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2014 Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook With Touch Review
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Date: Mar 10, 2014
Section:Mobile
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction And Specifications

Dell aims to give users a premium mobile experience with the company’s XPS line of laptops. Not long ago, we had some hands-on time with Dell’s XPS 15 and really liked it. Last year, we also took a look at the 2013 version of Dell’s XPS 13. Here again, we had many positive things to say of Dell's top shelf ultralight 13-inch machine.

Today we’re going to take a look at the latest version of the XPS 13. This updated version has not been redesigned, but it does include a new, larger capacity battery (55WHr compared to the previous 47WHr battery). And along with Intel's 4th generation Haswell Core series processor for more efficient computing, Dell claims the new XPS 13 can deliver up to 11 hours of wireless web browsing on a single charge. Other key updates for this iteration of XPS 13 includes an optional 13.3-inch touch-enabled 1080p display and Windows 8.1.

Like previous versions of the XPS series, the 2014 version of the XPS 13 features machined aluminum and carbon fiber for strength and durability. The carbon fiber composite base helps make the XPS 13 very lightweight—as little as 2.95 pounds.

Dell worked hard to squeeze a 13.3-inch display in a footprint that’s similar to what you may find on an 11-inch laptop. According to Dell, the XPS 13 is the most compact 13-inch laptop on the planet. Thankfully, Dell didn’t skimp on the display either, which features 1920X1080 resolution and 350-nits brightness. Behind the scenes, you'll find Intel integrated HD 4400 graphics on board the XPS 13 as well.

2014 Dell XPS 13
Specifications & Features
Processor
Options
4th Generation Intel Core i3-4010U processor (3M Cache, up to 1.7 GHz)
4th Generation Intel Core i5-4200U processor (3M Cache, up to 2.6 GHz)
4th Generation Intel Core i7-4500U processor (4M Cache, up to 3.0 GHz)
4th Generation Intel Core i7-4650U processor (4M Cache, up to 3.3 GHz)
Dimensions
(HxWxD)
Height: 0.2-0.7 inches
Width: 12.4 inches
Depth 8.1 inches

Starting at Weight
2.95lbs
3.03lbs for touch

Display options
13.3-inch FHD (1920x1080)
13.3-inch FHD (1920x1080) touch display
350-nit, 72% color gamut, 800:1 contrast ratio
178° wide viewing angle - 89° / 89° / 89° / 89°
Capacitive touchscreen – 10-finger touch support
Construction
Machined aluminum
Carbon fiber composite base
Edge-to-edge Corning Gorilla Glass NBT
Magnesium palm rest with soft touch paint
System Memory
4GB or 8GB Dual Channel DDR3L-RS SDRAM at 1600 MHz (On Board)
Graphics
Intel HD 4400 or HD 5000 (i7 4650U only)
Battery
55WHr battery (built-in)
SSD Options
128GB or 256GB SSD drive option with Intel Rapid Start Technology
Keyboard /
Touchpad
Standard full size, backlit chiclet keyboard; spill-resistant
Glass integrated button touchpad with gesture support
Wireless Connectivity
Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 + Bluetooth 4.0
Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) 3.0 ready
Intel Smart Connect Technology
Sound
High Definition Audio with Waves MaxxAudio Pro
1.5W x2 = 3W total
Webcam
Widescreen HD webcam with dual array digital microphones
Ports and Connectors
USB 3.0 with PowerShare (2); mini DisplayPort (1); Headset Jack (1)
Software
Skype, Internet Explorer, My Dell Support application, PocketCloud
Operating System Options


Pricing:
Windows 8.1 (Windows 7 for non-touch)
Business only - Windows 8.1 Professional, Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium, Genuine Windows 7 Professional, Genuine Windows 7 Ultimate

Starting at $1049, $1649 as configured and tested


Dell is offering three configurations of the XPS 13 with prices startingat $1049 for a system configured with a 4th generation Core i3 processor, Windows 7 Home Premium, 4GB of memory, and a 128GB solid state drive. This system does not include touch. The midrange configuration is priced at $1299 and includes a 4th generation Core i5 processor, Windows 8.1, 8GB Memory, and a 128GB solid state drive. This system is touch enabled.

In this review, we’ll be taking a look at the high-end version of theXPS 13. Priced at $1649, this system features a 4th generation Core i7 processor, Windows 8.1, 8GB memory, a 256GB solid state drive, and is touch enabled. All of these systems come with one year of enhanced support, though the high-end SKU we're testing comes with 3 years enhanced support. Let's dive in...

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Design and Layout

Dell’s XPS series has been known for using premium materials such as machined aluminum, carbon fiber, and hardened Corning Gorilla Glass NBT on its display. This combination gives the XPS series a high-end look and feel. Dell continued this look and feel on the XPS 13, complete with a machined aluminum finish with Dell’s logo on the center of the bezel and the top of the lid. All four corners of the notebook are rounded, making it easy to slip the XPS 13 in and out of your bag. The lid is nice and sturdy and the notebook had solid positioning staying open at any angle.

As you can see from the pictures, the XPS 13 uses a tapered design. At its thickest point, the XPS 13 measures 0.7 inches. Near the front, it’s a mere 0.2 inches thick. Our high-end model with touch weighs in at 3.03 pounds.

Our test unit featured the 13.3-inch FHD (1920x1080) touch-enabled display. This display features a brightness of 350-nits and excellent viewing angles at up to 178 degrees. Like the previous generation XPS 13, the 2014 version supports a 72 percent color gamut. Color fidelity is decent in this panel, though there are wider range displays on the market, which of course would command a premium. During our time with the XPS 13, the display was very crisp, sharp, and vibrant. Above the display, you’ll find a widescreen HD webcam as well as dual array digital mics.

The Power button for the system is located to the left of the Esc key. The keyboard is backlit and features slightly curved keys that are comfortable to type on. Centered below the keyboard is the roomy glass touchpad with integrated buttons and gesture support. A magnesium alloy palm rest with soft touch paint surrounds the touchpad and keyboard. This finish is cool and smooth and perhaps best of all, it doesn’t attract fingerprints. 

On the left edge of the XPS 13, you’ll find the power jack, a USB 3.0 port with PowerShare, and a headset jack. The right edge of the ultrabook contains a battery gauge indicator (press the tiny circular button to see the battery indicator lights), USB 3.0 port with PowerShare, and a mini DisplayPort. The PowerShare ports are a nice addition, giving you the ability to charge USB devices even if the ultrabook is turned off or in standby mode.

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Software And User Experience

Dell claims the XPS 13 can boot from cold in as little as 12 seconds and resume from sleep in as little as 3 seconds. Our experience proves this to be true—the system boots very quickly and wakes in an instant.

The XPS 13 comes preloaded with Windows 8.1. Other than the standard set of applications you’ll get with Windows, there isn’t a ton of bloatware on the XPS 13. We would much rather pick out our own software than spend time uninstalling programs we have no intentions of using, so we’re happy to see a system that’s almost clean out of the box. 

Still, there are a few extras that come with the XPS 13 including McAfee LiveSafe, a trial of Microsoft Office 365, My Dell, and PocketCloud. PocketCloud 2.0 gives you access to content and applications from a different PC, smartphone, or tablet. You can also edit and share your files using this service. After using PocketCloud 2.0, you have the option to upgrade to Premium service and enable multiple connections to other devices.

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Benchmarks: SiSoft SANDRA and Cinebench

In order to get a feel for how the Dell XPS 13 compares to other ultrabooks on the market, we ran a few established benchmarks. We began our benchmark testing with SiSoft SANDRA and Cinebench.

SiSoft SANDRA 2013
Synthetic General Performance Metrics

We began 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, File System).

  

SANDRA CPU and Multimedia Benchmarks

   

SANDRA Memory and File System Benchmarks

The CPU and Multimedia scores from the XPS 13 are excellent, showing the power that’s inside of this ultrabook. The XPS 13 didn’t perform as well as the ThinkPad X1 Carbon in the Memory Bandwidth test, but it still earned very respectable scores at 15.5 - 16GB/sec. The Physical Disk test returned scores that are in line with what we’d expect from the hardware that powers the XPS 13 and a nimble Solid State Drive, exceeding 500MB/sec.

Cinebench R11.5
3D Rendering Content Creation Performance

Cinebench R11.5 is a 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation suite used by animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.

As you can see here, the XPS 13 took the top spot in the OpenGL test and earned third place in the CPU benchmark. Even at third place in the CPU test, you can see that there’s a relatively small margin between the scores of the top-placing Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 touch and the XPS 13.

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PCMark 7 and PCMark 8

Futuremark’s PCMark 7 is a well-known benchmark tool that runs the system through ordinary computing tasks, including word processing and multimedia playback and editing. Graphics and processor power figure prominently in this benchmark, but graphics throughput doesn’t play as big a role here as it does in another Futuremark benchmark, 3DMark (which is designed for testing the system’s gaming capabilities). This test also weighs heavily on the performance of the storage subsystem of a given device.

Futuremark PCMark 7
Simulated Application Performance

Dell’s XPS 13 once again earns the top spot in the PCMark 7 benchmark, showing this is a system that is speedy and capable of various very day computing tasks.

Futuremark PCMark 8 v.2
Trace-based Workload Testing
Futuremark recently launched PCMark 8, which has several built-in benchmark tests. The Home test measures a system's ability to handle basic tasks such as web browsing, writing, gaming, photo editing, and video chat. The Creative test offers similar types of tasks, but has more demanding requirements than the Home benchmark and is meant for mid-range and higher-end PCs. The Work test measures the performance of typical office PC systems that lack media capabilities. Finally, the Storage benchmark tests the performance of SSDs, HDDs and hybrid drives with traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office and a selection of popular games.

This test was a little harder on the XPS 13 than the other benchmarks we’ve seen so far. Still, the XPS 13 posted respectable scores, coming in second in the Work Accelerated test and third in the Home Accelerated test. Even though it earned fourth place, respectively, in the Storage test, keep in mind the margin between scores in the storage test is very small and likely even within the margin of error and repeatability for the workload.

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Gaming Benchmarks

We recognize most ultrabooks such as the Dell XPS 13 aren’t designed to be serious gaming machines, but that doesn’t mean they can’t handle a bit of casual gaming, especially when you find Intel's HD 4400 Graphics on board. To get a feel for how the XPS 13 stacks up to other systems, we fired up 3DMark11, Cloud Gate, and Far Cry 2.

Futuremark 3DMark 11
Simulated DX11 Gaming Performance

As a synthetic gaming benchmark, 3DMark 11 puts extra emphasis on your system’s handling of DirectX 11. However, 3DMark 11 measures more than just the graphics card’s performance; the processor has an influence on the score as well as system memory bandwidth. As a result, this benchmark is a good way to get a feel for how well the system can handle gaming and general computing tasks.

The XPS 13 performed very well in this test, earning the second spot behind the Asus Zenbook UX32VD which features a Core i7 3517U processor and discrete NVIDIA GeForce 620M graphics.

Futuremark 3DMark Cloud Gate
Simulated DX11 Gaming Performance



3DMark is the latest flagship benchmark in Futuremark’s catalog. As a result, it is a popular choice for testing all types of PCs. 3DMark has a separate test suite for different device categories. The Cloud Gate test is aimed at entry-level PCs and laptops. It has two subtests: a processor-intensive physics test and two graphics tests. Cloud Gate uses a DirectX 11 engine but the graphics are designed to be compatible with DirectX 10 systems. We ran the test suite at its default 1280 x 720 resolution and at default rendering quality settings. It’s important to remember that 3DMark Cloud Gate scores aren’t comparable to scores from other categories such as 3DMark Fire Strike (gaming PCs) or Ice Storm (smartphones and tablets).

Here again, we see excellent performance from the XPS 13, earning the top spot in our comparison chart by a comfortable margin.

Far Cry 2
Midrange DX10 Gaming Performance

Far Cry 2 uses high-quality textures, complex shaders, and dynamic lighting to create a realistic gaming environments and jungle battlegrounds. Using the game’s built-in benchmark, we can get a better look at a system’s performance with DirectX 10 level gaming graphics.

We have plenty of systems for comparison here, which makes it that much more impressive that the XPS 13 earns the second spot in this comparison chart. If you compare the scores from the 2014 XPS 13 to the score from last year’s version, you’ll see more than a 25% improvement in average frames per second.

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Battery Life

The XPS 13 comes with a built-in 55WHr battery that is not user replaceable. Although we prefer user-swappable batteries, we recognize this isn’t the trend among ultrabooks and it does detract from the elegance of the form factor. Regardless, to get a feel for how the battery in the XPS 13 compares, we tested the machine using what could be considered “worst case” and “best case” scenarios in the following two metrics.

Battery Eater Pro And Web Browsing Battery Life Tests
Power Consumption And Battery Life Tests
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the XPS 13's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran Battery Eater Pro. This test is designed to tax all of a laptop’s resources to give a feel for how long the laptop’s battery will last under heavy use. For the test, we set the XPS 13’s display to 50% brightness and enabled Wi-Fi.

Not only did the XPS 13 last for a full 3.5 hours during this “worst case” test, but it also outlasted the next best system by more than an hour. Dell claims the XPS 13’s new battery delivers greater longevity than previous generations and this claim is proving true. To get another feel for how the XPS 13 stacks up, we also ran our standard web browsing test.

Our web browsing test measures the machine's ability to maintain power under light duty use with its Wi-Fi radio on and the display set to 50 percent brightness.  This test refreshes a dedicated web page every couple of minutes and the page has a mixture of text, images, and Flash media.   We consider this to be a "best case scenario" and a decent relative gauge for battery life versus competitive products in a given device class.

If you’ll recall, Dell claims the XPS 13’s battery can deliver up to 11 hours of wireless web browsing on a single charge. Our test proves this to be true, given that the system lasted for 11 hours and 40 minutes before finally giving up. Keep in mind this is a light-duty test, but the results are still very impressive.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Analysis:

Simply put, the benchmark scores for the XPS 13 are impressive. In every test, the XPS 13 earns a score that’s within the top 4 results for any reference machine we've tested in the same class of devices; and in many cases, the XPS 13 comes in at the No. 1 spot. Perhaps even better is the fact that you don’t have to sacrifice battery life in order to achieve this level of performance.

Although the look and feel of the XPS 13 may not be anything new or revolutionary (after all, we’ve seen a similar style and finish on previous generation XPS models) the saying, “if it ain't broke, don’t fix it” is true in this case. Dell has achieved a look and feel that is rich and attractive while still very functional.

The XPS 13 doesn’t have a SD card expansion slot or an HDMI port. This isn’t too surprising, given the trend among manufacturers to skip “extras” but features such as these are still on our wish list. Still, with two USB 3.0 ports and an external card reader you can gain access to additional storage with relative ease.

Perhaps the biggest drawback for the XPS 13 is its price. Dell offers XPS 13 systems that start at $1,049 but the specs you’ll find on this lower priced machine aren’t going to compare to the high-end model we tested in this review which has a price tag of $1,649. For the additional money, you'll receive upgrades in the following areas: a touch screen, Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB SSD as well as three years of enhanced support. Most likely Dell’s middle configuration, priced at $1,299, will hit the sweet spot for most users, in terms of that all-important price/performance ratio.

All in all, Dell’s high-end XPS 13 looks great, performs exceptionally well, and has the ability to last for a very long time without being tethered to the wall. Although it can be little pricey in the top configuration, you definitely get a premium experience in exchange for what you pay for.

 

     
  • Impressive battery life
  • Excellent performance
  • Fast boot
  • Great build quality
  • Nice 1080p display
  • High-end SKUs are pricey
  • No SD card slot
  • No HDMI output



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