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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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Windows 7 does use VRAM to cache windows, saving some system RAM and helping to smooth out Aero a bit. Outside of that edge case, if you haven't actually used a current Intel HD Graphics solution, you are way off base on most of the other complaints.

    OpenGL used to be horrible on ATI as well back in the day, and it was really 3dfx that started the consumer interest with glQuake--prior to that, no one outside of professionals really cared about the API.

    Today, OpenGL is becoming a minor player compared to DirectX. Professional apps still use the API, but there are a ton of users that will never even use an OpenGL tool. Even if they do, my experience is that the Intel HD Graphics are at about the same level as ATI's HD 4200 series, with a few things like DX10 games not always running properly (but who cares at single digit frame rates?)

    All things being equal, yes I'd prefer an NVIDIA or ATI GPU over an Intel IGP. That said, on a laptop you have to worry about power, and in that case you want switchable graphics. NVIDIA's Optimus trumps ATI's switchable tech right now, though it's not without a few concerns (i.e. Linux support). Anyway, the real problem is this entry-level GPU crap being foisted onto unaware consumers for $150 extra. For $150 you should get an HD 5650. I'm not sure they couldn't get it in there on the heat side either, considering you have GT 335M in 14" and 13" laptops. But then GT 335M would probably be better, since it has Optimus and you could still get the 6 hours of battery life.
  • ESetter - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    I'm glad to here the Intel drivers are better nowadays, but just 4 years they were quite buggy. I've never had problems on ATI GPUs in the last 6-7 years, though.

    If you look at the battery life charts, this notebook seems comparable to similar models with integrated graphics and similar batteries. The power consumption of these entry level GPUs is very low at idle.

    In the end it all depends on what you're looking for, but in my opinion there is still reasons to get entry level ATI/nVidia GPUs.
  • mino - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    They are still, and NOT getting better.

    For example during their latest driver refresh with Win7 & i7 they managed to remove display profiles ...

    So now EVERY single time I plug/unplug notebook to display device I have to manually configure everything.
    Funny thing is that Intel was the first with profiles - it was the only thing they had better even ~5 yrs ago ...
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, August 22, 2010 - link

    There are no major issues with Intels mobile graphics solutions. Where the issue lies, is the end user not doing enough research on hardware they can afford for certain task(s).

    I myself own a laptop, with Intel 4500 IGP, and am surely a little disappointed in its performance for certain situations. With that said, I did look into the situation before I made my purchase, and am willing to live with my decision. Blaming Intel for my mobile choice in graphics only serves to make me look foolish, and accomplishes nothing else.

    Inform yourself. Then if something does not work for you, do not buy the technology. Intel, and the other technology companies out there are not in the fire fighting business. But they are more than willing to extinguish many a fire, by accepting that hard earned cash burning a hole in your pocket.
  • hybrid2d4x4 - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    I think you hit the nail on the head here, rootheday. If you don't game, you don't gain anything from "moving up" from integrated. And if you do intend to play games, these bottom-of-the-barrel solutions aren't going to give you a good experience unless all you want to do is play the good games you missed 3-7 years ago. The one thing I think they do right (and I'm probably in the minority here) is that they at least use low-res 768p displays- I'd hate to see single digit FPS @ native res on a higher res display. If only they made GOOD QUALITY, MATTE 768p displays...

    As an aside, I've seen some notebooks that advertise switchable graphics with the ATI 5 series. Any chance one of those might be finding it's way for review?
  • futurepastnow - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    If it's not adequate for playing games, then why bother with a discrete GPU in the first place?

    If the integrated graphics are good enough for non-gaming use (and they are), then the GPU is just a leech.
  • cknobman - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Sell it for a decent base price but add any meaning full upgrades to it and the consumer gets raped.

    My Sonly 14'CW has a Intel i520 cpu and gforce 330 in it and also has 4gb ram and a 500gb hd and it was $900 just like the dell.

    Dell needs to stop the business practice of trying to lure people in with low base prices and then gouge them on upgrades, its downright despicable and frustrating and the sole reason why I have never purchased a dell and probably never will.
  • Hxx - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Dell almost always has the studio lineup on some sort of sale so if you do some research you will end up paying around 700 for a config that would otherwise be 900. I got mine for 660 back in april when studios were going for arround 1k.

    Either way this is a great laptop for the price and Dell does what everyone else does when it comes to imflating prices on upgrades.
  • mino - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    I feel Dustin that you at AT are a bit too comfortable using HD5850 a "low-end" rig.

    For a WORK/BUSINESS notebook anything above current AMD/NVDA low-end mobile GPU's is not feasible from the power POW.
    That is, at 40nm.

    We can hate TSMC/Glofo for that, but that is about it.
  • ismailfaruqi - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - link

    Could you review HP 8540w with Dreamcolor 2 display configuration? It has 15 inch, IPS, 10-bit screen that maybe the answer for anyone dreaming laptop with excellent screen. Also could you measure its power consumption, because when configured with Dreamcolor 2 the power brick should be changed to 150W.

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