Laptops with Intel's 8th Generation "Kaby Lake Refresh" processors are just staring to hit the market and the early returns are impressive. In our tests, the new Dell XPS 13 with an 8th-Gen Core i7-8550U CPU was often 60 percent faster than an identically-configured XPS 13 with the 7th-Gen Core i7-7500U CPU. Even better, we saw a battery life increase by about an hour.
Announced in August, Intel's 8th-Gen Core Series chips double the number of CPU cores from two to four on mainstream laptops like the XPS 13, while also increasing the maximum turbo clock speed these processors can achieve. Both 7th and 8th-Gen Core processors support Intel's Hyper-Threading feature, which effectively gives you two independent threads for each available Core, so with the new chips, the number of threads goes from four to eight. The company claims that users will see a performance bump of as much as 40 percent going from 2016's Kaby Lake to 2017's Kaby Lake Refresh, but our results were even more promising.
When we ran Geekbench 4, a synthetic test which measures overall performance, the XPS 13 with 8th-Gen Core scored an impressive mark of 14,158, a 62-percent improvement over the 7th-Gen model (8,735). The laptops both had 1920 x 1080 nontouch screens, 8GB of RAM and 256GB PCIe SSDs so the processor was the only difference.
A good Geekbench score is one thing, but great real-world performance is what really matters. To see how the 8th-Gen Core-powered XPS 13 handles video editing, I used Handbrake, a popular video transcoding app, to convert a 12-minute, 4K movie into 1080p resolution. The 7th-Generation-powered XPS completed this task in 31 minutes and 36 seconds while the new, XPS 13 and its Core i7-8550U processor powered through in just 19 minutes and 35 seconds, which is a 62-percent performance gain.
You don't need to work with videos in order to benefit from having an 8th-Gen Core processor. When I ran a spreadsheet macro in Excel 2016 that matches 65,000 names with their email addresses, the old XPS 13 finished in 2 minutes and 30 seconds while the new one finished 120 percent faster with a time of 1:08.
Excel tasks work so much better on the new 8th-Gen Core-powered XPS 13, because Microsoft's spreadsheet program uses all eight available CPU threads. When we ran our spreadsheet macro test, using OpenOffice Calc, a spreadsheet application that can only use a single thread, the new XPS 13 finished in 3 minutes and 9 seconds which is 20 seconds quicker than the old model. That's an improvement of 10 percent, which is a noticeable difference, if not an impressive one.
Considering that the new CPU has more cores and runs at higher turbo speeds, you might expect it to offer worse endurance. However, the opposite is true.
When we ran Laptop Battery Test 2.0, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, the 8th-Gen Core-powered XPS 13 lasted for 14 hours and 52 minutes while the old model tapped out after 13 hours and 58 minutes. That's a 54-minute or 6.1 percent improvement from one generation to the next.
The Bottom Line
Even though 8th-Gen Core processors are the future, Dell continues selling some configurations of the XPS 13 with the 7th-Gen Core processor inside. At publication time, Dell was selling the XPS 13 with a Core i7-8550U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1080p screen and a 256GB SSD for $1,249 while one with similar specs and a 7th Gen Core i5-7200U processor went for $1,099.
With a huge gulf in performance and battery life between 7th and 8th Gen Core, it's clear that you should try to get a laptop with Kaby Lake Refresh, whether you're purchasing an XPS 13 or something else.
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