|Introduction & Specifications|
We've hit a turning point in technology, one in which the old ways are, well, old and outdated. Traditional desktops still exist, sure, but bulky towers are fading right before our eyes just like that scene in Back to the Future where the people in Marty's photograph slowly disappear. In place of medium and large-size rectangular boxes are space-saving form factors like Intel's Next Unit of Computing (NUC) and, to a lesser extreme, sleek looking all-in-one (AIO) designs that are winning favor among consumers.
At the same time this is happening, increasingly powerful mobile devices are flooding the market, forcing OEM PC makers to respond. There are some who believe tablets are little more than a passing fad destined to become a footnote in the history of tech, but for now, it's the hottest form factor around, and it's cannibalizing computer sales. What's a PC maker to do?
Dell has chosen to combine two trending computing design styles into a single system and call it the XPS 18 Portable All-In-One Desktop. It has all the power of a desktop and some of the portability of a tablet, though let's be clear that Dell isn't pitching you'll want to tote this across town on a train or in other ways that you might use an iPad or Nexus 7. It's portable in the sense that you can snatch up the 18.4-inch Full HD display and lug it from your home office to the living room, plop it on the table, and switch gears from Google Docs to gaming with the kids. Or take it bed for some late night surfing before drifting off to sleep.
Pricing starts at $899 for an XPS 18, though the model we received is a higher-end unit that runs $1,350. It flexes an Intel Core i5 3337U dual-core processor clocked at 1.8GHz (2.7GHz via Turbo), 8GB of DDR3-1600 memory, and a 500GB hard drive paired with a 32GB mSATA solid state drive (SSD) for faster booting and all-around system performance. The main attraction, however, is the portable display, which features an 18.4-inch in-plane switching (IPS) panel, 1920x1080 resolution, and touch support.
You can dock the display on your desk with the included stand or carry it around. At around 5 pounds, it's heavier than a traditional tablet, though it's also much bigger and obviously more powerful. Mixing these two form factors is an interesting concept, but does it work in a design this large? Let's have a look.
The XPS 18 isn't the first tabletop design to hit the market, though at 4.85 pounds for an SSD configuration and 5.04 pounds for models with a hard drive (as reviewed here), it's lighter than the competition. According to Dell, it's over 6 pounds lighter than Sony's Tap 20 while offering double the battery life.
This is also a full fledged Windows 8 machine with touch support. Windows 8, as you're well aware, was designed with touch computing in mind with a user interface that remains consistent among varying types of systems, a trait that works well in a portable AIO setting and usage model.
|Design & Layout|
|Only recently would it have been possible to release a portable all-in-one system. Had OEMs tried to do this year ago, the displays would have been too bulky to carry comfortably under the arm, the operating system (Windows 7) would have been ill-suited for touch input, and it would have been too expensive to find an audience. To an extent, Microsoft and Intel made systems like the XPS 18 possible, one because of advancements in hardware design, and the other with its focus on a unified software platform.
Dell's XPS 18 is as sleek and sexy as they come. It's very much a minimalistic design that consists of the panel, stand, and wireless input devices (keyboard and mouse). Even the power cord is, at times, an optional accompaniment that need only be hooked up when the battery gets low. We'll focus more on that in a moment.
By design, the panel itself resembles a large Windows tablet, only a little thicker, though you can't tell when facing the system straight-on. There's a touch-sensitive Windows 8 logo in the bottom center of the bezel and a Dell logo in the upper left corner. What you won't find are any physical buttons on the front or on-screen display (OSD) controls like you would with most monitors and AIO designs.
The display measures 18.4 inches and boasts a Full HD 1080p (1920x1080) resolution with 350 nits, 16:9 aspect ratio, and 72 percent color gamut. Horizontal and vertical viewing angles are rated at 89 degrees, and during our testing, the panel looks great from multiple angles. It didn't suffer from major degradation when standing off to the side, which is important since the XPS 18 is supposed to pull double-duty as a tabletop system.
You'll notice there aren't any inputs on the back of the XPS 18, another differentiating factor between this and a traditional AIO system. What it does have are some air cooling vents along the bottom and several star-shaped screws around the border for professional servicing. If you're particularly savvy with electronics, you might be able to crack it open and fix and/or replace problematic parts on your own, though this isn't in any way designed for the DIY repair crowd, as we've seen from recent AIO setups that offer easy access to core components like the RAM and storage.
Also on the back is a single oval cutout for routing the power cord and any USB cables you might want to snake up to the side of the device. The power cord can actually plug directly into the stand so that it functions as a charging station.
When not using the stand, there are two rubber-coated plastic feet that pop out so that you can still have the display sitting upright, or at a slight angle. Otherwise, you can keep them flat against the back and use the system as a tablet or lay it flat for tabletop computing or on your lap.
It doesn't look like the lip provides a ton of support to keep the display in place, but there's a powerful magnet in the base that feels like it reaches out and grabs the panel when you start to slide it in. Still, you'll want to carry the display and stand separately if relocating the entire setup, as it doesn't actually completely lock into place.
On the right side of the XPS 18 is a power button, speaker grill, and a noble lock. There's also a small LED right above the power button that glows when the system is turned on.
Over on the other side is the volume rocker, another speaker grill, headset port, two USB 3.0 ports, full SD card slot, and a power DC port. The two USB ports aren't color coded blue like many of the SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, but they do in fact operate at the faster spec.
There are some notable omissions here, like the lack of HDMI output, though that's not all. It's also missing things like an Ethernet port, eSATA port, FireWire port, and DVI and VGA connectivity. This limits the XPS 18's flexibility to an extent, like not being able to plug in a console, for example. That's something to consider if you're a college-bound student looking for an AIO system to serve as your main hub for all forms of entertainment (productivity, gaming from a console, and watching TV).
Dell's crowning achievement with the XPS 18 is that it's just as comfortable functioning as a tablet or tabletop system as it is an AIO system, even if you might not be. Again, Dell isn't saying you should tout this thing around Disneyland or on the bus, though technically you could if you really wanted to. The real upside to this design is that you can lift up the panel and take it to bed to catch up on your Facebook feed at the end of the day, or to the bathroom where it's more interesting to read an eBook than it is an old shampoo bottle.
You could also carry the display to the couch and place it on your lap, essentially replacing your laptop. Or play a tabletop game with the kids. We fired up and air hockey game and found that it was entertaining, though touch support was a bit laggy in that particular title. The point is, there's a lot of flexibility here, more so than what you'd find on a traditional AIO or even a laptop.
The obvious downside is if attempting to use the system in tablet form, the screen suddenly becomes massive. Forget about one-handed use scenarios, nor are you going to tuck this thing into your pants pocket or purse like you can a Nexus 7 or iPad mini. Then again, that's not really the intent now is it?
|PCMark & 3DMark Tests|
To kick things off we fired up Futuremark's system performance benchmark, PCMark Vantage. This synthetic benchmark suite simulates a range of real-world scenarios and workloads, stressing various system subsets in the process. Everything you'd want to do with your PC -- watching HD movies, music compression, image editing, gaming, and so forth -- is represented here. Also, most of the tests are multi-threaded, making this a good indicator of all-around performance.
Two all-in-one systems stand out among the crowd in our PCMark 7 test and both are from Dell, the XPS One 27 and the XPS 18 reviewed here. Dell's XPS 18 relies on integrated graphics and a less robust processor than the XPS One 27, but in terms of all around computing performance, which is what PCMark 7 purports to measure, the impact is minimal, coming down to just a few hundred points.
Interestingly, both of those systems also rely on mechanical hard drive storage flanked by an mSATA solid state drive (SSD) for faster access to the most frequently used files. It's a cost-effective solution that's able to offer SSD-like speeds in many instances but with greater capacity per dollar.
The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark Vantage, is specifically bound to Windows Vista-based systems because it uses some advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 10, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows. 3DMark Vantage isn't simply a port of 3DMark06 to DirectX 10 though. With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, in addition to support for the latest PC hardware. We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark Vantage's Performance preset option, which uses a resolution of 1280x1024
Focusing on GPU performance, as Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage does, highlights the XPS 18's ineffectual prowess as a dedicated gaming machine, though things are not as bad as you might think. Despite the lack of a discrete GPU, the XPS 18's integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 put up a respectable showing in 3DMark Vantage, especially compared to some of last year's all-in-one machines, including HP's TouchSmart system with Radeon graphics.
3DMark 11 casts a more realistic light on what to expect from real-world gaming performance from modern titles. The XPS 18's score of 620 sits pretty low on the totem pole, though once again it still outpaced HP's TouchSmart system. We'll look at some specific game benchmarks in a bit, but it's already apparent that this isn't a system for diehard gamers. It can, however, handle some light gaming duties.
Curiosity got the better of us so we decided to run the XPS 18 through 3DMark 11's Extreme run to see if it could handle it. When the dust settled, the XPS 18 emerged with a score of 208, which isn't fantastic in the grand scheme of things, but respectable for what this system is.
|SiSoft Sandra & CineBench|
|We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).
The Dell XPS 18 Portable All-In-One is equipped with an Intel Core i5 3337U processor, a mid-range Ivy Bridge part with two cores clocked at 1.8GHz (2.7GHz via Turbo), Hyper Threading support, and 3MB of Smart Cache. SiSoft SANDRA's processor scores were a little lower than what we've seen from other AIO systems, though we're also running a newer version, which SiSoft says shouldn't be compared to previous builds.
The memory score is more in line with what we were expecting, considering the 8GB of relatively fast DDR3-1600 memory Dell shoved inside. As for storage, the 93.47MB/s isn't earth shattering by any means, though it doesn't fully take into consideration the 32GB mSATA SSD, which has a noticeable impact on day-to-day computing chores. The system definitely boots and feels faster than rigs that rely solely on a mechanical hard drive.
Maxon's Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation chores and tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads (CPU) to process more than 300,000 total polygons, while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.
The XPS 18 sat at the bottom of the pack in Cinebench's CPU tests, and though it trailed by a small margin, the real takeaway here is that for all of the system's flexibility, one thing you're not going to be doing is heavy-duty CAD work or 3D design. It doesn't have the horsepower required for such tasks, though it's not totally devoid of some capability in this regard either.
In the OpenGL portion of the test, the XPS 18 lifted itself up from the bottom of the back and settled comfortably in the middle, besting the HP TouchSmart and Asus ET2410. It only trailed two systems equipped with more modern discrete GPUs. Not a bad showing for Intel's HD Graphics 4000.
|Gaming and HD Video|
We've already established that the XPS 18 isn't a high-end gaming machine, though it's not as if the Intel HD 4000 Graphics are incapable of pushing pixels around, provided you drop the settings a bit. We saw this in our Lost Planet 2 benchmark run. Sticking with a Full HD 1080p (1920x1080) resolution so that we have a larger sample size to compare with, the XPS 18 showed signs of life once we dropped down from High to Low quality settings. It was actually smoother than the framerates would indicate, though in more demanding games, you may need to reduce the resolution a bit as well.
The XPS 18 is great system for watching videos, as we found out during our HD Video test. Not only is the display bright, vibrant, and able to be viewed from sharp angles, the hardware inside is able to process video without any noticeable hiccups. Streaming HD video was buttery smooth with low CPU utilization. The only thing you have to worry about is your Internet connection, assuming you're streaming from the web or home network.
|Power Consumption & Battery Life|
We used SeaSonic's Power Angel Power Meter to measure the amount of power our test system pulled from the wall. You'll find two figures below: peak power consumption under a full CPU/ load and idle power consumption following a fresh system boot.
This isn't a power hungry system, by any means, not with it's tablet-like DNA. At idle, we measured 23W from the all, and a mere 51W under load when fully stressing the CPU and GPU. As an added bonus, the system never gets loud. There is a cooling fan that kicks on when things get a little hot under the collar, but it emits a soft whir rather than an obnoxious buzz or windstorm.
It makes the most sense to keep the stand plugged into the wall so that battery life is never an issue when stationary, just as would be the case with any other AIO. However, if you do decide to remove the display and use it as a full fledged system outside of the stand, you can expect a little more than two hours under most worst-case scenarios, save for gaming, which is going to drain the battery even faster. Even in this scenario, however, you can plug the AC adapter directly into the panel itself.
We're not putting a ton of focus here on tablet battery life, because at 18.4 inches and around 5 pounds, most people aren't going to carry the XPS 18 far from home the way they would a traditional slate. That said, you can expect several hours out of the XPS 18 if all you're doing is updating your social media feeds, sending emails, and surfing the web.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
Performance Summary: The Dell XPS 18 Portable All-In-One didn't shatter any benchmark records or leave us with performance whiplash, but then again, AIO systems rarely do. Compared to most other AIO rigs we've reviewed, the XPS 18 had enough vigor to not only keep up in most instances, but surpass some of last year's models. In PCMark 7, for example, the XPS 18 scored 4,318, nearly 2,000 points above the Asus ET2410, Lenovo IdeaCentre A720, and HP TouchSmart 520. The only system it trailed was Dell's burly XPS One 27. Similar situations played out in other tests, though the lack of a dedicated solid state drive and discrete graphics prevented the XPS 18 tearing through GPU and storage intensive benchmarks.Windows 8, with its unified interface and focus on touch computing, has challenged OEM system builders to come up with creative ways of utilizing the new operating system. We've seen some decent designs and some gimmicky ones, and now that we've been introduced to Dell's XPS 18 Portable All-In-One, we can say we've seen an intriguing design that has several upsides to it.
Tablets have made their mark on the casual computing sector, and if you're used to using an iPad or an Android slate, you may find yourself instinctively wanting to reach out and tap your non-touch capable laptop. That obviously isn't a problem with the XPS 18, which sports a bright and vibrant 18.4-inch IPS multi-touch IPS display with a Full HD 1080p (1920x1080) resolution. This is an important feature to have on an AIO system, especially one that's powered by Windows 8.
What's neat about the XPS 18 is that you can pick up the display and take it with you to the living room, bedroom, or even the bathroom if you've run out of shampoo bottles to read. Unfortunately, it's too big and heavy (around 5 pounds) to serve as a legitimate tablet replacement, and you'd look awfully silly lugging this sucker on the bus. It's also an expensive piece of equipment, and since it's somewhat unwieldy because of its size, there's a greater risk of dropping it than there is with a Nexus 7 or something of that nature.
Dell doesn't want you to view this as a hybrid tablet/desktop, however, which is why it's billed as a portable AIO. Unlike a traditional AIO, you can pick up and move the XPS 18 from one location to another with relative ease. If you want to surf the web from the couch after work hours or read and e-magazine from bed before turning the lights out, the XPS 18 will accommodate, provided you're comfortable with an 18.4-inch display on your lap. Alternately, this type of system opens the door to tabletop computing, something OEMs are excited to push, though we have our reservations that families are actually going to sit down and play on this thing versus blowing each other up on Xbox. Should there be a market for tabletop computing, however, the XPS 18 is poised to take advantage of it.
There are some notable shortcomings you should be aware of when considering this system. It lacks HDMI connectivity, doesn't have an Ethernet port, and there's no optical drive built in, though the same can be said for most Ultrabooks these days. And if you're the type that likes to do your own repairs and upgrades, this isn't the AIO for you, as it inherited the tablet's DNA when it comes to user serviceability.
Wrapping up what's becoming a long-winded conclusion, we like many more things than we don't about this system. It's one of the first and few hybrid designs that's more functional than gimmicky, and because of it's Ivy Bridge foundation, there's plenty of power for general purpose computing and even some gaming. If the flexibility of a detachable, portable 18-inch tabletop PC appeals to you, this system has your name all over it.