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Asus ZenBook UX305 vs. Dell XPS 13: Thin, light and powerful

Brian Nadel | March 18, 2015
If Apple's new 12-in. Retina MacBook is any indication, the laptop is no longer considered an endangered species -- as long as it's slim and lightweight. However, while the new MacBook is extraordinarily portable and comes with an impressive display, it's garnered a bit of criticism because of its single USB port (which does double duty as a power port) and lack of SD card slots. On the other hand, two new Windows 8.1 systems have recently shipped that not only push the thin-and-light envelope, but offer enough features to make them suitable for both personal and business use.

The speakers are towards the front, one on each side, and deliver solid sound (although perhaps not quite loud enough for a good party).

Inside, the Dell includes 128GB of solid state storage. The model I tested is powered by an Intel Core i5 5200U processor that normally runs at 2.2GHz but can speed up to 2.7GHz and uses a maximum of 15 watts, more than three times the power drain of the ZenBook's Core M chip.

As a result, the system requires a fan to prevent overheating. However, the fan didn't cycle on very often while I was using it, and the system actually felt cooler than the ZenBook.

Along with Bluetooth 4.0, the Dell comes with 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Ports include a pair of USB 3.0 ports, one audio jack and one Mini DisplayPort connector. If you want to connect to an HDMI projector or monitor, you'll need either an inexpensive generic converter or Dell's $75 adapter, which adds an Ethernet, VGA, HDMI and USB port. If you need more, Dell has a $170 docking station that turns a single USB 3.0 connection into a smorgasbord of ports, including two USB 2.0 and three USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, DisplayPort, two HDMI and audio.

Speaking of adapters, the Dell has one of the most versatile AC adapters I've seen. You can either plug the adapter directly into an outlet, or you can add a 3-ft. cord between the adapter and the outlet for a longer reach (and to make it easier to use other plugs with the outlet).

Performance testing

The Dell was a top performer with a PassMark PerformanceTest score of 1,823.3, 10% better than the ZenBook, despite the latter having twice as much RAM installed. This extra power extends to graphics as well, with CineBench scores of 259 (for the CPU section) and 28.07 frames per second (for the OpenGL video tests).

The 6,400mAh battery was able to last for an astounding 11 hours and 10 minutes of continuous video playback. That's more than enough to use it flat out for a full workday or for on-and-off use over a couple of days. In my experience, it sets a new standard for battery life.

The XPS 13 comes with Windows 8.1, McAfee's LiveSpace security software and 20GB of Dropbox online storage space for three years. Its one-year warranty can be extended to three years with accidental damage coverage for $103 or four years for $119.

Dell sells several variations of the XPS 13. It starts with an $800 model equipped with a 2.1GHz Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space. A model with a Core i5 5200U processor (the one I reviewed) costs $900. For a system with 8GB of RAM, you would pay $1,000, while a version with a Quad+ HD touch screen starts at $1,300. Upping the storage to 256GB on any model costs $100.


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