Top 10 desktop replacement laptops

With fast processors, gobs of RAM, 3D graphics, and large screens (16 inches or higher), these powerhouses make ideal replacements for desktop PCs

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Dell Studio 17 (model 1747)
Studio 17 (model 1747) Review, by Jon L. Jacobi July 7, 2010


Lots of screen acreage
Excellent performance

Lacks pizzazz
Confusing port arrangement

Bottom Line: Dell's Studio 17 is a solid design that comes in a wide variety of configurations.

With the average laptop, one sticky issue is the relatively small size of the display and keyboard--a necessary trade-off to keep users from suffering muscle strain while toting the notebook around. However, if you're looking for a system that you can keep in one location the majority of the time yet pack up easily to get it out of the way when necessary, you need a desktop replacement notebook. The Dell Studio 17--with its large, 17.3-inch display (1600-by-900 or 1920-by-1080) and its near-full-size keyboard--is affordable, offers desktoplike performance, and delivers all-around solid computing.

The model 1747 that Dell shipped us is relatively light for its size at just over 7 pounds, and it's fairly svelte at 16.28 by 11.04 by 1.10 inches (1.54 inches thick in the back, with the battery). This is not your dad's desktop replacement, and it might well make a suitable travel companion for the beefier among us.

The specs of the model 1747 are second tier for the Studio 17, which is available in a variety of lesser configurations and a couple of slightly meatier versions. Prices start at $699 (as of July 7, 2010), but the configuration we reviewed will run you a little over $1100. Our test unit arrived with a 1.6GHz/2.8GHz Core i7-720QM quad-core mobile processor, 4GB DDR3 memory, a 500GB hard drive, and the 1600-by-900 version of the 17.3-inch screen. Ours also featured a DVD burner, but you can opt for a Blu-ray drive, which is a nice match for the 1920-by-1080 version of the display. Connectivity is top-notch, with gigabit ethernet and 802.11n wireless on board.

Ergonomically, aside from the size of the unit, everything is in good order. As you'd expect from a desktop replacement, the keyboard is full-size, with the complete numeric keypad and cursor keys that you don't get with smaller units. The feel and feedback, though a tad on the soft and quiet side, still make for easy typing, and the battery at the back of the unit extends downward to give the whole system a nice tilt.

One could question, however, having to hold down the FN key to access the F1 through F12 function keys. On the Studio 17, the volume, screen brightness, CD playback control, and similar actions are the primary functions (not the secondary functions, as on other laptops) of the top row of keys. If you use the function keys a lot, you might find this setup annoying. The touchpad is responsive and adjusted nicely to avoid accidental taps, and it has a slight texture that makes it easy to find by feel.

The Studio 17 has all the usual ports, but they're arranged in a rather haphazard fashion. On the right are two USB 2.0 ports (one toward the rear, one up front), the flash-card reader, and a mini-IEEE 1394 port. On the left are a combo USB 2.0/eSATA port, an HDMI port, digital and DB-9 video out, and the gigabit ethernet connector.

One complaint I have with the 1747, as well as with a number of other laptops these days, is that the USB/eSATA port requires too much force to insert a flash drive; it's easy to think you might be putting your drive in the wrong port. Another gripe concerns the current trend of placing the similar-looking HDMI, USB, eSATA, and display ports next to one another. The industry needs to develop a color-coding scheme, as it did with audio, to avoid confusion and to prevent possible damage from users' inserting a device into the wrong port. It might also behoove vendors to return to placing less frequently used ports on the back of laptops.

The 1747's video and sound are both above average, though the former is not as splendid as it would be on a Studio 17 with a Blu-ray player and a 1080 screen. Video of all types, including a high-bit-rate 720 version of Star Trek and several HD Flash files, played off the hard drive, off the flash drive, and over the Web as smoothly as you could wish. Thanks to the SRS JBL speaker system, we could actually hear the kick drum in some songs--an unusual occurrence with a laptop--but high frequencies seemed a tad muted. Sound through a decent pair of headphones, as usual, offered superior fidelity.

Our test 1747 shipped with Windows 7 Home Premium and only a modicum of branding apps, such as the Dell Support Center, visible on the desktop. The laptop also has several genuinely useful applications (such as the Webcam utility), as well as some fun ones (such as a drum machine available from Dell's Touch Zone Lobby launch utility, which is a carousel that arcs over the bottom half of the desktop when active). Microsoft Office, Adobe Elements 8, and McAfee Security are also available software options.

Since the 1747 has a Core i7 CPU and a Radeon Mobility HD 4650 graphics processor, you'd expect great performance from this laptop--and you get it. The machine's WorldBench 6 score of 103 means that it has more than enough power to see you through any common computing task, and its gaming frame rates were well over 60 frames per second in all our tests. Let's just say that speed is not an issue with this laptop; It feels even perkier after you disable some of the useless background apps via Msconfig.

At 3 hours, 23 minutes, the 1747's battery life was quite good for a desktop replacement with this kind of performance. That's not international-flight length, but it will get you most of the way across the United States.

The Dell Studio 17 is a solid laptop and ships in a variety of configurations starting at $700, so almost anyone can afford the basics. Stock, it's a sedately handsome portable, but you can order it with a graphic or with a brighter color than our dark red on the lid to set your laptop apart from the crowd.

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