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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  • Penti - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I think this is pretty much spot on, on connectivity actually. Mini-DisplayPort is a plus, especially if you are running a high-res monitor when you use this as your desktop replacement or main machine with your 27" or 30" monitor as you need the DisplayPort in order to put out and feed a 2560x1440 monitor or 2560x1600 monitor, or anything over 1920x1200 that HDMI on SNB/older graphics can handle. It's easily converted to HDMI or VGA, and having only one of those is a minus. I do miss ethernet, but it's no deal killer here. Display and resolution is too bad it's not better otherwise it does look like a good ultra-portable. It has no worse display then virtually any competition. A x220 with IPS wouldn't be much more expensive though. Personally I think mini-DisplayPort and USB3 is pretty good on the connectivity side for this market any how. Does look like a clean computer with understated but good styling. Certainly looks like a one of the better ultrabooks.
  • MistahJayden - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    I love everything I've heard about the computer except for that screen's freakin killing me here.
    Can they update it? Or would I need to look for another laptop in it's place?
    It's not that bad, it's just I prefer a smaller looking interface.
  • EricZBA - Friday, March 16, 2012 - link

    1366x768 is a crime against humanity. The predecessor to this unit, the Dell Studio XPS 13, had a gorgeous 13.3 inch LED LCD with 1280x800 resolution. I wish they would have built upon the awesomeness of that notebook.
  • zlyles - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - link

    Just a heads up...

    When Dell first released this ultrabook, we ordered two for some of our sales reps. With i5, 4GB memory, 128GB SSD, and Win 7 Pro, the price was $1,192 before tax.

    It took nearly a month to get the laptop, and we liked it so much we got a quote for two more. This time the quote came back at $1,500 per, with the same exact specs.

    Our Dell rep informed us due to supply and demand, Dell had increased the price and $1,500 was as low as he could get now.

    Personally I think it's BS to launch a product, then jack the price by over 25% within the first 3 weeks of it's release because of how well it is received.

    On the bright side, it is the only wedge design ultrabook of this caliber I have found with TPM hardware for encrypting the hard drive.
  • WolfOfDeath - Monday, July 2, 2012 - link

    The author isnt sold on the Ultrabook class? He must one of the most daft people in the world. Ultrabooks are and will take over the entire laptop market. Few if any people will want laptops now if for no other reason than battery life. How short sighted can someone be? Wow, just wow.

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