Of course, this being a Dell machine, a larger part of the appeal is customisability of the Studio 15 – something few of the larger manufacturers offer these days. Unfortunately, before we get into the variety of potential configurations on offer and the cost of these, it’s worth noting that Dell still hasn’t moved to Centrino 2 for the Studio 15. This is, truth be told, a little annoying given most other manufacturers have done so though it’s somewhat forgiveable given the Studio range’s emphassis on packing in the features yet maintaining a reasonable price.
As things are though, the Studio 15 is based on the Santa Rosa spec (Centrino 2 being Montevina) GM965 Express chipset, into which is plugged a 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD3450 – a fairly capable discrete graphics solution that should allow you to play the likes of Spore quite comfortably. This is, regrettably, the only option available at the moment and you can’t deliberately opt for integrated graphics (a move which would increase battery life) since this is what is offered by the excellent Inspiron 1525.
Processor offerings include the Intel Core 2 Duo T5750 (2.0GHz), T8100 (2.1GHz), T8300 (2.1GHz) and the top of the range 2.5GHz T9300. Excluding the T5750, the budget option here, all are 45nm Penryn CPUs offering an 800MHz Front Side Bus – less than the 1,066MHz on the new Centrino 2 chips. You can choose RAM in configurations of 2GB, 3GB and 4GB (all 667MHz DDR2) and hard drive options start with a 160GB 5,400 rpm and end at 320GB, with a 7,200rpm 160GB drive also an option.
As standard you get an 8x DVD+/-RW optical drive, but an extra £100 will get you a Blu-ray ROM/DVD+/-RW combo drive – something you’ll probably want to match with the improved WLED screen! Bluetooth is an optional extra costing £30 and while you do get regular 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Draft-N Wi-Fi is only an extra £10, which makes you wonder why it isn’t just standard really. Other premium options include integrated HSDPA (£130), a biometric fingerprint reader (£30) and a nine-cell 85 WHr extended battery (£70), the standard one being an ample six-cell 56 WHr affair.
Our review system consisted of a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo T8300, 2GB DDR2 RAM and a 250GB hard drive, with the WLED 1,440 x 900 screen, Blu-ray drive, fingerprint reader, Bluetooth and Draft-N Wi-Fi making up the optional extras. All this would set you back £850 and downgrading to a 2.1GHz T8100 and removing the arguably superfluous fingerprint reader would bring this down to £759, not much more than the £729 asking price of the similarly featured HP Pavilion dv5-1011ea and this still with the WLED screen. Remove that and you’re looking at just under £670, leaving you with cash to spare to upgrade the RAM or select a coloured lid. All of which demonstrates that the Studio 15 offers very good value for money, even if it’s more desirable features will result in paying a premium.
Before we move onto how all this performs, however, some mention must be made of a small software addition to Studio 15: the Dell Dock. As you can see above it’s similar in appearance to the icon docks used in after market software for Windows and inspired by Apple. Above you can see it is spit into categories (such as email, web, photos, music, video and so forth) with each opening a drop down menu of relevant programs. It’s a rather neat little thing and helps to maintain an uncluttered desktop, or simply create more space to add clutter!