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Dell XPS 13 review: MacBook Air fanboys, look no further for your rumored unicorn

Gordon Mah Ung | Jan. 29, 2015
Dell's XPS13 shoehorns a 13.3-inch monitor into the body of an 11-inch laptop.

The screen is very impressive, especially when you consider the space Dell is working with. I didn't notice any serious banding issues nor backlight bleeding, and lighting was fairly consistent. One thing I did see was a three-inch by one-inch, mustache-shaped discoloration when looking at a uniform white screen with the brightness up. That may be a defect in this particular review unit. The company said other units don't exhibit the same phenomenon.  

There is a tradeoff to the near-zero bezel, though: There's no room for the 720p webcam. Instead, Dell puts it in the lower left corner of the XPS 13. Your videoconference colleagues will see part of your hand while you're typing, as well as a great view of your wattle. It's not pleasant.

The XPS 13 is also the first official laptop we've seen with Intel's new Broadwell U, outside of CES. 

The short and skinny of Broadwell U is that it's Intel's 5th-generation Core i CPU and uses the company's 14nm die process. The end result is the promise of better battery life and somewhat better CPU and graphics performance. 

I'll delve little deeper into Broadwell U's performance in an upcoming story. Meanwhile, I compared the XPS 13 to an older, Haswell-based Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

In our Handbrake test, we take a 30GB 1080p resolution MKV file and transcode it to a far more manageable size for viewing on an Android tablet.

The XPS 13 easily outruns the older X1 Carbon in this pure CPU test. One thing to keep in mind when comparing the two, however, is the Core i5 5200U in the XPS 13 actually has a lower-rated turbo frequency of 2.7GHz, compared to 2.9GHz for the Core i5 4300U in the X1 Carbon. During my tests though, the XPS 13 actually ran at 2.5GHz, while the X1 Carbon ran in the 2.17GHz range. 

Due to an apparent bug in MobileMark 2014 that BAPCo is looking into, I'm not using the performance score from the suite. Instead, I ran PC Mark 8's Home test on both laptops. The XPS 13 and its Broadwell U once again came out on top.

The last benchmark chart I'll put you through is 3DMark's Ice Storm Extreme, which measures graphics performance. Again, the Broadwell U in the XPS 13 offers a nice improvement over the older X1 Carbon, but gamers shouldn't get their hopes up. You won't be playing Far Cry 4 at the panel's native resolution anytime soon.

Perhaps the most important feature in a laptop today is battery life. To determine that I used BAPCo's new MobileMark 2014 benchmark. The test uses popular real-world applications such as Chrome, Office 2013, Photoshop CS6, and Premiere Pro CS6 to perform various tasks at 150 nits, which is a reasonable brightness.


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