MSI looks to add executive chic to a winning laptop formula
Dell Studio Hybrid
Tiny and funky
- Small size, good performance, plenty of connectivity features, DVD burner
- The eject button for the DVD burner didn't always work — apart from that, we think it's great!
The Hybrid represents a new wave of small PCs that are actually small yet functional and quite affordable. If you're after a small PC, we think the Hybrid is the one to go for.
Price$ 999.00 (AUD)
The era of the tiny PC is finally upon us. And so is the cellophane era! Dell's Studio Hybrid is a funky-looking unit with the guts of a laptop and the physical stature of a large external optical drive. It's only 23cm tall, 21cm deep and 7cm wide, and it's very well featured.
With HDMI and optical audio ports, the unit is ripe for use as a media centre when connected to a big TV and a receiver; the only thing it's missing is a remote control and an integrated digital TV tuner. However, it does ship with a comfortable wireless keyboard and mouse. The front of the Hybrid has two USB ports, an SD memory card slot and a headphone jack.
The unit's most surprising feature is the slot-loading optical drive. Its slot is camouflaged and blends in perfectly with the overall design of the front panel — we didn't even notice it until we got the urge to watch The Matrix for the zillionth time. It makes the Hybrid the perfect PC-based DVD player for the lounge room, and of course you can load software with ease, too. This is one feature we wish the ASUS Eee Box B202 had, but the Hybrid is much thicker than the ASUS and approximately $570 more expensive.
The higher price isn't just due to the inclusion of an optical drive, but also the Intel Core 2 Duo T5750 CPU, which gives the unit a lot more grunt for office and media applications, as well as multitasking. It also has 2GB of DRR2 RAM, integrated Intel X3100 graphics and a 250GB Western Digital Scorpio WD2500BEVS notebook hard drive. These components combined to produce good results in our tests: 71 in WorldBench 6, 1min 34sec in the Blender 3D test, and 1min 33sec in the iTunes MP3 encoding test. These scores are what we expected from the unit's CPU, which runs at 2GHz with a 667MHz front-side bus.
The hard drive actually delivered a better performance than the Scorpio we originally reviewed over a year ago; we recorded a transfer rate of 19MBps for the Hybrid's drive, whereas the Scorpio we looked at last year recorded a rate of 16MBps. This result, coupled with the performance scores in our application tests, indicate that the Hybrid is a capable performer for office work as well as home entertainment. However, you won't want to use it for gaming, as it will be very slow. Its score of 524 in 3DMark06 demonstrates this.
Dell offers the Hybrid in a range of colours, but our favourite is the black version. We would prefer one without the cellophane-looking acrylic skin. There is an optional bamboo sleeve available, which looks very nice. Nevertheless, if you want a funky-looking PC any of the Hybrid units should please you.
Dell pre-installs all software so that the unit is ready to use from the get-go, and this includes a shortcut bar at the top of the screen is reminiscent of Apple's Dock but not nearly as useful. It has shortcuts to all the default Windows applications for playing movies, music and viewing photos. Basically, it has shortcuts to programs that can be more easily accessed from the Taskbar and Start menu. Another small gripe with the unit is the use of Microsoft Works 9 office suite. We'd prefer a free office suite to this, such as OpenOffice, which is more functional. There's nothing stopping you from installing this yourself, we just wish it was installed by default.
The keyboard and mouse that ship with the unit are comfortable to use, although the keyboard's rubber stops are too spongy, so the keyboard tends to move while you type. An external power adapter, similar to a laptop's, helps keep the size of the unit small. The unit doesn't make too much noise, except for its rear extraction fan, which did rattle ever so slightly during our tests.
Getting on the Internet won't be a problem with this unit; it ships with an integrated 802.11n wireless adapter (there's no external antenna, which keeps the unit looking very neat), as well as a Gigabit Ethernet port. You can use the three rear USB ports to add more functionality, such as a digital TV tuner. The two front USB ports provide easy access for USB sticks and external hard drives. A FireWire port will let you transfer video from a camcorder. With all of these connectivity features, the Hybrid is essentially a well-featured notebook that's been transfused into a different form factor without a screen. And that's not a bad thing.
In fact, it's a great thing. The Hybrid represents a new wave of small PCs that are actually small (not like the old Shuttle PCs), yet functional and quite affordable. If you're after a small PC, we think the Hybrid is the one to go for.
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