Dell Finally Thinks Small and Chic

By Rob Pegoraro
Thursday, September 4, 2008

One of Dell's latest desktop PCs deserves an adjective that has rarely applied to its products: stylish.

The new Studio Hybrid owes nothing to Dell's other desktops. Instead of the traditional boxy tower case, this $499-and-up design packs its components into an compact, oblong cylinder. Perched on its tiny metal platform, it should fit on any desk -- or TV stand.

This little machine marks Dell's entry into a category of computer that it and most mainstream computer vendors have ignored so far: the small-form-factor (SFF) desktop. These fit-in-a-shoebox models -- for example, Apple's Mac mini and Shuttle's XPC line -- preserve many of the core virtues of desktops, such as easily upgradeable components, but take up a smidgen of the space occupied by traditional designs.

They're a compelling alternative for people who don't want to waste space on a massive desktop but don't want to pay more for a laptop.

Many SFF models can be described with another abbreviation: HTPC, meaning a home theater PC plugged into an HDTV to bring digital music, photos and video to the living room.

True, tiny desktops like the Mac mini, XPC and Studio Hybrid lack the expandability of tower-case systems: You can't pop in an extra hard drive. But for the many users who never crack open their machines, that's a meaningless attribute.

The Studio Hybrid doesn't just look small (at a bit over 8 inches long, under 8 inches tall and less than 3 inches wide, it takes up about a fifth of the space of other Dell desktops), it also looks fairly sharp. Its slot-loading CD/DVD-burner drive and memory-card slot are so well integrated into the front that you might miss their presence at first.

Other less obvious elements show further thoughtfulness on Dell's part. The Studio Hybrid's power brick is a thin, flat module, much smaller than those attached to most desktops and laptops. Even the usual, useless Microsoft and Intel stickers have been shrunk to fingernail size and banished to the Hybrid's metal stand.

One false note comes with the too-cleverly-hidden eject button for the CD/DVD drive, a touch-sensitive spot on the front of the case that only lights up when you pop in a disc.

As the contrived Hybrid moniker suggests, Dell pitches this as an environmentally sound choice. The Hybrid consumes considerably less juice than any other desktop, clocking in at around 30 watts when powered up (less than half as much as many desktops) and just two when asleep.

Dell also brags about things like the amount of recyclable material in its packaging and the recycling kit inside: pre-addressed, prepaid DHL forms to ship your old computer and monitor back to the company for recycling.

As an everyday home computer, the Hybrid ought to do fine . . . once you configure it properly at Dell's site. The entry-level, $499 model only includes a gigabyte of memory -- too little for intensive use of Windows Vista. And its 160-gigabyte hard drive will fill up quickly. It also lacks WiFi and bundles the stripped-down Basic edition of Windows Vista.

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