Dell XPS 13 (winter 2013) review: Still can't touch this sleek ultrabook

This XPS 13 review unit is the highest-end model, the surf-and-turf of Dell's fleet: Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, 1080p display, for $1,599. The lowest-end XPS 13 starts at $999, and has more-standard specs: Core i5, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, but only a 1,366x768-pixel display. You can mix and match specs to some degree, but for 1080p you have to step up to a $1,299 model with 4GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. Sure, that sort of matches a MacBook Air, but it's hard to swallow for a PC -- especially one that lacks a touch screen.

The Core i7-3537 CPU is a little faster than the Core i7-3517 in the step-down 720p models, and handled as well as you'd expect a top-end, third-gen Intel ultrabook processor to perform. It's one of the fastest we've tested in our benchmarks, but not by a huge degree. You're still stuck with Intel HD 4000 graphics, which are fine for most purposes but, at this price, fall short of serious PC graphics power.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell XPS 13
402 
HP Envy x2
2,367 

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell XPS 13
227 
HP Envy x2
992 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell XPS 13
109 
HP Envy x2
718 

Battery life, warranty
The killer differentiator in a lot of superportable ultrabooks often comes down to battery life. The original XPS 13 in 2012 was a disappointment, getting a little under 5 hours. The new XPS 13 does a little better, scoring 5 hours and 31 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. An extra 40 minutes is nice, but it doesn't quite match up to the 6-plus hours a lot of top-end ultrabooks can achieve.

Dell offers a one-year warranty with at-home service (after remote diagnosis) with the XPS 13, plus a year of 24-7 "premium" phone support (1-877-717-3355). This can be upgraded in various ways on Dell's Web site: $199 to extend to three years, or up to $349 for additional accidental damage protection and LoJack.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Envy x2
452 
Dell XPS 13
331 

Load test (average watts)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Envy x2
12.58 
Dell XPS 13
28 

Conclusion: A great laptop...for 2012
The Dell XPS 13 is a slightly fancier version of last year's Dellbook Air: compact, functional, and upgraded with an excellent display. But its price -- and its lack of touch-screen options -- leave it as a product I'd have some reservations recommending for everyone. It feels like last year's product in a 2013 Windows 8 world that's moved on from basic ultrabooks -- or, at this price, one that at least includes touch. You might not need a touch screen, but believe me, at this price Dell should be including one. When it does, the XPS 13 might once again be a serious contender for best Windows 8 ultrabook.

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations

Dell XPS 13
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Sharedl) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Samsung SSD

Asus Taichi 21
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.9GHz IntelCore i7; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Sharedl) Intel HD 4000; 256GB SanDisk SSD

Acer Aspire S7-391-9886
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 128MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Intel SSD

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Samsung SSD

HP Envy x2
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 747MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB SSD

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Where to Buy

Dell XPS 13 (January 2013)

Part Number: CNETDell XPS 13 (January 2013)

MSRP: $1,599.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Installed Size 8 GB
Hot Products