Late last year, before CES, we had the opportunity to check out Dell's then-upcoming entrant to Intel's nascent ultrabook market, the XPS 13. Dell has been refocusing their XPS line with an eye on sophisticated notebooks that straddle the line between the consumer and business classes, while at the same time emphasizing slimmer, more powerful machines. Thus, the XPS 13 seems like a natural fit both for their XPS line and for the ultrabook category.

While manufacturers like ASUS, Toshiba, and Acer have been apt to more closely ape the Apple MacBook Air aesthetic that Intel is arguably appropriating for ultrabooks, Dell's XPS 13 is a different creature, and when we saw it in 2011 it  felt like the ultrabook to wait for. Now it's here; was it worth the wait?

Internally, the Dell XPS 13 doesn't seem to have any more going on than any of the other Sandy Bridge-based ultrabooks. Dell will be updating the XPS 13 with Ivy Bridge as those chips become available, but it looks like with the delay we'll be enjoying our Sandy Bridge ultrabooks just a bit longer.

Dell XPS 13 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2637M
(2x1.7GHz + HTT, Turbo to 2.8GHz, 32nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel QS67
Memory 2x2GB integrated DDR3-1333
Graphics Intel HD 3000 Graphics
(12 EUs, up to 1.2GHz)
Display 13.3" LED Glossy 16:9 768p
Hard Drive(s) 256GB Samsung mSATA PM830 6Gbps SSD
Optical Drive -
Networking Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 3.0
Audio Realtek ALC275 HD Audio
Stereo speakers
Single combination mic/headphone jack
Battery 6-Cell, 11.1V, 47Wh (integrated)
Front Side -
Right Side Battery test button
USB 3.0
Left Side AC adaptor
USB 2.0
Mic/headphone combo jack
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 12.4" x 0.24-0.71" x 8.1" (WxHxD)
316mm x 6-18mm x 205mm
Weight 2.99 lbs
Extras Webcam
USB 3.0
Ambient light sensor
Backlit keyboard
Warranty 1-year limited
Pricing Starts at $999
As configured: $1,499

Spec-wise, the Dell XPS 13 is nothing impressive for an ultrabook and nothing we haven't seen before. The Intel Core i7-2637M is a capable enough processor, sporting two hyper-threaded cores, 4MB of L3 cache, and a nominal clock speed of 1.7GHz (able to turbo up to 2.5GHz on two cores or 2.8GHz on just one core). Attached to it is Intel's HD 3000 integrated GPU with 12 execution units that can run all the way up to 1.2GHz. 4GB of dual channel DDR3 and Intel's QS67 chipset round things out.

The two more interesting points of the XPS 13 are the SSD and the notebook's connectivity (or lack thereof). Dell opts to use Samsung's 830 series SSD in an mSATA form factor, taking advantage of the  SATA 6Gbps connectivity of the controller. Samsung rates the SSD for up to 500MB/sec in reads and 350MB/sec in writes, not stellar but in line with (or even a little better than) the SSDs used in some competing ultrabooks.

Unfortunately, Dell's XPS 13 features arguably sub-Apple MacBook Air-level connectivity. Just two USB ports (one 3.0, one 2.0), the headphone/mic combo jack, and a mini-DisplayPort jack are all you get. While I wasn't expecting wired ethernet (a feature that materializes only every so often on ultrabooks), Dell doesn't include the SD card reader that most other ultrabooks enjoy. You can also use an adaptor to go from mini-DisplayPort to HDMI, so you can probably split the difference on that one. Honestly it's the lack of a card reader that stings the most; this is something that can certainly be remedied by just buying a separate USB one, but when competing ultrabooks all integrate one, why eschew it here?

Thankfully, you do get USB 3.0 connectivity (always appreciated), and Dell includes an ambient light sensor that can be used to dynamically adjust screen brightness as well as detect when to turn on the keyboard backlighting. It's mostly adequate, but the lack of a card reader stings a little when many consumer and even prosumer level still and video cameras use SD cards.

In and Around the Dell XPS 13
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  • NCM - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    CF is strong and lightweight, but it has poor thermal transfer compared to aluminum. The resulting trade-off for this Dell is compromised cooling, and it shows in these test results. This is already an area that's something of a challenge for densely packaged ultrabooks, and while the CF bottom case may protect your lap from getting toasted, those watts have to go somewhere. Or as here, fail to go somewhere, instead driving up processor core temperatures.

    The author's conclusion that the XPS 13 represents "an excellent starting point" may well be accurate, but what kind of a selling point is that for Dell? I don't know about anyone else, but when I shop I'm looking for a fully realized product, not one that may eventually become adequate in some future version.
  • jigglywiggly - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    clevo laptops have good displays
    i have the p151hm1/np8130 and it has an amazing 95% ntsc color gamut display. 15in 1920x1080
  • bennyg - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Yep can't wait till Clevo make an ultrabook. It might not look spectacular but if their P150/151 line is anything to go by it'll look like a 2000 Thinkpad but have an awesome screen :)

    I got P150HM with 1080p 95% gamut matte display and its even more awesome than the 15.6" Truelife in my previous Dell. The point everyone's whining about is WHY are NBs with great displays the exception? Why has the ONLY option for a 900p/1080p screen in <14 inch been the Vaio Z for over 2 years ??!

    I also have a cheap netbook - Acer Aspire One D255E - with a screen that is astonishingly good, I was massively surprised (bought it 2nd hand for chips). It's only 600 px high which is of course the major bummer but I reckon it craps all over a great deal of notebooks even 5 times its price.
  • ndizzy - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    In case people want to see the inside of Dell XPS 13, here is a teardown video.
  • QChronoD - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Any word on if you guys are going to be getting either or both of these machines in for a review? I totally agree that most of the machines out there have absolutely crap screens, and for $1,000+ we should be able to get much better. I'm hoping that both of these live up to the hype from their announcement.
  • Kelly - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I may be stupid and/or ignorant but: What unit is the temperature in?

    Thanks for a nice review :)
  • dfiler76 - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    The reviewer states that the XPS 13 is idling in the mid 40s.

    45 deg F = 7 deg C (which would be way under the ambient temperature). Therefore it must be measured in Celsius.

    I can understand why you weren't sure though: If blocking the bottom vent can push the core temps within a whisker of boiling point then I wonder about the longevity of the components...
  • lukarak - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    There's the first problem, the bottom vent. Small portable laptops with a bottom vent are just not practical. Apple does it much better.
  • ExodusC - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I'm so miffed- why do manufacturers continue to make otherwise well-rounded, or even great "Ultrabooks," but pack them with such awful screens?

    If anything, I would sacrifice color reproduction on a 13" panel for a higher pixel density than what you get with these ~720p displays.

    Hell, the 1600x900 resolution on my laptop's roughly 14" panel feel much more significant than 720p.
  • rwei - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Didn't you have an A8Jm at some point? And now an x100e?

    I went A8Jm -> Envy 17 + x120e...

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