Compact, attractive design; Bright full HD display; Comfortable keyboard; Fast SSD; Runs cool
Still no SD card slot; Below-average battery life; No touch screen option; Expensive
Dell's refreshed XPS 13 Ultrabook for Windows 8 crams a full HD display and a fast SSD into a compact design, but you'll pay a premium.
For Windows 8, Dell has made over its XPS 13 with a 1080p display and Intel Ivy Bridge processor, while leaving the chassis untouched -- and why not? This Ultrabook (starting at $999, $1,599 as configured) has an attractive aluminum and carbon fiber design, and crams a 13-inch screen into a chassis the same size as many 12-inch notebooks. What's more, our configuration features a relatively spacious 256GB SSD that offers blazing performance. Is this the Windows 8 Ultrabook to get?
Editor's note: Our version of the XPS 13 shipped with an Intel Core i7-3517U processor, which will not be offered by Dell. The next closest configuration will have a Core i7-3537 CPU, which should offer marginally better performance.
The XPS 13's size and weight is the same as before, too, measuring 12.4 x 8.1 x 0.24-0.71 inches and weighing 3 pounds. That's in the same size range as the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (12.35 x 8.6 x 0.75 inches), but that system weighs 0.57 pounds more. The ASUS Zenbook UX31A is slightly larger, at 13.3 x 8.9 x 0.44-0.66 inches, but also weighs 3 pounds. However, the Acer Aspire S7-391, which has a touch screen, measures 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.46 inches and weighs just 2.8 pounds.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Like the rest of the deck, the 3.9 x 2.4-inch glass touchpad has a soft-touch finish. It was easy to press the integrated buttons with our thumb, and interpreted Windows 8 gestures accurately.
We do wish the XPS 13 had a touch screen. Its edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass display certainly lends invites that sort of interaction. More than once, we found ourselves trying to swipe the Windows 8 interface.
The XPS 13's average brightness of 329 lux is about 100 lux brighter than the XPS 13 from last year as well as the category average. It outshone the Acer S7 (215) as well as the Mac (313 lux), but was no match for the ASUS UX31A (423 lux).
The Dell Audio control panel allows you to select from several presets: music, movies, voice, gaming and MaxxSense, which automatically picks what it thinks is the best setting. In this control panel, you can also choose presets for the dual microphones: Noise suppression, echo cancellation and microphone focus.
Ports and Webcam
No real changes here: The right side of the XPS 13 has a mini Display Port, a USB 3.0 port, and a button and four LEDs that show the battery level. We don't see why that last feature could have been an SD card slot instead. The left side of the XPS 13 has the power jack, a USB 3.0 port, and a combo headphone and mic jack.
We really wish Dell would add an SD card slot to the XPS 13, especially when a system as slim as the Acer S7 can accommodate one.
Using the Windows 8 camera app, we could take up to 720p videos using the XPS 13's 1.3-MP webcam. While video quality is suitable for video chats, we found images lacking detail, and even in a well-lit room, observed a lot of visual noise.
In our configuration of the XPS 13 is a 1.9-GHz Intel Core i7-3517U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. On PCMark 7, the Ultrabook notched a score of 4,780, higher than the ultraportable average of 3,436, but about 200 points lower than the Acer Aspire S7-391 (4,948) and the ASUS UX31A (4,989).
The XPS 13 booted Windows 8 in just 12 seconds, no doubt due to its 256GB Samsung 830 Series SSD. However, it was matched by the Acer S7's time of 10 seconds, although that system has two 128GB SSDs in a RAID array. The MacBook Pro's 128GB Flash memory also took just 12 seconds.
On the LAPTOP Transfer test (duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files), the XPS 13 took 31 seconds, a rate of 164.2 MBps, about double the category average of 83 MBps. However, the Acer S7 was almost twice as fast as the Dell, clocking in at 318 MBps, and the Mac checked in at 196 MBps. The ASUS' SSD notched a comparatively anemic 51 MBps.
To test everyday performance, we also timed how long it took the XPS 13 to match 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice. The Dell took 5 minutes and 13 seconds to complete the task, which bested the average by nearly two minutes (7:08). The Acer S7 had almost the exact same time, at 5:12, and the ASUS UX31A finished in 4:59.
In "World of Warcraft," the XPS 13 averaged 33 fps with the effects set to good and the resolution at 1366 x 768. The Acer S7 fared slightly better at these settings, averaging 41 fps, on a par with the category average of 42 fps, and the UX31A averaged 52 fps. The MacBook Pro with Retina Display, which also has integrated graphics, averaged 36 fps at 1432 x 894, which is the closest equivalent resolution.
When we cranked up the resolution to its native 1080p, the XPS 13's average dropped to 25 fps, which is on the edge of playable. At these same settings, the ASUS UX31A averaged 36 fps, and the Acer averaged 30 fps; at its native resolution (2560 x 1600), the Mac averaged 21 fps.
Dell will offer four configurations of the XPS 13. The base model costs $999, and will have an Intel Core i5-3337 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and a screen resolution of 1366 x 768. The other three models all have 1080p displays and 8GB of RAM; a $1,299 version will have an Intel Core i7-3537U processor and a 128GB SSD. The $1,399 model will have a Core i5-3337U processor and a 256GB SSD, and the top-end $1,599 model will have a Core i7-3537U processor and a 256GB SSD.
Software and Warranty
The XPS 13 comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty, premium phone support and in-home service following a remote diagnosis. See how Dell fared on our annual customer support showdown.
Although it doesn't offer as much battery life (unless you upgrade to the optional slice), the Acer Aspire S7-391 has an even thinner and lighter design than the XPS 13 and includes a 1080p touch screen. The ASUS Zenbook UX31A has the same CPU as this Dell, 4GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 1080p display, but costs $300 less. And if you're not wedded to Windows, you can pick up the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display for $100 more than the XPS 13. While heavier, the Mac features an even higher resolution display, more ports (including an SD card) and longer battery life.
Overall, the Dell XPS 13 is a very nice refresh of the original, but other ultraportables offer more for your money.
|CPU||1.9-GHz Intel Core i7-3517U|
|Operating System||Windows 8|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||256GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||SSD Drive|
|Optical Drive Speed||n/a|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235|
|Touchpad Size||3.9 x 2.4 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini DisplayPort|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Warranty/Support||1 year premium phone support, in-home service after remote diagnosis.|
|Size||12.4 x 8.1 x 0.24-0.71 inches|