Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dell Introduces Slick Studio Hybrid PC

Desktop PCs are, to be blunt, not particularly eye-catching. But Dell's new Studio Hybrid does just that, making an impression with its style and decidedly un-PC-like design. And its price will make you take note, too: A basic configuration starts at $499, without monitor; with monitor, $689.

The first thing you'll wonder about the Studio Hybrid: Where'd they put the computer components that make this gracefully curved, ovally shaped device a bonafide PC? The Studio Hybrid's physical dimensions put it in line with what a typical external DVD burner (with a half-height, desktop-sized drive inside) would require. Except in this case--you get a whole PC, as well as a DVD burner.

Dell bills the Studio Hybrid as being 80 percent smaller than a typical desktop. The company also says the Energy Star 4.0-compliant system uses about 70 percent less power than a typical desktop.

The system can be set in a vertical or horizontal configuration; the glowing blue Dell logo is on the top and bottom (or left and right, if vertical) of the unit, and the name "Hybrid" will automatically orient itself depending upon whether you stand the computer vertically or horizontally. The unit comes with a stand; the stand's two tabs help the Hybrid stay upright.

The Hybrid's clever design packs tons of functionality into its compact package. The ports (HDMI, DVI, gigabit ethernet, a Kensington lock, SP/DIF, and line-in and line-out; a 4-pin FireWire 400 port and three USB 2.0 ports) are all neatly arranged in the back, which helps with cable management. And up front, you'll find a slot-loading 8X dual-layer DVD burner at left (if vertical), and a headphone jack, two more USB ports, and an 8-in-1 memory card reader at right. Come August, you can upgrade the DVD burner to a slot-loading DVD burner/Blu-ray Disc reader, instead.

Dell achieves this feat of miniaturization by using notebook computer components, including Intel Pentium Dual Core and Core 2 Duo CPUs, and 2.5-inch, 5400 RPM notebook hard drives (160GB, 250GB, and 320GB capacities). You also get a choice of 1GB to 4GB of shared system and video memory; options for built-in draft 802.11n Wi-Fi, a TV tuner, or a wireless keyboard and mouse. But, since the system is not expandable (or user-serviceable), you have no graphics option beyond its integrated Intel graphics.

The unit comes with a smoky gray plastic sleeve that sticks out about an inch beyond the chassis itself; this means that the cables coming out the back are mostly tucked within this sleeve. Want a different color to better match your setting or personality? Dell will be offering seven colors in all, including green, red, blue, and orange.

What's most notable about this system is that you're not paying a gigantic premium for the miniaturized design--prices start at $499. This is a first--and a testament to the mainstream status of notebook components.

The physical size, aesthetics, and basic specs of the Studio Hybrid have whet my appetite. The idea of having a stylish, unobtrusive system like this to connect to my television is particularly enticing; suddenly, using a PC as a digital video recorder feels plausible (though I'd want remote control, too, if I were to use the PC that way). But first, I look forward to seeing how this unit performs on our PC WorldBench 6 tests. Stay tuned for our results.