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Dell Studio Hybrid PC

Dell's new Studio Hybrid makes a strong impression with its stylish design, and its price will make you take notice, too. A basic configuration starts at US$499, without monitor; our test configuration, with a 19-inch LCD monitor, cost $1064.

Dell bills the Studio Hybrid as being 80 percent smaller than a typical desktop. To achieve this feat of miniaturization, the Hybrid uses notebook computer components. Our test configuration featured a 2.1-GHz Core 2 Duo T8100 CPU, 2GB of memory, a 250GB hard drive, and Intel Mobile 965 Express Chipset integrated graphics. Other options include built-in draft 802.11n Wi-Fi, a TV tuner, and a wireless keyboard and mouse. The system isn't expandable (or user serviceable), so there's no graphics option beyond the integrated Intel graphics.

The Studio Hybrid can be set in a vertical or horizontal configuration; glowing blue Dell logos appears on the top and bottom (or left and right, if vertical) of the unit, and the name "Hybrid" automatically orients itself depending on whether you stand the computer vertically or horizontally. An included stand that helps the Hybrid stay upright.

The ports (HDMI, DVI, gigabit ethernet, a Kensington lock, SP/DIF, and line-in and line-out; a four-pin FireWire 400 port and three USB 2.0 ports) are all neatly arranged in the back, which helps with cable management. 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.

What's most noteworthy about this system is that you don't pay a premium for the miniaturized design. This is a first-and a testament to the mainstream status of notebook components.

What's least noteworthy is the machine's performance. It mustered a score of only 79 on our PC WorldBench 6 tests, tying the mark posted by the HP TouchSmart IQ506, which likewise uses notebook components; neither of these systems is in the same league with value PCs that have true desktop guts. Graphics performance was weak as well: The Studio Hybrid failed to muster playable frame rates on either of our gaming tests.

The system's blah performance limits its versatility, but the idea of having a stylish, unobtrusive system to connect to my television appeals to me. Suddenly, using a PC as a digital video recorder seems plausible (though I'd want a remote control, too).