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Dell Studio MT review: Dell Studio MT

Dell Studio MT

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
5 min read

When we looked at the customizable version of the Dell Studio Desktop a month ago, we were unimpressed with Dell's effort. This off-the-shelf model is much more compelling. Available at Best Buy, this $799 PC is faster than its competition, offers more useful features, and it's also better designed. Adding a $400 24-inch LCD would also net you a significantly more capable PC for the most part than what you can find from Apple for the same total cost. You likely don't need to spend $800 if you just want a PC for basic computing. And there's not enough computer here to satisfy gamers or professional digital media editors. But this iteration of the Dell Studio Desktop is perfect for anyone in need of more than a simple budget PC.


Dell Studio MT

The Good

Best performance in its class; dedicated graphics card; large hard drive.

The Bad

No need to spend $800 for a basic day-to-day desktop.

The Bottom Line

This off-the-shelf version of the Dell Studio Desktop reminds us of a classic Dell computer. This system is faster and better equipped than its competition, and at a better price. You can certainly get away with a cheaper everyday PC, but this one is a bargain among lower midrange desktops.

We weren't overly impressed with the Studio Desktop we reviewed last month, largely because it delivered fewer features than competing systems from Gateway and HP, but at $1,200 it also cost more. This $799 model actually has better hardware in some cases, with a 750GB hard drive and 6GB of RAM, compared with 640GB and 4GB in the other version. It also comes with no clunky accessories, which hurt that other model's design rating.

At its core, the Studio Desktop represents Dell's standard mainstream workhorse PC. You get little in the way of gaming or living-room-friendly hardware; instead this system provides a solid everyday Vista experience. You get a speedy-enough Intel quad-core CPU, plenty of RAM and hard-drive space, as well as a basic level of external connectivity and room for modest internal expansion.

Dell Studio Desktop HP Pavilion Elite m9402f
$799 $819
2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 2.3GHz AMD Phenom X4 9650
256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150 SE integrated graphics chip
750GB, 7,200 rpm 640GB, 7,200rpm
dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Gigabit Ethernet 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit) Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)

You'll likely find the Dell Studio Desktop sitting somewhere on the shelf near the pricier, AMD-powered HP Pavilion Elite m9402f PC. Compare the two and while they seem similar, we'd take the Dell's larger hard drive and full-fledged 3D card over the HP's extra GB of RAM and its wireless network adapter. We don't value Wi-Fi in standard desktops as much as we do with all-in-ones and small form factor PCs, and as you'll see in our performance charts, the extra memory can't help the HP outpace the Dell, making the Dell's larger hard drive that much more attractive.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Studio Desktop

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Studio Desktop

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Studio Desktop

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Dell Studio Desktop
HP Pavilion Elite m9402f
Gateway DX4200
Apple iMac

As you can see from our tests, the Dell rolls over the HP and the $750 Editors' Choice-winning Gateway DX4200 we reviewed in August. The only surprise is the iMac's multitasking score, which continues to completely outclass its Vista-based competition, even when the Windows systems have six or seven times the RAM. But as we noted above, the 20-inch iMac in these tests costs $1,200. For that price you can buy this Dell and a 24-inch LCD to go with it.

For the most part, however, the Dell is the clear performance winner. You can expect it to allow you to edit photos and videos, and convert files to different formats at reasonable speeds, and faster than other PCs in its class. We wouldn't expect wonders from its budget 3D card as far as gaming, but for lightweight 3D games, such as Spore and World of Warcraft, you should get by just fine.

Of particular note in these results is that the Dell and the HP each have quad-core processors of the same clock speed, but from different CPU makers. Based on the results of our Phenom review at the end of last year, we're not surprised that the Dell won, but typically we've seen AMDs in PCs like the Gateway DX4200, where their low price lets a desktop vendor beef up the system with other components. With no performance advantage, lesser features, and a higher price, HP's adoption of the Phenom chip in this system feels miscalculated.

We mentioned the Dell's complement of internal and external bays, ports, slots, and inputs. Although the Studio Desktop uses the same case as the relatively spare Inspiron 530, it actually has a bit more going on. An HDMI port on the graphics card gives you lots of variety in the kinds of displays you can use with this system. Just be sure to use that one, instead of the inactive, but still exposed integrated HDMI port. You also get two FireWire 400 ports, one on the front and one in the back, as well as a coaxial S/PDIF digital audio output. HP offers those as well, but no HDMI output.

The situation is roughly the same inside, in that you get space for one extra hard drive and room for expansion cards. In this case you get two 1x PCI Express slots free, with a PCI modem and the 16x PCI Express graphics card taking up the two full-length slots. The memory slots are all occupied, so any upgrades here will require you to toss out the current sticks. HP's interior is almost identical, except messier. The bay for HP's proprietary removable hard drive (an optional extra) blocks the standard hard-drive bays, and generally makes things feel cramped.

Dell's service and support remains standard compared with its competitors. You get one year of parts-and-labor coverage out of the box, along with a toll-free 24-7 help line to call for phone support. Online Dell provides system-specific driver downloads and troubleshooting tips, along with a more generalized FAQ.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Dell Studio Desktop
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 750GB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive.

Apple iMac (20-inch, 2.4GHz)
Apple OS X 10.5.4; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 1GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT graphics chip; 250GB 7,200rpm 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 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive.

HP Pavilion Elite m9402f
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz AMD Phenom X4 9650; 7GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150 SE integrated graphics chip; 640GB, 7,200 rpm hard drive.


Dell Studio MT

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 9Support 7