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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  • JojoKracko - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    That is it. I'm never buying another laptop until they start making them with screens at least as good as on a $500 tablet.

    Who is with me?

    Fight the manufacturers idiocy!
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Agreed!

    I'm strongly tempted to say the same about desktop monitors, too.

    ;)
    Reply
  • cptcolo - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I could not agree more. It is absurd that a $500 iPad3 can have a great screen that has 3,145,728 pixels yet a $1500 Ultrabook has only 1,049,088 pixels and in terrible 16:9 layout at that!

    I am with you all 1440 x 900 for 13 inch screens! They need to follow the MacBook Air all the way.
    Reply
  • xenol - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I have this problem with the laptop industry in general. Why is it that the basic panel is 1366x768? How come there are few intermediaries available (not that they don't exist in theory, but in stock) between that and 1920x1080? I had to spend weeks looking for a new laptop because I refused to have a "720p" laptop and nobody stocked bigger resolutions until I got to 17" Reply
  • Pneumothorax - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    It's why I still purchase MBP/MBA and just run win7 on them: The screens rock. The touchpad is another area that I don't understand why PC manufacturers can't at least match Apple in function. I'm still forced many times to use an external mouse when I get on a PC laptop. Reply
  • Pneumothorax - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    To Dell: It's ABSOLUTELY PATHETIC that my circa 2005 Dell Inspiron 6000 15" WUXGA 1900x1200 screen has a higher resolution than your WHOLE current consumer line of laptops in 2012! Reply
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    "To Dell: It's ABSOLUTELY PATHETIC that my circa 2005 Dell Inspiron 6000 15" WUXGA 1900x1200 screen has a higher resolution than your WHOLE current consumer line of laptops in 2012!"

    I agree that 1366x768 is useless, but its not like your 1900x1200 was standard. Back then on a 15 insher 1280x800 was standard, 1920x1200 was an upgrade option, just like 1920x1080 is today.

    Still though, this is one thing (and the only one thing) I like about Apple, they still offer 16x10
    Reply
  • peterfares - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    The thing is a big part of Dell's lineup used to have upgradable screens. I would like it if that was still the case. Instead, we usually only have one screen, and if it's 14" or smaller it's 1366x768. ASUS did announce they will have an IPS 1920x1080 option on the refreshed Zenbooks so that should be pretty awesome. Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Exactly. The screens, trackpads, and keyboards on most notebooks are garbage. It would be great if more were as good as Apple's, but then that would jack up their prices further and nerds who only see pricetags would complain that they are "overpriced".

    Racing to the bottom has destroyed quality except among premium brands.
    Reply
  • retrospooty - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    "The screens, trackpads, and keyboards on most notebooks are garbage. It would be great if more were as good as Apple's, but then that would jack up their prices further and nerds who only see pricetags would complain that they are "overpriced""

    Alot of people dont care about those things. That is the good thing about PC's. You can get low end or high end and only pay for features you care about.
    Reply

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