Dell XPS 13 (2017) With Kaby Lake R Review: Faster, Better Than Ever

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Dell's XPS 13 (Late 2017) Doubles Down On CPU Cores

Dell XPS 13 Late 2017 Open

Dell has not done much to tweak the physical design of its XPS 13 laptop over the past couple years, though it's not out of laziness or complacency. The past few models have exemplified excellence in engineering, with the size and weight of the XPS 13 belying what lays in wait when you crack open the lid. Its InfinityEdge display all but eliminates bezel and delivers a larger-than-expected viewing area based on the laptop's overall dimensions, and the hardware powering it has, for the most part, been cutting edge.

In keeping with that latter theme, Dell upgraded its XPS 13 for late 2017 with a new 8th generation Intel Core i7 processor, specifically the Core i7-8550U, effectively doubling the number of available processor cores (and threads) for multi-threaded workloads. We will get to that in our benchmarks, but first let's talk about Intel's 8th generation nomenclature to clear up any confusion that might exist.

Dell XPS 13 Late 2017 Closed

In mobile, Intel's 8th generation parts are also known as Kaby Lake-R, or Kaby Lake Refresh. That is because they are built on the same 14nm+ manufacturing process as Kaby Lake, only slightly refined. They also bring more cores to the table, and the performance gap between Kaby Lake-R and Kaby Lake is wide enough that Intel felt justified in labeling the newer processors as 8th generation Core CPUs. That is different from the desktop, where Intel's 8th generation Core parts are built on a further refined 14nm++ node and carry the codename Coffee Lake.

So what we have here is an 8th generation Core i7-8550U Kaby Lake-R processor with 4-cores and 8-threads, and 8MB of L3 cache. The bump to a quad-core processor with Hyper Threading gives the XPS 13 a higher performance ceiling in applications that can utilize more cores and threads. The additional cores come at the expense of the base frequency, which is only 1.8GHz on the Core i7-8550U, but it has a more important boost clock of 4GHz.

Dell XPS 13 Late 2017 Service Tag Door
Here is a look at the full spec sheet for the machine that we tested:

Dell XPS 13 (Late 2017)
Specifications & Features
Processor Options 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8550U (8MB Cache, up to 4.0GHz)
Display
13.3" QHD+ (3200 x 1800) 276ppi IGZO IPS InfinityEdge touch display, 400 nits, 1000:1 contrast ratio, 72% color gamut
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 620
Memory
16GB LPDDR3 2133MHz (On board)
Storage
512GB PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive
Optical N/A
Ethernet N/A
WiFi
Killer™ 1535 Wireless-AC 2x2 + Bluetooth 4.1
Interface (Left)
Power/DC-in Jack; Thunderbolt 3 (USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C); USB 3.0; Battery Gauge Button, Headset Jack, Speaker
Interface (Right)
Noble Lock Slot; Power Button, USB 3.0 w/ PowerShare, 3-in-1 SD Card Reader, Speaker
Interface (Back) N/A
Webcam
Widescreen HD (720p) webcam with dual array digital microphones
Operating System
Windows 10 Home 64-Bit
Battery 4-cell Lithium Ion (60 WHr)
Dimensions Height: 0.33-0.6” (9-15mm) / Width: 11.98” (304mm) / Depth: 7.88” (200mm)
Weight
2.9 pounds (1.29kg) with Touch Display, 2.7 pounds (1.2kg) Non Touch
Warranty
1 Year Limited Hardware Warranty
Pricing $1,854.99 as configured

Dell XPS 13 Late 2017 Service Tag

The main difference between this refreshed model with an 8th generation Core processor and the 7th generation Core model, we reviewed in December last year, is the processor. This one also sports a slightly altered component selection, but at its core (not its Core), the XPS 13 is the same svelte laptop with the same 9360 model number. As such, we are not going to go into detail about every aspect of the physical design as we did before, though we do want to touch on some things.

dell xps 13 infinity edge display2

One of them is the display. The 13.3-inch InfinityEdge panel is a highlight of the XPS 13. By virtually eliminating the bezel, Dell is able to disguise the display area with an 11-inch form factor. Physically it is only slightly bigger than Apple's MacBook Air 11, and 17 percent smaller than the MacBook Air 13. Compared to the MacBook Pro 13, it is 6 percent smaller and 11 percent lighter, checking in at 2.7 pounds with a non-touch display, or 2.9 pounds with a touch panel, which is what we have.

The touch panel also benefits from having a QHD+ (3200x1800) resolution, so it is packing some major real estate in a small area. That also means having to enlarge icons and fonts on the desktop to avoid squinting, and you might run into the occasional scaling issue. For the most part, however, having a QHD+ display an asset and not a liability.

Dell XPS 13 Late 2017 Closed

Beyond that, the XPS 13 is a premium looking laptop available in Silver or Rose Gold, both with an anodized aluminum top and bottom lid. It has a tapered design that gets thinner from back to front, with rounded edges that make it easy to slip inside and out of a laptop bag or backpack.
Dell XPS 13 Keyboard2
Dell's XPS 13 has the same port selection as before, and on the inside, It offers the same soft touch finish and rigid chiclet-style keyboard with backlit keys. The keys offer good travel (1.3mm) and tactility for a comfortable typing experience, and the large trackpad is responsive to swipes and gestures.

Let's move on to our benchmarks...

ATTO Disk Benchmark, Testing NVMe Solid State Storage

Dell XPS 13 Late 2017 ATTO

We kicked things off with ATTO, as the storage scheme is critical to a system's real-world overall and perceived performance. By that we mean that a fast storage drive can make even an entry-level PC feel fast. That is a direct result of the advent of solid state drives and they impact they have on day-to-day operations. Swapping out a mechanical hard drive for an SSD is one of the best ways to make a PC feel snappier—it will boot Windows faster, transfer files quicker, lessen game load times, and make general computing chores feel more responsive.

The SSD in the Dell XPS 13 is an M.2 form factor drive with an NVMe interface. Translated to plain English, it's a newer type of SSD on a module that is shaped similarly to a stick of gum, and is much faster than a traditional SATA-based SSD. The NVMe interface means it shuttles data through the PCIe bus, giving it the ability to read and write digital bits much faster than SATA-based SSDs (which can also come in the M.2 form factor). In ATTO, the SSD in the XPS 13 hit a peak read speed of nearly 1.82 gigabytes per second (GB/s). Write performance was not quite as impressive, but still managed to creep above 491 megabytes per second (MB/s) at its peak.

SunSpider and Cinebench

Next we turned our attention to general purpose benchmarks with SunSpider, a JavaScript benchmark, and then ran Cinebench, a test that works both CPU and GPU engines of the processor in the XPS 13. Cinebench is developed by Maxon, which is better known for its Cinema 4D software employed in professional 3D rendering and animation. We use both of Cinebench’s integrated tests for CPU and GPU.

Dell XPS 13 Late 2017 SunSpider

Dell XPS 13 Late 2017 Cinebench

Dell XPS 13 with Kaby Lake R Cinebench R15 benchmark

In our SunSpider run, the XPS 13 shot to the top of the chart and stole the performance crown from Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Yoga 2nd Gen, which only weeks ago posted the fastest time of any ultrabook we had tested to date. Now that distinction belongs Dell and its late 2017 model XPS 13 with an 8th generation Intel Core i7-8550U processor inside. In that regard, it is also a win for Intel and its newest mobile chips.

Editor's Note - 11/11/17: We've updated our Cinbench R15 numbers due to extensive Windows 10 updates that came through. 

We saw similar good things from the XPS 13 in Cinebench, a take-no-prisoners benchmark that pushes systems as hard as a jockey on a horse at the Kentucky Derby. In the multi-threaded CPU test, the XPS 13 posted a top three score, underscoring that more cores and boost clocks are much more important than base clocks. And in the OpenGL portion of the test, the Core i7-8550's integrated graphics only trailed a couple of systems that benefited from discrete GPUs. We do not have quite as big of a sample size for the newer Cinebench R15 benchmark, but the XPS 13 impresses there as well by taking the top score in multi-threaded CPU performance and offering solid GPU throughput.

Compared to the previous generation XPS 13, the late 2017 model is proving to be a much faster laptop so far. Let's move onto our next set of benchmarks to see if this trend continues...

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