Dell has made good use of the main chassis for its Studio series laptops. When we reviewed the Studio XPS 13 model, it raced along with a very fast 2.53GHz processor, leather trim and SSD for storage. But if your budget doesn't extend to the £888 this 13in-screen model has now been generously reduced to (from £1199 when we reviewed it), Dell has more affordable versions available, including this 15in-screen Studio 15 - now sporting a brand-new Intel Core i5 dual-core processor.
Note that specs and prices of Dell computers can be something of a moving target. In fact our review of this Studio 15 laptop had to undergo major rewriting to accomodate a change from a 2.1GHz Intel dual-core sample, at just £479, to this model with fresher 2.4GHz Core i5. At time of press this version is £579, but be prepared to see more spec and price revisions on Dell's ever evolving web market.
Build quality and overall look and feel remain superb. This Dell Studio 15 feels classier than any circa-£500 laptop we've seen before. The chassis is sturdy and creak-free, and includes a host of useful connection options. At 2.7kg, though, it's no ultraportable.
As well as HDMI and VGA video outputs, there are three USB ports - two on the left, one on the right - with one of the left-hand USBs doubling as an eSATA connector. There's even a mini FireWire 400 port. And complementing the SD card reader on the right is an ExpressCard 34 slot for further expansion possibilities.
We were also impressed by the Dell Studio 15's keyboard and trackpad. While the keyboard may be a touch clankier in action than our memory of the Studio XPS recalls, it was still comfortable in use. The touchpad meanwhile was incredible silky and responsive, a little small but one of the best at any price, when so many manufacturers cut corners by fitting cheaper low-grade devices here.
The two mouse click buttons are slightly recessed but are nevertheless easier to use than the long-travel buttons we remember of the Studio XPS 13. There's even a £30 option to fit an Apple-style white-LED backlit keyboard.
Dell preinstalls its Dell Dock (courtesy of developer Stardock) at the top of the Windows 7 desktop. We wonder if this cheeky clone is a tacit hint to Microsoft from Dell that Windows 7 didn't go quite far enough in copying Mac OS X's interface.
Screen quality was better than average, a glossy widescreen panel of 1366x768 resolution, with crisp definition. Given the high build quality and great trackpad we were nearly inclined to overlook the usual eye-strain posed by this glaring reflective screen. Our final model of the quite came with an Intel Core i5-520M CPU running at 2.4GHz. Intel's built-in Turboboost feature soups this up to 2.93GHz when conditions allow.
But it's easy enough to configure as your taste and budget allows, up to a Core i7-820QM apparently. Other options include Bluetooth for another £30, or a full-HD widescreen panel, and wireless-n networking. And if you feel like sprucing up more than the internal components, Dell also offers dozens of colourful patterns to customise the lid back.
The Core i5-equipped Studio 15 proved a very quick machine, logging a sterling score of 103 points in our WorldBench 6 speed test. For context, that's quicker than this month's Best Buy in the £500 Top 5 Charts. We did notice the Core i5 version seemed to run a little hotter, with the fan kicking in more frequently.
Battery life of this Dell Studio 15 suffered a little from the new chip. Our first dual-core sample stretched to 260 mins in the MobileMark 2007 Productivity test. With a Core i5 onboard, this figure dropped to 225 mins - or 3hrs 45mins. A 9-cell battery is an option which ought to break the five-hour barrier.
Thanks to a true discrete ATI graphics card, the Dell Studio 15 was quite up to playing modern 3D games. The Mobility Radeon HD 4570 includes 512MB of dedicated video RAM, helping it along to a smooth 36 frames per second in our top-spec FEAR game test.
Dell's design of Studio chassis is a sound foundation for building a solid laptop. Dell has managed to equip the very latest Studio 15 with enough performance and ports to make it an outstanding notebook in the key areas of comfort, longevity and outright speed. It’s a little heavier than the competition but it feels like it’s built to last. At this price, and with this performance and build, it’s laptop Gold.