Dell XPS 13 2-In-1 (2019) Review: A Near-Perfect Intel 10th Gen Laptop

Dell XPS 13 7390: Graphics and Gaming Performance

UL’s well-known 3DMark benchmark suite features tests that target different types of computing devices. We selected Cloud Gate, Sky Diver, and Night Raid tests since they are light-duty 3D graphics and gaming benchmarks aimed at PCs that weren't built specifically for gaming. We also have plenty of comparison data for Cloud Gate and Sky Diver, which is the more strenuous of the two tests. Night Raid is UL's newest addition, which measures DirectX 12 performance in mainstream PCs.

3DMark Benchmarks
3D Performance
3DMark has several different graphics tests which focus on different types of systems. The Cloud Gate test focuses on integrated graphics performance with DirectX 11. It's the lightest of the three tests we'll look at.
chart 3dmark cloudgate
The Digital Content Creation test in PCMark foreshadowed what we see here with 3DMark: the XPS 13 7390 has the fastest integrated graphics around. Intel's Iris Plus integrated graphics processor gave around a 35% performance uplift over the company's UHD 620 graphics, and it even beat out AMD's Ryzen 5 2500U and its Vega 8 graphics by 15 percentage points. It's important to remember that not all Ice Lake CPUs come with such stout graphics horsepower, but it's nice to know that the company makes plenty of performance available outside of exotic configurations with tons of cache. 

Next up let's see how Sky Diver performs. 
chart 3dmark skydiver
All of the previous-generation Intel CPUs hit a wall at a score of around 4900, which made separating Intel and non-Intel graphics pretty simple–until Ice Lake and Iris Plus came along, anyhow. The new graphics architecture and the increased memory bandwidth afforded by LPDDR4X-3733 dual channel memory combined to give the XPS 13 7390 a margin of victory in excess of 65% over the last generation. That's great on its own, but it also edged out the HP Envy x360's Vega 8 graphics by around 5% and tracks very closely to Nvidia's MX150, a discrete graphics solution with its own dedicated VRAM.

chart 3dmark nightraid

Night Raid focuses on integrated graphics performance but uses the low-level DirectX 12 API to do so. In this test, the Iris Plus graphics solution trails the MX 150 by around 13 percentage points, and exceeds the UHD 620 IGP in the ThinkPad by 73%. That's incredibly impressive for any integrated graphics solution. It's unfortunate that we don't have any Vega 8 scores to compare to, but several results in the 3DMark database indicate that AMD's solution would score around 8000 points, so we think Intel would have won that fight, too. 

GRID Autosport
Gaming Performance
GRID Autosport is a cross-platform racing simulation developed by Codemasters. The developer wanted to make up for GRID 2, which released to mediocre reviews from critics and gamerse alike. Codemasters set out to improve GRID Autosport's handling and environment rendering to make it a true racing simulator. The third GRID game is built on Codemasters' EGO engine that boasts more realistic physics and damage systems to add a bit of danger and some extra realism to the racing. Codemasters also tuned its graphics engine to perform well over a wide variety of mainstream systems, which makes it a great test for systems with integrated graphics. Codemasters also promotes that GRID Autosport is "optimized for integrated Intel HD Graphics", which is certainly something. We tested at 1080p with the High image quality preset. 

chart grid autosport

Again, Iris Plus came awfully close to doubling up the performance of Intel's UHD 620 integrated graphics. We've gone from borderline-unplayable performance at 1080p to a quite smooth framerate in a generation. In fact, the Iris Plus's minimum 43 frames per second matches the average frame rate of the Ryzen 5 2500U's Vega 8 graphics, which is quite a feat. As before, the only systems which scored faster than the XPS 13 7390 are those with discrete graphics solutions. 

Subjectively, Iris Plus's graphics performance was really solid, too. We spent some time going HAM in Fornite and Dota 2 to get a feel for how some of the most popular esports titles fared. We found that you could have maximum detail or a full 1920x1200 resolution and get playable framerates, but you couldn't really have both at once. Both of these games got the best mix of performance and visual quality out of their medium settings at 1920x1200, or by dropping the resolution to 1440x900 and cranking up the detail. Intel's new graphics architecture represents an improvement over the last, but it's not magic. That's fine, but we still want to take a closer look at gaming performance.

Gaming Frame Time Analysis
GRID Autosport and Hitman (2016) Performance Over Time
Since we're looking at a new graphics architecture, it only makes sense to see how far along the drivers are. To get a good feel for this, we sampled a couple of games we already looked at previously with this system: GRID Autosport from our tests above and the Hitman reboot from 2016, which we looked at in the preview. To dig in depth, we used frame time capture tool CapFrameX to grab 60 seconds of frame times. This isn't a comparative analysis; at this point we're not concerned with which system does a better job of keeping the frame times down. We're concerned with whether Iris Plus can give us solid frame rates throughout the length of a test run.

First we'll look at GRID Autosport, which we tested with the same 1080p resolution and High graphical settings as we had above. The benchmark runs longer than 60 seconds, but our test only grabs the first 60 seconds of the run. This particular graph comes from early in the test, from the point where the race begins, and our automated driver trails a good chunk of the pack the whole time. As a result, there are more collisions, graphical effects, and geometry here than anywhere else in the test. Let's see how it performed.

chart ft grid autosport
In a word, performance is stellar. The entire run stays well below the 50 millisecond barrier to frame rates below 20 where performance issues will really detract from the gameplay experience. In fact, this whole section of the run came in under the 33.3 millisecond threshold that represents 30 frames per second. Almost the entire run sat solidly in a range that equates to 40 to 50 frames per second. We were impressed with how the XPS 13 7390 performed with this admittedly older game. Intel's drivers do a solid job here. 

Let's jump in the time machine and speed ahead to 2016 to see how Hitman runs. First, here's a recap of the average frame rates from before.

chart hitman Benchmarks

As it turns out, this is a little less playable than we'd like at 1080p, even though the XPS 13 7390 leads the pack of tested systems. For our frame time test we dropped the resolution down to 1366x768, but kept the graphical fidelity options the same. For the duration of the run, this got our average framerate up to 51.33 frames per second, which would be much more enjoyable to play. Let's see that frame time graph.

chart ft hitman
You can see spikes at pretty regular intervals. If you've never watched the Hitman built-in benchmark run before, you should be aware that the scene changes pretty frequently throughout. In fact, these spikes, which all go well north of 60 milliseconds, mostly revolve around scene changes. The scene itself is generally pretty smooth. The exception to this is a ballroom scene packed with people dancing, milling about, and enjoying a nice cold adult beverage. All those people cause a few stutters, and you can see those between frame 2000 and 2400. Incidentally, those are also the longest average frametimes of the whole run. We would definitely not be comfortable playing the game at 1920x1080, but for the lower 768p resolution, this performance is fine throughout. Integrated graphics have come a long way, but there's still no substitute for high-end discrete graphics with dedicated VRAM. 

Next up let's see how the battery life, thermals, and acoustic performance all fare.

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