Dell Studio Hybrid: Small, Stylish... but Quiet?

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USE IMPRESSIONS

The clever visuals continue when the power is turned on. The Dell logos on the side light up, and filtered through the blue plastic sleeve of our sample, they glow blue. The hybrid logo and other switches on the front panel glow similarly.


Looks even cooler when powered up.

The supplied wireless keyboard is slightly lacking in tactile feel, but it's not bad, and the mouse works fine as well. The radio for these must be embedded inside the Studio Hybrid, because there's no antenna to be seen.

The default desktop screen is unique: A green theme that should appeal to lots of users.


Cool desktop screen.

The initial impression of performance is positive: It feels much like a mid- to low-end desktop PC or midrange notebook. Not blindingly fast in opening new windows and executing familiar tasks, but not dragging its heels, either. It feels fast enough for any SPCR-related content creation.

SPCR regulars are probably clamoring already: But how does it sound?! Well, not quite as good as it looks. Surprisingly, the single fan makes more noise than most similarly-equipped laptops with even smaller fans. The subjective impression is that it is not entirely the amplitude of the noise, which isn't that low, but the noise is exacerbated by its complex tonal quality.

Before we delve more deeply into the acoustics, let's test this PC for performance and value.

TEST METHODOLOGY

We decided that it was important to compare the performance and value of the Studio Hybrid against a similar system that a typical SPCR DIY reader could assemble using retail components. The comparative system was cobbled from likely parts on hand in the lab, a modest mini-ITX machine you could put together for less money compared to the configuration Dell sent us. In fact, if the Blue Ray drive of the second system was replaced with a more standard DVD bruner, the comparison system price would drop at least $50.

Dell Studio Hybrid Configuration: Price: ~$800 Comparison mini-ITX System Setup: Price: ~$700

Note that the comparison system was not actually built into the Thermaltake Lanbox, which is a large shoebox style SFF case. The case was included in the component list to make a complete system. All the other components were put together on an open test bench platform for actual testing.

This is not to suggest that a bigger breadbox style SFF like the Thermaltake Lanbox would be a seen as a viable consumer alternative to the much more stylish Studo Hybrid. Most would consider the latter too big to be directly comparable. But for SPCR DIYers, it may be a viable comparison. There are also a few small fanless mini-ITX cases, albeit with more limitations on component size, and at higher prices.

A more suitable comparison in terms of size is the fully assembled Asus Eee Box B202 that we reviewed a couple months ago. However, that smaller system is clearly outlassed in performance by the Studio Hybrid, not having any optical drive and powered only by a single-core Intel Atom processor. It's also selling for just $300 at Newegg these days. The yet-unavailable Eee Box B204 and B206, which offer HD video capability with hardware video decoding via ATI Radeon HD 3400 graphics, may be a closest competitor to the Dell SH.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Benchmarking Particulars

  • Eset NOD32: in-depth virus scan of a folder containing 32 files of varying size with of them being file archives.
  • WinRAR: archive creation with a folder containing 68 files of varing size (less than 50MB).
  • iTunes: conversion of a MP3 file to AAC
  • TMPGEnc Xpress: encoding an XVID AVI file to VC-1 (1280x720, 30fps, 20mbps)

SpeedStep was enabled, and the following features/services were disabled during testing to prevent spikes in CPU/HDD usage that are typical of fresh Vista installations:

  • Windows Sidebar
  • Indexing
  • Superfetch

Our main test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel), and to test the integrated graphics' proficiency at playing high definition video. Standard HD-DVD and Blu Ray discs can be encoded in three different codecs: MPEG-2, H.264 / AVC and VC-1. MPEG-2 has been around for years and is not demanding on modern system resources. H.264 and VC-1 encoded videos, on the other hand, are extremely stressful due to the complexity of their compression schemes and will not play smoothly (or at all) on slower PCs, especially those with antiquated video subsystems.

We use a variety of H.264/VC-1 clips encoded for playback on the PC. The clips are played with PowerDVD 8 and a CPU usage graph is created by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine the approximate mean and peak CPU usage. High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability on the part of the integrated graphics subsystem. If the video (and / or audio) skips or freezes, we conclude the board's IGP (in conjunction with the processor) is inadequate to decompress the clip properly.

Video Test Suite


1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
H.264: Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1 is encoded in H.264 with Apple Quicktime. The Quicktime Alternative 1.81 codec was used to make it playable in PowerDVD.


1080p | 24fps | ~7.5mbps
WMV3: Coral Reef Adventure trailer is encoded in VC-1 using the WMV3 codec (commonly recognized by the moniker, "HD WMV").


720p | 60fps | ~12mbps
VC-1: Microsoft Flight Simulator X trailer is encoded in VC-1 using the Windows Media Video 9 Advanced Profile (aka WVC1) codec — a much more demanding implementation of VC-1.


1920x1080 | 24fps | ~19mbps
VC-1: Drag Race is a recording of a scene from network television re-encoded with TMPGEnc using the WVC1 codec.



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