Notebook Overview

The Studio XPS 16 comes in a 16" chassis, similar to the Acer 6920G we reviewed last year. In fact, there are many similarities between the two products, with multimedia functions definitely being a key component. The Dell Studio XPS 16 tends to focus a bit more on performance than the Acer 6920 line, with a higher performance GPU included in all models. As with the majority of Dell products, you can also custom build a Studio XPS 16 rather than choosing among several different preconfigured models. We'll start with an overview of the configuration options.

Dell Studio XPS 16 Specs and Configuration Options
Processor Core 2 Duo P8600, P8700, T9550, T9800 (subject to change)
Chipset Intel PM45 + ICH9M
Memory 2x2048MB up to 2x4096MB DDR3-1066
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3670 512MB
Display 16.0" Edge-to-Edge Glossy White LED 720p (1366x768)
16.0" Edge-to-Edge Glossy RGB LED 1080p (1920x1080)
Hard Drive Up to 256GB SSD or 500GB 7200RPM
Optical Drive 8x DVDR SuperMulti or 4X Blu-ray Combo Drive (DVDR + BD-ROM)
Networking Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet (BCM5784M PCI-E)
Intel WiFi Link 5100 or 5300
Bluetooth v2.0 (optional)
Mobile Broadband of AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon (optional)
Audio 2-Channel Sigmatel 9273 HD Audio (2.1 Speakers)
Optional ExpressCard Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme
Battery 6-Cell 56Whr, 9-cell 85Whr
Front Side None
Left Side Kensington Lock
VGA
Gigabit Ethernet
DisplayPort
HDMI
2 x USB 2.0
Microphone, 2 x Headphone
Right Side ExpressCard/54
SD/MMC/MS Pro reader
1 x Mini FireWire
Slot-load Optical Drive
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
Power Adapter
Back Side Heat Exhaust
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium 32/64-bit
Windows Vista Ultimate 32/64-bit
Dimensions 16.2" x 12.0" x 1.7"-2.5" (WxDxH)
Weight 6.41 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras 2.0MP Webcam
87-Key Backlit Keyboard
15-month McAfee, Norton, or Trend Micro Internet Security (free)
Warranty 1-year standard; up to 4-year extended (add up to $700 with Complete Care)
Price Starting at ~$1100 online

At the heart of the XPS 16, you can select from several different dual-core processors. These range from the 2.4GHz P8600 up to the 2.93GHz T9800. Note that the 8000 series processors include 3MB of cache while the 9000 series includes 6MB, so even at the same clock speed you can expect a 5 to 10% performance boost. The unit we received for testing includes the least expensive P8600, but it's unlikely most people will need more processing power in a laptop. If you do need more power, you might want to look at offerings that allow you to select a quad-core CPU, like the Gateway P-7808u FX or Toshiba X305 - both of which are larger and cost more than a standard Studio XPS 16.

Graphics duties are handled by the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3670 512MB, which is capable of handling most modern games at moderate resolutions. As you might expect, playing through demanding titles at the native 1080p resolution of the upgraded LCD often results in very poor performance, but you can always run games at 720p or 1366x768 - or with lower detail settings - to improve the situation. In terms of overall performance, ATI's HD 3670 will generally outpace most of the midrange mobile NVIDIA products; you need to get into the 9700M, 9800M, or the GT 200M GPUs to clearly surpass the HD 3670.

Of course, besides the performance question there's also the matter of drivers, and NVIDIA has really stepped things up in that area by offering reference mobile drivers for most NVIDIA laptops. We didn't encounter any issues with the included ATI drivers on the Dell Studio XPS 16, but we know from past experience that such problems can and do occur, and it would be great if users could find updated drivers from ATI/AMD rather than waiting on the manufacturer. To their credit, Dell is usually pretty good about releasing updated drivers, at least early in the product lifecycle; however, we know plenty of users that have been left out in the cold in the past, especially once a laptop is more than a year old.

As a side note, the drivers initially installed on the laptop were version 8.512-080703a - if that doesn't make sense, the second field is apparently the date of the driver build, which in this case is July 3, 2008. Yeah, that's a bit out of date, considering this laptop wasn't even available for purchase until early 2009. Dell has released updated drivers (version 8.59-090213, available from Dell as of March 29, 2009), but we're not sure how the old original drivers ended up on the laptop in the first place. This is supposed to be a standard retail build, so hopefully this was just an oversight on our test system. The latest drivers do improve performance somewhat, but it's only a difference of about 3-5% in spot testing of several games. Rather than delay this article further, we kept the testing results from the original drivers.

The remaining specifications are about what you would expect from a modern midrange to high-end notebook. Our sample laptop shipped with a Blu-ray drive and the upgraded LCD - and again, we can't stress how much we like the high-end LCD option. SSDs are available in sizes up to 256GB, which is quite large for a $400 SSD! It's not an Intel or Indilinx model, but one reader indicates the SSD uses a new Samsung controller and performs quite well. We'll reserve final judgment until we can personally test it, but a price of "only" $1.56 per GB for a good quality SSD would be a great deal.

We have to applaud Dell in regards to memory options on the Studio XPS 16. Even the entry-level $1100 configuration comes standard with 4GB (2x2GB) of DDR3-1066 memory. Upgrading to even more memory is possible, but the price hike is steep starting at $400 for 5GB (1x4GB + 1x1GB). That's not too surprising, as 4GB SO-DIMM modules are quite a bit more expensive than their 2GB counterparts. 2x2GB will cost somewhere between $50 and $75; a single 4GB DDR3 SO-DIMM on the other hand currently sells for over $350. Ouch! So unless you really need more memory, we recommend sticking with 2x2GB for now.

As configured, our test system has a price of around $1600 with the default 1-year warranty. That includes a 320GB 7200RPM HDD, Blu-ray drive, Bluetooth, and the 1080p LCD. If you start with the basic $1100 model and just add the LCD, you can get everything we really want from the Studio XPS 16 for $1350.

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  • MadBoris - Monday, April 6, 2009 - link

    So with this review getting the juices flowing, and the aformentioned sale coming tomorrow I started reminding myself why I want this Lappy.

    Here is a rundown on why I decided on this lappy as my next lappy purchase, in no particular order:

    * 64 Bit OS standard, everything works w/ 64 bit.
    * 1920x1080 with RGBLED in a 16" screen.
    * Blu Ray drive option, 1080p natively supported.
    * 2.1 speakers with built in subwoofer, impressive for a laptop.
    * Sturdy construction, no flex in chassis or keyboard.
    * CPU using 1066 FSB rather than 800.
    * 4GB DD3
    * Firewire port
    * Full digital HDMI
    * Display port
    * eSata port
    * 3 powered USB's(optionally powered when PC is off).
    * Backlit keyboard with good key orientation, size and sensitivity.
    * Synaptics touchpad, nicely textured, with multitouch support.
    * 500 GB 7200 RPM drive or great 256GB SSD upgrade.
    * Webcam built in for video conferencing.
    * Facial recognition software for security, it's a cool tech toy atleast.
    * Included Lojack for a year, at least used to be offered.

    All for a good price IMO.

    The only big drawbacks:
    * While beautiful black obsidian and leather, it's a finger print magnet.
    * Gets hot when it's being stressed hard, even to the touch below the touchpad.
    * 3670 GPU not a ATI 4xxx. But if it had more GPU there would be no reason to get any of Dells XPS laptops for gaming. I have a gaming machine, I don't do laptop gaming.
    * Battery 6 cell life is under 2 hours. But getting a seperate 9 cell for $80 fixes that issue.
    * Viewing angles on TN panel, but it's a lappy like others.
    * Built in TV tuner not available in USA, :sad:.

    None of those drawbacks are showstoppers for me, all of the positive features it comes with make up for it easily.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Monday, April 6, 2009 - link

    Sales have not been seen on this laptop since a couple days back but...

    Just a heads up, a new 2 day sale on the XPS 16 starts tomorrow. Who knows, this may be the one that has me pull the trigger.

    Specifics unknown, but I imagine it will be like the $363 off from the other day.

    Starts 6AM, April 7th.

    http://www.dell.com/xpsevent">http://www.dell.com/xpsevent
    Reply
  • charleski - Monday, April 6, 2009 - link

    Nice gamut, but a TN panel means the gamma of the display will visibly vary with viewing angle. This makes is unsuitable for serious photo editing or any application that requires accurate colours and tones unless you take pains to maintain a consistent view angle. Still, probably no worse than a MacBook Pro.

    Since a high-gamut display is really only of any use to people running colour-managed applications, the large gamut is actually a disadvantage to those who just want to run apps, and movies may appear to be over-saturated.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Monday, April 6, 2009 - link

    Yep, that is a problem, people get the over saturated impression. It's too vivid.

    Reminds me of when people go from CRT to LCD/Plasma. It looks really over bright and over saturated but most techies have become accustomed to that now and forgot what that transition was like. But now going from CCFL to RGBLED takes it up another notch.

    Problem is source material like movies that are post processed to look a little more vibrant on CRT TV's really look over saturated and even unnatural on the RGBLED. But given enough time the eyes and mind will become accustomed to it even if it's a bit unnatural. The RGBLED is just a bit too vibrant for some.
    Reply
  • CSMR - Saturday, April 4, 2009 - link

    This monitor has displayport and hdmi output.
    That's a point that deserves more attention IMO, since notebooks with dual digital video outputs are very rare indeed.

    One question I would have is can they both be adapted to DVI, just because displayport is not common yet. If it can't be adapted, that limits dual-display options but is still better than nothing!
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, April 5, 2009 - link

    The laptop didn't include any adapters for DisplayPort to DVI or HDMI to DVI, so I couldn't verify this aspect of the laptop. Dual digital outputs is great, I agree. Of course, if you have to use DisplayPort without an adapter, I think you might be limited to Dell LCDs for the time being. Reply
  • cvt - Friday, April 3, 2009 - link

    Jarred,

    I have one of these notebooks, similar spec except with the hotter T9550.
    Originally it came with the 320gb 7200rpm HDD, I have since changed it to a 80gb Intel X25-M.
    The heat in the palmrest and touchpad areas of the notebook are noticably cooler. The rest of the notebook, including keyboard and base are basically unchanged. The next stage I went through was undervolting the CPU. I was able to shave 0.275v off and remain completely stable. Heat overall dropped, but not dramatically. Same can be said about battery life, without timing it, I haven't noticed any major improvement, 15min max. Even after these steps It is still noticably warmer than any of my previous notebooks (recent, D820, D830, E6500). Taking into account the hardware, and changed I made, all things are pointing to the GPU being the cause of heat.
    Admitadely I have no solid data to go off, but current observation leans that way.
    Reply
  • Slappi - Friday, April 3, 2009 - link

    I have been an Anandtech reader since the start but your ATI bias is getting too obvious to ignore.

    Please don't go the way of TH.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 3, 2009 - link

    Bias against ATI or for ATI?

    In the case of desktops, we've been recommending plenty of ATI cards. If it's not clear from this review, I *don't* like the idea of ATI mobile GPUs if you're concerned with driver updates. NVIDIA only provides quarterly reference drivers for laptops, but that's better than not getting any support other than the manufacturer.

    From a performance standpoint, the ATI HD 3670 is better than the GeForce 9600M and lower (8700M and lower), but the 8800M/9800M/GTX 280M are all substantially faster. If you only need moderate performance, and you don't care a lot about gaming, I'm perfectly fine with running ATI GPUs in a laptop. I'd even go so far as to say my experience with ATI drivers has been better than NVIDIA drivers in terms of compatibility, just as long as you're not running CrossFire. That the August 2008 drivers Dell incorrectly installed (unless the driver version just showed up wrong) ran Far Cry 2, Fallout 3, etc. without any noticeable issues is a lot better than I would expect.

    Going forward, I've got the first high-end ATI GPU in a laptop that I've seen in over two years right now, which I'm excited to test, but it's a 4870X2 CrossFire solution so I'm *really* worried about drivers - and I say that after having seen way too many issues with NVIDIA's earlier SLI laptop drivers. Anyway, the last high-end ATI mobile GPU I tested was a Mobility X1800 in an Alienware, and that review never saw the light of day because of other laptop problems.

    If anyone is biased against ATI, I'd say it's the notebook manufacturers, who have begun to stay away from ATI options for the most part. I can find dozens of 8800M, 9800M, and now GTX 280M laptops for purchase from a variety of sources. How many 3850/3870 laptops are out there? None from Dell, HP, Gateway, etc. A quick search only finds one online. Heck, http://ati.amd.com/products/hd3000partnersproducts...">even AMD doesn't even list any 3800 series partner laptops! (I couldn't find any list for 4600 or 4800 either.)

    Personally, I try to be as impartial as possible in my reviews, and I'm at a loss as to what bias there was in this article. Discussing the lack of reference drivers from the GPU manufacturer isn't bias, it's a fact. If you want to point out specifics other than that, however, I'm open to listen to where I've been overly harsh.
    Reply
  • Pirks - Saturday, April 4, 2009 - link

    Alienware M17 has ATI 3870 (or two of them in CF) inside. AWESOME notebook for gaming, and only $1400 - best bang for buck gaming wise you could find. Reply

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