Dell Studio Hybrid review

22 Aug 2008

Compact and perfectly formed, the Studio Hybrid is hamstrung by its poorly thought out mix of components.

Price when reviewed: 
782(£799 inc VAT)
3

Desktop PCs may have begun life as oversized beige boxes, but the onward march of miniaturisation is very much in evidence this month. The Asus Eee Box has the ultra-low budget market covered, but many still want a decent level of performance from their mini-PC. Enter the Studio Hybrid, Dell's long-awaited addition to the small form-factor fray.

We have to admit to being rather underwhelmed by the Hybrid when we were first introduced at an initial briefing. Short, round and rather squat, it didn't match what we'd expected from the design minds that brought us the gorgeous XPS M1330 and M1530 laptops. But, several weeks and one freshly delivered review unit later, we must admit it's actually become rather alluring.

Our model came shod with the standard Slate Grey shell and, partnered with the glossy black fascia and gently glowing Dell logo, it exudes understated class. Set it next to a fine-looking TFT or in the shadow of a huge HDTV and, while it's not the slimline beauty we might have hoped for, it won't disgrace itself. And if the Slate Grey shell is just that bit too understated for your tastes, different coloured options are available for £29 apiece. More exotic tastes, and wallets, can opt for the supremely expensive Bamboo shell, which costs £90.

Delve beneath the glossy looks, though, and there's a convincing specification lurking beneath. The Intel Core 2 Duo T8100, running at 2.1GHz, is the fastest CPU on offer in the range and, while our sample came with just 2GB of memory, it comes as welcome news that all Studio Hybrids will be shipping with 3GB as a bare minimum. Storage is catered for by a 320GB laptop hard disk and the price above also includes a snazzy slot-loading Blu-ray reader/DVD writer.

Muted performance

As the Hybrid uses laptop parts, the score of 1.00 in our benchmarks - equivalent to a 3.2GHz Pentium D system - comes as little surprise. It's plenty for everyday tasks, but some way behind the 1.36 of Transtec's Senyo 610 and, for the sake of comparison, barely any faster than the 0.97 of a £425 laptop, the Samsung R510. If it's real desktop PC power in a shoebox you're looking for, the Hybrid isn't too obliging.

It's also a tad disappointing, in this current configuration at least, as "Dell's greenest consumer desktop". Sitting idle on Vista's Aero-coated desktop, the Hybrid drew a modest 26W - a result which compares favourably to the Transtec's 31W. Upping the ante, however, the Dell consumed a far less impressive 45W at full tilt, leaving it swallowing a whole 9W more than the significantly quicker Transtec. With Dell intending to eventually furnish the Hybrid with Intel's recently announced dual-core Atom processor, it'll be interesting to see whether that provides a better blend of performance and efficiency.

But one thing's for sure - there just isn't enough power here to do the Blu-ray drive justice. DVI, HDMI and an optical digital output are all ready to ensconce the Hybrid in the finest of home cinema setups, but the accompanying Intel integrated graphics let the side down. With the GMA X3100 chipset lacking the dedicated hardware to decode H.264 and VC1 streams (unlike its newer cousin, the GMA X4500), the hard work is left to a dedicated Broadcom BCM70010 video decoder sitting in one of the Hybrid's mini-PCI slots. The only problem is, it doesn't really work very well.

Details

Price ex VAT £680
Price inc VAT £782
Overall rating 3
Performance 3
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 2

Warranty

Warranty 1 year(s) collect and return

Basic specifications

Total hard disk capacity 320
RAM capacity 2.00GB
Screen size N/A

Processor

CPU family Intel Core 2 Duo
CPU nominal frequency 2.10GHz
CPU overclocked frequency N/A
Processor socket LGA 775

Memory

Memory type DDR2

Graphics card

3D performance setting High
Graphics chipset Intel GMA X3100
Graphics card RAM 384MB
DVI-I outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
DisplayPort outputs 0

Hard disk

Capacity 320GB
Hard disk usable capacity 320GB
Internal disk interface SATA
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Hard disk 2 make and model N/A
Hard disk 2 nominal capacity N/A
Hard disk 2 formatted capacity N/A
Hard disk 2 spindle speed N/A
Hard disk 2 cache size N/A
Hard disk 3 make and model N/A
Hard disk 3 nominal capacity N/A
Hard disk 4 make and model N/A
Hard disk 4 nominal capacity N/A

Drives

Optical disc technology Blu-ray reader
Optical disk 2 make and model N/A
Optical disk 3 make and model N/A

Monitor

Monitor make and model N/A
Resolution screen horizontal N/A
Resolution screen vertical N/A
Resolution N/A x N/A
Pixel response time N/A
Contrast ratio N/A
Screen brightness N/A
DVI inputs N/A
HDMI inputs N/A
VGA inputs N/A
DisplayPort inputs N/A

Additional Peripherals

Speakers N/A
Speaker type N/A
Peripherals N/A

Case

Case format Mini ITX
Dimensions 71 x 211 x 196mm (WDH)

Free drive bays

Free front panel 5.25in bays 0

Rear ports

USB ports (downstream) 5
FireWire ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 1
Modem no

Front ports

Front panel USB ports 2
Front panel memory card reader yes

Mouse & Keyboard

Mouse and keyboard Dell wireless desktop

Operating system and software

OS family Windows Vista

Noise and power

Idle power consumption 26W
Peak power consumption 45W

Performance tests

Overall application benchmark score 1.00
Office application benchmark score 0.97
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.11
Encoding application benchmark score 0.93
Multitasking application benchmark score 1.02
3D performance (crysis) low settings 0fps
3D performance setting High