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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dell Introduces Slick Studio Hybrid PC

Monday, July 28, 2008 9:01 PM PT Posted by Melissa Perenson

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.

Acer Aspire One Mini-Notebook (Preview)

A hands-on peek at the next big mini-notebook.

Darren Gladstone, PC World

Jun 22, 2008 10:00 am
Asus, watch your back. You've been coasting for a while on the Eee PC. Oh, sure, it's cheap and tiny, but you've got serious competition waiting in the wings. Acer provided us with a preview (preproduction) unit of the upcoming Aspire One, which may be priced as low as $400; and after kicking the tires for about a week, I'm ready to shed my high-end portable in favor of a sub-$500 netbook (as some people call this class of basic mini-notebook).

Why the conversion? For starters, it's fairly light and lean (weighing 2 pounds and measuring 9.8 by 6.7 by 1.14 inches), yet it still manages to squeeze in Intel's 1.6-GHz Atom processor. Aside from MSI's Wind, this is one of the first machines to show off how well Intel's bargain-priced CPU can perform.

In Video: Atomic Mini-Notebooks

And the Aspire One is fairly well constructed for a beta unit. The hard, candy-colored exterior is fairly polished and feels solid to the touch--certainly tough enough to withstand being tossed in your bag. And a huge, well-secured bezel keeps the 8.9-inch, 1024-by-600-pixel display in place.

Now, when I think of the average netbook, certainly ones in the $400 price range, the word that comes to mind is "compromise." You get Linpus Linux Lite, not Windows XP. You get instead of Microsoft Office. You get an 8GB hard drive and 512MB of RAM. It just doesn't sound like a great deal.

Then I used it. I was genuinely surprised at the relatively smooth sailing (though I did run into some Wi-Fi issues) and at how much I like the keyboard. It's a great size and doesn't feel crunched up in order to hit a form factor.

We can't run WorldBench on the Aspire One's tiny 8GB NAND hard drive, but I can tell you that it'll boot in 25 seconds. I had no problems streaming video from Youtube over an 802.11g connection (final hardware revisions may add WiMax or 3G support). It played MP3s without a hitch and ran a 213MB WMV episode of Best Week Ever sans stutters.

Ah, but you need some more room to grow. Aside from the standard-issue USB ports, ethernet jack, and VGA out, the Aspire One comes with two storage card slots. Why two? One is tasked for "storage expansion"--pop in an SD card, and the mini-note will format the flash storage to serve as extra internal hard-drive space. The other slot serves the usual purpose: for files you want to transfer from a digital camera or other device you have on hand.

If you're not sold on the storage space--or on Linux, for that matter--Acer will also offer a slightly pricier, XP-loaded flavor of the Aspire One (though the company hasn't revealed exact pricing, expect this version to cost around $600). It'll have an 80GB hard disk and 1GB of RAM.

I know I'm going out on a limb here, but this machine shows lots of promise. You could get a surprising amount of mileage from this PC when production units ship (supposedly in September). Obviously, though, this is hardly a final review. Check back when Acer releases the production version for our updated thoughts and tests.

--Darren Gladstone