Re-introducing the Dell XPS 13

Around this time last year, we had a chance to take a look at Dell's first ultrabook, the XPS 13. This was an ultrabook I was for the most part fond of, but one that was clearly suffering from being first generation ultrabook hardware. Ultra low-voltage Sandy Bridge chips were perfectly serviceable, but they could still generate a tremendous amount of heat in a chassis the size of the XPS 13. That meant noise and heat were both serious issues. Compounding that was a routine, run-of-the-mill, utterly dismal 1366x768 TN panel display.

Dell gave me the opportunity to retest the XPS 13, though, specifically the current generation model. I was looking forward to the 1080p display, optimistic about Ivy Bridge, and utterly skeptical about the rest of the chassis. Don't get me wrong, the XPS 13 is a beautiful ultrabook and I appreciate that Dell went their own way with the design rather than producing another silver sliver, but there are what I consider to be flaws in the design that needed to be addressed. Hopefully they will be in the future, but in the meantime a lot has apparently happened under the hood.

Dell XPS 13 (Q1 2013) Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-3337U
(2x1.8GHz + HTT, Turbo to 2.7GHz, 22nm, 3MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel QS77
Memory 2x4GB integrated DDR3L-1600
Graphics Intel HD 4000 Graphics
(16 EUs, up to 1.1GHz)
Display 13.3" LED Glossy 16:9 1080p IPS
Hard Drive(s) 256GB Samsung mSATA PM830 6Gbps SSD
Optical Drive -
Networking Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 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 3.0
Mic/headphone combo jack
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Dimensions 12.4" x 0.24-0.71" x 8.1" (WxHxD)
316mm x 6-18mm x 205mm
Weight 2.99 lbs
Extras Webcam
Ambient light sensor
Backlit keyboard
1080p IPS display
Warranty 1-year limited
Pricing Starts at $999
As configured: $1,399

In the intervening period between the first XPS 13 review and this one, a couple of things have been changed, but most updates have been fairly incremental. For my thoughts on the chassis design itself, you'll want to check my prior review, as for better and worse, absolutely nothing has changed there. If you were part of the way sold on the XPS 13 before, though, the refinement that's gone on under the hood may yet change your mind.

Footprint compared to the 11.6" Acer Aspire V5-171.

Dell advertises the XPS 13 as being a 13.3" notebook that has a similar footprint to an 11.6" one. "Similar" is a nice way of saying "we're fudging the numbers," though; comparison reveals that the XPS 13's footprint, while svelte for a 13.3" notebook, is more in line with a 12.1" chassis. That's still excellent, though, as it means more desktop real estate (even before getting to the panel quality) in a smaller area.

As far as the CPU goes, the jump from Sandy Bridge to Ivy for ultrabooks has been a phenomenally positive one. The more hands on time I get with it, the more I'm convinced that the all-star mobile CPU for this generation of notebooks is the Intel Core i5 ULV. ULV i3 is tremendously crippled by the lack of turbo core, while ULV i7 offers virtually nothing but an extra 1MB of L3 cache and slightly higher clocks; the i5-3337U here is essentially the sweet spot. The nominal clock of 1.8GHz and turbo core of 2.5GHz on both cores and 2.7GHz on a single makes the CPU a very capable performer, and the HD 4000 graphics (with a top turbo of 1.1GHz) have proven to be largely acceptable for casual gaming.

In the meantime, Dell bumped up the RAM to 8GB, bumped the RAM speed up to 1.6GHz, and then opted for DDR3L instead of standard voltage DDR3. The wireless card has gotten an incremental update to the Centrino 6235, and the single USB 2.0 port has been replaced by a 3.0 port. Still missing is an integrated card reader. The Samsung mSATA PM830 was an excellent SSD before, so there's no real reason to replace it.

The biggest upgrade to the XPS 13 is the 1080p display, which I'm fairly convinced is either an IPS panel or Samsung's SuperPLS; it exhibits none of the viewing angle anomalies of *VA, and it doesn't wash out the way TN does. Meanwhile Dell's store page for the XPS 13 remains fairly mum about the panel type itself outside of espousing how fantastic it is, which is actually strange given that consumer awareness of IPS and alternate panels is increasing.

As a sidenote, I was able to actually remove the bottom casing of this XPS 13. To get inside the XPS 13, you'll need a T-5 Torx screwdriver. It should surprise no one that the  RAM is soldered to the board; there's also a black sticker layer that sits between the mSATA SSD and the inside of the bottom panel. It's good to know that you can replace the mSATA drive and wireless card, though, should you need to/desire to.

System Performance
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  • wicketr - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    Shortfalls of this laptop IMO:
    1. Vent on the bottom getting blocked. I'm rarely at a desk on my LAPtop.
    2. No SD Card or HDMI out
    3. No dedicated Home/End/PageUp/PageDown
    4. 16x9 screen dimensions aren't optimal at this price point. 16x10 would be preferred.

    Frankly I'd like to see a XPS 14 that had this same look and feel as this XPS13 but with the above issues fixed.
  • jeffkibuule - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    16:10 has sailed. 16:9 won. End of story. Move on. Sorry.
  • Modernape - Friday, April 5, 2013 - link

    Except the MacBooks, which are all 16:10 apart from the 11"
  • NeBlackCat - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    Why do you need HDMI? It has mini-DP which you can easily dongle to HDMI. Plus DP supports higher resolutions than HDMI's maximum of 1080p.

    My complaint would be that it should have *two* mini-DPs so I can drive two higher-than-1080p external monitors (as the chipset allows) when not working mobile.

    +1 to the various complaints about the vent, crappy touchpad and lack of 16:10/1200p option. It beggars belief that I am typing this on a 6-7 year old Dell laptop purely because it has a 16:10/1200p screen and a great touchpad, areas in which Dell etc have gone so far backwards since then. Which unfortunately also leaves me stuck with its Pentium-M CPU and 2GB RAM, and unable to take advantage of the great strides that Intel and DRAM/Flash vendors have made in in getting the guts of these machines up to scratch in the same period.

    Come on Dell get your act together. Its not like your sales are booming and you can afford to ignore the professional part of the market (or those who just want to see more vertical space in their desktop and web pages). The casual user side of the market (those who originally wanted the now ubiquitous 16:9 1080p for their light browsing and movies) has spoken, and they increasingly want phones, phablets and tablets anyway, hitting your sales. So get back to thinking about us!

    while having to tolerate its Pentium-M CPU. All because Dell etc have gone so far backwards in that time, I can't buy a product with the former features all these years later
  • NeBlackCat - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    oops, last time was a mis-edit.
  • NeBlackCat - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    oops, that should have been "last line" damn these tiny pixels... ;-)

    Can we have an edit function Anand?
  • doubledeej - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    Why does every computer manufacturer insist on removing the Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys from their keyboards these days? It sure makes life for developers and writers miserable. And Fn+Arrow keys doesn't count... it makes it a two-handed operation, which becomes very difficult when doing multi-key combinations like Control+Home or Control+Shift+End.
  • Th-z - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    Windows 8 SP1? It must be a typo.
  • darwinosx - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    Who cares about 1080p? Where are the retina display PV laptops? Also you couldn't give me a Dell.
  • Mitch89 - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    The comm badge on the Acer wouldn't happen to be from the TNG VCR board game would it?

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