Dell XPS 13 review: MacBook Air fanboys, demeanour no serve for your rumored unicorn

January 28, 2015 - photo frame

As PC fan child No. 42, we can't lie: Apple’s MacBook Air 11 has had us whupped. It’s slim and light, offers good battery life, and damn—the $900 cost tab of a entry-level pattern usually can’t be kick by many PC vendors.

PCs are all about good opening during low, low prices, right? Oh, a burn!

Well, I’m here to tell we that a MacBook Air usually mislaid all a luster. Dell’s voluptuous new XPS 13 usually rolled into city with a list of facilities that eerily sound like each MacBook Air gossip story you’ve examination on for a final few months.

Dell’s new ultralight is radically a storied-but-not-yet-released MacBook Air unicorn that each Apple fan wants, nonetheless usually can’t have. (At slightest not yet.)

The XPS 13 has Intel’s latest Broadwell U CPU; 8GB of DDR3/1600; an M.2 SSD; good battery life; and a voluptuous aluminum-and-carbon-fiber shell. Then there’s a genuine star of Dell’s show: a 13.3-inch, many bezel-less display. Most manufacturers would have staid for an 11-inch arrangement in a physique this distance (see Apple’s stream MacBook Air lineup for evidence).

The XPS 13 physique itself is usually 12 inches by 7.8 inches. It’s 0.6 inches during a thickest.

Gordon Mah Ung

Small indeed: Dell’s new XPS13 with a 13-inch shade on tip of a Mac Book Air with a 13-inch screen.

Put a XPS 13 subsequent to a vaunted MacBook Air 11 and a MacBook Air 13. Give all 3 laptops a nice, prolonged stare. It looks like someone took a arrangement from a MBA13 and put it into a MBA11. Except Apple didn’t do it—Dell did it, and afterwards posted “first” on a Internet.

Beautiful shade in a small space

The genuine bake for Apple users, though, will be a row in a XPS 13. Dell offers bottom 1920×1080 and high-res 3200×1800 versions.

For people who cruise only in Retinametrics, that’s a pixel-per-inch count of roughly 276. The 13-inch MacBook Air, with 1440×900 display, is 128 ppi. The 11-inch indication indeed offers rather some-more Retinameters of 135 ppi. But even a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro Retina’s high-res shade is nonetheless 227 ppi.

Both sizes of XPS 13 arrangement are aloft to a MBA in record as good as resolution. The MacBook Air models use tiny TN screens (albeit improved examples of a genre), while a XPS 13 uses IPS. For anyone who does color-critical work such as print modifying or design, TN can’t kick IPS. The XPS 13 we reviewed also includes 10-point touch. 

Ultrabooks aren’t famous to offer unequivocally splendid panels and customarily float in a 300-nit range. The 2014 ThinkPad X1 Carbon we used for comparison, for example, is rated during 300 nits, and we totalled it during about 259 nits smack-dab in a middle. The XPS is rated during an eye-searing 400 nits, and we totalled 399 nits. 


The Dell is tiny adequate to fit in an interoffice envelope.

The shade is unequivocally impressive, generally when we cruise a space Dell is operative with. we didn’t notice any critical banding issues nor backlight bleeding, and lighting was sincerely consistent. One thing we did see was a three-inch by one-inch, mustache-shaped blemish when looking during a uniform white shade with a liughtness up. That might be a forsake in this sold examination unit. The association pronounced other units don’t vaunt a same phenomenon.  

There is a tradeoff to a near-zero bezel, though: There’s no room for a 720p webcam. Instead, Dell puts it in a reduce left dilemma of a XPS 13. Your videoconference colleagues will see partial of your palm while you’re typing, as good as a good perspective of your wattle. It’s not pleasant.


The camera on a XPS 13 is placed on a reduce lefthand dilemma of a panel, that leads to up-wattle shots and occasional fingering.

The XPS 13 is also a initial central laptop we’ve seen with Intel’s new Broadwell U, outward of CES. 

The brief and spare of Broadwell U is that it’s Intel’s 5th-generation Core i CPU and uses a company’s 14nm die process. The finish outcome is a guarantee of improved battery life and rather improved CPU and graphics performance. 

I’ll excavate small deeper into Broadwell U’s opening in an arriving story. Meanwhile, we compared a XPS 13 to an older, Haswell-based Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

In a Handbrake test, we take a 30GB 1080p fortitude MKV record and transcode it to a distant some-more docile distance for observation on an Android tablet.

Despite carrying a reduce Turbo Boost clock, a XPS 13 pulls forward of a Lenovo X1 Carbon by a good margin.

The XPS 13 simply outruns a comparison X1 Carbon in this pristine CPU test. One thing to keep in mind when comparing a two, however, is a Core i5 5200U in a XPS 13 indeed has a lower-rated turbo bulk of 2.7GHz, compared to 2.9GHz for a Core i5 4300U in a X1 Carbon. During my tests though, a XPS 13 indeed ran during 2.5GHz, while a X1 Carbon ran in a 2.17GHz range. 


We primarily were confused by a opening of a Broadwell chip in PCMark 8 until we satisfied a many aloft fortitude was spiteful performance.

Due to an apparent bug in MobileMark 2014 that BAPCo is looking into, I’m not regulating a opening measure from a suite. Instead, we ran PC Mark 8’s Home exam on both laptops. The XPS 13 and a Broadwell U once again came out on top.


The improved graphics core in a Broadwell U helps keep it forward of a Haswell U in a Lenovo.

The final benchmark draft I’ll put we by is 3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme, that measures graphics performance. Again, a Broadwell U in a XPS 13 offers a good alleviation over a comparison X1 Carbon, nonetheless gamers shouldn’t get their hopes up. You won’t be personification Far Cry 4 during a panel’s local fortitude anytime soon.

Perhaps a many critical underline in a laptop currently is battery life. To establish that we used BAPCo’s new MobileMark 2014 benchmark. The exam uses renouned real-world applications such as Chrome, Office 2013, Photoshop CS6, and Premiere Pro CS6 to perform several tasks during 150 nits, that is a reasonable brightness.

MobileMark 2014 is distinct many mobile benchmarks in that it measures only a response time and indeed allows a laptop to stop and pause. You don’t, for example, form for 7 hours loyal in Word. You type, pause, use your phone for a few mins and afterwards go behind to typing. Then we task-switch to email. MobileMark indeed lets a laptop’s shade low or vacant out before resuming a task. MobileMark 2012 stays a attention customary among OEMs for testing, so we’re indeed a small forward of a bend now. 

It’s also value mentioning that a battery in a XPS 13 is rated during 52WHr, that is indeed a reduction from a prior XPS 13, nonetheless it offers improved battery life.


MobileMark 14 is maybe a many picturesque exam for measuring tangible bureau capability battery life around and a Broadwell chip delivers in battery life. Keep in mind, a XPS13 also has a incomparable battery too.

Our MobileMark 14 run in Office-drone tasks puts a battery life during 10 hours for a configuration. The XPS 13 with a 1920×1080 shade yet hold indeed ups a battery life another 4 hours, to scarcely 15 hours of use. If you’re looking to go off-grid even longer, supplement Dell’s PowerCompanion battery section so we can assign a laptop many as we would your phone.

As with a badly placed camera, Dell done one other indeterminate choice with a XPS 13: a keyboard design. Dell crams a critical keys (function keys don’t count to me) in a space about 10.5 inches far-reaching and 3.53 inches deep. Travel is rated during 1.3mm.

Gordon Mah Ung

The one large concede you’ll make is a rather dense keyboard in a XPS 13.

The Lenovo X1 Carbon’s 4 rows fit into a atmospheric 11.3-by-3.6-inch box. Even a MacBook Air 11, that is physically a bit smaller than a XPS 13, gives a keyboard 10.75 by 3.5 inches.

To see either a smaller keyboard would impact my typing, we took an online exam on a X1 Carbon and a XPS 13. we typed during 72 wpm on a X1 Carbon and 70 wpm on a XPS 13, producing 6 errors both times. On a full-sized Corsair K60 automatic keyboard, we strike 88 wpm. The keyboard on a XPS 13 is tolerable, nonetheless unequivocally a compromise. 

The trackpad appears to be done by Synaptics and we had no complaints. Despite a tighten quarters, my palms didn’t means cursor jump, nonetheless there was also no approach to adjust palm rejecting on a XPS 13.

One final spec to discuss in a XPS 13 vs. MacBook Air conflict is a SSD. The XPS 13 uses an M.2 SSD, nonetheless it conforms to a SATA apportionment of M.2 and so isn’t a loyal PCIe drive. we saw consecutive reads and writes in a 450MB/s range. That’s decent, nonetheless PCIe-based storage inclination like in a MacBook Air can strech tighten to 800MB/s.

Dell pronounced it has skeleton to recover a PCIe-based SSD for a XPS 13 soon. Before a Apple organisation stars to bluster though, we should discuss a M.2-shaped inclination in a Haswell-based MacBook Airs aren’t indeed M.2—they’re a custom, exclusive design, so we can’t usually ascent regulating off-the-shelf parts.

Gordon Mah Ung

The XPS 13 is simply an early contender for a best Ultrabook of a year, and it’s usually January.

In a end, we overtly have few complaints over a dense keyboard and peculiar camera placement. The XPS 13 gives we good opening and good battery life in an impossibly compress and solid-feeling package. Even a pricing is roughly reasonable. This indication with a 256GB SSD, 8GB of RAM and QHD+ touchscreen costs $1,400. If that’s too rich, Dell unequivocally takes a shot during Apple with a bottom model. That XPS 13 comes with a 1920×1080 non-touch IPS panel, 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM. At $800, it packs components a bulk improved than a MacBook Air 11’s, and it’s $100 cheaper.

Few Mac users might cranky over to a light side, nonetheless during slightest there’s finally a PC with improved specs and a improved cost in a world. Which is a approach it’s ostensible to be.

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