We examined Dell's new Studio line back in August and found an excellent 15in laptop, but one that was undermined by Dell's confusing pricing structure. Despite sitting just below Dell's own XPS range of laptops, it wasn't that much cheaper - which made the Studio 15 look like a poor deal. Would the larger 17in Studio laptop suffer the same fate and lose out to the Dell XPS M1730?
Appearance-wise, at least, the Studio is an instant success. It has the same row of white LEDs and "topographical" lines that we liked on the Studio 15 and there are plenty of customisation options, with 19 designs available for the lid alone. What's more, some of them are rather nice. If you opt for an alternate colour scheme you won't pay extra, but the designed lids cost an additional $98.
There are also lots of practical benefits to the Studio. The large trackpad is sunken into the sturdy chassis, has horizontal and vertical scroll areas, and the accompanying mouse buttons are both comfortable and light.
The keyboard is comfortable too. It's full-size with a separate number pad, and despite the slightly odd design - the top of each key stands slightly proud of the main body - it's a pleasure to type on.
The final part of the ergonomic puzzle - the glossy 17in LCD - isn't quite as good, partially because the native resolution of 1440 x 900 isn't up to the 1920 x 1200 offered by other 17in laptops we've reviewed. As with virtually every other aspect of the Studio 17, though, you can customise this - upgrading to a 1920 x 1200 resolution adds $270 to the price.
With the default screen in place, we'd be wary of using the Studio 17 for anything demanding picture-perfect colour reproduction: deep blacks and bright whites lacked definition, and we detected a slight green hue. Colours in games and movies also seemed a little pale. Despite this, detail is sharp and the screen is certainly good enough for general work or surfing the web.
You're offered yet more choice when it comes to the processor. The most basic model uses a Core 2 Duo 6400 Dual-Core, but a laptop such as this deserves more oomph. We'd recommend the 2.53GHz Intel's Core 2 Duo T9400 - for 6MB cache and 1066 FSB - over the base CPU or the alternate T6600 with 2MB cache and 800 FSB.
Supported by 4GB of RAM, the Studio 17 powered to a score of 1.35 in our 2D benchmarks - a mite slower than the A-Listed Asus M51Va. If you don't need this much power, the T6600 shaves $460 from the price.
The Studio 17 is available with either Intel or ATI's Mobility Radeon HD 3650 graphics - a step up from the Studio 15's HD 3450. In our low-quality Crysis test, the ATI-equipped Studio 17 managed a playable 39fps, with this figure dropping to 13fps when we upped the quality to medium and the resolution to 1280 x 1024. That's quick for a laptop, and compares favourably to the Asus M51Va, which uses the same graphics chip.
The powerful core components mean battery life isn't great. The Studio 17 managed 2hrs 30mins in our light-use test, with this figure falling to 1hr 17mins in our demanding heavy-use test. It isn't a hugely damning result, though, for a laptop that won't leave the mains too often.
There are four USB ports, plus eSATA, mini-FireWire, VGA and HDMI. Add an SD card reader, ExpressCard/54 slot, draft-n WLAN and Gigabit Ethernet and this Dell becomes one of the most well-connected laptops we've come across.
The review sample also included a 320GB hard disk, though you can opt for 500GB for $210 more or save $80 if you can live with a slower 250GB drive. But the problem for Dell is the cost of upgrades; if you want a Blu-ray drive, the price increases to $2725.
Make no mistake, the Studio 17 is an excellent laptop, but Dell's exquisite design is again undermined by price.
If you make a minor increase to your budget and spend it on an XPS M1730 or Asus' M51Va, you'll get either a more powerful gaming machine with oodles of power or an extremely competent, high-definition desktop replacement.