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Once upon a time Dell's notebook PC range was pretty straightforward: Inspiron for the mainstream consumer, XPS for the enthusiast, Latitude for the business user and Precision for the specialists - easy. However, in the last year or so, Dell has strived to complicate matters, launching the Vostro brand for small businesses, the Studio range for "upmarket" consumers and now the Studio XPS range which is...some kind of amalgam between the those two brands one would assume. Clearly someone at Dell has discovered a large leveraging tool in their desk and has been up-selling synergies with abandon, the latest spawn of this activity being the Studio XPS 13.
Based on a 13.3in display, its variety of design cues indicate that the Studio XPS 13 (also known as the 1340) is clearly an attempt to create a Windows alternative to the much fabled and somewhat pricey Apple MacBook. Though it can't boast anything like the inspired unibody enclosure, its chassis does attempt to create a similar look and feel through its unbroken lines, seamlessly integrated ports and the ever attractive presence of an edge-to-edge display cover. And, though the immediate visual impact isn't quite so exhilarating, replete in its glossy black finish with silver accents the Studio XPS 13 strikes an attractive pose.
Similarities, albeit subtle, between this and the MacBook don't end in design either, because the Studio XPS 13 also utilises nVidia's impressive 9400M integrated graphics chipset. This offers integrated graphics performance that far outstrips anything offered by Intel. Dell has even gone one step further, offering discrete graphics options to enable Hybrid SLI, harnessing the power of both the discrete graphics and the integrated graphics to enhance performance in GPU intensive applications.
Of course, as nVidia is keen to point out, this doesn't mean just games since the number of applications slated to support GPU acceleration and CUDA continues to grow. Our model, however, sticks with just the integrated graphics and unless you're convinced you need the extra graphical grunt, it does the job admirably. In Trackmania Nations Forever it achieved a respectable 46.1fps at medium detail and though on its own it won't chomp through the most recent releases, even reasonably advanced older games can be played at a decent level of quality.
Returning to more superficial matters for a moment, though, one unusual touch on the Studio XPS 13 is a strip of black leather running across the lower quarter of the lid. This isn't the first time we've seen leather on a notebook, Asus has a particular fondness for it, but we do wonder about the wisdom of having such a material on the outside of the machine. It's bound to scuff when faced with rough surfaces and as far as we can see Dell hasn't added shoe polish and a brush to the usual polishing cloth to help keep the notebook looking its best.
Separate to the durability fears, though, it's a somewhat incongruous addition to the design; as if it were added at the last minute to add a little premium touch to the otherwise all plastic chassis. Whatever the reasoning, it seems unnecessary and though, as mentioned earlier, the Studio XPS 13 isn't ugly by any means, its pursuit of MacBook-esque sleekness and attractiveness means it lacks the more colourful flair offered by the XPS M1330, the model this is almost certainly replacing.