Dell XPS 14 Ultrabook

Dell XPS14 Ultrabook Performance Review

Dell is a bit of a powerhouse in the computer world, today we were able to get our hands on one of their ultrabooks. The Dell XPS14 just one of many of Dell's entries into the world of Ultrabooks. The XPS14 is certainly one of the top contenders from the Dell pool of Ultrabooks. Though within the XPS family there are three XPS14 models. Each carries different specifications as well as different price tags. The first version of the XPS14 retails for $1099. This version features Intel Core i5 3317U processor, Intel HD 4000 Graphics, and a 500GB hard drive with a 32GB SSD in Intel SRT. The top version of the XPS14 series retails for $1999. The top version steps away from the traditional hard drive and uses a 512GB SSD. The processor has also been upgraded from the i5 3317U to the Intel Core i7 3517U. It also ups the graphics capabilities with a NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M with NVIDIA Optimus Technology.

The XPS14 that we have in our labs today, combines the two models mentioned above. Though it's much closer to the top, with the only difference being the storage. Unlike the $2k model, we are using the 500GB hard drive with the 32GB SSD configured in Intel Smart Response Technology. There is one other major difference between our review sample, and the top XPS14, price! Using the 500GB hard drive and 32GB SSD cuts a significant amount of money off the price, $500! Our Dell XPS14 carries a suggested retail price of $1499. This certainly isn't an entry level Ultrabook, but more a case of you get what you pay for.

The design of the Dell XPS14 is slick to say the least. We will look at the details more later on, but first impressions I'm a fan. The brushed aluminum surfaces have a very sleek look to them, aside from the Dell logo on the back of the 14" display there isn't any clutter or overbearing features. It's a very simple design yet aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. Once we open the XPS14 the contrast between the colors is superb. The black against the brushed aluminum looks great.

Dell XPS14 Ultrabook Specifications

Processor

3rd Generation Intel Core i5-3317U processor (3M Cache, up to 2.6 GHz)
3rd Generation Intel Core i7-3517U processor (4M Cache, up to 3.0 GHz)

Operating System Windows 8, 64-bit, English
Memory 4GB DDR3 1600MHz Memory
8GB DDR3 1600MHz Memory
Chipset Intel HM77
Video Card Intel HD Graphics 4000
NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M with 1GB GDDR5 VRAM
Display 4.0" HD+ (900p) Truelife Infinity Display with Skype-Certified Hi-Def Webcam
Audio and Speakers High Definition Audio + Waves MaxxAudio 4 2W x2 = 4W total
Productivity & Entertainment Software Adobe Reader X, WebCam Central, Skype with H.264 enablement, Internet Explorer,
Windows Live Essentials Wave 4, McAfee Security Center trial, Dell DataSafe
Hard Drive Up to 512GB9 Solid State hard drive
Up to 500GB9 SATA hard drive (5400RPM)
Power 69WHr battery; 8-Cell Li-Polymer (built-in)
AC Adapter 65W AC adaptor on Intel graphics; 90W AC adaptor on NVIDIA graphics
Camera 1.3MP webcam with dual array digital microphones
Keyboard / Touchpad Standard full size, backlit chiclet keyboard; spill-resistant Glass integrated button touchpad with gesture support
Wireless Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 802.11 a/g/n + Bluetooth 4.0
Intel Wireless Display ready
Intel Smart Connect Technology (with 512GB SSD only)
Ports, Slots & Chassis USB 3.0 (2) 1 w/PowerShare
mini DisplayPort (1)
HDMI (1)
RJ-45 (1)
3-in-1 card reader
headset jack (1)
mini Kensington lock
Dimensions(HxWxD) Height: 0.81" (20.7mm) / Width: 13.2" (335.8mm) / Depth 9.2" (233mm)
Starting at Weight Starting at 4.6lbs (2.1kg)
Construction Machined aluminum in silver
Aluminum display back
Silicone base with machined aluminum casing
Magnesium palmrest with soft touch paint

Dell XPU 14 Ultrabook Retail Packaging

Dell XPS 14 Intel Core i7 Ultrabook

The Dell XPS 14 comes shipped in a relatively plain black box. The only indications of what's on the inside is the Dell logo, XPS logo, and the Intel logo. I suppose lack of flash is a good thing on the shipping box though, to many sticky fingers out there.

Dell XPS 14 Intel Core i7 Ultrabook

Once we open up the shipping box, we start to see some color. Inside the shipping package there is a hard plastic shell that is all dressed up and stylish, as far as packaging goes, this one is nice and secure.

Dell XPS 14 Intel Core i7 Ultrabook

Taking the top cover off, we can get a good look at the top of the Dell XPS 14 Ultrabook. The brushed aluminum shell of the Dell XPS14 looks great, a real clean look to the system.

Dell XPS 14 Intel Core i7 Ultrabook

Removing the XPS14 reveals a second layer that is separated by a piece of protective material.

Dell XPS 14 Intel Core i7 Ultrabook

Underneath we have the boxes that contain the paperwork and accessories for the Dell XPS14.

Dell XPS 14 Intel Core i7 Ultrabook

The paperwork is pretty simple for the Dell XPS14, a quick start guide, and a pamphlet of important information.

Dell XPS 14 Intel Core i7 Ultrabook

Underneath, that paperwork we have the power brick for the XPS14 which is rated for an output of 19.5 Volts and 4.62 Amps.

Dell XPS 14 Ultrabook Exterior Impressions

Dell XPS 14 Intel Core i7 Ultrabook

As we can see, there isn't much to do about the cover of the Dell XPS14. It has a brushed aluminum surface, and the Dell logo in the center.

Dell XPS 14 Intel Core i7 Ultrabook

Flipping the Dell XPS14 over, we can see the cool to the touch Silicone base and the XPS label. Beneath the label we can find the Windows 8 COA, Asset Tag, Serial numbers, and other system specific information.

Dell XPS 14 Intel Core i7 Ultrabook

The track pad on the Dell XPS14 is pretty massive, at least in my experience. The Synaptics ClickPad Series 1.5 measures 3.9375" (3 15/16") across and 2.8125" (2 13/16") deep. Most of the time I didn't have an issue, and it was nice having such a large pad, but occasionally I ran into a problem. I would find the palm of my right hand brushing the edge of the track pad and moving my cursor while typing. Eventually I started disabling the track pad in favor of my mouse while typing this article. The Keyboard was pretty typical, there really weren't any pros and cons that I discovered while using it. The XPS14 keyboard uses a nice and springy scissor-switch which was a pleasure to type on.

Dell XPS 14 Intel Core i7 Ultrabook

The Dell XPS14 features a 14" panel with a resolution of 1600x900, this isn't bad to work on. Certainly better than the Cyberpower Zeus M2 we looked at recently that has a resolution of 1366x768 at the same screen size. The XPS14 panel has a Corning Gorilla Glass. Viewing angles on the Dell XPS14 were a little finicky, with just a slight shift in angles the colors would change. When you had the right angle it looked great, but it didn't take much to lose the angle.

Dell XPS14 Ultrabook

the right side of the Dell XPS14 features a 3.5mm Audio Jack, card reader, and the spot for a cable lock.

Dell XPS14 Ultrabook

The other edge of the Dell XPS14 is a little more interesting. Starting on the left side, we have the power plug, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, DisplayPort, and a pair of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports.

Now that we've had a look at the outside of the Dell XPS14, lets break out the crowbar and sledge hammer and have a look on the inside of the XPS14 from Dell!

Inside the Dell XPS14 Ultrabook

Inside the Dell XPS14 Ultrabook

Popping the back of the Dell XPS14 off with our trusty crowbar, we can see that most of the inside is consumed by the battery pack. Just in front of the batter pack we can see the sound bar. While there aren't any identifying marks to let us know who makes the speakers, they do give out nice loud and clear sound.

Inside the Dell XPS14 Ultrabook

The battery pack inside the Dell XPS14 Ultrabook is a Lithium-polymer batter rated at 69Wh and carries the part number 4RXFK.

Inside the Dell XPS14 Ultrabook

The Dell uses an Intel Centrino Advanced-N wireless adapter (p/n 6235ANHMW)in a mini-PCIe slot.

Inside the Dell XPS14 Ultrabook

This is a little interesting. there is only one SODIMM slot inside the Dell XPS14 Ultrabook! This means that we are going to be limited to single channel memory which can hurt our overall system performance.

Inside the Dell XPS14 Ultrabook

The heatsink inside the Dell XPS14 utilizes a pair of heat pipes to draw heat away from the Intel Core i7 3517U and the Intel HM77 chipset.

Inside the Dell XPS14 Ultrabook

The Dell XPS14 Ultrabook uses Intel Smart Response Technology for the storage system. The bulk of the storage can be found in the Seagate ST500LT012 2.5" 500GB hard drive above.

Inside the Dell XPS14 Ultrabook

The system cache is accomplished with a Samsung PM830 mSATA 32GB SSD. The Samsung PM830 mSATA SSD is a SATA III 6Gbps and is rated for read speeds as fast as 500MB/s and write speeds of 400MB/s. The PM830 mSATA SSD is available in 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB options, just in case you want to upgrade down the road.

CPUz, GPUz, & Windows Experience Index Rating

Dell sent over a loaner XPS14 for testing purposes. This Ultrabook features a 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U processor that has a maximum turbo frequency of 3.0Ghz. Other highlights include 8GB of DDR3 1600 MHz memory (RAM), and a 500GB Seagate 2.5" hard drive and a 32GB Samsung PM830 mSATA solid-state drive. The Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics are built-in the Intel 'Ivy Bridge' processor, so they are integrated and not discrete. The Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics processor is dynamic and runs between 350MHz to 1.05Ghz depending on the load. This graphics processor should be plenty for regular use and light gaming. The Dell XPS14 also features a NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M Graphics processor with 1GB of GDDR5 Memory

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intel_hd_4000_graphics

 

nvidia_geforce_gt_630m

 

dell_xps_settings_550

dell_xps_wei_score_550

The Dell XPS14 has a WEI score of 4.8. It is determined by the lowest of the sub-scores. Today that happens to be the Graphics for the Desktop Graphics performance which scored the 4.8. The Intel HD 4000 Graphics certainly isn't the strongest to start with, but when coupled with the single channel memory in the Dell XPS14 it seems to drop off more. The Intel Core i7 3517U processor and memory were both able to hit 7.2, while the Gaming Graphics hit 6.5 and the Primary hard drive hit 5.9. I don't put much stock in the Windows Experience Index, but it can be a good indicator of a weak link.

Benchmarking the Dell XPS 14 Ultrabook

3DMark 11 Entry

 Because the Dell XPS 14 uses a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M in a addition to the Intel HD 4000 graphics on the Intel Core i7 processor the XPS14 was able to go right past the performance of the Cyberpower Zeus M2. The XPS14 was able to score 2049 3DMarks using the GT 630M compared to the Intel Graphics HD 4000 graphics score of 1166 on the Zeus M2 from Cyberpower.

3DMark 11 Performance

 Firing up Futuremark 3DMark 11 at the performance setting the XPS14 was able to score 1225 3DMarks which is nearly double that of the Cyberpower Zeus M2.

x264 HD Video Benchmark

 The Dell XPS14 was able to outperform the Zeus M2 by a narrow margin. The first pass shows the Dell Ultrabook leading by ~2.4 frames per second, a difference of 9.2%. The second pass which is much more processor intensive was also led by the XPS14, though this time it was a lead of 15.2%.

SiSoftware Sandra Memory Bandwidth Benchmark

The Dell XPS14 scored an aggregate memory bandwidth performance in SiSoftware Sandra of only 10.67GB/s. This can be attributed to the single channel memory in place inside the Dell XPS14. The Cyberpower Zeus M2 is using dual channel memory at 1600MHz and was nearly double the performance. The XPS14 is using 1600MHz, though in only single channel.

CrystalDiskMark

The Dell XPS14 storage systems consists of two parts, a 500GB Seagate ST500LT012 2.5" hard drive as well as s 32GB Samsung PM830 mSATA SSD. The Dell XPS14 is configured in Intel Smart Response Technology, this allows the system to cache the most commonly used files to speed up the system. The performance is certainly higher than that of a HDD alone, but not quite up to that of a stand alone SSD. The SRT system hit a sequential read of 305.7MB/s while the SSD alone hit 458.7MB/s. The write speed isn't improved much from a typical hard drive.

Futuremark PCMark 7 Benchmark Results

 Overall the Dell XPS14 was just over 500 points lower than the Cyberpwer Zeus M2. The XPS14 has a faster processor and better graphics. The weak link when compared to the Zeus M2 is the single channel memory, and the storage performance.

Dell XPS14 PCMark 7 Comparison

Looking at the individual sub-scores we can see where the memory and storage are effecting the score. Video playback and transcoding/Video transcoding - downscaling was only a fraction of the cyberpower scores. The Zeus M2 scored 47709.39kB/s while the Dell XPS14 hit only 6864.31kB/s. A difference on nearly 41000kB/s difference between the two systems. System storage - gaming, System storage - imparting pictures, and system storage - Windows Defender were all reasonably lower than the Cyberpower Zeus M2.

Final Thoughts & Conclusions

Dell XPS14 Intel Ultrabook

When we first got our mitts on the Dell XPS14 we could tell that it had quality running through its veins. As we pulled the system out of the packaging, it just had the feel of a quality build. It didn't feel flimsy, or overly fragile. In my hands any thing that's to fragile, usually meets an untimely end! Fortunately we didn't have to put the physical durability to the test today. I don't doubt that the XPS14 is durable, but there are a couple of aspects that would concern me in a fall. First is the glass screen. Corning Gorilla glass is great for scratches and usually pretty durable. I have seen Gorilla Glass completely shatter though, all depends how it lands. The only other part that would worry me in a fall is the Seagate 2.5" hard drive. If you've ever dropped a hard drive, you know how frustrating that can be. Now imagine it in a Ultrabook that isn't really meant to be opened up by the end user. Though, it does only take the removal of a handful of screws to open the Dell XPS14 up and gain access to the drives.

Overall I really like the Dell XPS14, of course there's good, and not so good aspects of this ultrabook. Starting with the good, it's an Intel Core i7 3517U processor, 14" screen, 500GB of storage. At the heart of the Dell XPS14 we have an Intel Core i7 3517U processor. The i7 3517U has two physical cores, plus an additional two threads for a total of four threads. Obviously the i7 3517U isn't as powerful as a desktop i7, but Dell is aiming for a blend of power and battery life. The 14" screen has multiple aspects to it. On the positive side, it's big enough to look at without squinting, the colors are great at the right angle, overall it's a solid panel. The XPS14 has 500GB of storage which is plenty of storage for an Ultrabook.

The bad (ok, not really bad, but worth mentioning), above I mentioned that the 14" display has multiple aspects. Well the not so positive in my eyes is the 1600x900 resolution. Personally I would have liked to see the XPS14 have a 1920x1080 (1080P) display, though I know that would also increase the cost. Our system is using Intel SRT, which isn't as fast as a SSD, nor is it as costly for the price. Everything is a bit of a wash to this point. It's all about cost vs. performance. What really did throw me for a loop was the Single Channel Memory. A $1499 Ultrabook that doesn't have dual channel memory, or at least the option for it, just doesn't seem right.

The performance of the Dell XPS14 was certainly better than the performance we saw a couple of weeks ago with the Cyberpower Zeus M2, at least most of the time. There are a couple of trade offs that Dell made with the XPS14, at least on this particular model. Our XPS14 uses a 500GB traditional hard drive with a 32Gb SSD configured in Intel Smart Response Technology. This gives the Dell XPS14 the overall feel of SSD responsiveness, with the storage space of a traditional hard drive. By using Intel SRT we are able to have the feel of a SSD with the storage we need, without the cost of a 500GB SSD. It's not quite as fast as using a SSD alone but a 500GB SSD tends to be cost prohibitive for most of us. The other area that actually blew my mind was the memory performance! Sadly it wasn't in a good way.

dell_xps_memory

The Dell XPS14 is using only a single SODIMM of DDR3 memory. While the 8Gb of DRAM that comes installed in the system is likely enough for most users, we took a pretty serious performance hit when comparing the memory scores between our two systems. The Dell XPS14 aggregate memory performance was just over half the performance of the Cyberpower Zeus M2. The kicker is that we can't even add a second SODIMM to the system to improve the performance, the XPS14 only has a single SODIMM slot for us to use.

One of the key points, we aren't relying strictly on the Intel HD 4000 Graphics on the Intel Core i7 3517U. Dell has incorporated a discrete level graphics card in addition to the HD 4000. The NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M features 1GB of GDDR5 memory. The GeForce GT 630M isn't exactly a beast of a card, but it is certainly better than the Intel HD 4000 graphics. This is evident by the 3DMark 11 benchmark results. The Dell XPS14 and the Cyberpower Zeus M2 system certainly have their differences, 3DMark focus's on the graphics. In both the 'Entry' and 'Performance' presets the Dell XPS14 was just about double the scores of the Zeus M2 which relies only on the Intel HD 4000 graphics. So while the GeForce GT 630M isn't a beast, it will easily improve our experience in some light to moderate gaming.

The 'Meh', the Dell XPS14 series has a starting price of $1099. The model we were looking at carries a price tag of $1499, and the top model that has the same specs with the exception of a 512GB SSD is available for $1999. The Dell XPS14 starts out with a 1 year warranty, from there you can increase the warranty to as much as three years. Of course there is a couple of different levels that you can run with.

dell_xps14_warranty_550

The Standard 1 year is included, the first level of the three year is $199, the Dell recommended is $219, and the best which includes Accidental Damage Service is $349. Depending on how long you plan on keeping the XPS14 and how easy or hard you are on, you may want to invest in the 'Best' just in case you accidentally throw it across the parking lot.

Legit Bottom Line: Ultimately the Dell XPS14 is a rock solid system and didn't disappoint today. If you're looking to invest into an ultrabook, the XPS14 would be a great one to get your hands on.