The Studio 14 Examined

Given that I had been using a Studio 17 personally for nearly a month (a review is forthcoming), it was amusing to see the Studio 14 as being nearly identical physically, just somewhat smaller, like they basically sawed off the side of the notebook that had the 10-key. It's tough to dispute the design, but the ugly gray box Dells are definitely long gone.

The first and possibly the most notable part of the design is the lid. Dell has made the lids of their notebooks customizable for a while now, and saw fit to send us a review unit with a red lid that has a black silhouette of a bull on it. The designs and colors they make available are going to be purely matters of taste; many of them are interesting and attractive, but the pricing is steep: if you want a different color than basic glossy black, you're looking at tacking another $40 on to the build. If you want a pattern like the one we have here, it's a very steep $85. For some it may be worth it, but the most disappointing thing may be that even after that price tag you still can't actually submit your own design or image to be printed on the lid.

When you swivel the lid open, you'll see a fairly tasteful mix of glossy and matte plastics. The screen bezel is glossy black with a subtle Dell logo under it and the webcam centered discretely at the top. You'll also find the Kensington lock on the left side of the hinge, and the softly glowing white LED power button on the right. The accent is a tasteful one.

At the top of the body proper is the matte speaker bar with an “SRS Premium Sound” logo. Sound quality of the Studio 14 is certainly a step up from what we're used to from notebooks. The keyboard is also matte and surprisingly not a chiclet style or any variant thereof as we're used to seeing from pretty much every other manufacturer these days. There's some flex to the keyboard, and Dell has set the function keys to be media and control buttons first, requiring you to hold Fn to get access to the actual function keys. This is something that can be toggled in the BIOS if it's not to your liking [Jarred: Raises hand].

The rest of the inside is a simple glossy silver plastic, with the touchpad integrated into the fascia and two perfectly matching mouse buttons beneath it. It isn't overly glossy like some manufacturers use (Toshiba), and the color can effectively hide fingerprints. Integrating the touchpad seems to always look cheap, but at least it lacks the glossy finish of the surrounding palm rests. Still, the texture may be uncomfortable for some users; your mileage may vary.

While the port arrangement around the sides is plenty logical, the utter and complete lack of indicator lights in the entirety of the build is not. The only indicators are a battery light above the AC adaptor jack and the backlighting of the power button. We can understand wanting to clean up and simplify the notebook's layout—there's certainly something to be said for simplicity—but the lack of something as basic as a hard disk activity light might be disconcerting for some, and the system tray app Dell uses to indicate whether Caps Lock and Num Lock are enabled can actually be obtrusive. This isn't a deal-breaker necessarily, but it's going to be a matter of taste and liable to irk some users.

Dell Studio 14: Entering the Welterweight Ring General Performance of the Studio 14
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  • Friendly0Fire - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Uninformed much, wow. The styling is a matter of taste and if you dislike it, go grab your favorite cheap plastic fest, or do you prefer the elitist Macbook?

    The GPU, wow big deal I couldn't see more than a 1 or 2 FPS difference. Still plays all games really well.

    Trackpad, get some program to customize it.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    ...nearly five hours on a six-cell with a dedicated GPU is unexceptional?

    What's it gonna take to impress you people?

    It's true, the machine's a bit heavy, but it's well-built, too, has excellent expandability, and performs very well. I've played with a few 14" notebooks, this is probably one of my favorites.
  • OCDude - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Why do all laptops under $1000 have to be 1366x768? That is a crappy resolution if you actually want to get any work done on the thing... *sigh*
  • zoxo - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    It's not just the resolution, but the gloss. I really wish they'd stop shoving these craps down our throats.
  • bhima - Saturday, August 21, 2010 - link

    AMEN BROTHER! The only reason I will probably get an ENVY 15 instead of say, a Sager or ASUS is because it actually offers a FHD matte screen. Seriously, I don't understand why people like glossy monitors. It isn't because of picture quality, because if that were true, the majority of IPS panels would be glossy but they are not.
  • tipoo - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    My Studio 15 has a 1920x1080 screen...Its awesome, I hate going to lower resolution ones now.
  • ESetter - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    I don't get the critcism related to the GPU. Some computers are just not meant for videogames and the Radeon 5470 is perfectly fine for other usage scenarios. I believe the majority of the notebook market isn't interesting in gaming at all.
  • rootheday - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    I think the point is: What value does the 5470 add here over the Intel HD graphics that are included in the processor? For the market that doesn't care aobut gaming, the Intel graphics offers great battery life, good video playback, etc - and you could save $100+ off the price.

    Dell isn't the only one to do this - if you look at laptops online, you will find lots that advertise as "1GB ATI discrete graphics" or "512MB NVidia discrete graphics" - but are equipped with the NV310 or the ATI5470 like this one. It looks like the only one who benefits here is the OEM who applies a big markup to the card... in a world of very thin margins for OEMs and ODMs, this is one area where they have found they can still milk the customer out of more money with relatively little benefit.
  • mino - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Give me Radeon 9600M over HD anyday!

    One word: DRIVERS !!!!

    (posting this from G45M and regretting saving $100 back then)
  • ESetter - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Three main reasons:

    1) No memory & memory bandwidth stolen from the CPU. Memory used by an integrated GPU can be siginficant. Moreover, I run some CPU-memory intensive code and I want to be sure the memory bus isn't loaded by the GPU.

    2) Better drivers and compatibility with graphics APIs (especially OpenGL). I remember writing a simply 2D OpenGL application which had trouble rendering on Intel GPUs.

    3) Better UI performance. I've got a Mobility Radeon HD 5470 myself and Aero performance is noticeably smoother than on my previous notebook with a GeForce 8400M. My desktop with a GeForce GT 220 and double of the video RAM is also significantly smoother than my current notebook. I'm not sure how current Intel GPUs compare to the 8400M but I expect them to be in the same league if not inferior.

    I'm not sure, but maybe video playback is also better on dedicated GPUs.

    Overall, I think there are good reasons for choosing a low-end discrete GPU even if you don't play videogames.

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