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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  • snuuggles - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I'm confused, is the intel cpu $500 more than the equivalent AMD cpu? I agree that the price is high, but I doubt the cpu price is the only thing pushing it. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Look at prices on 256GB SSDs and you'll find a major culprit for the price hike. Reply
  • silverblue - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Agreed. It's a little unfair to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the i7. Besides, Trinity will be very hard pressed to have clocks at that level with a discrete-class GPU and still only fit in its purported 17W envelope. Reply
  • Beenthere - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    When Trinity arrives and delivers the goods people will just laugh at the Ultrabook and the absurd pricing and lack of performance. Reply
  • fic2 - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Is that an echo from Bulldozer I hear? Reply
  • KitsuneKnight - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I doubt remember the Bulldozer fans sounding so hilarious... Reply
  • tecknurd - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Let us see the i3 processor performs better than any A8 processor that AMD has to offer. Sure Intel graphics suck, but what kinds of people are going to use this notebook. Mainly people that are casual users and not gamers. Intel graphics is overwhelming plenty for casual users. The i7 processor is high performance processor, so Intel is still better when Trinity comes out. The cost is related to the SSD, so any AMD system will cost the same. Trinity have to be at least 30% faster or even better 50% better because the highest model of the first generation Bulldozer is just as fast as an Athlon II. Intel's Sandy Bridge i-series processors a much faster than Athlon II and Phenom II processors, so AMD has a lot of work they need to do to catch up. Really AMD have to introduce the third generation of Bulldozer to equal the performance of Sandy Bridge. When that happens Intel has already introduced Haswell. Say all you want but Trinity will not beat Intel's offering even you troll hard enough. It just not going to happen. AMD's arrogance is getting in their way of making highly competitive processors. Reply
  • Autisticgramma - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Its a pc with Aesthetics. Otherwise known as a wannabe apple. The reason it sucks so much is, what dell is attempting to produce is a product with apple's margin, via apples looks. Again no dice. I'd be happy if Dell stuck with what made it the behemoth it is. Ugly office hardware that works. There's a reason office PC's look like crap. So you don't stea - I mean 'misplace' them.

    What ever happened to computer parts on anandtech? I mean tablets and phones, share parts with computers. If I want a real part review sadly I must visit another site these days. I mean for an apples to apples comparison. "Today were testing the Samsung Galaxy S II against the nVidia 580, in direct x 11 applications...."

    (Hyperbole may have been used to convey the feeling of disappointment with the declining quality of my favorite site.)

    -Gramma
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Anandtech runs "computer parts" articles all the time.

    They have more editors than they used to, so there is more room for other types of hardware.

    Of course, I don't expect you to understand that even after it's pointed out, because the first part of your post demonstrates that you "wannabe" a person who can think.

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

    "Its a pc with Aesthetics. Otherwise known as a wannabe apple. "

    What? There are plenty of "wannabe" Apple products out there, but you're only criteria is good aesthetics? That makes no sense. This looks like a good original design to me, ventilation aside.
    Reply

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