Dell XPS 14

Dell's XPS reboot brings power, excellent audio, a WLED screen and, surprisingly, an affordable price.

Craig Simms Special to CNET News
Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.
Craig Simms
2 min read

Dell's XPS reboot brings power, excellent audio, a WLED screen and, surprisingly, an affordable price.

The XPS 14 makes an excellent case study; while Dell Australia offers four base models, every single one starts with a Core i7 processor, a 7200rpm hard drive and JBL speakers. The base model in particular comes with an i7 740QM @ 1.73GHz (2.93GHz under Turbo Boost), 6GB RAM, 500GB 7200rpm HDD, GeForce GT425 with 2GB memory and Optimus support, an 8x DVD drive and an Intel 6200 wireless card — all for AU$1499 with a one-year warranty.

Of course being Dell, the options are rife: over 100 lid customisations, for starters, although that will add AU$110 to the total. A 256GB SSD is also available for an extra AU$760.10 (although no brand is mentioned), a Blu-ray burner for AU$581.90, a nine-cell battery for AU$36.30, wireless broadband for AU$141.90, and a TV tuner AU$40.70. If you want a little more protection, you can extend the warranty to two years for AU$125.40, or three years for AU$171.60.

We've had some brief hands-on time with a pre-production model of the XPS 14, which despite being unfinished is quite the beast and extremely well built. The JBL speakers are impressive — finally a Windows-based laptop without horrific sound! While it only uses a Realtek chipset, Dell also bundles software called Waves Maxx Audio 3 — something that sadly wasn't working on our sample. There are three USB ports, one of which is integrated with an eSATA port, gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth and, of course, the ubiquitous 802.11n.

A few other nice touches include the backlit keyboard, video ports mounted on the rear (HDMI and, interestingly, mini DisplayPort), dual headphone jacks (one of which doubles as S/PDIF) and a multi-touch Synaptics touch pad enabling two-finger scroll. It enables other multi-touch functions as well, but as is common on PCs they are unreliable and are best left off.

It's also "Skype certified", meaning it comes with an HD webcam. After a brief test we can confirm that the image quality is significantly better than the usual blurry mess presented by in-built cams and performs quite well in low light.

The screen comes in at a modest 1366x768, although sadly is gloss only. Other annoyances are a hard drive and battery indicator that sit behind the screen, making them impossible to see, and a left-facing exhaust grille. Ultimately, though, these are minor and barely detract from the excellent value the XPS 14 represents.

We're looking forward to getting our hands on a final revision of the XPS 14, as it's looking to finally prove that quality is affordable.