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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  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    It's my understanding the most recent BIOS should've fixed the fan issue. I don't really have that problem with mine.
  • Lingyis - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    well, the technician came but wasn't able to fix it so dell is sending me a replacement machine in 10 days or so.

    i hope the one i currently have just happens to be a lemon.

    that aside, the screen is incredible. i'm seeing purple colors i've never seen before on a computer screen. deep blues are also nice.

    battery life is definitely short... will see if the replacement machine does better.
  • Lingyis - Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - link

    Well, i got my replacement. It has the exact same issue.

    Are you sure you don't have a fan problem?

    My test case is actually your website. Using Internet Explorer, go to anandtech.com, and cycle through the "latest post" graphics. Does you fan come on every time you click on the "Next" triangle?

    Because on mine, and both of mine that I got in the mail, the fan goes on reproducibly. You click, the picutre cycles, the fan goes on for 2 seconds, goes off. You click again, same thing happened again.

    I tried it on a bunch of other computers and laptops none seem to have that issue.

    Even if it's an IE issue, the fan still comes on way too much. Like as it goes through setup, the fan would come on quite a bit, but again, only a few seconds at a time.

    On this newest Studio 17 I just received, I imagine the BIOS is up-to-date, just as my last Studio 17. So I haven't checked, or maybe I'm too upset to bother, so maybe I'll eat my words tomorrow when I contact customer support and a BIOS update fixes things.

    If not, I'll try my best to get my money back from Dell, which is unfortunately because I am really liking the screen and I've gotten used to the keyboard. I spent $1500 on this (maxing out most specs) and I'm not going to be happy with the annoying fan.
  • Lingyis - Thursday, September 16, 2010 - link

    Okay, so the replacement machine has the exact same issue and couldn't be fixed. So I'm returning for a refund. Which is too bad because I'm really starting to like the machine, but the fan is too annoying to bear.
  • bijeshn - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link


    "Thankfully, you can toggle them back to being proper function keys in the BIOS. ..."

    You don't have to take the trouble of going to BIOS to change it. You can toggle them in the Mobility Center itself.
  • AnnonymousCoward - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    It is an atrocity for Dell to only put 1360x768 in Inspiron 15.6" models. They might as well include 256MB RAM and call it a day. I still love my D610 screen, a 14.1" 1400x1050.

    When a $255 netbook has a 10.1" 1024x600, midrange Dells with crappy resolution are pointless.

    The cheapest Dell 17" has 1600x900 for $530. 1920x1080 brings it up to $850!

    Another "WTF" is, didn't Dell get the memo about SSDs? Give an X25-M 80GB option for +$150.
  • seapeople - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    Yes, it's amazing that Dell, alone out of all the manufacturers of computers, uses a 1360x768 screen on 15" laptops. You'd think that since nobody else uses such a screen, Dell wouldn't dare think about using it. This is fully Dell's fault, a blame attributable to no other. Considering that they don't even make LCD panels, I'm sure they had to look far and wide to find these ultra rare, uncommon, not very often used 1360x768 panels. You'd think they'd take the easy way out and just put on the same resolution panels as everyone else. But no, not Dell.
  • tvdang7 - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    my studio xps 16 only gets about 2-2.5 hours of internet usage or about 2 hours with video play back. with a 9 cell. i do not get how the studio 17 gets about an hour + more than it with equal specs.
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    That's about in line with what I tested on the Studio XPS 16 back in the day:

    My guess is that the RGB LED backlighting (even at 100nits) uses more power than white LEDs. It's also likely that in the past 18 months Dell has managed to tune power requirements such that the latest laptops use less power than their older counterparts.
  • tvdang7 - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    mine is wled not rgb. so we have about equal specs except that i have the 5730 video card which draws less power than the 4650. So its blowing my mind.

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