Dell Studio XPS 13

The Dell Studio XPS 13 is a comfortable 13.3in laptop but it isn't without its faults.

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Dell Studio XPS 13
  • Dell Studio XPS 13
  • Dell Studio XPS 13
  • Dell Studio XPS 13
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Quick 7200rpm hard drive, screen has good brightness and colour, comfortable keyboard, backlit keyboard

Cons

  • Screen obstructs the air vent, generates plenty of heat, stacsv.exe process occupied 50 per cent of the CPU all the time, poor battery life unless using "power save" mode in Vista

Bottom Line

The Dell Studio XPS 13 looks good and it is a good performer. However, this notebook produces a lot of heat and has some problems with its installed audio driver. Go for it if you want plenty of speed along with portability, but be sure to disable its stacsv.exe process and watch out for the heat while it's on your lap.

Would you buy this?

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The Dell Studio XPS 13 is a 13.3in notebook that is ideal for travellers, home users and even business users who want something stylish and affordable. It's small, light (2.2kg) and relatively thin. Its latch-less screen and illuminated keyboard are nice touches, as is the slot-loading DVD burner. But it's not all good news.

Its standard battery life is short (it lasted only 1hr 26min in our DVD rundown test while using the full capacity of its NVIDIA graphics card), it's easily tarnished by fingerprints, and the Dell Studio XPS 13's air vents are obscured by the screen.

The vent obstruction was especially noticeable after running our WorldBench 6 benchmark suite — in which the notebook scored a zippy 93 — as the bottom-left corner of the screen and the left side of the laptop got noticeably hot. If the screen's hinges didn't bring the screen back over the spine of the base, instead allowing the screen to sit above it, then it would not hinder the heat extraction process.

Nevertheless, the Studio XPS 13 is comfortable to use when rested on your lap, as it's not too heavy and it's not unbalanced. You can put the screen right back without the laptop falling off your lap; most pleasing, however, are the keyboard and screen. The keyboard has full-sized keys and none of them are in awkward positions. They feel solid to the touch and produce crisp bounce-back. It's one of the nicest keyboards we've used on a 13.3in laptop.

Night owls will appreciate the keyboard light, which illuminates the keys from below. The letters show up clearly when the light is on, and you can select from two levels of brightness. It's a better way of illuminating the keyboard than Lenovo's screen-mounted down light, but we wish that the media shortcut keys were also attached to the same lighting system so that they could be switched off, too.

The screen has a resolution of 1280x800 and uses LED backlighting. It's a vibrant screen and it possesses good brightness. It's easy to use even while in direct sunlight; in shaded areas it's even easier. Despite the screen having a glossy coating reflections were not a problem.

Under the bonnet the Studio XPS 13 has an Intel Core 2 Duo P9500 CPU, which runs at 2.53GHz. It's coupled with 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive. The latter spins at 7200rpm and is a big reason for the Studio XPS 13's fast performance in WorldBench 6. It also recorded an average transfer rate of 32.32MBps when copying data from one location on the drive to another. This shows that the Studio XPS 13 is well suited to disk-intensive tasks.

Using iTunes, the laptop's 2.53GHz CPU took 1min 7sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s, which is exactly what we expected. Its time of 1min 10sec in the Blender 3D test was also right on the money.

It's hard to fault the Studio XPS 13 when it comes to application performance — that's been the hallmark of XPS machines since their inception — and its 3D graphics performance was also solid. It's not a beast for gaming, but it features hybrid graphics that allow it to be optimised either for speed or battery life. The NVIDIA GeForce 9500M (GeForce 9400M G + GeForce 9200M GS) graphics adapter scored 3416 in 3DMark06, which means it will be able to run older DirectX 9 games; it will struggle with newer DirectX 10 titles. When running in power saving mode, the Studio XPS 13 will use the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M G on its own, and this scored 2043 in 3DMark06.

There is no easy way to switch between these modes, either through a physical hardware switch or a keyboard combination; it can only be manipulated by changing the Windows Vista power modes. Switching the power mode to "Power saver" produced a better result in our DVD rundown test, with the battery lasting 2hr 13min.

We tested by disabling all the background processes, as we usually do for all laptops, but we noticed that when we left them running, 50 per cent of the CPU (that is, one core) would be consumed by the stacsv.exe process, which is part of the audio driver. This was running all the time and constantly hogging half the CPU power. We disabled it and it didn't really seem to affect any of the notebook's functionality.

The Dell Studio XPS 13 has modern conveniences built into its edges, including an eSATA/USB 2.0 combination port, HDMI, DisplayPort, D-Sub, FireWire, an SD card slot and an ExpressCard/54 slot. It has two headphone jacks, which will be useful when you want to share a movie or some tunes with your better half while you travel. You also get a built-in webcam.

We like the overall design of the Studio XPS 13, which is reminiscent of the Lenovo IdeaPad because of the shape of its chassis, and the Sony VAIO VGNTT15GNR because of its keyboard.

If it didn't get so hot, and if its audio driver didn't chew 50 per cent of the available CPU capacity, we'd give this laptop a higher rating, because despite these things it is a joy to use.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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