Late last year, before CES, we had the opportunity to check out Dell's then-upcoming entrant to Intel's nascent ultrabook market, the XPS 13. Dell has been refocusing their XPS line with an eye on sophisticated notebooks that straddle the line between the consumer and business classes, while at the same time emphasizing slimmer, more powerful machines. Thus, the XPS 13 seems like a natural fit both for their XPS line and for the ultrabook category.

While manufacturers like ASUS, Toshiba, and Acer have been apt to more closely ape the Apple MacBook Air aesthetic that Intel is arguably appropriating for ultrabooks, Dell's XPS 13 is a different creature, and when we saw it in 2011 it  felt like the ultrabook to wait for. Now it's here; was it worth the wait?

Internally, the Dell XPS 13 doesn't seem to have any more going on than any of the other Sandy Bridge-based ultrabooks. Dell will be updating the XPS 13 with Ivy Bridge as those chips become available, but it looks like with the delay we'll be enjoying our Sandy Bridge ultrabooks just a bit longer.

Dell XPS 13 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-2637M
(2x1.7GHz + HTT, Turbo to 2.8GHz, 32nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
Chipset Intel QS67
Memory 2x2GB integrated DDR3-1333
Graphics Intel HD 3000 Graphics
(12 EUs, up to 1.2GHz)
Display 13.3" LED Glossy 16:9 768p
Hard Drive(s) 256GB Samsung mSATA PM830 6Gbps SSD
Optical Drive -
Networking Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6230 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 2.0
Mic/headphone combo jack
Back Side -
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Dimensions 12.4" x 0.24-0.71" x 8.1" (WxHxD)
316mm x 6-18mm x 205mm
Weight 2.99 lbs
Extras Webcam
USB 3.0
Ambient light sensor
Backlit keyboard
Warranty 1-year limited
Pricing Starts at $999
As configured: $1,499

Spec-wise, the Dell XPS 13 is nothing impressive for an ultrabook and nothing we haven't seen before. The Intel Core i7-2637M is a capable enough processor, sporting two hyper-threaded cores, 4MB of L3 cache, and a nominal clock speed of 1.7GHz (able to turbo up to 2.5GHz on two cores or 2.8GHz on just one core). Attached to it is Intel's HD 3000 integrated GPU with 12 execution units that can run all the way up to 1.2GHz. 4GB of dual channel DDR3 and Intel's QS67 chipset round things out.

The two more interesting points of the XPS 13 are the SSD and the notebook's connectivity (or lack thereof). Dell opts to use Samsung's 830 series SSD in an mSATA form factor, taking advantage of the  SATA 6Gbps connectivity of the controller. Samsung rates the SSD for up to 500MB/sec in reads and 350MB/sec in writes, not stellar but in line with (or even a little better than) the SSDs used in some competing ultrabooks.

Unfortunately, Dell's XPS 13 features arguably sub-Apple MacBook Air-level connectivity. Just two USB ports (one 3.0, one 2.0), the headphone/mic combo jack, and a mini-DisplayPort jack are all you get. While I wasn't expecting wired ethernet (a feature that materializes only every so often on ultrabooks), Dell doesn't include the SD card reader that most other ultrabooks enjoy. You can also use an adaptor to go from mini-DisplayPort to HDMI, so you can probably split the difference on that one. Honestly it's the lack of a card reader that stings the most; this is something that can certainly be remedied by just buying a separate USB one, but when competing ultrabooks all integrate one, why eschew it here?

Thankfully, you do get USB 3.0 connectivity (always appreciated), and Dell includes an ambient light sensor that can be used to dynamically adjust screen brightness as well as detect when to turn on the keyboard backlighting. It's mostly adequate, but the lack of a card reader stings a little when many consumer and even prosumer level still and video cameras use SD cards.

In and Around the Dell XPS 13
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  • Taft12 - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    and a Core i7 CPU.
  • Sabresiberian - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I really don't put much stock in the opinion of someone who posts like this. The only "steaming pile" I smell here is Shadowmaster's flame.

    Can we have the option of voting posts down? Not something connected to Facebook, just for this site.
  • bji - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    What, you don't like his opinion and you want to suppress it? Lame.
  • Sabresiberian - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    What I want is for people to treat each other civilly, have some sense of decency and not call companies "steaming piles". What I want is for people that post like this to get that it's not cool, all it does is irritate people and create a bad impression.

    If he doesn't like Dell or one of their products, by all means post the reasons he doesn't like them, but keep the name-calling out of it, please. I wouldn't down-vote anyone for disagreeing with me, but I would anyone for making a stupid, foul, or pointless post. (Stupid usually means, to me, a post showing that the person didn't even bother to read the article.)

    The fact is, most people that talk like that don't even have any personal experience with the company they are bad-mouthing. They are just flapping their gums.

    Also, I said nothing about hiding posts that have a high negative vote count. Tomshardware does that, and I don't like it. To me, voting a post down is about telling the person his post was unacceptable, please do better next time, not about hiding it from anyone - that's censorship, and that I don't go for.

  • kevith - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I must say, that if I were to work on a 13" computer, with a screen-res of 1920x1080, I would not be able to see or read anything at all.

    It was better they redefined the ultra-book dogme to include a larger chassis carrying a 15" screen instead.

    Then we could have ful HD AND be able to actually see something as well.
  • LOL__Wut__Axel - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I don't understand how mid-40s idle and low 80s are unacceptable for Sandy Bridge notebook CPUs. Those numbers seem like what you'd expect; the problem with the XPS 13 is that due to the bad ventilation the chassis gets hot and the fan gets loud.

    I have an SB Core i5 laptop and even under the most stressful test, IBT, it turbos to the max 2.7GHz on all threads even with a temp. in the low 80s. The difference is it has good ventilation and doesn't get loud or hot.
  • smithme08 - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    I agree that its a very valid point to mention that many/most other ultrabooks have a memory card reader, while this model does not, however I would argue the level of importance attached to having one in general.

    Yes, cameras and phones still use these cards, however practically all of them ALSO support attachment via USB. Personally (and tastes may vary), I'd much rather plug in a USB cable than open up the device and remove the memory card. That does mean you have to carry a cable, which might be a slight negative to some. However, removing the card reader and ADDING one or two more USB ports would seem to serve people better in general considering the wide variety of USB devices out there.

    That said, this machine does NOT add any additional ports so it seems like they went with the worst of all possible scenarios and that's a shame :(

    I'd like to do a friendly informal poll :) Maybe I'm seriously in the minority. How many people would prefer additional USB ports versus a memory card reader, and how many would prefer the reader?
  • AmdInside - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Frankly the lack of SD card reader doesn't bother me. My DSLR cameras use CF cards and that is what I prefer since it is a bit harder to lose/drop CF cards than SD cards. Since no laptop includes CF card reader, I am used to having to carry with me a CF card reader.
  • dagamer34 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Plus, unless that CF card reader is hooked up to USB 3.0, it's speed is wasted.
  • Beenthere - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Weight is good. CPU and graphics suck. Price is absurd @ $999 let alone insane at $1500.

    This crap is why AMD Trinity is going to kill Intel with $500 ultrathins with more performance for hundreds less.

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