January 09, 2013

Review: Dell XPS 14 Laptop

Nowadays, the high-end laptop market is full of some pretty machines. Dell XPS 14, which belongs to Dell's ultrabook range, is one such laptop. But we have seen that getting aesthetics as well functionality right has proved a bit difficult for most laptop makers.

The base model of the XPS 14 will come with a 400-nit brightness 1600×900 display, an Intel Core i5 processor with HD 4000 GPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. Just about everything can be configured, so you can bump the CPU up to a Core i7, the RAM up to 8GB, add in NVIDIA’s GT 630M GPU, and swap out the standard hard drive for a 512GB SSD at the top end. Ports for the laptop includes two USB 3.0, HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet, and an SD card slot. Overall thickness isn’t too bad at 0.81-inches, and all in all it weighs around 4.6lbs.

Whereas the XPS 14 was designed for portability and Dell XPS L401x battery life, the XPS 15 is more focused on performance. The 15.6-inch model ships only in discrete graphics configurations with either Nvidia's GeForce GT 630M or 640M under the hood, up from last year's GT 525M. The cheapest variation comes stock with 6GB of RAM, whereas the mid-range and high-end versions come with either 8GB or 16GB. Storage ranges from the 500GB HDD/32GB SSD combo found in the XPS 14 to a full 1TB HDD with secondary 128GB SSD. Dell has also bumped up the screen quality, making 1920 x 1080 resolution standard across all models. Unlike its driveless sibling, the $1,299 and $1,399 XPS 14 ship with a DVD-RW drive, while the $1,699 and $1,999 configurations come standard with a read-only Blu-ray drive.

Dell's software bundle is fairly typical, including the starter edition of Office 2010 (with ad-supported, limited-functionality versions of Word and Excel), Skype, Windows Live Essentials, and the annoying 30-day trial of McAfee Security Center (annoying because you have to uninstall it to stop the constant appearance of pop-up nag windows), as well as Dell-branded webcam and online backup software.

Dell’s new 14 inch notebook is a thin and light laptop that has all the features you’d expect from an ultrabook — but one of those features is optional. In order to meet Intel’s requirements, an ultrabook has to have a solid state disk, but Dell is offering the XPS 14 with the choice of a SSD or a slower (and cheaper) spinning hard drive.

Thoughtful design.It’s a design that goes beyond beauty. Your Dell XPS 17 battery is less than 1 inch (20.7mm) thin, built for maximum portability. Machined alumi:

Intel Core i7 3517U Processor 1.9GHz
500GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD and 32GB mSATA SSD
14-Inch Screen
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

After spending several days testing the Nvidia GeForce GT 630M-equipped laptop, we discovered the video game framerates on our particular notebook were extremely erratic, regardless of the game or configuration.

The speed and responsiveness that Ivy Bridge affords. Considering this isn't targeted towards the casual email checker or a video editor, the XPS 14 took everything I could throw at it and performed admirably. With 50 or so tabs open in Chrome (loaded with resource-heavy pages, mind you), along with Chrome and the machine was still able to play back an Vimeo video in full screen HD.

Back to Dell's promise. The Reader’s test by Dell XPS 14 battery Eater simulates the reading of an e-book with minimal brightness, wireless modules turned off and the processor graphics active. With these settings the XPS 14 exceeds the manufacturer's claims and reaches the convincing 12 hours and 32 minutes. In everyday use the Dell XPS 15 battery runtime is anywhere between 4 and 8 hours, depending on the load of the system.

The unit feels solidly build overall. We didn't experience any bending in the chassis (which is aluminium) or keyboard tray, and the hinges that hold the screen are strong. The lid did bend a little when we applied force to it, and this produced puddling on the screen, but it wasn't too bad. The Gorilla Glass protects the screen from the front, but the downside is that its glossy finish will reflect lights, which Dell XPS L401x AC adapter can be very annoying unless you turn up the brightness. The screen is very bright on this notebook, and this will mitigate a lot of reflections. Be sure not to use the maximum screen brightness in a dark environment — we found it to be too bright and uncomfortable to look at . A lot of the time, we used the lowest brightness setting.

While the XPS 14 roughly performs twice as fast as the included Intel HD Graphics, it still couldn't manage our most forgiving test, Batman: Arkham Asylum at lowest detail, making us wonder why the 630M was included, at all. It is technically more capable, but not by a useful amount.

It doesn't come cheap, but if you're looking for performance on the move and don't want a chomped apple shape on the front of your laptop, the new Dell XPS 14 battery is definitely worth checking out. Also weigh up the excellent Samsung Series 9 for around the same price.

Posted by: miko at 07:48 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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