Dell XPS 13 (winter 2013) review:

Still can't touch this sleek ultrabook

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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.

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Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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.

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Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Load test (average watts)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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.

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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

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