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Dell Studio Hybrid Small Form Factor Desktop
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Date: Oct 29, 2008
Section:Systems
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Introduction and Specifications

Two perpetually, almost fad-like and recurring themes for computing technology in 2008 are low power, environmentally friendly products as well as tiny, small form-factor or ultra-portable machines.  Power consumption and size -- it has become undeniably hip and cool to offer products that cater to the new carbon footprint and mechanical footprint-minded consumer. If you didn't know better, it almost seems like the introduction of Asus' Eee PC started the craze back in Q4 of '07 but clearly, at least small form-factor system have been around for many years. 

Some of you will remember Shuttle's line of wildly popular barebones XPCs which became an underground hit with many in the DYI crowd looking to build Home Theater setups or fully capable and portable LAN boxes.  Shuttle hit the scenes with this system over six years ago, if you can believe that, and they've been growing in popularity ever since with the recent small form-factor/eco-friendly frenzy breathing even more life into the market niche'.  And you know SFF (small form-factor) systems have arrived when the "big guns" like Dell set their sights on this competitive arena.

Dell's marketing team had their collective thinking caps on for the brand naming of their new line of Studio Hybrid SFF desktops.  While the machine is comprised of traditional electronics and is powered by standard AC current, the term "Hybrid" conjures up efficiencies in power consumption along with perhaps a physical profile that slices cleanly through the air.  Shipped with an included "recycling kit" that allows you to ship, free of charge, your old, run-down system back to Dell for proper disposal, the new Dell Studio Hybrid takes to the HotHardware test bench today for our technical evaluation.  Make sure you check out our HH Video Spotlight on the machine as well but read on here for the full Monty.




Dell Studio Hybrid 140G
Specifications and Features

Processor Choices:

Intel® Pentium™ Dual Core T2390 (1.86GHz/533Mhz FSB/1MB cache)
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T5750 (2.00GHz/667Mhz FSB/2MB cache)
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T5850 (2.16GHz/667Mhz FSB/2MB cache)
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T8100 (2.1GHz/800Mhz FSB/3MB cache)
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T9300 (2.5GHz/800Mhz FSB/6MB cache)
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T9500 (2.6GHz/800Mhz FSB/6MB cache)

Operating System
Genuine Windows Vista®  Home Basic
Genuine Windows Vista®  Home Premium
Genuine Windows Vista®  Ultimate
Memory
Up to 4GB 667MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM
Hard Drives
Up to 320GB3 Serial ATA Hard Drive (5400 RPM)
External Connections
Additional drives can connect to IEEE1394 and/or USB 2.0 port
Optical Drives
Slot load optical drive
Slot Load CD / DVD Writer (Dual Layer DVD+/-RW Drive)
Slot Load Blu-ray Disc Combo (DVD+/-RW & BD-ROM) (includes Blu-ray accelerator card)
Graphics
Intel®  Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
Audio
Intel High Definition Audio 2.0
Optional Integrated Sound Blaster Audigy Advanced HD Software Edition
Wireless
Integrated
10/100/1000 (Gigabit) Ethernet LAN on system board
 
Wi-Fi Options
Built-in Draft-N Wireless Networking (Optional)
Externally Accessible Ports
Five USB 2.0 compliant ports
IEEE1394a port (4-pin)
HDMI video connector
DVI video connector
Integrated network connector 10/100/1000 LAN (RJ45)
AC adapter connector
Digital Audio: S/P DIF Out
Analog Audio: Headphone (front); Line-in / Line-out (back)

7-in-1 Media Reader:
Secure Digital (SD) Memory Card
Multi-Media Card (MMC)
Memory Stick
Memory Stick PRO
xD-Picture Card
Hi Speed-SD
Hi Density - SD

Dimensions & Weight
  Vertical Horizontal No Stand, System Only
Tall 8.8" 3.9" 2.8"
Wide 3.0" 7.9" 7.7"
Deep 8.3" 8.3" 8.3"

We'll get into specific design details of the Studio Hybrid next but the detailed spec list above shows you the base configuration of the machine.  All systems start with at least 2GB of DDR2-667 system memory, a standard 5400RPM SATA hard drive, onboard integrated Intel graphics, integrated Gigabit Ethernet and HD Audio.  The system weighs in at less than 5 lbs and comes standard with a slot load DVD player with Blu-ray as an upgrade option.  With its tiny 8" x 8" size, Dell decided to use an entirely mobile chipset design and Intel's Core 2 Duo T series of notebook chips powers this machine.
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Components, Design and Features

From a design and esthetics standpoint, we really can't help but admire the sleek appearance of the Studio Hybrid, though that's clearly a subjective sort of thing.  Pictured here, if midnight blue isn't your bag, there are a myriad of other color options to chose from, including a bamboo finish, if you're the eco-friendly type that's still into killing trees and the like.


                    
Click images for full view...


The front side of the system has an integrated 7-in-1 flash card reader, a pair of USB2.0 ports, a headphone jack and slot load DVD player, which as we mentioned can also be upgraded to Blu-ray.  There is also a power button, CD/DVD eject button and hard drive indicator icon, all which light up along with the Hybrid logo and Dell's logo on the side of the box. 

On the backside of the system, is a surprising multitude of I/O options, including both DVI and HDMI out, which clearly spells Home Theater PC in our book.  Also on the back I/O plate are three more USB2.0 ports, line in/out audio jacks, the Gig-E port, and optical S/P DIF audio port and the AC adapter power plug.  Speaking of which, the included power brick with the Studio Hybrid is surprisingly small and comes with a built-in rubber strap that allows you to easily bundle any extra cabling to keep it neatly tucked away in your install area.  In addition, the power cable itself has a nice right angle molded plug on the end of it which allow it to wrap right up against the backside of the brick, again for easy securing with the integrated strap.  Dell clearly was focused on design elegance with the Studio Hybrid and we were impressed with the system's over all build quality in general.

Even working inside the system is a pleasure (especially considering its size), for the advanced end user that might have a need to upgrade primary components like the hard drive or system memory.

       

With the removal of just two screws, your inside the machine and from there, you've got one more screw to go, to remove the hard drive/optical drive cage (top right) to gain access to the motherboard area.  Once inside you can see there are standard notebooks SODIMMs memory sticks installed, as well as a standard 2.5" spinning hard drive mounted in the drive cage.  A few more screws mount the heatsink assembly on top of the processor socket, though these are removed relatively easily, should you want to upgrade the CPU.  Just remember you might need a BIOS update if you don't upgrade to a processor that isn't currently an option on Dell's site for the machine.

A note on multimedia performance and digital video playback -
Dell built the current generation Studio Hybrid upon Intel's GM965 Express mobile chipset with integrated X3100 graphics.  The machine certainly doesn't have any sort of real 3D gaming capability but along with the Intel Core 2 Duo dual core processor under its hood, this system should handle most multimedia and business desktop tasks with relative ease, including playback of full 1080p resolution HD video sources. 

In that vein, we should note that you'll want to disable DirectX processing in Windows Media center, or another 3rd party player of your choice, if you're going to be playing back full 1080p video.  Intel's integrated graphics drivers simply are still not up to par with the X3100 core in the 965 chipset. Since the chipset doesn't offload many HD video decode functions in hardware, playback with DirectX processing enabled is pretty spotty.  We turned this off and with the machine relying on the host CPU entirely, 1080p content played smoothly.  Dell also bundles their Media Direct multimedia player in with the OS installation of the Hybrid and at its default setting, the machine had no problem playing back 1080p content.  Incidentally, with a 1080p clip running, we observed around 40% CPU utilization and the machine was still very much responsive.  That said, we feel strongly that Dell would do well to upgrade the Studio Hybrid line with Intel's latest G45 mobile chipset with GMA X4500 integrated graphics and the Centrino 2 platform.  The G45 has full offload of the HD video decode stack and a bit more 3D graphics horsepower as well.

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Test System Setup and PCMark Vantage

 

How We Configured Our Test Systems: When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set memory timings for either DDR2-1066 (AMD) with 5,5,5,15 timings or DDR3-1333 with 7,7,7,20 timings (Intel). The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we updated the OS, and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.

 HotHardware's Test Systems
 Intel and AMD - Head To Head 
System 1:
Core 2 Duo E6600
(2.4GHz - Dual-Core)

Asus P5E3 Premium
(X48 Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair DDR3-1800
CL 7-7-7-20 - DDR3-1333

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA Forceware v163.75
System 2:
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600+
(2.4GHz Dual-Core)

Gigabyte GA-MA790FX-DQ6
(AMD 790FX Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair PC2-8500
CL 5-5-5-15 - DDR2-1066

GeForce 8800 GTX
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio


WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA Forceware v163.75
System 3:
Dell Studio Hybrid 140G
Intel Core 2 Duo T5850
(2.16GHz)

Custom Intel GM965 Express motherboard

2x1GB Corsair PC2-5300
CL 5-5-5-15 - DDR2-667

On-board Intel X3100 Graphics
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio


160GB
5400 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Home Premium


We ran the Dell Studio Hybrid through Futuremark‚Äôs latest system performance metric built especially for Windows Vista, PCMark Vantage. PCMark Vantage executes a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads, including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity applications.  Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so the tests can exploit the additional resources offered by a dual-core CPU.

** Editor's Note - In all of our tests, we're providing reference performance measurements from our test lab from two full-sized desktop systems.  There are significant differences in subsystem components, like hard drives and system memory.  These reference benchmark numbers are provided just to give you baseline datapoints and in no way should be considered an "apples to apples" comparison.
 

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance

 

First we should offer a few caveats with respect to our PCMark Vantage testing.  In many of these tests, hard drive performance significantly weighs on scoring and with the Studio Hybrid's 2.5" 5400RPM notebook class hard drive, versus a 10K RPM WD Raptor in our other test systems, the playing field simply isn't all that level.  Essentially, the Studio Hybrid is an ultra-small desktop with virtually all notebook components inside; from its SODIMM system memory to its Core 2 Duo T5850 mobile dual-core CPU and 2.5" hard drive.  If we were to compare it to a similarly specified machine, a good reference point might be the Vantage scores for the Asus U6 and Toshiba A305 machines in this recent HH notebook review.

However, the Studio Hybrid is a desktop system and thus we're giving you a perspective of its performance versus a full sized desktop.  As you can see, the Hybrid holds its own but is outperformed by both the Core 2 Duo and Athlon 64 X2 based test systems in all of the tests.  That's not to say that the Studio Hybrid's scores here are bad though.  As you'll see later in this evaluation, the system offers this performance at a fraction of the power consumption, heat and noise associated with a full-sized desktop architecture.

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Lame MT MP3 Encoding Test

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications as a core audio encoding engine.

LAME MT
Audio Encoding

In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenically-induced Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.

 

Here the Dell Studio Hybrid shows that its newer, more advance Core 2 Duo T5850 mobile chip, though its clock speed is nearly 300MHz slower, offers a bit more performance than the AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core desktop processor.  In fact, the Hybrid even offers competitive performance to the Core 2 Duo E6600 full sized desktop test system.  When it comes to audio encoding, processor horsepower is the gating item and the Hybrid has more than enough for this everyday task. 

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Cinebench R10 Rendering Performance

 
 

Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D. Cinema 4D from Maxon is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others.  It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.

Cinebench R10
3D Rendering

This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The time it took each test system to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below, listed in seconds.

 

In this CPU intensive test, once again the Studio Hybrid puts up better numbers than the Athlon 64 X2 test system and is within striking distance of the 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo desktop system.  All told, especially with its power consumption profile that we'll look at in the pages ahead, the Hybrid offers respectable performance for its size.

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3DMark 06 CPU Test

 

Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming

3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded DirectX gaming metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are processed with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance.  Calculations that are normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the CPU for processing and rendering.  The frame-rate generated in each test is used to determine the final score.

 

Don't let the title of the benchmark graph fool you.  There is very little about this specific 3DMark06 test that has to do with the graphics subsystem.  In fact, we're not even going to provide specific gaming benchmarks with the Studio Hybrid because it simply isn't up to the task for even mainstream 3D gaming.  You'd likely be able play something like SIMs or perhaps an MMORPG turned down to its lower settings but that's about it.  Intel's integrated X3100 graphics core in the Hybrid isn't up to the task for much more than that.  However, in this software-based rendering test, the Hybrid's mobile dual-core chip once again provides a strong showing versus our two comparison full-sized test machines. 

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Power Consumption

Before we bring this article to a close, we'd like to cover an important datapoint for the feature product we're testing here.  Dell's Studio Hybrid small form-factor desktop is engineered to provide all the basic functionalities of a business-class desktop or Home Theater PC, in a very low power envelope.  Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we monitored how much power each of our test systems were consuming using a power meter between it and the wall plug. Our goal was to give you an idea as to how much power each configuration consumed while idling and under a heavy workload.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here and the test is representative of an entire system's consumption, minus the keyboard, mouse and monitor.

If you recall from our test system specs list, the Athlon 64 X2 and Core 2 Duo E6600 systems have discrete graphics cards (GeForce 8800 GTX), 10K RPM desktop hard drives, and either DDR3-1333 or DDR2-1066 system memory.  In addition the full sized desktop test systems also have full power desktop dual-core processors under their hoods as well.  Again, with the Studio Hybrid's low power, notebook-based components and architecture, it consumes dramatically less power than these standard desktop systems.  As you'll recall, the full sized systems have some advantages in disk performance and in addition, have high powered 3D graphics engines, so they can do more with respect to high end gaming, that's for sure.  However, at less than half the power of mid-range desktop, the Hybrid's performance-per-watt value proposition is pretty impressive.

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Performance Analysis and Video Spotlight

Performance Summary:
Summarizing the performance of the Dell Studio Hybrid, we have to consider its target application. The machine is engineered to provide desktop-like performance at notebook-like power consumption.  In that light, we came away impressed with the numbers.  Where the system lagged behind our full sized test systems in benchmarks like PCMark Vantage, which is also weighted by disk throughput, it conversely showed competitive performance in audio encoding and general CPU throughput tests like Cinebench.  Against the backdrop of its overall power consumption, which was a fraction of our desktop test systems, the Dell Studio Hybrid offered a rather satisfying end user experience.



In the final analysis, Dell's Studio Hybrid mini desktop system succeeds on a number of levels.  It's stylish, extremely low profile, quiet and absolutely miserly on power.  These traits, coupled with all the features and baseline performance of a mainstream desktop machine, add up to a quality product that, with a base price of $499 ($834 as tested with wireless keyboard and mouse), is also a decent value.  If you keep in perspective the Hybrid's target end user scenario as a small form-factor, mainstream desktop or perhaps even a Home Theater PC, the Hybrid delivers on just about any metric that it can be justifiably measured too.  Sure we would have liked to see Dell step out first with a Centrino 2-based machine with a G45 chipset but we're hopeful that's coming (no promises from Dell yet...). Regardless, even in our quick high definition video testing, clearly the machine was up to task of 1080p playback.  So we can't complain too much on that front, especially with the Hybrid's HDMI output.

All told, we really enjoyed our time with the Dell Studio Hybrid and have no problem recommending it as a sleek, low profile, low power Desktop or Home Theater/Media Center PC.  We'll leave you with our previously released HH Video Spotlights on the Studio Hybrid, which will also give you a hands-on feel of what it's made of. 






 

 

  • Sleek, Small and Stylish
  • Very Low Power Consumption
  • HDMI Output
  • Good Performance-Per-Watt
  • Needs A G45 Chipset Infusion
  • 5400 RPM Hard Drive A Bit Pokey



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