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Dell Studio XPS 16 review: Dell Studio XPS 16

Dell Studio XPS 16

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
5 min read

While we're still unsure of what Dell's goal was when it combined the midrange Studio and high-end XPS laptop lines into the new (wait for it...) Studio XPS brand, but at least it means we're finally getting a true 16:9 16-inch laptop from Dell, in the form of the Studio XPS 16.


Dell Studio XPS 16

The Good

Dell embraces the 16:9 aspect ratio display; upscale design with leather trim; backlit keyboard and edge-to-edge screen glass.

The Bad

The 1080p display costs extra; unimpressive battery life; new Studio XPS brand may get lost between the Inspiron, Studio, and XPS lines.

The Bottom Line

Dell's new 16:9 Studio XPS 16 adds upscale extras such as a leather trim and a backlit keyboard to a fairly standard set of components, without jacking up the price (too much).

The result is a smart-looking laptop that has some new features that distinguish it from a run-of-the-mill Inspiron, including a backlit keyboard and a superfluous leather trim on the back of the lid (we're more positively predisposed to leather-clad wristrests).

We were pleased to see that the Studio XPS configuration was only about $100 more than the Studio 15 when configured as identically as possible, and the Studio XPS model offered options, such as a full 1,900x1,080-pixel LED-backlit display, not available on the regular Studio (non-XPS) line.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $1,649 / $1,149
Processor 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
Memory 4GB, 1066MHz DDR3
Hard drive 320GB, 7,200rpm
Chipset Mobile Intel PM45 Chipset
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD3670
Operating System Windows Vista Premium
Dimensions (WD) 15.0x10.6 inches
Height 0.93-1.34 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 16.0 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 6.6/6.5 pounds
Category Mainstream

The rounded hinge and tapered design remind us of Dell's XPS and Studio laptop lines (which makes sense, since this is a hybrid of those two). Unlike many other Dell systems, the Studio XPS 16 is only available in one color scheme--a shiny piano black with a matching black leather trim that covers a strip on the back of the lid near the hinge. The leather accent seemed arbitrary, design-wise, to us, but it's a matter of taste, and certainly not unattractive.

With a backlit keyboard and flat, widely spaced keys, the Studio XPS 16 shares a general typing aesthetic with Apple and Sony laptops. We always encourage backlit keyboards (Toshiba has started adding them to lower-priced models), which are fantastically useful when, for example, looking something up online while watching TV in a darkened room. A row of touch-sensitive media controls sit above the keyboard--a feature Dell includes in even its low-end laptops.

Thanks to the 1,920x1,080-pixel display, the Studio XPS 16 is great for watching Blu-ray movies or other HD content (an optional Blu-ray optical drive is available). For $250 less, you can get a more basic 1,366x768-pixel display, but we wouldn't recommend it. Both display types, however, have that edge-to-edge glass that seems to be all the rage these days.

  Dell Studio XPS 16 Average for category [mainstream]
Video VGA-out, HDMI, DisplayPort VGA-out, HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/54 ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional WWAN Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive DVD burner/BD-ROM DVD burner

The Studio XPS 16 is one of the first systems we've seen with a DisplayPort connection built in. According to Dell, it is getting behind the new standard in a major way, and we should expect to see it on most Dell laptops going forward. While the technology itself is fine, we're dubious of how quickly the public will adopt DisplayPort. After all, HDMI is just starting to gain mainstream acceptance, thanks to cheap HDTVs and HD game consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PS3, and jumping to a new connection (and new set of required cables) is going to be a tough sell for the typical consumer. Fortunately, the Studio XPS 16 also includes VGA and HDMI connections.

Intel's 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 CPU, coupled with 4GB of RAM and the 64-bit version of Windows Vista, makes for a powerful performer, even though it's in the middle of Dell's processor options for the system (you can trade down to a 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo P8400 or up to a 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo T9600). Any of these choices are more than adequate for typical multitasking use--Web surfing, office documents, media viewing, and so on, as well as photo and video editing. The 512MB ATI Radeon HD3670 is a good midrange choice for a multimedia system that will also handle light gaming chores. We got nearly 60 frames per second at 1,280x800-pixel resolution in Unreal Tournament 3, and that ATI card is included in the base configuration for the system.

The Studio XPS 16 ran for 1 hour and 43 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. That's not terribly impressive, and makes this more of a stay-at-home laptop than a mainstream portable machine. We also received a nine-cell battery, which added significant bulk and weight, but came closer to three hours of battery life.

Dell includes an industry-standard one-year, parts-and-labor warranty with the system, which includes (asterisk-laden) on-site service. Upgrading to a three-year plan will cost an extra $299. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and driver downloads.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Studio XPS 16

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Studio XPS 16

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Dell Studio XPS 16

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
1,280x800, 0X AA, 0X AF  
Dell Studio XPS 16

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Dell Studio XPS 16

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Dell Studio XPS 16
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 512MB ATI Radeon HD3670; 320GB Seagate 7,200rpm.

Gateway MC7803u
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB ATI Radeon HD3650; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm.

Asus X83VB-X1
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS; 250GB Seagate 5,400rpm.

Sony Vaio AW125
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9400; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm.


Dell Studio XPS 16

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Battery 4Support 7