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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  • baadcatj - Friday, April 3, 2009 - link

    Hey Jarred, following the link, Dell still has the $343 off special with the upgraded panel, but it looks like they changed it as it doesn't include the upgraded cpu - unless I missed something; If it is still available with the processor upgrade, will you please let me know what I'm doing wrong?
    Thx & great job on the article :-)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 3, 2009 - link

    My guess is that Dell realized their mistake and changed the CPU out. I know when I first looked it was a T9550... unless I was seeing things? :-) Reply
  • Joelist - Friday, April 3, 2009 - link

    It is definitely not one of the JMicron crap jobs.

    I have one of these with the SSD and the T9550. It is VERY fast, and the SSD even makes it run a lot cooler than expected. There is no stuttering and everything is super responsive.

    Remember that any Dell SSD will be Samsung, as the two are strategic partners on the SSD front.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 3, 2009 - link

    I've updated the text to clarify, but even the Samsung SSDs aren't perfect, http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=35...">as seen here. I stand by the recommendation that if you really want an SSD, read Anand's article and then purchase one on your own. Personally, I wouldn't even consider anything less than the Indilinx options, but I'd try for the Intel models. Reply
  • MadBoris - Sunday, April 5, 2009 - link

    "(Note: one reader indicates the SSD uses a Samsung controller, which is better than the JMicron options. However, Samsung SSDs are still prone to degradation over time.)"

    I guess you are unaware how folks out there have stumbled on how badly Intel X25-m's degrade. There has been several forums where users have come across it and have noticed really bad drops in the Intels but here's pcperspectives test as one example.
    http://www.pcper.com/article.php?aid=669">http://www.pcper.com/article.php?aid=669

    Running the right or wrong benchies on the Intel can make it look great or horrible. X25-m is still nice but it has some serious issues too that the Samsung 256GB doesn't have.

    Quote from pcper on the intel x25-m "Once internal fragmentation reached an arbitrary threshold (somewhere around 40 MB/sec average write speed), the drive would seem to just give up on ‘adapting’ its way back to solid performance. In absence of the mechanism that normally tries to get the drive back to 100%, large writes do little to help, and small writes only compound the issue by causing further fragmentation. In several tests our write speeds dropped to 25-30 MB/s and simply refused to recover on their own, even with several successive passes of HDTach as well as any other application we could find to write a solid file across the entire drive."

    Although Anand did find a test to show the new OCZ's (similar but different to this samsung) to have degradation, while the Intel didn't. More thorough testing shows the Samsung never degrades to the levels that x-25m can and do, so Samsungs new MLC controller is superior in that regard.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Sunday, April 5, 2009 - link

    So it appears the X-25m issue maybe corrected by a new upcoming firmware, although that doesn't diminish the shining quality/price of this 256GB SSD. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, April 5, 2009 - link

    Again, I still stand by my statement: if you want an SSD, but one on your own, when and if the price is right. If the $400 Samsung SSD is great, it will still be great when it's available and tested separately at retail. It will probably also cost less than $400 at that point. If you can't or won't wait, certainly a 256GB SSD is a nice upgrade that provides sufficient storage while also boosting speed and reducing temperatures. It's still a very high-end option, and it's new enough that I would personally hold off pending further testing.

    The X25-M has been beat on as hard as any SSD out there, and the performance degradation issue only occurred (as far as I'm aware) after specific artificially produced read/write patterns. Intel has said they will fix the issue, and I don't doubt their claim. It appears they may have already done so. Will the Samsung avoid similar issues under artificial test conditions? Maybe, maybe not. It's not in enough hands at present to say with certainty that it's the best option, and waiting a month or two shouldn't hurt.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Monday, April 6, 2009 - link

    "Again, I still stand by my statement: if you want an SSD, but one on your own, when and if the price is right. If the $400 Samsung SSD is great, it will still be great when it's available and tested separately at retail. It will probably also cost less than $400 at that point."

    I don't know of any plans at this point to go retail on this drive, at least their wasn't recently. That is why OCZ licensed it from Samsung along with it being just for OEM channels like Apple, Dell, HP etc. The Summit will go for $999 and you somehow don't realize what a value this Samsung drive is at a $400 upgrade. That's ok, you obviously haven't seen it tested, can't hold it against you except you are leading people away from it without knowing it's quality. Which is why some of us spoke up I think. No way it would come to retail for less, if it ever was available.

    Like you said, SSD's are Anand's baby and until you see the new 256GB Samsung tested, you won't realize it is a next gen MLC drive (far different than the Sammy 128, OCZ apex 256, or G.skill 256). I don't hold it against you to not know it is above the crowd until it is tested, but I do think you are assuming it's in the group of crap SSD's by recommending people pass on this steal. Maybe if Anand tests it you guys will realize it is by far one of the best price/performance SSD's around, unfortunately it's only with a new PC. It may not dethrone the X-25M but it doesn't need to even though it out performs it in certain aspects, I don't need an Intel Extreme CPU either for 5% performance increase.

    Thanks for the review, I was just trying to let you know there is something that slipped under your radar. Hopefully some readers catch on to this if they order this laptop to know that the $325 - $400 Samsung 256GB upgrade is a steal compared to a Summit 256 @ $999 or a Intel 160 X-25M at $800. This is the same drive that is a $825 upgrade in MAC Book, and probably worth it. You'll need to see it tested because I followed this drive since it silently came on the scene in February, people are slow to catch on to it being a great SSD upgrade and that it's a steal for price/perf/capacity.

    Good review otherwise, I think this laptop is on of the best all around laptop, if not the best IMO, on the market right now. There are better gaming laptops but this just does everything right on so many all-around levels while keeping pricing reasonable for my needs. I'll be buying it soon, along with the Samsung 256GB SSD. ;)
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Monday, April 6, 2009 - link

    The value of the drive drops due to the hassle of buying it in a Dell, buying another drive, swapping the two, then selling the Dell just to get the SSD. Reply
  • Joelist - Monday, April 6, 2009 - link

    I don't see why the value drops. This is a superb laptop, and getting the SSD at 256GB for only $300 extra makes it even better. Reply

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