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
Gigabit Ethernet
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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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - link

    I can't imagine Samsung is going to make a drive for OEMs where they charge $400, and it's so great that people will want one outside of a new system build... but then the price will be $1000 at retail. That's a 250% markup, which just seems too much. If it does happen that way, well, only a crazy person would spend $1000 for a drive that you can get for $400 with a new laptop. I think it will just be a couple months before the drives show up in quantity at retail (under a variety of brand names), and then prices will drop to whatever Dell is charging. 'Course, I could be wrong! (Wouldn't be the first time....) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - link

    Updated the text for you, regardless. Reply
  • MadBoris - Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - link

    I think it's only fair you didn't dis the drive for the same reason you can't recommend it, that it wasn't tested. So I think the change you made will benefit future readers.

    Although I have made all my points...which outside of testing are just here say.
    You are thinking in terms of markup in your last comment. If it ever comes out in retail it will be close to the performance and compete with the Summit, by then pricing will have to be more competitive than the $999 MSRP of the Summit, as they will compete. Still, the point isn't how much it would be marked up to, the point is how big of discount Dell is providing on this drive when they could charge much much more. It's a steal, but don't tell Dell I told you or it will change. It's like the celery 300a I got for $100 that out performed the fastest $800 chips, it was one of those bargains you come across, but with this one I don't have to do any tweaking.

    In 2 months there has not been any serious testing done on this drive unfortunately so it has been silently waiting for people.
    I consider all canned benchmarks crap when it comes to SSD's, even the best eye of those who follow SSD's can't truly interpret real world performance. Only real world tests and scripts will reveal anything pertinent.

    But here's a couple numbers of canned tests since that is all there is...
    I started a page for it at notebook review, that never took off and
    I stopped supporting a couple months back. Some charts there...">

    One of the only decent reviews is at RegisterHardware where it got an editors choice...But it's mostly misleading canned tests compared to x-25m and a couple others.">

    I think your text changes did a service to readers, rather than dissing it before you know what it really is.
  • Joelist - Sunday, April 5, 2009 - link

    Hi Jared,

    I like you think the Intel is best of breed.

    However, in the name of fairness the 256GB Samsung needs to be tested. I would imagine that if you and Anand contacted Dell and/or Samsung you should be able to get a sample unit for review.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, April 6, 2009 - link

    Anand is the man in charge of SSD testing, so that's his baby. I would guess that after the last SSD Anthology, there are plenty of companies interested in sending him more drives for testing. Samsung will be one of those, certainly, and there will be a follow-up down the road. Given he worked for about two months (more?) on the last article, it might be a while before the situation is clear. FWIW, many people are very happy even with JMicron "garbage" SSDs. Just because a lot of people don't have issues doesn't mean the issues aren't there. A lot of people just don't notice the low level delays. Reply
  • Joelist - Monday, April 6, 2009 - link

    It's good to know Anand will be looking at this SSD in the future, as it's new controller, cache and firmware make it easily the best SSD other than Intel.

    I havetested it in exactly the "stutter" scenario Anand described, and there is no stutter. no hesitation at all. I suspect the new controller plus the large cache are responsible.
  • MadBoris - Sunday, April 5, 2009 - link

    "I've updated the text to clarify, but even the Samsung SSDs aren't perfect, 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."

    You have no idea what you are missing, but unless you really followed this laptop and the debut of the 256GB SSD, which I did a couple months back, then it's no surprise.

    This new 256GB SSD is not to be confused with prior Samsungs like the 128GB SSD which is utter junk by comparison. This is the new 256GB Samsung SSD, with new controller, and it is a beast! It's MLC, while Intel is faster in certain areas, this is the first SSD I would consider for price/performance/storage.

    People are completely clueless about this 256GB SSD, because it's not in retail channels and yet is available for "only" a $400 upgrade.

    Model: PM800 2.5" 256GB
    Controller: 3C29RBB01-YK40
    Size and power: 2.5", 2.9 oz, 1.1 watts.
    Quoted Specs: Read:200-220 MB/s Write:160-200 MB/s
    Erase cycles: Run to 100GB per second.

    Some buy the cheap Dell laptop to turn around and sell the SSD for $800 - $1000.
    It's a best kept secret for that price/performance which even a lot of laptop reviewers don't seem to know. ;)

    It's not available in retail channels although OCZ is branding off the Samsung tech that lives in this 256GB SSD.

    With all your SSD coverage too bad you guys missed out on this jewel.
  • Joelist - Friday, April 3, 2009 - link

    Hi Jared,

    The Samsung SSD in the Studio XPS is their next gen one, with different firmware and such from the one Anand reviewed. This is the Computerworld review:">

    While I still think Intel SSDs are the best, this one is no slouch. And the next time Anand does SSD reviews he should review this one as well. Just my 2 cents.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 3, 2009 - link

    I thought the OCZ Summit was the new Samsung chip and firmware? Reply
  • Joelist - Friday, April 3, 2009 - link

    The Summit has a Samsung chip, that is true. This SSD is the actual Samsung SSD that they make in partnership with Dell. So it may be the same but may be different.

    As stated,it does not pause or stutter at all. Performance is very smooth and fast.

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