Dell’s Studio 14z 14-inch notebook

Manufacturer Dell
Model Studio 14z
Price (Starting)
Availability Now

In the year since its release, Nvidia’s GeForce 9400 integrated graphics chipset has popped up in a surprisingly diverse collection of products. The chip made a flashy debut as the GeForce 9400M inside Apple’s unibody MacBooks back in October of last year. Next, the 9400 found its way into desktop motherboards designed for LGA775-based Core 2 processors. True to form, Nvidia then came up with fresh Ion branding for the chipset before strapping it to Intel’s Atom CPU. Under its Ion guise, the GeForce 9400M has since slipped into several Mini-ITX motherboards, nettops, and netbooks.

If you’re at all familiar with Intel’s integrated graphics solutions, the GeForce 9400M’s appeal is obvious. Simply put, it offers vastly superior gaming performance to Intel’s best Graphics Media Accelerator. Plus, you get a fancy video decode engine that enables smooth Blu-ray playback, even with a wimpy Atom CPU, and all of the connectivity you’d expect from a modern core-logic chipset, neatly wrapped on a single slice of silicon.

Given the GeForce 9400M’s credentials, it’s a wonder the chipset hasn’t been more popular in notebooks. Justifying the need for Ion’s superior graphics horsepower might be difficult when you’re dealing with an Atom CPU that chokes on older titles like Call of Duty 4 and Half-Life 2. However, a proper notebook CPU should be able to take much better advantage of the GeForce 9400’s pixel-pushing prowess. Yet the selection of notebooks that feature the GeForce 9400 remains limited at best.

At least the GeForce 9400M has escaped the clutches of MacBook exclusivity and made its way into more affordable systems, such as Dell’s Studio 14z. Starting at $750, the Studio 14z pairs the 9400M with a Core 2 CPU, a 14″ display, sensibly up-to-date connectivity, and a slew of configuration options covering everything from the screen resolution to keyboard backlighting to the color scheme. In many ways, the Studio 14z feels like the anti-MacBook. But is it any good?

Based on the system’s spec sheet, it certainly should be. The star of the show is, of course, the GeForce 9400M. Wait, make that the GeForce 9400M G—Nvidia’s apparently gone on another rebranding kick.

Despite the name change, the 9400M’s internals remain the same. The integrated graphics core houses 16 DirectX 10-compliant stream processors and can write four pixels per clock. When running at full speed, the graphics core ticks along at 450MHz, while the SPs run at 1100MHz. Those clock speeds drop to 200 and 400MHz, respectively, when the system is idling at the Windows desktop.

Rather than using dedicated video memory, the 9400M carves out a slice of system RAM to call its own. In the Studio 14z, 256MB of system memory is dedicated to the integrated GeForce. Desktop motherboards typically allow users to change the amount of memory available to an integrated graphics processor, but such an option isn’t available in the Studio’s BIOS.

The GeForce 9400M has a dual-channel memory controller, which the Studio pairs with DDR3-1066 RAM, offering plenty of bandwidth for the CPU and integrated graphics. 1GB of memory is soldered directly onto the motherboard, leaving a single SO-DIMM slot open for a secondary module. Dell offers 2GB and 4GB SO-DIMM options for that slot. Either way, you’re going to end with a lot more memory on the secondary channel.

According to Nvidia, the 9400M deals with this disparity by allowing the first 1GB of memory on the auxiliary module to run in dual-channel mode with the motherboard RAM. This arrangement gives the first 2GB of system memory the performance of a dual-channel config, while allowing additional memory to run in single-channel mode. The GeForce 9400M wisely pulls its share of system RAM from the 2GB dual-channel pool.

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 2.4GHz
Memory 3GB DDR3-1066 (2 DIMMs)
Chipset Nvidia GeForce 9400M G
Graphics
Display 14″ TFT with WXGA (1366×768) resolution and
LED backlight
Storage Western Digital Scorpio Blue 320GB 2.5″ 5,400-RPM
hard drive
Audio Stereo HD audio via IDT codec
Ports 2 USB 2.0
1 Hybrid USB/eSATA
1 HDMI
1 DisplayPort
1 RJ45 10/100/1000
Gigabit Ethernet via Realtek controller
1 1394 FireWire

2 analog line/headphone output
1 analog microphone input

Expansion slots

1 ExpressCard34 slot
Communications

802.11b/g Wi-Fi via Dell Wireless 1397

Input devices “Full size” keyboard
Trackpad with
dedicated, chiral scrolling
Internal microphone
Camera 1.3 megapixel webcam
Dimensions 13.2″ x 9″ x 0.79-1.22″ (336 mm x 229 mm x
20-30.9 mm)
Weight ~4.6 lbs (~2 kg)
Battery 8-cell Li-Ion 74Wh

Dell pairs the 9400M with your choice of several Core 2 processors. The 2.4GHz P8600 in our review unit isn’t actually available as a configuration option anymore. However, you can choose between the T6600 and P8700 models. The T6600 has 2MB of L2 cache and runs at 2.2GHz on an 800MHz front-side bus, while the P8700 has 3MB of cache and is clocked at 2.53GHz on a 1066MHz FSB. Neither CPU is a member of Intel’s Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage (CULV) family, so despite being manufactured using 45-nano process technology, TDP ratings are in the 25-35W range. By comparison, the Core 2 Duo SU7300 belongs to the CULV family and has a TDP of just 10W, although to be fair, it runs at only 1.3GHz.

Fortunately, the GeForce 9400M shouldn’t be much of a power hog. The chip’s 12W TDP is actually identical to the thermal design power rating of the Intel GS45 Express integrated graphics chipset used in the vast majority of CULV-powered notebooks. The fact that the GeForce is able to slip into the same thermal envelope while packing a far more robust graphics processor is quite impressive.

The GeForce 9400M also has a complete suite of core-logic functionality, including a Gigabit Ethernet controller that Dell curiously shuns in favor of a Realtek GigE chip. Our test system came with one of Dell’s own wireless cards, although this particular one doesn’t support 802.11n or Bluetooth. Both are available as optional extras and are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Studio’s configuration options.

Taste the rainbow

The base Studio 14z configuration comes in black, but for an extra $40, Dell will drape the system’s top panel in blue, green, red, or purple. Hipsters will surely be able to find a shade that matches their colorway of choice. However, I’m not sure I’d pay the premium for a cosmetic treatment that’s just applied to the lid. The midnight-blue hue of our test unit’s top panel looks good enough that I’d want it to permeate the entire system.

Those who splurge on a colored top panel will no doubt be pleased to know that the Studio’s lid is covered in a matte plastic that won’t pick up unsightly fingerprints and smudges with constant handling. The finish has an almost leathery texture that’s difficult to describe. It seems pretty tough, though, and scuffs are easy to buff out.

Tough is probably the best word to describe the overall feel of the system. The chassis is virtually free of flex, creaks, and other telltale signs of poor build quality. Surprisingly, the casing is all plastic. But it’s good, sturdy plastic—the sort that one might find in the dashboard of a modern Audi rather than, say, a Chevrolet from the mid-90s. I get the distinct impression the Studio was beefed up specifically to handle the sort of abuse it might face at the hands of a careless grade-school student.

The seemingly child-proof chassis isn’t a lightweight, though. With the optional eight-cell battery, our test system weighed in at around 4.6 pounds, according to my bathroom scale. For reference, here’s how the Studio looks lined up with the 14″ Asus UL80Vt we reviewed last week:

Measuring 13.2″ x 9″ x 0.79-1.22″, the Studio is just as wide as the UL80Vt, but its footprint is about half an inch shallower. The Dell is noticeably thicker, as well, which is somewhat surprising considering it doesn’t have to accommodate an optical drive.

Cockpit options aplenty

The Studio’s matte lid cover had me briefly hopeful that Dell eschewed glossy plastics when crafting the 14z. Alas, that’s not the case. Opening the system reveals a largely glossy cockpit, complete with a shiny black screen bezel that quickly becomes a mess of smudges.

The Studio’s display isn’t a touchscreen, so its glossy finish isn’t likely to be marred by fingerprints. However, the transreflective coating does suffer from excess reflectivity, even in normal indoor lighting. Reflections are a common problem for this display type, and the solution is easy enough: crank up the LED backlight. The screen has enough brightness to overcome its reflectivity, although I still found reflections in the glossy bezel to be distracting.

Our test system came equipped with a 1366×768 display that Dell oddly refers to as 720p. The 16:9 panel looks to have slightly better color reproduction than the display in Asus’ UL80Vt. However, the Dell’s viewing angles are just as marginal. I’d rate the screen as decent overall, but certainly nothing special.

Dell does offer a little something special for those who crave additional desktop area: an optional high-res screen that sports 1600×900 pixels. This so-called 900p resolution boasts 37% more pixels than the standard display, and the upgrade only costs an extra $50. Do keep in mind that the higher pixel count will make it more difficult for the integrated GeForce to run games at the native resolution, though.

Everyone and their mother seems to be doing a variation of the chiclet-style keyboard these days. Dell hasn’t jumped on that bandwagon with the Studio, whose keyboard looks a little old school—at least until you hit the backlight button.

A $25 option, the keyboard backlight offers two brightness levels, making it easy to type in a dark lecture hall or next to a sleeping spouse. The backlight is activated with a function key, and it’ll turn itself off if the keyboard and touchpad go unused for more than about a minute. Hitting a key or moving the mouse cursor brings the backlight instantly back to life.

Interestingly, you don’t have to hold the Fn key to toggle the backlight or to activate other traditionally secondary functions, such as enabling the Wi-Fi, adjusting the screen brightness, or muting the volume. These are the primary functions of the top row of keys, with F1-F12 moved into secondary Fn territory. Makes perfect sense to me, and alt-F4 still closes windows without having to hold the Fn key.

Total keyboard area Alpha keys
Width Height Area Width Height Rough area
Size 307 mm 102 mm 31,314 mm² 172 mm 54 mm 9,288 mm²
Versus full size 107% 93% 99% 100% 95% 95%

A 14″ chassis gives the Studio plenty of room for a nearly full-size keyboard. Even my oversized mitts can type comfortably at speed, and the keys feel quite good under finger.

Each key is neatly beveled, preventing one’s fingers from inadvertently drifting off the home row. Key travel is nicely weighted, too, with good tactile feedback and none of the vague mushiness we’ve encountered with some budget notebooks. A little flex is visible if you hit a key with a decent amount of force, but it doesn’t seem to affect the overall feel of the keyboard when actually typing.

South of the keyboard lies the Studio’s touchpad, which is nicely recessed into the palm rest. The slick surface allows effortlessly smooth tracking and plenty of precision. Dedicated horizontal and vertical scrolling zones are available, and the left-side edge can be configured as a zoom bar, of sorts. Dell’s touchpad software also supports a swirly chiral gesture to extend scrolling beyond a single finger swipe. You won’t find any multi-touch functionality, though.

I’m a tap-to-click guy, so I don’t often find myself using a touchpad’s buttons. However, I quite like the ones on the Studio because they offer loads of travel and a surprisingly light feel, making the buttons easy to activate yet difficult to trigger accidentally.

Connectivity and expansion options

The Studio 14z’s edges are packed with a remarkably forward-looking array of connectivity options. The goodness starts on the right side of the system, where the FireWire and USB ports join a hybrid USB/eSATA connector.

Dell also throws in a second analog line output, which should make it easy for couples to share movie playback on the system. You’ll definitely want to snuggle up to avoid the screen’s less-than-stellar viewing angles, though.

I ran a quick RightMark Audio Analyzer “loopback” test between the line input and one of the outputs to gauge the Dell’s 24-bit/192kHz analog audio signal quality, and the system scored pretty well overall. RMAA gave the Studio a “good” score in nearly every test and overall. The system didn’t score worse than average in any of RMAA’s tests, either.

An ExpressCard/34 slot is located near the front edge of the system, providing a home for expansion cards or the system’s optional memory card reader. I certainly appreciate having the ExpressCard option, but given the ubiquity of memory card readers on even bottom-feeding netbooks, users shouldn’t have to choose between the two. Surely, Dell could have squeezed in a memory card reader elsewhere in the system.

Over on the left edge, the 14z offers another USB port alongside its Gigabit Ethernet jack. HDMI and DisplayPort outputs are also provided. By the way, that’s a standard Display, er, Port—not the Mini version present in Apple’s current MacBooks, which predictably requires an adapter to connect to most displays.

Generous venting perforates the rest of the left edge of the system, and it’s apparently needed. The Studio generates enough heat to keep its exhaust fan active most of the time, even when engaged in simple tasks such as web browsing. Fortunately, the fan has multiple speeds and doesn’t kick into high gear unless you’re gaming or really taxing the CPU. However, even at its lowest speed, the pitch of the fan whine is higher and more noticeable than on some of the CULV-based notebooks we’ve tested recently.

Most modern notebooks let users get at the system’s memory and hard drive. Not the Studio, whose solitary access panel provides a view of the singular SO-DIMM slot. Both of the older Dell laptops I’ve owned over the years made it easy to swap out the hard drive, making the 14z’s limited access sting just a little bit more.

I’m not thrilled with the Studio’s battery, either. The eight-cell unit that shipped with our review sample is a $45 upgrade over the six-cell battery in the base configuration. However, the eight cells only offer 74Wh—10Wh less than Asus’ UL80Vt squeezes from its eight-cell battery. What’s more, the battery’s fit isn’t as tight as one might expect given how solid the rest of the system feels. There’s no danger that the power source will inadvertently fall out, but you can wiggle the battery around a bit after it’s been locked into place.

On a more positive note, the battery has a handy capacity indicator. Hit a button on the bottom of the cell, and up to five white LEDs will light up depending on how much juice is left in the unit.

Our testing methods

Today, we’ll see how the Studio 14z’s performance compares with a couple of CULV-equipped notebooks: Acer’s 13.3″ Aspire Timeline 1380T and Asus’ UL80Vt. In addition to featuring an aggressive power-saving mode, the UL80Vt has a switchable GeForce graphics processor and a nifty turbo button that overclocks the CPU to 1.73GHz. We’ve tested the Asus system in a turbo configuration with its discrete GPU enabled and in its most frugal power-saving mode, which uses Intel integrated graphics and clocks the processor down to just 800MHz. Neither the Acer nor the Dell notebooks have high-performance or special battery-saving modes, so they were tested in their default configurations.

Obviously, the Studio has a distinct CPU clock speed advantage over even the overclocked UL80Vt. It will be interesting to see how much the extra MHz matters not only when it comes to application performance, but also battery life.

With the exception of battery life, all tests were run three times, and their results were averaged.

System

Acer Aspire AS3810-6415 Timeline


Asus UL80Vt-A1

Dell Studio 14z
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400
1.4GHz
Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
1.3GHz
Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
2.4GHz
System bus 800 MT/s

(400MHz)

800 MT/s

(400MHz)

1066 MT/s

(533MHz)

North bridge Intel GS45 Intel GS45 Nvidia GeForce 9400M G
South bridge Intel ICH9M Intel ICH9M
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 3GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz
CAS latency
(CL)
6 6 7

RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)
6 6 7
RAS precharge
(tRP)
6 6 7
Cycle time
(tRAS)
15 15 27
Audio codec Realtek codec
with 6.0.1.5807 drivers
Realtek codec with
6.0.1.5898 drivers
IDT codec with
6.10.0.6217 drivers
Graphics Intel GMA X4500MHD with 7.15.10.1666 drivers Intel GMA X4500MHD with
7.15.10.1752 drivers
Nvidia GeForce G210M with 8.15.11.8688 drivers
Nvidia GeForce 9400M G with
8.15.11.8619 drivers

Hard drive
Toshiba

HDD2HD21
500GB 5,400 RPM
Seagate Momentus 5400.6
500GB 5,400 RPM
Western Digital Scorpio
Blue 320GB 5,400 RPM

Operating system


Windows 7 Home Premium
x64


Windows 7 Home Premium
x64


Windows 7 Home Premium
x64

We used the following versions of our test applications:

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Application performance

WorldBench kicks off our new collection of notebook tests, providing some insight on how each system deals with a varied collection of common desktop applications.

The Studio jumps out to an early lead in WorldBench thanks to its faster CPU. Our WorldBench scores don’t scale linearly with processor clock speeds, though. The Dell’s 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo has nearly a 40% clock speed advantage over the fastest UL80Vt configuration, but its overall WorldBench score is less than 20% higher.

I’d wager that most PC users spend the majority of their computing time browsing the interwebs. To test browser performance, we started with FutureMark’s Peacekeeper benchmark, which the company says tests JavaScript functions commonly used on websites like YouTube, Facebook, Gmail, and others. To test Flash performance, we used the Flash component of the GUIMark rendering benchmark.

Our browser benchmarks again show the Studio ahead of the pack, but not by the sort of margin one might expect given the difference in CPU clock speeds between the systems. Web browsing is plenty snappy even with the Asus’ battery-saving config.

7-Zip’s built-in benchmark is nicely multithreaded, which should give each of the CULV cores something to crunch. We ran this test to 10 iterations.

The Studio’s faster CPU asserts itself again when working with compressed files. We see near-linear performance scaling in the decompression test, where the 14z is 37% faster than the UL80Vt’s turbo config.

The x264 HD video encoding benchmark also makes the most of the Studio’s CPU clock speed advantage. In both passes, the Studio is around 38% faster than the best the UL80Vt has to offer.

Gaming

For our gaming tests, we used the 1366×786 native resolution common to both systems. Left 4 Dead 2 was run with medium in-game detail levels, while Call of Duty 4 had most of its visual eye candy disabled. Neither game was configured with antialiasing or anisotropic filtering enabled.

The tables turn dramatically in our gaming tests, as the Studio falls well behind the UL80Vt’s fastest configuration. Graphics power matters more than CPU clock speeds here, and the Asus system’s switchable GeForce G210M has a distinct advantage over the GeForce 9400M in the Studio. Both GPUs have 16 stream processors, but the G210M runs them at 1.5GHz, while the 9400M’s are clocked at 1.1GHz. The G210M also has a higher graphics core clock: 625MHz, compared to 450MHz on the 9400M. Most notably, though, the G210M has 512MB of dedicated video memory—twice the RAM available to the 9400M, which shares memory bandwidth with the rest of the system.

Of course, the GeForce 9400M still offers much better gaming performance than Intel’s integrated graphics solutions, which are hopeless with anything but casual gaming titles.

Video playback

Our next batch of tests highlights the Studio’s video playback performance. The chart below includes approximate CPU utilization percentages gleaned from the Windows 7 Task Manager alongside subjective impressions of actual playback.

I used Windows Media Player to handle all playback tests and Firefox for our windowed YouTube HD test. The new version of Windows Media Player built into Microsoft’s latest OS supports the video-decoding capabilities of the GeForce 9400M, as well.

CPU utilization Result
Star Trek QuickTime 480p 0-7% Perfect
Star Trek QuickTime 720p 1-8% Perfect
Hot Fuzz
QuickTime 1080p
1-5% Perfect
DivX PAL SD 0-18% Perfect
720p YouTube HD windowed 36-43% Perfect

All our test videos played back perfectly smoothly on the Studio. CPU utilization was particularly low with our QuickTime files, no doubt thanks to the GeForce 9400M’s PureVideo HD decode engine. The higher CPU utilization we saw during SD video playback is a little odd, but it’s hardly a problem.

We used a 720p Star Trek trailer to test Flash video performance. Although CPU utilization was much higher than with the other video clips, playback was still perfect. We didn’t use it for testing, but the new Flash 10.1 beta adds support for video decode acceleration that should lower CPU utilization. Nvidia has released new graphics drivers that work with the latest Flash beta, and that functionality should make its way into 9400M drivers compatible with the Studio 14z via Nvidia’s Verde program, which releases new notebook graphics drivers at least once per quarter.

Battery life

Each system’s battery was run down completely and recharged before each of our battery life tests. We used a 50% brightness setting for the Timeline, which is easily readable in normal indoor lighting and is the setting we’d be most likely to use ourselves. That setting is roughly equivalent to the 40% brightness level on the UL80Vt and Studio 14z, which is what we used for those configurations.

For our web surfing test, we opened a Firefox window with two tabs: one for TR and another for Shacknews. These tabs were set to reload automatically every 30 seconds over Wi-Fi, and we left Bluetooth enabled as well. Our second battery life test involves movie playback. Here, we looped a standard-definition video of the sort one might download off BitTorrent, using Windows Media Player for playback. We disabled Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for this test.

Although it has the shortest run times in both tests, the Studio’s battery life is pretty decent considering the horsepower under the hood. That said, the UL80Vt’s battery-saving config offers several hours of additional battery life, and it’s more than fast enough for web browsing and video playback.

External operating temperatures

External operating temperatures were measured with an IR thermometer placed 1″ from the surface of the system. Tests were conducted after the Studio had run our web surfing battery life test for a couple of hours.

There’s a definite warm spot in the middle of the system, but I’d hardly call it hot. I didn’t have a problem keeping the Studio on my lap for extended periods of time, either.

In the real world

The Studio 14z easily has the grunt to handle the vast majority of 2D desktop applications run by average users and PC enthusiasts alike. Dell ships the system with Windows 7 Home Premium x64 by default, and it feels nice and snappy. However, common day-to-day tasks like web browsing, multimedia playback, and document editing don’t feel any faster than on, say, a CULV processor like the Core 2 Duo SU7300.

Even with the base 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, the Studio 14z offers more than enough CPU horsepower. But is the GeForce 9400M sufficiently spry for real-world gaming? To find out, I fired up a selection of titles at the Studio’s 1366×768 native resolution and kept an eye on frame rates with FRAPS.

Borderlands‘ unique graphics style is apparently quite demanding, even with the lowest in-game detail levels. FRAPS reported frame rates in the teens, and that was with relatively little action on the screen. You might be able to achieve an acceptable level of performance with lower resolutions, but this game’s probably going to be a stretch, regardless.

Left 4 Dead 2 is just as fresh as Borderlands, but apparently less demanding. With medium detail settings, the Studio managed frame rates in the mid-20s, occasionally reaching into the 30s. Even when faced with a rushing horde, I didn’t see the FPS counter drop below 20, which is tolerable.

Although a couple of years old, Call of Duty 4—the original Modern Warfare—still has an entertaining single-player campaign. The game runs pretty well on the Studio, too, managing 20-35 FPS on the first real level with detail levels maxed and only shadows, soft smoke edges, and depth of field disabled.

World of Warcraft runs quite well on the Studio, which churned out a solid 30 FPS with “good” in-game detail levels. The game’s graphics are a little dated, but such games are probably your best bet with the 14z. Older titles should run reasonably well at the native resolution, and unlike with an Intel integrated graphics solution, you won’t need to worry about odd compatibility quirks. Plus, casual titles like Geometry Wars and AudioSurf are buttery smooth at 1366×768, and I suspect they’ll do just fine at 1600×900.

Because it won’t just be playing games, the Studio comes pre-loaded with all sorts of other software, including a Microsoft Works suite that should cover the office-application requirements of most home users. McAfee Security Center and Microsoft Office are bundled, as well, but they’re only trial versions. Dell also throws in some of its own software, including an Apple-style dock application that seems entirely redundant running on top of Windows 7.

One other addition worth mentioning is FastAccess facial recognition software tied to the system’s webcam. Your pixelated mug can be used to log into Windows or web sites, which has a certain novelty value.

Conclusions

With a starting price of $750, the Studio 14z most certainly qualifies as a budget notebook. The system feels a lot more mature and refined than a lot of the budget offerings we’ve seen lately, though. Dell’s done a good job with the hardware, adopting a GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chipset that’s a far more competent gamer than anything Intel has to offer. The system’s array of expansion ports is also excellent, featuring FireWire, hybrid USB/eSATA, and both DisplayPort and HDMI outputs. Plus, you get a good keyboard with optional backlighting and what appears to be a sturdy, durable chassis with generally excellent fit and finish.

That said, our test unit’s battery was a little loose. I’m also not keen on the lack of hard drive access or the fact that system memory beyond 2GB is restricted to a single memory channel. And, for what it’s worth, I think Dell could’ve gotten away with slower CULV processors and gained battery life in the process.

The Studio 14z seems most appropriate for mainstream users looking for a reasonably portable notebook to replace their primary desktop and perhaps moonlight as a home-theater PC. I think it works in that context, although the absence of an optical drive definitely hurts. Then again, isn’t everyone streaming video or downloading it via BitTorrent or iTunes these days?

In the end, what really sells me on the Studio 14z is the selection of configuration options available. I’m used to being able to build my own PC, and this is as close as it gets inthe notebook world, which seems increasingly dominated by static configurations that rarely offer the exact mix of options I’d want.

With the Studio 14z, a few options seem like no-brainer upgrades to the base config, whose Core 2 Duo T6600 CPU should be more than sufficient. The $50 1600×900 display upgrade is a must for anyone considering this as their primary system, even if it makes native-resolution gaming more challenging. If you’re a serious gamer, you should be looking elsewhere, anyway. $25 for the back-lit keyboard is another box I’d tick in a heartbeat, especially given how rare keyboard lighting is on budget notebooks. The $45 eight-cell battery is probably worthwhile if you’re going to spend a reasonable amount of time away from a wall socket. I’d drop $20 for Bluetooth and $25 to bump the hard drive from 250GB to 320GB, too.

Tallying those upgrades brings my sweet-spot configuration to $889, which is really quite reasonable for a system of this caliber. The Studio is still a compromise, of course, but at least you get to define some of the terms. That flexibility, combined with a solid base and genuinely attractive upgrade options, elevates the Studio 14z into TR Recommended territory.

Comments closed
    • FireGryphon
    • 10 years ago

    On page 7:

    “For our gaming tests, we used the 1366×786 native resolution common to both systems.”

    Shouldn’t that read, ‘all three systems’?

    • trinibwoy
    • 10 years ago

    Got one about two weeks ago and dropped an 80GB X25-M in. The complaints about hard drive access are overblown – it takes a minute or two more than usual but no big deal for something you’re doing only once.

    Had to use an external optical drive to re-install Windows but haven’t missed having one since. Having no bluetooth module option kind of sucks but you can pick one up separately.

    In terms of positives it’s been excellent so far. Nice screen, fantastic backlit keyboard and great battery life so far. This is the first notebook I’ve been comfortable with leaving the charger home. Got the 8-cell and a full charge lasts me 4.5 – 5hrs depending on what I’m doing. Cool, quiet and of course zooms with the SSD.

    • Chrispy_
    • 10 years ago

    I just bought a new Studio17 (1747) with the Radeon 4650 and an i7 – all the comments here about keyboard/trackpad/screen/fan/build-quality are applicable to that, my sister’s new Studio15 and (I suspect) the whole studio lineup.

    I’m extremely impressed with mine, not for any outstanding feature, but just the generally solid package, and the fact that I found coupons and option deals to reduce the price of my system from £1129 to £799.

    Dell seem to offer only mediocre value for money when looking at their list prices, but they seem to “hide” large numbers of offers in plain sight, and the dell website is constantly plagued by ridiculous (40%) discounts on select builds.

    Personally I just wish they’d stop with the silly discounts, just as I wish the whole mail-in-rebate culture would hurry up and die. Slash the prices by 25% across the entire range and they’d suddenly have quite a few winners.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 10 years ago

    Is that the power adapter in the cover pic? Is it a break-away style cable? Was this already covered in the article and I’m too lazy too read?

      • thecoldanddarkone
      • 10 years ago

      It’s same power connector that Dell uses on almost all of its current laptops. I actually like it, sure it doesn’t brake away, but it does well for day to day use, meaning that the cord seems to take the abuse better (and doesn’t break as much where the cord meets the plug). It’s the same plug that the d630’s/d830’s have, the only difference is that the led is now on the end of the plug instead of on the adapter.

      • Skrying
      • 10 years ago

      I hate this plug and basically ever plug on every laptop. Apple’s is better but it isn’t perfect. They’re either too big or in Apple’s case fragile.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 10 years ago

    I thought a 16:9 display on a laptop is 1280×720 and a 16:10 is 1366×768.

    • shrander
    • 10 years ago

    One minor, thing, and I’m sure you don’t give a damn, but you always post screenshots of wow in starter areas, the requirements in these areas are a lot lower than the newer content in wotlk, people (offensive, plagued, leperlike people) like myself who play wow would probably appreciate knowing the fps in the newer areas of the game. Is this something you do already, but just use a screenshot from the starter areas? If not, I would certainly appreciate getting the numbers from these areas in reviews, as it is something that would have a bearing on whether or not I would buy a particluar piece of hardware.

      • KikassAssassin
      • 10 years ago

      There’s also a huge difference between WoW’s performance while questing out in the world, and in a raid environment. Getting reliable benchmarks in a raid would be basically impossible, so I don’t actually expect anyone to do it, but it’s still something WoW players need to take into consideration when looking at WoW benchmarks.

        • Chrispy_
        • 10 years ago

        Wow is too hard to bench properly, too many variables etc. The range of performance difference between best and worst-case is crazy

        A 1.4Ghz Athlon with a 9700 Pro can raid at 25 fps or something close to that. You just need to be ruthless with graphical detail.

        So, 30fps in a starting-zone with good graphical detail is the most repeatable test TR can do, and you just have to extrapolate for yourself until someone does a comparison chart.

          • shrander
          • 10 years ago

          That’s all very reasonable, I hadn’t thought of it that way, thanks.

    • RickyTick
    • 10 years ago

    I have a Studio XPS16 and have been very happy with it. The backlit keyboard is excellent. The only thing I have been disappointed with is having only 2 USB ports. 1 or 2 more would have been very nice.

    • barich
    • 10 years ago

    Glossy plastics and/or screen = no sale to me.

    • Thresher
    • 10 years ago

    Dell is now charging premium pricing for their products. If you compare feature for feature against HP, Dell just isn’t that competitive. In fact, they are at least as expensive as Sony, without having the cache’ that the Sony name brings to some consumers.

    I just don’t find that Dell products are differentiated enough to warrant that kind of pricing.

      • ImSpartacus
      • 10 years ago

      The Studio 14z has no direct competitor. Your argument is a false one.

      Find me a laptop with a 14″ 1600×900 screen, full voltage processor and netbook-esque battery life with a no-bump removable battery. All for under $1000 comfortably equipped.

      The lack of a disc drive and 1GB soldiered DDR2 are the only downsides to this monster.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 10 years ago

        no, no, the competitor is the Macbook. When appropriately decked-out, it costs basicaly the same, is slightly larger, and has a slightly higher resolution.

          • ImSpartacus
          • 10 years ago

          the $999 macbook? It does not have a higher res…

          900p > 768p

          Otherwise it is a worthy competitor. That resolution really is a trump card.

        • nagashi
        • 10 years ago

        I’d also toss out the sony S and Z series as competitors in addition to the macbook. Either way, the dell comes out pretty comparable and at a very attractive price. The screen option on the Dell is a killer feature, and is significantly cheaper than the sony Z, which offers a similar screen.

        • adisor19
        • 10 years ago

        You forgot the thickness and the extra 1″.

        Also, call me biased but i much more would want an integrated but beefier Ion-polymer battery a la Apple rahter then a removable battery of less capacity. I never swap out my bat on my old MBP and i see no point in carrying an extra bat with me for no reason. Heck, i rather cary a power supply if need be.

        Adi

          • MadManOriginal
          • 10 years ago

          Carrying a power supply doesn’t do much good if you can’t use a power outlet.

            • DrDillyBar
            • 10 years ago

            “mobile”

            • MadManOriginal
            • 10 years ago

            oo ooo! Is this the random word game?? My turn..umm…

            “river”

            • no51
            • 10 years ago

            “biscuit”

    • YeuEmMaiMai
    • 10 years ago

    i have a vostro 14″ and no way I am giving that up for this…..14″ should have a 1400*900 screen at minumum…

      • axeman
      • 10 years ago

      Nevermind that a 16:9 display is just irritating on any sort of PC. 16:10 is scrolly enough for me. I might put up with 1360×768 on an 11″ display, but sure as hell not on a 14″. I miss the 1400×1050 14″ notebook days. This widescreen frenzy is just clever marketing for them to charge the same or more for displays that have less pixels. It’s one thing if we were gaining horizontal real estate, but new “widescreen” resolutions are giving us overall screen resolution, much less vertical room, and marginal increase in vertical size. Lots of old 14″ laptops had 1400×1050 screens which is something like 200,000 more pixels than new and “improved” 1440×900 displays. We should be getting 1680×1050 -> more horizontal pixels without losing vertical.

        • ImSpartacus
        • 10 years ago

        1600×900 is a cheap (and suggested) option. Stop you whining!

          • adisor19
          • 10 years ago

          Seriously, that’s a pretty sweet rez for a 14″ !

          Oh how i wish Apple would hurry the heck up and bring resolution independence out already so that high rez screens would finally be made available/usable..

          Adi

            • ImSpartacus
            • 10 years ago

            Yup. If the macbook pro 13 and 15 had high res 16:9 screens (after all, 1600×900 > 1280×800 & 1080p > 1440×900), I would be all over that shit.

            But the 17 should stay 1920×1200, it’s more business oriented.

    • Coran Fixx
    • 10 years ago

    HP is selling their 4gb i7 lappy for $899, makes me meh over this one.

      • indeego
      • 10 years ago

      Completely different class of notebook. Maybe 50-60% of the battery lifeg{

      • grantmeaname
      • 10 years ago

      23W graphics + 45W CPU?

      That is a sweet deal though, that aside.

        • indeego
        • 10 years ago

        HP in the last week has dropped prices across entire laptop line, new/used/etc. Their refurb business ultraports are going for 50-60% the cost they were ~6 months agog{<...<}g

        • ImSpartacus
        • 10 years ago

        Yeah, good deal, but it makes you wonder what they had to cut to get the price down to that mark. Build quality is probably sub-par.

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 10 years ago

    Well, nice review, but the UL80Vt-A1 still tops out as a better choice? Too bad the screen size on the aforementioned notebook is so low. Man, 20 million different flavors of laptops, but still none that fits me. Maybe, I’m just too picky?

      • ImSpartacus
      • 10 years ago

      Screen size? Screen size means next to nothing. It’s resolution that counts. The 14z is the only 14in laptop that offers a 1600×900 resolution.

      Hell, I almost bought one just because of that feature alone. Then I got drunk one night and found a macbook pro 13in on my doorstep a week later…

        • SomeOtherGeek
        • 10 years ago

        Yep, that is what I meant, so back to drinking I go! That was a funny quip about your purchasing methods tho.

    • grantmeaname
    • 10 years ago

    The 15″ is so much of a better deal. It can have a faster processor, more ram, 1920*1080 display, HD 4570, and optical drive for the same price.

    r[

      • Skrying
      • 10 years ago

      If your only consideration of the system is raw performance numbers. This “performance is all that matters” type of mentality is very annoying.

        • grantmeaname
        • 10 years ago

        No, my consideration is what it will do for my uses. The 15 does everything that I need it to, while the 14z would only do so with a lot of pricey upgrades. I actually own the 15, and selected it for what I needed. This isn’t about e-peen or the sheer fact that performance is better, with the performance itself not actually doing anything. I needed a high-resolution screen and wanted long battery life and the graphics horsepower for casual gaming.

          • Skrying
          • 10 years ago

          Then could you please take the time to add “for my needs” to your post? Your post doesn’t state anywhere that you felt this was a bad deal just for you but instead for anyone.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 10 years ago

        Yeah those people who want certain features and have their own requirements are i[

          • Skrying
          • 10 years ago

          You again? You got me. Unlike you I don’t have the power to read what isn’t there. There was no “for my needs” or even a “in my opinion” in his post, so called me shocked that I didn’t read it like there was one.

            • MadManOriginal
            • 10 years ago

            Don’t get your panties in a twist, I was agreeing with you after all 😉

            • johndisko
            • 10 years ago

            Each forum post is considered a personal opinion of the person who posted.

            By saying to him that he omitted to include the words IMHO or ‘for my needs’,
            you imply that the default presumption for every forum post is a blanket statement, which is not.

            Just a friendly reminder 🙂

            On the subject now, I would too go for the Asus 14″ UL80Vt (more battery and more power= more flexible), or the decked out 15″ Studio.

            • Skrying
            • 10 years ago

            Of course it’s a personal opinion. I didn’t say it wasn’t. It was a blanket statement. There’s a couple sayings out there about assumptions. I’m sure you’ve heard them.

    • Hattig
    • 10 years ago

    Shame it’s not 2GB soldered on, making 4GB a nice easy upgrade. Hell, just make it 4GB soldered on.

    Nice to get a 1600×900 screen option at this screen size.

      • ImSpartacus
      • 10 years ago

      I wondered the same thing… Was it that much more expensive?

      • grantmeaname
      • 10 years ago

      that’s not even one of the affected computers.

      • thecoldanddarkone
      • 10 years ago

      Doesn’t happen to mine. E6400 2.26c2d/3gb/500 gig 7200rpm/nvs 160m.

        • 5150
        • 10 years ago

        I have a Precision M4400 (basically an E6500) that I overclock the hell out of the GPU and I have had no issues, granted, I may be the exception, not the rule.

          • thecoldanddarkone
          • 10 years ago

          Right now I don’t have a desktop so my e6400 is currently my main machine, so it would pretty obvious if I had this problem. Yes that’s gaming and all.

      • thecoldanddarkone
      • 10 years ago

      So a firmware came out on the first to fix that problem and it does according to some of the users. However since I didn’t suffer from it my computer just ends up louder, thankfully Dell allows you to download and install older firmware. I should have known better, don’t touch the bios unless something is broken.

    • adisor19
    • 10 years ago

    If they made this thing less thick and only 13″, Dell would really have a worthy successor to the amazing XPS 13… Too bad they forgot where the true sweet spot lies these days..

    Adi

      • Kurotetsu
      • 10 years ago

      14-inch @ 1600×900 seems like an excellent sweet spot to me. I can’t see that resolution working better at 13-inch.

        • ImSpartacus
        • 10 years ago

        It’s not that bad.

        900p @ 14in is 17 193 px/in2

        900p @ 13.3in is 19 051 px/in2

        Not too bad considering:

        768p @ 11.6in is 18 245 px/in2

        1080p @ 15.6in is 19 940 px/in2

        Bring on the high density screens!

      • grantmeaname
      • 10 years ago

      The XPS line starts at over $1,000. That’s already not a sweet spot. Besides, you can configure an XPS 13 with identical specs.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 10 years ago

        nevermind, I didn’t look hard enough. They make a Macbook look like an attractive bargain, though.

          • ImSpartacus
          • 10 years ago

          And the build quality is much better as well. Plus the trackpad (worth at least $200, I swear to god).

            • grantmeaname
            • 10 years ago

            Dell=good deal
            Dell XPS =! good deal

            • ImSpartacus
            • 10 years ago

            Yeah, if you want a 13in laptop over $1000 it’s macbook or you’re wasting your money.

            • bimmerlovere39
            • 10 years ago

            ThinkPad X301.

            Other than that, though…

            • ImSpartacus
            • 10 years ago

            The X301 is a better value than the Air, but it’s still a waste of money.

            • grantmeaname
            • 10 years ago

            I don’t know about that. Macbooks aren’t really a good deal either.
            Three months ago I helped my friend pick out an 13.3″ Asus (edit: F6VE) with HD 4570 graphics, 2.8GHz Intel dual core, 4GB DDR3, and great build quality for $1100.

            • ImSpartacus
            • 10 years ago

            How was the battery life?

            Macbook Pros get 7-8h. I’m thinking your choice gets closer to 2-3h (just a guess).

            • grantmeaname
            • 10 years ago

            it either had a 6 or an 8 cell battery. My dell similarly specced gets 4-5hrs on 8 cells, so I’d guess 3-4hrs. He’s on Linux, which affects power consumption too…

    • derFunkenstein
    • 10 years ago

    This is a really nice notebook, and I’ve thought so since they were released. The only downside is the 1GB of memory soldered to the motherboard rather than 2 SO-DIMM slots. Getting 4GB of memory means actually having 5GB and paying an arm and a leg.

    Well, it’s a little pricy at $925 as getting 802.11n, bluetooth, the higher resolution screen, and the higher-capacity battery are all mandatory for me, and a backlit keyboard is nice. More than I’d want to spend on a laptop in this day and age. Asus has alot of $700 laptops that are more attractive to me.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 10 years ago

    l[

    • nagashi
    • 10 years ago

    The 14z has been the top candidate for replacing my beloved 1420n for some time now. I’ve been waiting for someone to do a good review of one, so thank you!

    By chance did you try booting a recent ubuntu on it? did you guys run into any compatibility issues?

      • grantmeaname
      • 10 years ago

      I have the Studio 15 and I have no compatibility issues with 9.10 (although I did with 9.04), and the two laptops are relatively similar, for what that’s worth.

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