Late last year, before CES, we had the opportunity to check out Dell's then-upcoming entrant to Intel's nascent ultrabook market, the XPS 13. Dell has been refocusing their XPS line with an eye on sophisticated notebooks that straddle the line between the consumer and business classes, while at the same time emphasizing slimmer, more powerful machines. Thus, the XPS 13 seems like a natural fit both for their XPS line and for the ultrabook category.

While manufacturers like ASUS, Toshiba, and Acer have been apt to more closely ape the Apple MacBook Air aesthetic that Intel is arguably appropriating for ultrabooks, Dell's XPS 13 is a different creature, and when we saw it in 2011 it  felt like the ultrabook to wait for. Now it's here; was it worth the wait?

Internally, the Dell XPS 13 doesn't seem to have any more going on than any of the other Sandy Bridge-based ultrabooks. Dell will be updating the XPS 13 with Ivy Bridge as those chips become available, but it looks like with the delay we'll be enjoying our Sandy Bridge ultrabooks just a bit longer.

Dell XPS 13 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2637M
(2x1.7GHz + HTT, Turbo to 2.8GHz, 32nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel QS67
Memory 2x2GB integrated DDR3-1333
Graphics Intel HD 3000 Graphics
(12 EUs, up to 1.2GHz)
Display 13.3" LED Glossy 16:9 768p
CMN1338
Hard Drive(s) 256GB Samsung mSATA PM830 6Gbps SSD
Optical Drive -
Networking Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 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
Mini-DisplayPort
Left Side AC adaptor
USB 2.0
Mic/headphone combo jack
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 12.4" x 0.24-0.71" x 8.1" (WxHxD)
316mm x 6-18mm x 205mm
Weight 2.99 lbs
1.36kg
Extras Webcam
SSD
USB 3.0
Bluetooth
Ambient light sensor
Backlit keyboard
Warranty 1-year limited
Pricing Starts at $999
As configured: $1,499

Spec-wise, the Dell XPS 13 is nothing impressive for an ultrabook and nothing we haven't seen before. The Intel Core i7-2637M is a capable enough processor, sporting two hyper-threaded cores, 4MB of L3 cache, and a nominal clock speed of 1.7GHz (able to turbo up to 2.5GHz on two cores or 2.8GHz on just one core). Attached to it is Intel's HD 3000 integrated GPU with 12 execution units that can run all the way up to 1.2GHz. 4GB of dual channel DDR3 and Intel's QS67 chipset round things out.

The two more interesting points of the XPS 13 are the SSD and the notebook's connectivity (or lack thereof). Dell opts to use Samsung's 830 series SSD in an mSATA form factor, taking advantage of the  SATA 6Gbps connectivity of the controller. Samsung rates the SSD for up to 500MB/sec in reads and 350MB/sec in writes, not stellar but in line with (or even a little better than) the SSDs used in some competing ultrabooks.

Unfortunately, Dell's XPS 13 features arguably sub-Apple MacBook Air-level connectivity. Just two USB ports (one 3.0, one 2.0), the headphone/mic combo jack, and a mini-DisplayPort jack are all you get. While I wasn't expecting wired ethernet (a feature that materializes only every so often on ultrabooks), Dell doesn't include the SD card reader that most other ultrabooks enjoy. You can also use an adaptor to go from mini-DisplayPort to HDMI, so you can probably split the difference on that one. Honestly it's the lack of a card reader that stings the most; this is something that can certainly be remedied by just buying a separate USB one, but when competing ultrabooks all integrate one, why eschew it here?

Thankfully, you do get USB 3.0 connectivity (always appreciated), and Dell includes an ambient light sensor that can be used to dynamically adjust screen brightness as well as detect when to turn on the keyboard backlighting. It's mostly adequate, but the lack of a card reader stings a little when many consumer and even prosumer level still and video cameras use SD cards.

In and Around the Dell XPS 13
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  • piroroadkill - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    "AnandTech receives a notebook for review from a vendor not named Sony or Apple, and that notebook features a cut rate 1366x768 TN panel with poor viewing angles, poor color, poor contrast, and just poor quality all around."

    Yup. I also do take issue with the resolution, I think that 768 vertical pixels is a bit cramped, and that 1440x900 is the ratio and resolution we should be hitting on 13" screens.

    I have a 14.1" 1400x1050 machine at home, and that is just about right. I have a 15" 1920x1200 screen, and although it looks great, I do admit that the scaling issues we have in Windows as it stands, means that it can be a little uncomfortable to some (I found an issue where changing DPI even by a little made a piece of software unusable. Not just hard to use, unusable).

    Lets see some good quality 1440x900 panels in this size of laptop, what do you say, Dell?
    Reply
  • Cloudie - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I totally agree; I have a Macbook Air 13 and the 1440*900 resolution is absolutely perfect for this screen size. I only wish the colour gamut and viewing angles were closer to level of the Macbook Pros or one of the other 3 or 4 notebooks on the market with decent screens. Reply
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    " I have a Macbook Air 13 and the 1440*900 resolution is absolutely perfect for this screen size."

    Yup, I had that on my Lenovo X301 back in 2009 and it rocked. This 1366x768 madness has to stop.
    Reply
  • apinkel - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Couldn't agree more.

    I think the MBA is a bit over-rated simply due to lack of ports and the move to a non-user-replaceable battery (sadly most of the ultrabooks have followed apple on these two items) but the one thing that I am really, really jealous of is the screen on the MBA.

    I have an X301 right now and I really like it. I like the screen size/aspect ration/resolution, the keyboard which has better feedback then every ultrabook I've tried, great port selection (I work on other people's PC's and I have to have an ethernet port), excellent battery life with the optional bay battery and light weight. I do wish the X301 had the current generation of ultra low voltage cpus but for my usage I've actually been surprised at how well the 1.4ghz CPU has performed.
    Reply
  • Dug - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    You will have moved on to another computer a long time before the battery would need to be replaced.

    One thing I wish pc ultrabooks all had was a thunderbolt port.
    Reply
  • apinkel - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I just back from a trip (last minute booking) where I had a 7 hour layover in an airport. Having a replaceable battery, even on a laptop with 5+ hours of battery life is handy to have.

    That said, the battery issue isn't a deal breaker for me. The lack of an ethernet port is.
    Reply
  • Guspaz - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Few people even buy a second battery for their notebook, let alone carry one around. And even for the Macbook, you can always buy an external battery pack like the Hyperjuice and accomplish much the same thing, with the added advantage of not having to turn the notebook off while swapping batteries. It's what I do with my Toshiba notebook, even though it does have a removable battery. Reply
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I know... I really wish they did an X310 and 320. WTF? Now Even Lenovo's newer 13 inch have 1366x768... gack. Reply
  • apinkel - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I agree.. I was really disappointed with the screen on the X1. They put gorilla glass on it (why?... it's not a touchscreen, it adds weight and adds glare) and the resolution changed to 1366x768.

    The big downside to the 16:9 screens is that if you want 900 lines of resolution you end up with a resolution of 1600x900... and the dpi becomes to high to be legible for me.

    With a 13.3" screen and 1440x900 you end up with a dpi of 127... which is the sweet spot IMO.
    Reply
  • kjboughton - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Couldn't agree more...

    I was recently looking for a cheaper notebook to replace an aging Dell m770 that I'd had from 2003 when I decided to try the Inspiron 14R.

    It's going back. The whole unit feels cheap but the 1366x768 TN panel from BOE-hydis is HORRIBLE. I can't stand using the notebook because of that. And to think that the $999 ~ $1499 XPS Ultrabook using a similar panel (albeit a slightly smaller viewing area) is astounding. Barf!
    Reply

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