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Dell Studio Hybrid review

Verdict

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

Review Date: 22 Aug 2008

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £680 (£782 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
3 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
2 stars out of 6

Performance
3 stars out of 6

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.

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