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

    We list the gaming results mostly for people that *are* interested in those areas. We've decided to settle on testing "midrange" GPUs at Low, Medium, and High settings. We could put all the results on one page, but then it would be a really long page. Anyway, if you go by word count, the article is 3600 words long, and the gaming and graphics pages comprise a total of 800 words over four pages.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    I did when I first got the Studio 17, but the most recent BIOS update largely alleviated that issue. The thing runs a little toasty, but it's a huge notebook and the extended battery makes it abundantly clear it's not supposed to be used on your lap.

    I did my research before picking this one up, and haven't run into that BIOS issue or the AC adaptor issue.
  • synaesthetic - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Why does this not have a Mobility Radeon 5850? Or at least a 5830? There's more than enough room, if a 5830 can be shoved into an Envy 15...

    What a waste.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Price, heat, and battery life.

    The Studio 17 is fairly large, but compared to some gaming notebooks it's actually not as bulky. And I can tell you the cooling system is on the "eh" side...going to a high-end GPU like that would tax it too much.

    Also, 5830/50/70 all play hell on the battery, as the G73 results demonstrate.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Now if he made the argument for HD 5650 or *maybe* 5730, that would be reasonable. Those aren't as fast as the 5800 series, but they're faster than old 4650. Of course, Dustin bought this as a bargain at Best Buy, which is probably why he has the older 4650... not that 560v is any different.
  • seapeople - Thursday, August 26, 2010 - link

    Yay, some love for 17 inchers! I'm glad you didn't go down the "Any laptop over 14 inches is a behemoth tank that you need a fork lift to carry around" road. Even if you did claim that battery life doesn't matter on a big laptop.... which is fairly silly. A long battery life on this laptop means the same as any other laptop -- that when you take it with you somewhere, you don't need to get out (or bring) the charger, which is even bigger on something like this.

    Also, I can fit my 17" Dell in a backpack which is small enough to count as your "personal bag" on an airplane (i.e., fits under the seat). Battery life is somewhat important in airports considering the lack of outlets.
  • Lingyis - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    well, that's not cool. i just bought a studio 17 a couple days ago based on anandtech. really shouldn't do that too often to maintain anandtech's good reputation.

    fortunately, my specs are completely different. i5-520, no discrete graphics card, RGB 1080. the truth is that i bought it pretty much 99% for the RGB 1080 screen, which if it's anything like the XPS 16, should be awesome (XPS 16 no longer offers RGB screen as an option). another reason for the 17' is so that i don't need to lug around a numpad with me.

    i won't do any gaming (well, nothing graphics intensive anyway) on the machine, pretty much using it either to remotely log on to work machines or run some local calculation jobs (mostly single-threaded) so hopefully battery life would be quite a bit better than what's tested here.

    so fingers crossed. i don't think i'll like the keyboard (tried it out at best buy) but hopefully i'll get used to it and i'll end up loving the screen and, as a result, the laptop. i guess worst case i'll just get a keyboard when i'm not on the road.

    that's the thing--studio 17's have so many configurations. i probably have buyer's bias at this point, but to go back on your rec based on just one config is just... not worth the humble pie.

    ps. XPS 16 only has the "WLED" option these days, which i don't know how it's different from regular LED. any idea how it stacks up to the "RGB LED"?
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure I understand how I'm reneging on my rec, especially since I'm actually using it myself and kept it. I love mine.

    How am I reneging?
  • Lingyis - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    okay i guess you're not. i misread one of the lines.

    i have a question though: do you have a fan issue? i just got mine yesterday and the fan goes on and off every 10 seconds or so and it's driving me absolutely nuts. i'm not running anything intensive, just browsing the web or something.
  • Lingyis - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    well okay i contacted dell customer support they said they'll send somebody to replace the fan unit. hopefully the resolves the issue.

    the guy was really pushy trying to sell me the complete warranty plan. but i'm thinking of replacing the hard drive with a SSD at some point in the future so i don't think it's worth the money.

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