|Introduction and Specifications|
We had the pleasure of reviewing Dell's Studio XPS 13 back in early May and found the machine to be sleek and stylish, and a good value. In an effort to provide that same sleek styling and great performance to those looking for a somewhat larger machine, Dell has now issued an updated Studio XPS 16 that seems to up the ante in a number of key areas. The 16" notebook realm is a bit less crowded these days than say the netbook sector and the full-on 17" desktop replacement arena, giving Dell the perfect opportunity to stand out and make a play for those dead-set on a 16" rig.
The Studio XPS 13 set itself apart from prior Dell notebooks by adding a touch of flair that was somewhat unheard of for the company previously. The all-black, low-profile keyboard coupled with the edge-to-edge LCD and subtle leather strip on the lid gave the Studio line a motif that even fashionistas could love, and all that's still firmly in place on the Studio XPS 16. Essentially, the machine we're testing today is just an oversized variant of the Studio XPS 13, but the extra room inside enabled Dell to beef up the specifications.
In fact, the machine looks so good that it's easy to forget that it's not exactly the thinnest or lightest machine on the block. Now, it's certainly nimble enough for most, and we're actually impressed with the overall look and feel considering its screen size. Also, the added room enabled Dell to install a full-size keyboard, more powerful speakers, a 1080p panel and a potent 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon 4670 GPU, which is admittedly the star of the system.
The Studio XPS 16 hits a sweet spot in between a mainstream gaming notebook and a full-on desktop replacement. It's large enough to get a Full HD display, a powerful, discreet GPU and full-size keyboard, yet small enough to be sufficiently portable and still rather attractive. In the pages to come we'll be taking a look at how this rig handles the day-to-day rigors as well as gaming duties. Join us as we break things down from top to bottom, won't you?
|Design and Build Quality|
Dell's Studio XPS 16 tips the scales at around 6.5 pounds, so it's certainly not a lightweight. But when you consider that the Studio XPS 13 weighed nearly 5 pounds, you realize that 1.5 pounds for an extra 3" of beautiful screen real estate and a more powerful GPU isn't that bad. And again, having an XPS-level machine that weighs less than a concrete slab is still a win in our eyes. We never once felt that the machine was too heavy for its size, and we think Dell did a commendable job of distributing the weight in order to make it easy to lug around with one arm. Funny enough, it's the lid that we felt was too thick (if anything had to be "too thick"), as the actual chassis seemed surprisingly thin.
Frankly, this is one of the most portable 16" machines that we've ever seen. We could even envision using this on a coach class airplane seat if push came to shove. We should also point out the beautiful Merlot Red leather strip atop the lid (by the way, the Merlot Red color is a $40 option) is far nicer than the black strip we saw on the 13" version of this machine. That rig's strip was somewhat crinkled, and while at the time we felt it added character, we can definitely say that the "flat strip" on this machine is far nicer to look at.
From top to bottom, side to side, build quality is simply top shelf. The lid is sturdy (if not a touch heavy) and requires a deliberate push in order to recline it or relax it. There is practically no flex whatsoever when pressing on the LCD lid, and while there is a slight amount of flex present when mashing down directly in the center of the keyboard, we were never bothered by any flex while typing normally.
The glossy finish is downright gorgeous at first, but after about a day of use, the gloss had simply turned into a marred mess from all the fingerprints. The palm rest is glossy, the top lid is glossy and the display is glossy. You best carry some sort of soft cloth with you at all times, because you'll be wiping your baby down quite frequently.
The backlit keyboard was nothing short of stunning, and we loved the texture and feel of Dell's keys here. They obviously remind us a lot of the Studio XPS 13 keys that we also liked, and once you've typed on these, you'll probably have a tough time reverting to lower quality keys.
The port selection is somewhat of a mixed bag. On one hand, we greatly appreciate the fact that HDMI, VGA and DisplayPort ports are included. On the other, we can't understand how Dell could ship a 16" gaming rig with just two USB 2.0 ports. Yeah, there's a USB 2.0 / eSATA port as well, but still, that's a little slack for a machine where various input peripherals are very likely to be connected and used at LAN parties and the like. The twin headphone jacks are a nice touch, and the built-in Blu-ray drive goes perfect with the stunning 1080p RGBLED panel (a pricey $175 option over the 1080p WLED screen).
|Software and Accessories|
As with this unit's 13" sibling, accessory junkies will certainly feel underwhelmed when cracking open the elegant black box in which the Studio XPS 16 arrives in. The only extras that Dell includes are a soft, almost velvet-like sheath to hold the machine, a few pamphlets (Setup Guide, etc.), an AC adapter and a software booklet filled with restore discs and the like. No mouse, no kitchen sink--just those few extras alongside the machine itself.
On the software front, Dell does a commendable job of keeping the bloatware level at a minimum, with our machine only having to load an unwanted McAfee Security Center and Dell Data Safe in the taskbar (outside of more "normal" applications like Bluetooth Manager). Our test rig came with Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit, Microsoft Works 9, McAfee Security Center, a Vista reinstallation DVD and a Studio XPS 16 drivers / utilities DVD. We have to say, however, that Vista seemed to load up surprisingly slow, but we'll touch more on that later in the Performance sections.
As for pre-installed software, we found PowerDVD DX, Adobe Acrobat Reader 9, Microsoft Office PowerPoint Viewer, Dell Video Chat, Dell Webcam, FastAccess Facial Recognition, Roxio Creator DE, a few basic Windows games and Internet Explorer. Like we stated earlier, it's all pretty minimal.
Unlike Dell's Studio XPS 13, which we pretty much liked from top to bottom, the Studio XPS 16 gave us some pause. For starters, we loved the brightness and crispness of the Full HD display, but you should definitely take a look at what 1920x1080 pixels look like on a 16" panel before buying. If you have a tendency to squint, you won't enjoy the experience here. You'll need sharp peepers in order to enjoy the high-resolution display on a 16" screen, and for us, the screen felt a bit small for so many pixels. Also, the glossy panel was extremely glossy. Almost annoyingly so, really. Even in little to no light, you could easily make out reflections of your surroundings, and the screen is absolutely unusable outside due to the extreme glare present. And that's a shame considering how sharp this thing is.
If you're looking for some positives, there are plenty of those. The keyboard was an absolute joy to type on, and it's definitely one of the best keyboards on any notebook we've ever used. The trackpad had a great texture to it, though we do wish it were centered with the display (and not the space bar, as it stands) and that it were larger. There's plenty of palm rest space to expand it, but for whatever reason, Dell choose to slide a relatively small trackpad onto a large machine. The trackpad buttons were fantastic, with the texture and travel being perfect in our eyes. Also of note, the backlighting in the trackpad buttons and underneath the keys was excellent; it was plenty bright to enable us to compute in complete darkness, yet it wasn't so bright as to cause us to be distracted. Definitely added a "wow" factor.
We did find ourselves wishing for an extra USB port or two, but overall, the port selection was satisfactory. Blu-ray playback was predictably good; after all, a 1080p movie looks best on a 1080p display, and given that Dell has equipped this rig with a 1080p screen and discreet GPU, it's a match made in heaven for film fanatics.
As beautiful as this machine is, there were two glaring issues that we couldn't get over. First off, this machine gets as hot as any 16" machine we've ever seen. Even when handling just basic tasks (downloading games over Steam, running a few benchmarks and browsing the web), the Studio XPS 16 got extremely warm to the touch. And this was on a flat, open desk with plenty of air space for ventilation. If you dare place this thing on your lap, on a pillow or on a bed cover, watch out--you just might end up with third-degree burns. To be fair, the Studio XPS 13 got toasty as well, but the XPS 16 really pushes it up a notch. We'd recommend some sort of laptop cooler or riser for users of this machine, else you could end up in an uncomfortable situation shortly after bootup. Interestingly, fan noise was almost nonexistent. It's like Dell made this machine to be quiet, yet forgot that doing so would allow loads of heat to build up.
Also curious was the choice of CPU here. We know that faster processors are offered on this machine as options if you feel like spending north of $1700, but the 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo P8600 that was included in our configuration seemed to struggle at times. If you'll recall, the Studio XPS 13 that we tested a full four months ago had this same piece of silicon; we know four months isn't an enternity or anything, but it still feels like Dell could've included a bit more horsepower for a machine tailored for gamers. Bootup was shockingly sluggish also, though we're blaming that on the bloatware present as well as the fact that Vista was the OS and potentially the hard drive itself. We have all ideas that the machine will feel quicker with Windows 7 loaded (that's been the case with every machine we've tested so far), but given that Dell isn't shipping this machine--or any machine--with Win7 just yet, we have to base our evaluation on what the consumer would get should it buy this machine today.
Don't get us wrong--the machine was pretty quick at multitasking and handling everyday tasks, but not $1750 quick. For that kind of dough, we expect quicker responses from pretty much every application, particularly simple ones such as Firefox. We honestly think it's somewhat unfortunate that this rig shipped just a few months prior to the introduction of Windows 7, as we suspect it would feel an awful lot snappier with Microsoft's forthcoming OS. As it stands, the chugged along when loading up Vista, and for $1750, we simply expected more performance. Oddly enough, the XPS 16 scored the exact same overall rating as the XPS 13, but things simply didn't "feel" as quick in real-world use. We find out why a bit later...
|Test Setup and 3DMark 06 CPU|
The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.
The Intel P8600 Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz processor in the Studio XPS 16 performs within expectations when compared to the 2.1 GHz processors used in the Toshiba reference system, and somehow squeezes out a bit more performance when compared to the exact same CPU in the Studio XPS 13. Here's a look at the full 3DMark 06 score:
|Futuremark PCMark Vantage|
Continuing our testing we use Futuremarks PCMark Vantage benchmarking suite, which takes a broad look at all aspects of the machine in order to give a more general idea of how it performs in a variety of "day-to-day" situations.
Futuremark PCMark Vantage 'Memories' Test Description:
Memories 1 - Two simultaneous tasks. CPU image manipulation and HDD – importing pictures to Windows Photo Gallery
Memories 2 - Two simultaneous tasks. GPU image manipulation and HDD – video editing using Windows Movie Maker
Memories 3 - Video transcoding – DV to WMV9 - Transcoding from DV (720x480p 35.38Mbps) to a portable player (SD WMV9 320x240p 1.0 Mbps). Uses two cores if available.
Memories 4 - Video transcoding – VC-1 to WMV9 -Transcoding from media server archive (HD VC-1 1280x720p 11 Mbps) to a portable player (SD WMV9 320x240p 1.0 Mbps)
The numbers don't lie--the Studio XPS 16 crushes the other two systems here, even the XPS 13 with the same CPU.
Futuremark PCMark Vantage 'Hard Disk Drive' Test Description:
HDD 1 - Windows Defender
HDD 2 - Gaming
HDD 3 - Importing pictures to Windows Photo Gallery
HDD 4 - Windows start up
HDD 5 - Video editing using Windows Movie Maker
HDD 6 - Windows Media Center
HDD 7 - Adding music to Windows Media Player
HDD 8 - Application loading
In the Hard Disk Drive test, the Studio XPS 16 results prove some of what we were saying earlier about the performance. Despite the fact that the HDD spins at 7200RPMs, it just "feels" slower. And compared to the 7200RPM drive in our test Studio XPS 13, it is slower.
Futuremark PCMark Vantage 'Gaming' Test Description:
Gaming 1 - GPU gaming - Performing basic GPU (graphics processing unit) tasks utilizing PS (pixel shader) 2.0 and VS (vertex shader) 2.0 operations found in most 3D games using DX (DirectX) 9. This test utilizes SM(shader model) 3.0 (if available) performance optimizations which do affect visual quality.
Gaming 2 - HDD gaming
Gaming 3 - Two simultaneous tasks. Data decompression - Loading compressed level from hard drive and decompressing it into system memory. CPU gaming -Executing heavy AI path finding algorithms. Uses all available cores up to 16 cores.
Gaming 4 - Three simultaneous tasks. GPU gaming- Performing basic GPU (graphics processing unit) tasks utilizing PS(pixel shader) 2.0 and VS (vertex shader) 2.0 operations found in most3D games using DX (DirectX) 9. This test utilizes SM (shader model) 3.0(if available) performance optimizations which do affect visual quality. CPU gaming - Executing heavy AI path finding algorithms. Uses all available cores up to 16 cores and HDD – gaming
The Studio XPS 16 packs a potent 1GB Radeon 4670, and it shows. The GPU test here shows that there's no comparison between a discreet GPU and underperforming IGPs.
Futuremark PCMark Vantage 'Communications' Test Description:
Communications 1 - Three simultaneous tasks. Data encryption – CNG AES CBC. Data compression. Web page rendering – pictures - Opens a web page with many large pictures.
Communications 2 - Three simultaneous tasks. Web page rendering – favorites group parallel - Opens various news pages from IE Favorites in separate tabs and closes them one by one. Data decryption – CNG AES CBC. HDD – Windows Defender
Communications 3 - Windows Mail – searching - Searches mails for words in the message body, subject and sender.
Communications 4 - Two simultaneous tasks. Data encryption – CNG AES CBC. Audio transcoding – WMA to WMA - Measures audio transcoding performance in VOIP usage.
In the communications test the Studio XPS 16 once again beat out the competition by a decent margin. All in all, a very impressive showing save for that all-important HDD test. If any system could use an SSD, this would be it.
|Futuremark PCMark Vantage (cont'd)|
Futuremark PCMark Vantage 'Productivity' Test Description:
Productivity Test 1 - Two simultaneous tasks. 1. Text editing 2. HDD – application loading
Productivity Test 2 - Two simultaneous tasks. 1. Windows Contacts – searching - search 2. HDD – Windows Defender
Productivity Test 3 - HDD – Windows Vista start up
Productivity Test 4 - 1. Windows Contacts – searching - Searches contacts. 2. Windows Mail – copying - Runs Message Rules. 3. Web page rendering – favorites group parallel - Opens various news pages from IE 7 Favorites in separate tabs and closes them one by one.
In the Productivity Test, we see the Studio XPS 16 take the lead, but it's not as commanding as one might imagine when comparing a gaming desktop/desktop replacement to what most would consider a powerful ultraportable.
Futuremark PCMark Vantage 'Music' Test Description:
Music 1 - Three simultaneous tasks: Web page rendering – music shop - Opens music shop kind of content; Audio transcoding – WAV to WMA lossless; HDD – adding music to Windows Media Player
Music 2 - Audio transcoding – WAV to WMA lossless
Music 3 - Audio transcoding – MP3 to WMA
Music 4 - Two simultaneous tasks. Audio transcoding – WMA to WMA. HDD – adding music to Windows Media Player
Futuremark PCMark Vantage 'TV and Movies' Test Description:
TV and Movies Test 1 - Two simultaneous tasks. 1. Video transcoding – VC-1 to VC-1 - Transcoding from HD DVD (HD VC-1 1920x1080p 28 Mbps) to the media server archive (HD VC-1 1280x720p 11 Mbps). Uses two cores if available. 2. Video playback – VC-1 HD DVD with HD content - Playing HD DVD (VC-1 1920x1080p 28 Mbps) with HD (VC-1 1280x720p 7 Mbps) content.
TV and Movies Test 2 - Two simultaneous tasks. 1. Video transcoding – VC-1 to VC-1 - Transcoding from HD DVD (HD VC-1 1920x1080p 28 Mbps) to the media server archive (HD VC-1 1280x720p 11 Mbps). Uses two cores if available. 2. Video playback – MPEG-2 HDTV - Playing terrestrial HDTV (HD MPEG-2 1920x1080i 19.39 Mbps).
TV and Movies Test 3 - HDD – Windows Media Center
TV and Movies Test 4 - Two simultaneous tasks. 1. Video transcoding – VC-1 to WMV9 - Transcoding from the media server archive (HD VC-1 1280x720p 11 Mbps) to a portable player (SD WMV9 320x240p 1.0 Mbps). Uses two cores if available. 2. Video playback – MPEG-2 Blu-ray - Playing Blu-ray (HD MPEG-2 1920x1080p 48 Mbps).
Futuremark PCMark Vantage Overall Score Test Description:
The PCMark Suite is a collection of various single- and multi-threaded CPU, Graphics and HDD tests with the focus on Windows Vista application tests. Tests have been selected to represent a subset of the individual Windows Consumer Scenarios. The PCMark Suite includes a subset of Consumer Suite tests.
In the overall PCMark Vantage test, the Studio XPS 16 takes its rightful place atop the pile, but the bulk of the score comes from the unit's impressive GPU. The other factors are either par for the course or lackluster, leaving us to caution you about how you interpret these results. This machine is fit for gaming and handling GPU-intensive tasks, but you can do much better for much less in the generic multitasking category.
|3DMark Vantage and SiSoft Sandra|
Click To Enlarge
When compared to the Asus G51VX-RX05, which is equipped with a 1GB GeForce GTX 260M GPU, 4GB of RAM and a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 processor, the Studio XPS 16 simply doesn't hold a candle in terms of sheer 3D performance. 3DMark Vantage stresses the GPU by running a multitude of tests, and just for reference, the aforesaid Asus notched an overall 3DMark score of P4059. Dell's Studio XPS 16 managed only P2774. We ran the tests a few times over to make sure everything was kosher, and sure enough, that's all it could muster. We should also point out that the Asus machine mentioned here lists for $1049, nearly half of the XPS 16. Of course, it has only a 15.6" display, a 320GB HDD, a DVD drive (and not a Blu-ray drive) and a much less stunning design, but still, performance and price are king to most.
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks). All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speeds of 2.4GHz with 4GB of DDR3-800 RAM running in dual-channel mode.
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge
CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge
Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge
Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge
Overall, the Studio XPS 16 performance about as expected, coming in higher and lower than competing products in the same range. By no means did it outpace the rivals in every arena, though its performance in the Physical Disc HDD test was particularly interesting (and surprising, based on the lackluster real-world results we noticed with the seemingly sluggish hard drive).
To touch on gaming performance, we chose two games that draw moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. We then ran a pre-recorded demo of each at a resolution of 1280x800 and also at a lower resolution of 800x600. The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below, and we tossed in benchmarks from Lenovo's Y530 -- which includes a 256MB GeForce 9300M GS -- along with Dell's Hybrid SLI-equipped Studio XPS 13 for reference. On the XPS 13, all gaming benchmarks were done while in Performance Mode, which enables the Hybrid SLI system.
Before running the benchmarks we played the games at both resolutions to get a feel for the machine's performance. At 1280x800, the Studio XPS 13 couldn't quite keep up with the titles. We'd consider them "playable," but not enjoyably so. However, on the Studio XPS 16, both games were perfectly playable at all resolutions.
Although we didn't put the data in the graph, we also tested the Studio XPS 16 at it's native resolution. And even at Full HD (1920x1080), both titles hummed along at frame rates well above 30FPS, meaning that playback was smooth for the most part and definitely playable. Dell did well by including the 1GB Radeon HD 4670 GPU. Playing games at Full HD on a notebook that's also relatively portable and offers decent battery life is a nice perk, and while we highly doubt this machine would have a similarly easy time with Crysis, there's no denying that it'd have plenty of power to plow through at lower resolutions, which you can't say for most IGPs.
Perusing through Dell's own information portal on the Studio XPS 16, you'll come up empty if searching for a specific battery life figure. Indeed, the company simply asserts that opting for a 9-cell battery (over the standard 6-cell) can "increase your hours of entertainment."
During our testing (shown above in minutes), we found the battery life of the machine to be somewhat underwhelming, but not embarrassingly so considering that it's a pretty massive machine that's not designed to be used for long periods of time away from an AC outlet. With performance mode enabled (meaning that the discrete GPU was activated), we squeezed out just under 1.25 hours before Vista forced itself into hibernation. With Power Saving mode activated, we were able to get just over 2 hours of life.
Mind you, this test represents "normal" activity. Light web
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|Summary and Conclusion|
* Updated: 9/14 - 11:00PM
Performance Summary: In our SiSoftware Sandra testing, the Studio XPS 16 performed a bit better than we expected in most cases, and while it held its own in most of the other benchmarks, we were concerned by the lackluster performance during muilitasking. Gaming was solid with the robust 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4670 GPU, which handled by Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Half-Life 2: Episode 2 at 1920x1080 with no problems at all. The XPS 16 was the definition of a mixed bag; while it handled gaming and basic tasks without issue, it struggled a bit to keep up when simply opening new Firefox tabs, firing up a few applications at once and booting into Vista (we highly suggest you choose the Windows 7 upgrade coupon option). For an $1750 machine, as configured, we simply expected the all-around performance to be a little stronger.
Dell's Studio XPS 16 is a great addition to the growing Studio lineup. It's probably the sexiest 16" notebook we've seen, and it just might be one of the most handsome gaming notebooks / pseudo-desktop replacements to date. There's no doubt that Dell put a lot of effort into making this one look great, and while the style may not work for everyone, we certainly dug it. In most ways, this is just a larger version of the already-great Studio XPS 13, though the extra screen real estate really set it apart. We were a bit worried by the amount of heat this machine generated even during day-to-day computing, and while the trifecta of video outputs were great, we would've loved an extra USB port or two to really fill things out.
As for battery life, we weren't too impressed. Then again, this is a desktop replacement of sorts, so it's not like we were expecting a whole lot. You could also opt for the 9-cell battery for a bit more life, but that'll certainly cost you. As for extras, the Studio XPS 16 is pretty much exactly what you'd expect and little more. It's sexy and sleek for its size, and it's capable of running modern games. We'd recommend slapping an SSD into this rig to make it really shine, and of course, having Windows 7 on it come October won't hurt matters either. We do feel that this machine is priced too highly (as tested, anyway) for most to consider reasonable. At around 1750, there are a lot of rival machines to choose from. Competition heats up dramatically when cracking the $1700 mark, as it should. For that much cash, we simply expected better all-around performance from the Studio XPS 16. Gaming was strong but opening up applications, booting into Windows and opening a handful of Firefox tabs all seemed a bit sluggish with notable "lag" in far too many situations. Had this been a $1000 machine, we'd be more likely to accept its performance profile. But even at closer to $1400 after current discounts (which vary with some amount of frequency), we couldn't give this one a wholehearted recommendation with the current HDD.