Jeremy's almost but not quite entirely moribund blog

Friday, October 17, 2008

First Impressions: Dell Studio 17 laptop

Dude! I got a Dell!  (Update: And I wish I hadn't--see the keyboard notes in bold below.  Sigh...)


Lately I've been looking to replace my five-year-old HP laptop with something a little more modern, something I can edit photos on and occasionally work from home on. Since my employer has an employee discount deal with Dell, I thought I'd check out their machines.

I was looking for something with a Core 2 Duo processor, 17" screen, keyboard with numeric keypad, > 250GB hard drive, and a decent video chip (not any Intel GMA, and I'm kind of scared of nVidia at the moment, so that leaves ATI). And it just so happens that the only reasonably priced laptop I found meeting these specs is the Dell Studio 17, so that's what I got.

Interestingly enough, I didn't actually get an employee discount because I bought a refurb from the Dell Outlet, which the discount program does not apply to. Oh well - it was still about $100 cheaper than a new one would have been even with my 7% discount - and more importantly, it could ship immediately, whereas a new machine would have taken about 10 days to build, and I wouldn't have gotten it in time for Microsoft's PDC conference, which my employer is sending me to in a little over a week.

Here are the speculations:
  • Core 2 Duo T5750 (2.0 GHz, 667MHz FSB)
  • 4GB DDR2-667 memory
  • 320GB 5400RPM HDD
  • 17" 1440x900 display (no dead pixels!)
  • Radeon HD 3650 video chip
  • Fingerprint reader (le woot; I didn't even notice that until after I ordered)
The machine is Web 2.0 Green (when you order from the outlet, you take what you can get; I actually delayed my order a bit when I logged in earlier and only Flamingo Pink was available). (Okay, they actually call it Spring Green, and my wife says it's not bright enough to be Web 2.0 Green and I should call it 1973 Green instead. But at least it's not pink.)

The machine set me back $769, which isn't bad at all for those specs. Of course it was a refurb, but it showed only very minor signs of use (and a green "refurb" sticker on the bottom).

Windows Vista Home Premium came installed (sigh, just the 32-bit version, so it only sees 3.5GB of the installed 4GB of memory). The Windows Experience Index scores are as follows:
  • Processor: 4.9
  • Memory: 4.5
  • Graphics: 5.7
  • Gaming: 4.9
  • Hard disk: 5.3
First impressions:
  • The display is big, bright, and looks nice and sharp. The text is small enough that I don't regret not being able to find a machine with a 1920x1200 WUXGA screen in the outlet store - I don't really feel cramped at 1440x900 like I was afraid I might.
  • The keyboard has a good feel to it.
  • Update: The keyboard feels nice to type on, but I've discovered since that it's terrible for gaming. Just awful. It seems, quite often, to not notice that a key has been released, leaving you spinning in circles until you press the key again so it can see the release event. Also, it cannot register certain combinations of 2 keys on the numeric keypad - 7 and 9 for one, and 3 and 4 for the other (the latter seriously impacting my ability to play Descent... sigh...)
  • Update Update: It's not just games.  If I type "34", "65", or "97" on the laptop's keypad, it does not register the second number if it is pressed before the first key is released (this happens often without me even trying).  Also, if I type "456", I see "4536".  This is a serious design flaw in the Studio 17's keyboard.  Serious enough to make me wish I hadn't bought this thing (but probably not serious enough for me to take the 15% restocking fee and two-way shipping hit).  Sigh... I'm never buying a Dell again.  This corner-cutting is unacceptable.
  • There actually was not a lot of crapware preinstalled.
  • The sound is... disappointing. Hollow. Granted, these are laptop speakers we're talking about, but I'd expect better from a laptop of this size. Also, it clicks occasionally while playing sounds. Frankly, my 5-year-old HP Pavilion ze4240 sounds better. Maybe with driver updates and some tweaking I can improve things. (The Bass Boost feature in the mixer helps quite a bit.)
  • The fans are pretty nonintrusive, and the laptop doesn't get too hot. (We'll see if that changes when I run some 3DMark tests later on.)
  • The recovery partition is a whopping 10GB, only half full, and it's positioned before the C: partition, which has two downsides: (1) it's in the fastest part of the disk, despite never being used, and (2) I can't just delete it and subsume it with ntfsresize. Oh well, I'm probably going to do a clean install of the x64 version of Vista anyway, if I can get Dell to send me a disc.


  • My company got me one a couple of weeks ago, and when the order was bungled and they resubmitted the order, I was upgraded to a Blu-ray player and downgraded to the integrated video.

    The latter is horrible: Windows Experience Index of 3.1.

    I also have a problem with the keyboard. I use the Windows key a lot - Windows-E for Explorer, Windows-R for the run dialog, etc. - and the stupid thing misses the key up, so I inadvertently lock the machine the moment I type L.

    Our IT guy is looking into exchanging it for the original ATI config, but even so, I'm seriously considering ponying up my own cash and getting a 17" PowerBook instead.

    By Blogger I, Robot, at 12:41 PM  

  • Ugh. Yes, the Windows key thing happens ALL THE TIME. Seriously annoying. I was wondering if it's a bug in ATI's video driver's keyboard hook (for display hotkeys), but if you've got the GMA then you don't have that program, so I guess not.

    On the plus side, Dell actually did ship me an x64 Vista DVD, so I have all 4GB of memory now.

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 1:46 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home