The Bottom Line
Mar 5 2012 - Dell's entry into the ultrabook market may be fairly late but it was definitely well thought out. By taking their time, Dell has refined their design to offer an extremely compact design that uses the full ultrabook specification including Intel Smart Connect Technology. Performance is very fast with boot and wake times that are some of the fastest ever thanks to the high speed solid state drive included with it. The styling is very good and does an excellent job of keeping heat from being a problem. There are only a few minor issues with the system including slightly below average running times and no SD card slot. What clinches the Dell XPS 13 as the best ultrabook to date though is the pricing of just $999 for the entry system which includes theft and accident warranty coverage making it a solid choice for anyone wanting an ultrathin laptop.
- Solid Styling And Design
- Very Fast Boot/Wake Times
- Warranty Includes Theft and Accident Coverage
- No SD Card Slot
- Slightly Lower Battery Life
- Intel Core i5-2467M Dual Core Mobile Processor
- 4GB PC3-10600 DDR3 Memory
- 128GB Solid State Drive
- 13.3" WXGA (1366x768) Display With 1.3 Megapixel Webcam
- Intel HD Graphics 3000 Integrated Graphics
- 802.11a/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth
- One USB 3.0, One USB 2.0, mini-DisplayPort
- 12.4" x 8.1" x .7" @ 3 lbs.
- Windows 7 Home Premium, Office Starter, McAfee Security Center
Review - Dell XPS 13
Mar 5 2012 - Dell may be late to the ultrabook market but they certainly took their time to try and get the design of the XPS 13 right. With its svelte profile, it is easily going to be compared to the Apple MacBook Air 13 and rightly so. It may not taper down to as narrow of a razor edge on the front, but it is narrower and shallower than the Apple product which makes it just as portable. In addition, they have mixed up the composition of the system between an aluminum lid and a carbon fiber base. This gives it a very distinctive two toned color but also helps keep the bottom of the system quite cool even when running for some time.
In terms of performance, the base $999 version of the Dell XPS 13 has a typical base configuration of an Intel Core i5-2467M dual core processor and 4GB of DDR3 memory. While the processor is a bit slower than that found in the MacBook Air 13, it still performs quite well in the majority of tasks that users will have. Only very major tasks such as desktop video will likely show that the system trails behind traditional Core i5 dual core laptops.
Being an ultrabook, the Dell XPS 13 relies on solid state storage. For the base version, this is a 128GB solid state drive that is manufactured by Samsung and uses a SATA 6Gpb/s interface. This translates into some very fast performance. Now, Dell claims that this allows the system should have some really fast ready times and they certainly did test faster than most other ultrabooks on the market. My timing of a cold Windows 7 boot clocked in at 16 second which beats every Windows based laptop I've tested to date. Waking from sleep also was predictably fast at 2 seconds. Both of these are very fast but the MacBook Air with its different OS was still slightly faster. Now, 128GB is a bit small for a primary laptop computer system but Dell does include a USB 3.0 high speed peripheral port for use with high speed external storage. The only real disappointment for storage is the lack of an SD card slot which Apple does manage to fit into their ultrathin design.
Dell has managed to place a 13.3-inch display into a very small footprint thanks to a very narrow bezel. This helps make the system much more portable than most ultrabooks. The screen itself had a good level of brightness that made the 1366x768 resolution easy to read. It does have a gorilla glass coating that can make it difficult to use outdoors and in certain light. The graphics use the Intel HD Graphics 3000 that is built into the Core i5 processor and found in all the competition. This is a fine solution for basic work but does lack any real 3D performance for even casual PC gaming but that isn't the goal with a system like this. It does offer some acceleration of media encoding with QuickSync enabled applications. Of interest for those using external displays, Dell chose to use a mini-DisplayPort connector rather than HDMI. This works better for corporate customers but most consumer displays still tend to use HDMI.
One of the big issues that many ultrabooks have is with the keyboard. Often the restricted space of the thin designs either gives them very little feedback or they just don't feel very well supported. Dell does an excellent job here with the XPS 13 with an isolated design with slightly concaved keys. Typing was accurate and the feedback was well done. The keyboard is fully backlit which is also nice to see as some companies have dropped this feature to keep prices down. The trackpad is of a nice size and does a good job of tracking either single or multitouch gestures. It does use an integrated button solution that I'm not personally fond of but it gets the job done.
The internal battery for the Dell XPS 13 has a bit smaller rated capacity at 47WHrs compared to most of the competition. In video playback testing, it was able to run for four and a half hours before going into standby mode. This is respectable but a bit lower than Apple's MacBook Air 13 and certainly much lower than either the HP Folio 13 or Toshiba Portege Z835 but both a much larger. Dell claims it can go over of eight hours based on the Mobile Mark test but more real work users will probably find that it will be less than that.