Notebooks are going through a mini renaissance of sorts, with a number of factors counting in the consumer’s favour these days. Intel’s new Core-I processor range brings respectable processing speeds and HD video playing abilities to the table, while Windows 7 leaves no doubt that Vista was a bit of a disaster.
A number of manufacturers are also incorporating graphic cards that actually allows for more than just a watered down gaming experience, leaving so there’s a lot to get excited about.
Dell's Studio 1558 notebook is typical of this new breed of laptops, including all of the important aspects mentioned above. It doesn't really offer anything excessively flashy, instead opting for a workhorse-like approach to computing.
Thanks to its Core i5 430M CPU running at 2.27 GHz (with TurboBoost functionality) and 4 GB of RAM, computing is fast and efficient with programs loading speedily. There is more than sufficient power to multitask without any hassles at all.
The Dell comes equipped with the same ATI Radeon HD 4570 GPU as found on Acer’s 5738G 3D capable notebook
, and Mecer’s very decent M770CUH Core i7 machine
. This GPU has 512 MB of memory set aside for graphics, which translates to the ability to play games on the machine without wanting to chuck it out the window after awhile.
On the side
There’s a nice bouquet of ports on the side, including an eSATA and FireWire port for fast data transfer and an HDMI port to hook your machine up to an HD TV.
With two dedicated USB ports and the eSATA one also doubling for USB, you should be sorted although one extra USB port would not have gone unappreciated. The slot-load DVD is a nice touch, so too the power button that resides in the hinge.
Keyboard and trackpad
As far as the keyboard goes it's very impressive with good tactile feedback from the keys. The multi-touch trackpad is very decent although Dell could have done more to distinguish its surface from the rest of the palmrest. Talking of which, the palmrest does heat up during connected usage but this does not bother too much.
One of the reasons why we like the Dell is its use of the shortcut keys. There’s no need to use the Fn key since the shortcut key, whether its volume, brightness or the media control buttons, is the primary button.
We’ve seen this on Macs and on Sony machines and it works so well that we don’t know why there aren’t more manufacturers adopting this approach.
The 15.6" LED TrueLife display with its 720p HD ready resolution (16:9) is great for movies, although it is, like most of other glossy screens, a bit too reflective for our liking.
Worth mentioning is the decent sound (SRS Premium) on the unit which translates to watching movies with friends without having to hook up external speakers.
Combine this with easy access to your volume and brightness and you have yourself a machine which can take on that movie collection residing on your portable hard-drive (although you have a decent 500 GB to your disposal if you want to store it aboard the Dell)
Size and weight
The size and weight of the unit aren't much to write home about, but the Dell never pretended to be anything else but a general usage notebook. What we do have a gripe about is battery life, which at 2 – 2 ½ hours with the Wi-Fi turned on could have been better.
Luckily the Studio 1558 is unobtrusive when it comes to pre-installed software, with the usual crapware ommited from the package, although you’ll still get McAfee’s bothersome anti-virus messages.
Dell includes an icon dock at the top of the desktop where a number of shortcuts to key programs are available if you mouse over the top of the screen, and although we’re not usually big fans of this type of setup, we didn’t mind using it once we've populated it with our own shortcuts.
Microsoft’s Works is included so you'll be ok if you don't want to cough up the extra buck for Office.
In short the Dell Studio 1558 does not disappoint. It's very decent laptop that does not pretend to be anything else than a journeyman.
With its decent Core i5 CPU and ATI HD 4570 GPU you'll be able to handle both work and pleasure, and as long as you just don't expect more than few hours of battery life the Studio 1558 will serve you well.
Although we received no official price from Dell, the Studio 1558 seems to retail for slightly below R11 000, which seems about fair for this quality machine.