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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  • Exelius - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    At least on my MacBook Air, I nearly constantly bump up into the 8GB RAM limitations. All I really need to have open are Xcode, VMWare Fusion and a few Chrome windows.
  • jeffkro - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    I agree, If you are going to do that level of intense work you will want a nice 22"+ 1080p monitor, full keyboard, and a mouse. This is why I don't think desktop computing will disappear, we will probably loose the big tower but not everything else.
  • jeffkro - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    PS this is also why metro will stink for productivity. You can't have a large monitor with multiple windows spread out on it. MS is going to shut this crowd out.
  • jeffkro - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    The life of a laptop is a few years, buy, use, forget about it.
  • frozentundra123456 - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    Would be nice if the price was 900.00. At this price, one could get a windows tablet and a conventional laptop for heavier use. Or you could get a nice gaming laptop. Or a MacBook Air.

    For someone on the go though, like a student, I could see paying the price. Wonder what battery life is like?
  • retrospooty - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    I got to play with one of these for a day setting it up for one of our users... REally great laptop in every way except the screen. The res was great at 1080p, but still a crappy screen. Like most Dell internal LCD's it was too dim even at max brightness and the colors were washed out. IT looked like a TN panel to me.
  • Brunnis - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    I thought the same thing when my colleague got his the other day. Both him and me were appalled by the horribly low brightness. We tried maxing the brightness on the laptop, in Windows power management settings and in another location (don't remember exactly where). It wasn't until we entered the advanced settings for the power scheme and disabled a power saving setting under the monitor section that we got full brightness. And boy is it bright! It's considerably brighter than my Mac Book Air at max.

    Comparing the colors to a 27" Dell U2713HM, the XPS 13 looks excellent as well. So, no, this is definitely not a crappy display.
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    Did you read the article? This thing achieves 477cd/m² which is nearly enough to operate in full sunlight. It also says that by default the option for the adaptive brightness is on. If you don't disable that in the energy options, you will not be able to get the real brightness. *facepalm*
  • retrospooty - Friday, March 22, 2013 - link

    chill out man. I did all that and had it at absolute max brightness in the driver as well as power settings and and the physical controls on the keyboard and it was still shitty. Maybe an anomaly.
  • ghm3 - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - link

    "Windows 8 64-bit SP1"

    That was fast... Isn't this due in August or something? (which is still less than a year...)

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