcut icons to the Dell Dock, and it only take up about 13MB of system memory to have it open, which is not too greedy. Novice users may appreciate features such as this, as well as you Windows lifers with Mac envy, but in general, we could just as easily turn it off or uninstall it.

Like most small systems of its kind, the Studio Hybrid doesn't present you with easy internal access. You can remove one external screw and slide the top panel off to get inside it, but once you're there, you're faced with a metal housing for the optical drive. Neither the memory nor the hard drive is immediately visible. An enterprising user will have no trouble digging deeper into the system, but novice upgraders may shy away. At least, unlike the Mac Mini, you can get inside without voiding the warranty.

And because of its small-scale design, upgrade options are limited. You can configure up to 4GB of RAM and a larger hard drive, but graphics cards, internal TV tuners, and other major internal components are out. We're not sad about the lack of a TV tuner, and we can forgive Dell for forgoing a fast mobile 3D chip given its power-conserving intentions, but if Dell's going to offer 4GB of RAM, it should also offer the 64-bit version of Windows Vista to put all of that memory to use.

We're impressed by the Studio Hybrid's small external power brick.

Dell also touts the Studio Hybrid's eco-friendly power consumption. We'd expect it to use less power by virtue of its laptop parts, like most small PCs, and the diminutive power supply is a testament to its modest power needs. We also appreciate Dell's efforts at using recycled material in the product, and for the fact that all of the packing material is recyclable. Its cardboard box is also designed so that it's easy to break down.

Like Dell's other desktops, the Studio Hybrid comes with a one-year parts and labor warranty, 24-7 toll-free phone support, and a year of onsite service. The onsite service in particular is a standout feature, and it's especially helpful in a system like this one that's not as easy to tinker. With the product not publicly available at the time of this writing, we can't check the online support offerings, but Dell traditionally has a robust set of self-help resources.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Dell Studio Hybrid
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics chip; 250GB 5,400rpm Samsung hard drive.

Gateway DX4200
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.2Ghz AMD Phenom X4 9550; 6GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 640GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.

Gateway T-6836
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5750; 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Mobile Intel GMA X3100 graphics chip; 250GB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive.

Velocity Micro Vector Campus Edition
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.53Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo E7200; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 384MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GS graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm. Hitachi hard drive

ZT Affinity 7225Xi-35
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive.


Dell Studio Hybrid

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 5Performance 6Support 8