A Closer Examination of the Studio 17

If you caught my review of the Dell Studio 14 recently, the build of the Studio 17 is going to be old-hat to you: in that review, I said the Studio 14 looked like someone took the 17 and chainsawed off the 10-key. Now I get to say that Dell's engineers grew the Studio 14 into a larger machine...with a 10-key. But really, they do look strikingly similar.

While you can custom configure the Studio 17 with all kinds of pretty colors for the lid, mine came with the uniform glossy "black chainlink" design. The "chainlink" pattern is hard to see, but that's due in no small part to what a fingerprint magnet the glossy lid is. We understand glossy plastics can look good on the shelf, but in practice the notebook just looks dirty half the time because every little thing that gets on the lid makes its presence known. It's not like you can just avoid touching the lid.

When you flip the lid open, you find the large 17" screen with a glossy black plastic bezel. The bezel doesn't have the same pattern but is instead a solid black. At the center of the top is where the expected webcam is embedded, drawing as little attention to itself as possible. If you look even closer you'll see the tiny holes for the built-in microphone on either side.

Moving down to the body, at the top between the hinges we find touch-sensitive controls and a JBL logo promising "SRS Premium Sound." The touch-sensitive controls are illuminated with tasteful white LEDs like the one that brightens the power button on the right-hand hinge, and Dell wisely opts not to include any controls that aren't needed. Touching the gear icon opens the Windows Mobility Center, and the remaining controls are media keys along with an eject button (since the slot-loading drive doesn't have a physical one).

The keyboard itself is black matte plastic with a fairly intuitive layout. Dell ships the unit with the function keys set to default to their system shortcuts rather than used as actual function keys; I can see this being useful for some people but it drives me up the wall: I would rather F5 refresh a window than raise brightness. Thankfully, you can toggle them back to being proper function keys in the BIOS. Typing on the keyboard takes some getting used to, though: there's a bit of flex and the keys can feel mushy; the arrow keys also feel smallish. I have to be honest here, too: with the sheer size of this notebook, I don't see any reason why the navigation keys (Home, End, etc.) can't be given their own column between the 10-key and the keyboard proper.  Their placement above the 10-key is useful, but not ideal. My suggestion is not the norm, however, and if the norm is what you're used to you'll be happy with the keyboard on the Studio 17.

Surrounding the keyboard is the glossy gray plastic used for the palmrest and touchpad. The glossy finish isn't used for the massive touchpad, giving it a slight bevel inward. I found using the touchpad to be less than enjoyable, but thankfully the palm rest is wide enough that you can use a small wireless notebook mouse on it without trouble.

Where you might get concerned is in the unusual speaker placement at the bottom left and right corners of the inside surface. It seems, at least initially, like these are ideal places to get the speakers covered up with your wrists, but it doesn't work out this way in practice. And that premium sound the JBL logo promises? Very present. The speakers and built-in subwoofer on the bottom of the Studio 17 produce hands down the best audio I have ever heard from a notebook. While it's never going to beat out a good pair of desktop speakers, surprisingly it will beat the crap out of cheaper ones. Everyone I've shown the Studio 17 to has been blown away by the body of the sound the speaker system produces. Even the 4.1 system the Clevo W880CU has installed pales in comparison.

Introducing the Dell Studio 17 General Performance
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    That's why I said "but in some marketing departments..." In theory all the widescreen movies are a better fit for WS LCDs. The reality is that most Blu-ray and DVDs are now using 2.33 as you point out. Not to mention, for laptops it's crazy to pretend that their primary use is as movie devices IMO. If I want to watch a movie from a laptop, either I'm on a plane, or I'm hooking it up to an HDTV.
  • seanleeforever - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    the wider the screen, the less area it has giving the same diagonal size. the entire wide screen thing is to fool the average consumer, simple enough, the "better for movie experience" "better for multimedia" are all bunch of BS.
    do the calculation you self, a 16:9 screen will have 6% diagonal size than a similar sized 4:3 screen. a 15 inch 4:3 screen can be re-branded as 16 inch 16:9 Wide screen. or simply put, a regular screen needs to be 12.4% larger in area in order to claim the same diagonal size. most Americans are too stupid to do pythagorean theorem and believe 16inch must be larger than 15 inch, let alone the "WIDE SCREEN".
  • shamans33 - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    "Studio 17 features two drive bays, allowing you to continue to use the existing drive for storage. Mine didn't come with the drive tray necessary to use the second bay, but that accessory can be purchased fairly cheaply online."

    Got any links? :)
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Let me know if this works: http://accessories.us.dell.com/sna/products/Hard_D...
  • cknobman - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    How you omit the Acer 5740G series game fps scores from the comparison when it was used for general performance comparison.

    The Acer 5740G series is a direct competitor to the studio 17. Same size and similar internal components.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Well, the 7740G is more of a competitor, since it's 17.3". The 5740G is now discontinued, unfortunately, at least the model with HD 5650. (Actually, I think the 7740G is now phased out as well and online vendors are just clearing remaining inventory.) Probably your best bet is this 7740G (which may disappear soon):

    As for why the 5740G isn't in the gaming benchmarks, we revamped our gaming suite recently. We had some scores for the 5740G in DiRT 2, L4D2, ME2, and STALKER: CoP. We don't have the laptop anymore, though, so some of the test results aren't at the same settings we're now using, and we don't have BFBC2 or SC2 results. That's why we pulled it from the charts. You can find the previous results here, but not all the scores are at the same settings (i.e. "high" is redefined now):

    We do have another laptop with an HD 5650 we're reviewing and that should be up shortly. The 5650 is obviously faster than the 4650, but getting it with a system that has everything else you want is the difficulty. Dustin wants Firewire and ExpressCard, which limits options quite a bit.
  • Jambe - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Glossy = no buy.

    I'm being a stickler wrt this issue.

    Unfortunately that largely limits me to the utilitarian Lenovo devices...
  • crimson117 - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Why would you buy this thing when you can get a G73 or an Acer Extensa 368d for the same price or a little more?
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Two words: Firewire, ExpressCard.

    Some more words: I can't fine the Acer Extensa in stock anywhere with a quick Google search; is it EOL now? As for the G73, it's bigger and faster, and it even has a better LCD on the 1080p model, but the least expensive version is $1300 at Best Buy (plus tax) and it comes with the same level of 900p LCD. That's $350 more than what Dustin paid for the Studio 17, and the Dell gets better battery life in addition to the above two words. :)
  • CSMR - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Useful review, except the title says "Dell Studio 17: When Gaming Isn't Enough", and then half the review is hardcore 3D gaming benchmarks! If even a non-gaming review is mostly about gaming, you give the site a bad name!

    In general people who care about display quality, and read charts before buying, would get the B+RG 1080p display, so would probably be more interested in charts on that.

    Also there's a BIOS problem I've heard in this model, namely that the fan turns off and on even in idle or under light loads. The temperatures are set badly: too low, not well ramped and at too close a range so the switching is frequent. It would be useful to know if you get this problem too.

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