As sales of laptops continue to rise, sales of desktop PC have fallen dramatically. Rather than ditching desktops to concentrate on the portable market, Dell has invested heavily in trying new form factors and designs to help give its desktop sales a shot in the arm. Its latest endeavour, the Dell Studio Hybrid, is part of the Studio range, which ships in standard ATX, slimline and small form factor guises. The hybrid is perhaps the most interesting of the trio, thanks to its unusual styling, appealing price tag, and -- according to Dell -- its strong eco credentials. Entry level models can be had for £429 from Dell.
The Studio Hybrid is an interesting-looking machine. It's almost reminiscent of the Nintendo Wii -- if the Nintendo console pigged out on donuts, pizzas and ice cream for a few months and ditched its ability to play games. The entire unit is relatively small at 223.5mm by 211.5mm by 76.0 mm, but the main body is rounded at the edges, giving it a chunky look.
The Studio Hybrid's exterior can be customised according to your style. It's available in Emerald Green, Quartz Pink, Ruby Red, Topaz Orange, Sapphire Blue, Black Leather, Brown Leather and even a bamboo finish. Each one comes with a removable perspex sleeve, which is tinted slightly to match the colour of the chassis. Budding designers can experiment with different colour schemes by buying additional sleeves for £29.
The front of the Studio Hybrid is relatively uncluttered. There are backlit power and eject buttons, a vertically-mounted slot-loading disc drive, a memory card reader, two USB ports and a headphone port. The rear sports three additional USB ports, 4-pin Firewire, Ethernet, as well as HDMI and DVI video outputs. Audiophiles will be pleased to note the presence of three additional audio ports -- line-in, line-out and a digital optical SPDIF port.
According to Dell, the Studio Hybrid has strong eco credentials. The packaging is made from 95 per cent recyclable materials and contains5 per cent less printed documentation by weight when compared to typical tower desktops.
Dell also says the machine consumes aboutabout 70 per cent less power than a typical desktop and meets Energy Star4.0 standards thanks to its 87 per cent efficient power supply.
At the time of writing, Dell is offering four featured Studio Hybrid systems. The first of these costs £429 and ships without a monitor. Its core spec consists of a 2GHz Intel Celeron 550 CPU, 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, a DVD rewriter drive and integrated Intel graphics. That's fairly good value for money, but it's hard to ignore the fact you can get similar performance and functionality for less money with nettops like the Eee Box.
Dell's three remaining featured systems all include a choice of monitor and slightly different core components, which make the Studio Hybrid a more attractive prospect than a netbook -- particularly for anyone who needs a bit more power. Our review sample, which has the Dell product code of D111G03, includes a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T3200 with 1MB of L2 cache memory. This offers a good balance of price and performance, but for an extra £140, you can upgrade to a quicker T8100 CPU, which runs at 2.1GHz and has 3MB of L2 cache. We'd recommend the latter if you intend to run video editing suites or other CPU-intensive software.
Our review sample shipped with 2GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM. That's an ample amount, but for an extra £19, you should consider upgrading to 3GB. We'd recommend it, since future do-it-yourself memory upgrades in the Studio Hybrid can be tricky due to the machine's tightly packed innards. Don't bother going for the £50 4GB memory upgrade since -- like most machines with 32-bit operating systems -- the Studio Hybrid is unlikely to recognise the full 4GB.
Small form factor desktops usually suffer from a lack of storage space, as their compact dimensions physically prevent them from enjoying the storage you get with standard desktop PCs. The Studio Hybrid is no different -- the most basic configuration ships with a 160GB drive, which can be upgraded to a 250GB unit for £30, or a 320GB drive for an extra £70. As a guide, you can usually fit approximately 450 DVD-quality DivX movie files onto a 320GB hard drive, so if you intend to collect movies over time, you should invest in the largest drive you can afford.
Small form factor PCs don't usually offer high-definition movie playback, but the Studio Hybrid is different. The high-end model has the option of an integrated Blu-ray reader, which lets you play high-definition content over HDMI or DVI, provided you have an HDCP-compatible computer monitor or a big-screen television. Unfortunately, the Studio Hybrid relies on a comparatively anaemic Intel GMA 3100 graphics card, so while Blu-ray playback is possible, its gaming capabilities are very limited.
Our £549 review sample came with a 17-inch monitor, but unless you're buying the machine for a sibling or small child, we'd recommend upgrading to the 23-inch S2309 widescreen model. This increases the price by an extra £90, but it runs at an ample 1,920x1,080 pixels. You also get a 2-button USB mouse, a USB keyboard and a copy of Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium edition in the box.
Despite its size, the Studio Hybrid turned in a good performance. Its Core 2 Duo T3200 CPU achieved a solid 3,657 in PCMark 2005, indicating it's notably quicker than the Eee Box (1,407), the Advent Eco PC (3,310) and the Shuttle x27D (2,035). Graphics wasn't particularly impressive, however. It turned in a 3DMark 2006 score of 539, so if you're a gamer, you really should look elsewhere.
The Studio Hybrid stayed cool and ran quietly for the duration of our test period. This will be good news for anyone thinking of using it as a Media Center PC. The last thing anyone wants is a loud, obnoxious PC drowning out the dialogue in their favourite movie.
The Studio Hybrid is definitely worthy of consideration, particularly if you're looking for a tiny Media Center PC. It's more expensive than nettops like the Eee Box or Eee Top, and it's difficult to upgrade yourself, but the fact that you can customise it to your specific needs makes it a worthwhile proposition.
Edited by Cristina Psomadakis