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Dell XPS 14z review: Dell XPS 14z

The Dell XPS 14z offers decent performance for general computing tasks with a bag-friendly chassis, but it isn't up to gaming.

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Andrew Lanxon
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Andrew Lanxon

Lead Editor, CNET Advice, Europe; Lead Photographer, Europe

Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

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If the name didn't give you a clue, the Dell XPS 14z laptop is the little brother of the XPS 15z. It knocks an inch off the screen size but still offers decent performance with a sturdy metal case.

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8.3

Dell XPS 14z

The Good

Compact design; Sturdy aluminium shell; Powerful processor.

The Bad

Too few USB ports; Ports placed awkwardly at the back; Underwhelming gaming performance.

The Bottom Line

The Dell XPS 14z offers decent performance for general computing tasks with a bag-friendly design and sturdy construction. If you're a gaming fan, or need a lot of ports, it won't appeal as much.

Our model came loaded with an Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM. It's available from 15 November for £849 from Dell's online store.

Design and build quality

If you're particularly style-conscious and don't want to carry round some ugly lump of black plastic, the XPS 14z is worthy of your consideration. It's wrapped in a silver metal shell that's certainly more attractive than many laptops on the market and will look good sat on your desk or on your knee in some posh coffee bar.

It's not got the flouncy looks of some Dell machines though, so you could happily slide it out of a bag in a meeting room without running the risk of being passed over for promotion. Again. There's not a whole lot going on on the lid -- just the Dell logo emblazoned on top. It's a rather minimal look that smacks somewhat of the MacBook Pro.

XPS 14Z main
That clean, aluminium design is somewhat reminiscent of the MacBook Pro, don't you think?

The metal shell means it feels very sturdy. We did find a bit of flex when we pushed down on the closed lid, but the underside of the machine -- and around the keyboard on the inside -- feels strong and would certainly put up with a few knocks on the go.

It's a good job -- as a 14-inch machine, this thing is definitely designed for a life on the move. With a width of 335mm and a length of 234mm, it will easily slide into a case for you to carry it across town. It's 23mm thick which isn't as slim as ultrabooks such as the stunning Asus Zenbook UX21, but it's hardly what you'd call fat -- we were able to easily slide it into a normal backpack and head out to the pub all our fancy events without any troubles.

Keyboard, trackpad and ports

Under the lid you'll find the same keyboard as on the XPS 15z. It uses rounded, isolated keys that are perfectly comfortable to type on for long periods of time. We're not keen on the font Dell has opted for on them, though -- it looks like the sort of font that would be considered 'futuristic' in the early 80s. It will undoubtedly appeal to some people, but we'd much prefer something more classic.

xps 14z keyboard
The font may be a bit odd, but at least the keyboard is backlit.

It may have a daft font, but it is at least backlit, which will allow you to happily type away to all your friends on Facebook at night without ever having to get up off your chair to turn on a light.

The trackpad is large and is very easy to scroll around on. It has a slightly rough texture that allows your finger to slide round it without any trouble. The trackpad buttons are large and have a pleasing click to them, which all in all makes quick operation a hassle-free experience.

At the sides of the keyboard are two grilles that house the speakers. They put out a decent enough sound for a laptop which will do fine if you want to catch up on a bit of TV using BBC iPlayer, but if you want to listen to some music or enjoy an epic film soundtrack, you'll definitely want to hook up a proper set of speakers or plug in some good headphones.

Around the edges you'll find a slot-loading DVD drive, a mini display port, an HDMI port, an Ethernet port, one USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0 port and headphone and microphone jacks.

Slightly annoyingly, the USB ports have been put round the back of the machine, so quickly popping in a USB stick to transfer some files is more of a hassle than it should be. We would also liked to have seen more than two ports -- it's not as though there isn't room, it just feels stingey.

Screen

The 14-inch screen is bright, clear and does a decent job of showing colours. We loaded up some dramatic high-definition video and were pleased with the way the 14z handled it. It's got a native resolution of 1,280x768 pixels, which isn't fantastic, but it's not bad and resulted in small text on Web pages being fairly comfortable to read.

XPS 14z side
The 14z isn't razor-thin, but it's hardly a fatty. A handy iPhone 4 gives us some perspective here.

Thanks to a very slim bezel, the screen takes up nearly all of the available space, which makes it feel bigger than it actually is. All too often we're met with screens that seem shrunken by huge surrounding bezels, so we're pleased to see Dell not going down that route.

If you're wanting to sit back with a proper movie you'll still want to hook it up to a big TV using the HDMI port, but it will do just fine for enjoying a quick film or TV show on a long train journey -- just make sure you're using your headphones if you don't want someone throwing their coffee at you.

Performance

The XPS 14z packs a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-2430M processor, paired up with 4GB RAM to gave pretty decent performance. We threw our PCMark05 benchmark test at it and were given a score of 8,077, which is a very impressive effort. It's not far from matching its 15z bigger brother, which managed 8,406 on the same test, and that thing is packing a Core i7 chip and 8GB of RAM.

XPS 14z held
It's not so massive it can't be easily held by one, rather splendid-looking hand.

It managed to rack up a score of 7,954 on the Geekbench -- again, an admirable effort. We found it to be a generally nippy performer with heavy multi-tasking handled without complaint. We booted up Propellerhead's latest audio creation tool Reason 6 and rarely found the 14z struggling with the intense work.

To see how it handled the polygons in the 3D gaming world, we chucked the 3DMark06 benchmark at it and were given a score of 4,473. That's really very average -- even for a machine without a dedicated graphics card -- so we weren't expecting much in the way of good gameplay. Nevertheless, we fired up Dirt 3 and sent our car zipping through the muddy dirt tracks of Finland. The frame rate stayed at around 14 frames per second, which for a fast-paced racing game was pretty much unplayable.

It dealt much better with the older title Half Life 2: Episode 2 though, achieving an average frame rate of around 55fps, which made action seem very smooth and enjoyable. If you're after a decent performing gaming machine, the 14z won't be for you. The graphics power it does have though will lend a helping hand with high-definition video and will let you play some older games titles without too much trouble.

Battery

As a slim and portable machine, you'd be right to hope that you can do some work on the move without living in fear of your battery conking out. We ran our battery test and the 14z was able to keep going for 1 hour 38 minutes before waving a little white flag.

xps 14z dvd drive
That slot-loading DVD drive is part of the reason the 14z hasn't been made any slimmer.

The test runs the processor at a constant 100 per cent, so it's very brutal. You'll get much better times with more cautious use -- if you only do a spot of word processing on the go then you don't need to worry too much about power. If on the other hand you want to stream high-definition content at full brightness over a wireless connection, you would be wise to not stray too far from a plug.

Conclusion

In general, the XPS 14z offers pleasing performance for general computing tasks with a portable and sturdy body. If you're after a machine to tackle your work on the go, the 14z is definitely worth considering.