Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dell Studio XPS 1645 review

I got a new work laptop the other day and i thought i 'd share some of my thoughts.

Quick specs
  • Intel Core i7 Q820 1.73GHz
  • 2x4GB DDR3 RAM @ 667MHz
  • Samsung PM800 2.5" 128gb SSD HDD
  • Radeon HD 4670 w/ 1GB RAM
  • 16" 16:9 RGBLED screen (1920x1080) w/ 2MP webcam
  • Intel 5300 802.11 AGN wifi + bluetooth
  • 8x DVD+/- RW optical drive
  • 9-cell 85Wh battery
  • Weight 6.4lb (2.9kg)

The design of this laptop is mostly OK. Unlike most Dell laptops however, this one is surprisingly well built. And while it looks stylish and nice at first, it's also got some faults that later come to light, some bigger than others.

Ports and layout:
The laptop has all its ports on the sides and personally i consider that a major design flaw on a desktop replacement such as this. Most things that get cables plugged into them (usb, network, power, video, etc.) should be on the back because when you have all of them connected it's easier to move the laptop and less clutter. Being constricted on 1 side (back) is better than being constricted on 2 (left and right).

On the right side we have: 54mm Express Card slot, 8-in-1 Media Card Reader, 1394a port, slot-loading 8x DVD+/- RW drive, USB/e-SATA port and AC. I like the slot loading mechanism, especially for a laptop and i think more manufacturers should use them. Placing the optical drive on the right side of a laptop is not a wise choice tho. Most people are right handed and when using an external mouse you have to move it out of the away when inserting or ejecting a disk. It should go on the left side in my opinion.

On the left side we have: VGA, network, display port, HDMI, 2 USBs, mic in, and 2 headphone jacks. I think the VGA port has outlived its usefulness and should be replaced at least by a DVI port. Also having both display port and HDMI is pretty redundant. At least one more USB port would be nice, after all the laptop is most likely to be used as a desktop replacement and not a portable computer.

The speakers located on both sides of the keyboard and provide good sound quality.

The laptop has a 16" RGBLED edge-to-edge glossy screen, 16:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 1920x1080. On top it has a 2MP webcam with good video quality and 2 microphones. The screen looks very bright and colorful offering very good horizontal viewing angles (and not as good vertical ones, especially when looking from below) but being glossy you can use it as a mirror when dark surfaces are displayed. It can be challenging to view outdoors. I don't like the fact that the display doesn't open past ~120 degrees:

This is how bright the screen is compared to an old Dell Precision M90 (on the left) both on maximum brightness:

Keyboard and touchpad:

The touchpad is medium in size with 2 large buttons on it, placed an inch or so to the left from center. It's semi-glossy, meaning it's not as glossy as the palm rest area but not matte either - your finger sticks to it a little bit. It's certainly not as a bad as HP laptops but completely matte would have been best. I would have liked a bigger (and centered) touchpad since there's clearly enough room for it between the keyboard and the edge of the laptop.

The back-light keyboard is big with large easy-to-type keys, however the layout is a bit weird. Dell made a bad design decision putting the speakers on the sides of the keyboard therefore limiting its width. This led to a crammed layout with an extra row of keys on the right and un-separated directional buttons. Had the speakers been above the keyboard or on the lower edge of the laptop, it could have accommodated a perfectly spaced layout, with all the buttons being where they're supposed to. The back-light has 3 settings - high, medium and off and here's how it looks in the dark on high:

Battery and AC adapter:
The laptop came with a 9-cell 85Wh battery rated for 4h51m. As you can see in the pictures it sticks out and raises the back of the laptop almost an inch off the table. A regular 6-cell battery would improve aesthetics greatly.

The power adapter that the laptop came with is a small one, rated for only 90W of power. There seems to be some issues with it not providing enough juice to run the laptop in high-performance mode, there's a lengthy discussion about it on Dell's forums. A regular 130W one is recommended. I've had a bit of a problem with the AC adapter. The center pin in the connector that goes into the laptop was bent, out of the box. I forced it in and broke it. Now it will keep the laptop running but will not charge the battery. Crappy Dell quality control :(

The laptop comes with windows 7 home premium 64-bit. Out of the box, it's quite fast. It boots from power-on to login screen in 28 sec. Shut down takes 7 seconds from clicking the button to power-off. The OS and all the bundled software take about 25gigs. After a clean reinstall that is reduced to 21gigs (8 of those are swap space).

Windows experience index:
On AC power in "High Performance" profile - 6.7

Super PI for 1mil and 8mil (on AC power):
One would think that (13 * 8) = 104 but one would be wrong :)

CrystalDiskMark and HD Tune Pro:

On AC power in "High Performance" profile - 10819
On battery power in High Performance" profile - 9260 - that's 16% slower than AC

On AC power in "High Performance" profile - 6792

On battery power in "High Performnce" profile - 5293 - that's 28% slower than AC
Wi-fi speed (on AC power):
Tested on Asus RT-N16 b/g/n wireless router at a distance of 5 feet (2 meters).

On 802.11g it averages to 2.35MB/s - aprox. 40% link utilization

On 802.11n it connects at 144Mbps and averages to 10.2MB/s - aprox. 60% link utilization

What's in the box
Battery, AC adapter, cloth pouch, windows 7 installation cd, drivers cd.

- great specs
- great edge-to-edge screen
- back-light keyboard
- slot loading optical drive
- relatively thin
- good build quality

- bad ergonomics (all ports on the sides, small touchpad, bad keyboard layout)
- only 3 USB ports
- glossy screen, doesn't open all the way

It takes more than slapping the latest and greatest components together to make a good laptop. It seems little ergonomics research has gone into the design of this one. That being said, it's super fast and should provide great performance for any type of activity, gaming included.


Fhuete said...

Hello, Nice review! Exactly what I was looking for to compare my configuration. (If you still have the xps)
I have the exact same configuration with a 256 pm800 SSD, but my WEI is 5.9 since the disk data transfer is at 5.9. All other rates are exact same.
Could you tell me which driver you are using for the AHCI mode? The Intel matrix storage 8.9 or the new Intel rapid storage 9.6? And which firmware does your SSD have?
I dont know if that score is “that” trustable, but since its low it should mean something??

k1ba said...

Thanks Fhuete, here are my numbers:

Driver Version:
Serial ATA Plug-In Version:
Language Resource Version of the Serial ATA Plug-In:
ISDI Library Version:

Hard Drive 0
Status: Normal
Device Port: 0
Device Port Location: Internal
Current Serial ATA Transfer Mode: Generation 2
Model: SAMSUNG SSD PM800 2.5" 128GB
Serial Number: xxx
Firmware: VBM24D1Q
Native Command Queuing Support: Yes
Size: 119.2 GB

Did you run crystal disk mark? I wonder how those numbers compare.

Fhuete said...

For CDM read numbers are almost the same but write numbers were very low..I rolled back to the same intel driver and i'm seeing better numbers 141.1 for seq write. The WEI is up to 6.5 for the SSD HD. Still away from your 6.9 but looking better..

Fhuete said...

Can you run HD tune pro benchmark and post the results?

k1ba said...

I posted the HD Pro results, see the review.

Brandon said...

I am having the same problem. I have a new Dell Precision M4500 with the same specs, but a Quadro FX1800m.

The SSD has great read speeds but terrible write. I can't get past 28MB/s on the write.

I am running 9.0 driver on the intel SATA Raid controller, but I think there has to be something wrong.

If possible, would you be able to post the IDE/ATA and Raid storage controller you are using. Also, do you know where I could grab the 8.9 driver?

I really appreciate any help.

Thank you.

k1ba said...

Intel Serial ATA Controller: Intel(R) PCHM SATA AHCI Controller 6 Port. I might be able to find the driver if you need it.