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Dell Studio MT review: Dell Studio MT

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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.

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8.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Support 7

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.

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 iMac

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

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iMac
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.

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