Here at KitGuru we love a good, gaming laptop. However, we also place high value on Ultrabooks due to their portability and typically high-end hardware. The Dell XPS 13 has been at the forefront of the Ultrabook market for the last few years, and today’s review is of the new 9360 model – complete with an i7-7500U, 256GB PCIe SSD and InfinityEdge display.
If you are looking at buying a new Ultrabook, it is very likely you have already considered the Dell XPS 13. The latest model – the XPS 13 9360 – features brand-new Kaby Lake hardware as well as an ultra-thin body. The super-thin screen bezel is also worth pointing out, as Dell have somehow managed to cram a 13.3″ display into a chassis that looks more like an 11″ laptop. Read on for the full review, including system benchmarks, battery performance and analysis of the XPS 13’s build quality.
The Dell XPS 13 arrives in a fairly plain shipping box.
Inside that, there is another box which houses the laptop itself, plus the accessories.
Those accessories include two small booklets – one details health and safety information, the other is a quick-start guide. There is also the small, 45W power brick.
Getting our first look at the laptop itself, it is immediately clear that build quality is of the highest grade. This is because the XPS 13 features an aluminium outer-shell which not only looks great, but is also rigid and strong.
Moving to the outside of the frame, we get a look at the XPS 13’s I/O.
The right side of the laptop has 1x USB 3.0, an SD-card reader and a Kensington lock.
The left side features the power input, 1x Thunderbolt 3, 1x USB 3.0, and a single headset jack.
Before opening up the laptop, the above image gives an indication of just how thin the XPS 13 is. At its thickest point, it measures just 15mm in height, while it tapers off to just 9mm of thickness. This sleek design – as well as the lightweight frame, which weighs just 1.2KG – makes the XPS 13 a super-portable notebook, perfect for the daily commute or going abroad.
Opening the lid, we are greeted by the keyboard and display.
Incidentally, the display is excellent. For one, it has a 1920×1080 resolution which I think is very smart – 1080p across 13.3″ is more than sharp enough, while the lower pixel count should help with the battery life, too. There is a 3200×1800 panel option available at a higher cost should you want it, though. Other than the resolution, the display uses an IGZO IPS panel, and you can definitely tell – the colours are very rich and vivid, while viewing angles are stellar.
I am less keen on the palm rest though. Dell have covered the entire keyboard section of the XPS 13 with a carbon fibre finish, which is admittedly durable and strong. However, I do not think it looks very good – it uses a patterned design (as you can see above, on the right) which I think just looks a little cheap, while it feels just a bit rubbery for my liking. I would have much preferred to have an aluminium palm rest instead. Perhaps Dell thought an aluminium palm rest would draw comparisons with the MacBook so they wanted to differentiate the XPS 13 a bit. However, it is my opinion that an all-aluminium construction would look and feel better.
Moving on to the keyboard. As with any Ultrabook, key travel is absolutely minimal – something which certainly takes some adjusting to, considering I use a desktop mechanical keyboard for most of my work. That being said, there is a nice tactile bump to the keys, while the white backlight is very clear at 100% brightness.
The only issue with the keyboard is the half-height ‘enter’ key (pictured above, right). No matter how long I used the XPS 13 for, I could not get used to it – I’ve been using a full-size enter key my whole life, and the XPS 13 is the first laptop I’ve used personally that makes use of a half-height key. I can appreciate Dell are keen to keep the chassis as small as possible, but an extra centimetre or two of extra depth would be a small price to pay for a proper, full-size enter key.
However, the trackpad does make amends as it is very good. It is very smooth so I encountered no unwanted friction while using it, and I also prefer trackpads that do not have dedicated right and left buttons.
The image on the left shows the display tilted as far as it will go – it is safe to say this is far enough for most people.
Lastly, I must also mention the webcam – something we do not usually pay much attention to when it comes to our laptop reviews. As you can see in the image above and on the right, the webcam is positioned below the display, rather than above it. This makes it quite awkward to Skype a friend, for instance, as the webcam’s positioning is very unflattering.
Above we get an overview of the CPU and iGPU courtesy of CPU-Z and GPU-z respectively.
The i7-7500U is a dual-core chip that supports HyperThreading. It has a base clock of 2.7GHz while it boosts to 3.5GHz.
The integrated graphics are Intel’s HD Graphics 620. This iGPU has a base clock of 300MHz though it can boost up to 1.05GHz.
Today I will be comparing the XPS 13 with the following systems:
And lastly my personal desktop with a Core i3-4160, 8GB 1866MHz DDR3 and a GTX 960.
Lastly, I also benchmarked Tomb Raider (2013) to get an idea of the XPS 13’s graphical capabilities.
To test the i7-7500U processor, I first ran Cinebench R15.
As expected, the XPS 13 performs within 4 points of the Gigabyte BRIX i7A-7500 – both devices use the same CPU.
Next, I ran Handbrake, where I ask the CPU to encode a 1.8GB full-HD video file, outputting it to the specifications as determined by the in-built ‘iPhone preset’.
Again, a very similar result to the BRIX. A total time of 5 minutes 9 seconds is not blisteringly fast, but it is unlikely you will be doing any serious rendering with the XPS 13 anyway.
The last test for the CPU, I ran SiSoft Sandra’s arithmetic test – a synthetic benchmark.
Our last CPU-specific test, this time the XPS 13 just about edges ahead of the BRIX.
To test the integrated Intel HD Graphics 620, I first ran 3DMark Fire Strike.
Far from a great score, it is clear the XPS 13 is not meant for gaming – even the relatively weak GTX 960M scores well ahead of the integrated graphics.
Lastly, to see how the XPS 13 got on with a less-demanding game, I ran Tomb Raider (2013), at 1080p using the ‘low’ image-quality preset.
A semi-playable result here – perhaps the XPS 13 could do a job if you like to play Rocket League or Minecraft and are happy to tweak the IQ settings. That being said, it is clear the XPS 13 is not meant to be a AAA-title gaming machine.
To give a general, overall score of the XPS 13’s performance, I ran PCMark 8’s ‘Home Conventional’ test.
The fastest score I have seen since beginning to use the PCMark 8 benchmark, the XPS 13 is over 100 points ahead of the BRIX.
To test the memory bandwidth of the 8GB DDR3L RAM that comes with the XPS 13, I ran SiSoft Sandra’s memory bandwidth benchmark.
Performance is limited here by the use of older, DDR3L memory instead of the newer DDR4 standard. Most users will not notice this on a day-to-day basis, however, and 8GB is a decent capacity for an Ultrabook.
To test the speeds of the PCIe, M.2 SSD that ships with the XPS 13, I ran CrystalDiskMark and ATTO Disk Benchmark.
Interesting results here: the ‘read’ speeds are quite high at around 1700 MB/s, but ‘write’ speeds of around 430 MB/s are comparatively slow, especially for a PCIe drive. This should not make much difference to most consumers, as the XPS 13 is not aimed at those likely to be writing large files on a regular basis.
To test the XPS 13’s USB 3.0 Type-A ports, I plugged in an OCZ Trion 150 SSD via a SATA-to-USB 3.0 5Gbps adapter, which uses the ASMedia ASM1053 controller. We reviewed the SSD HERE, finding it delivers good speed at a budget price. Most importantly, it is capable of saturating the USB 3.0 bus, allowing us to test the speeds the two USB 3.0 ports delivers. To test this, I ran both CrystalDiskMark and ATTO Disk Benchmark on the Trion 150 drive.
As we would expect, the USB 3.0 results are right at the limit of the 5Gbps ceiling.
To find the XPS 13’s idle temperature, I left Windows on the desktop for 30 minutes. The ‘load’ temperature reading comes from running Prime95 and 3DMark Fire Strike simultaneously.
Both results are very respectable and leave me with no concerns about the thermal safety of the internal components.
The XPS 13 can get a bit loud under load, however. The high-pitch whirr of the CPU fan is very noticeable and a bit irritating after a prolonged period of time. That being said, most day-to-day tasks – like emailing and word processing – do not cause this level of noise, and it is this sort of thing most XPS 13 buyers will be doing with the laptop anyway.
However, I did notice a bit of coil whine from the XPS 13, almost at random times. It was infrequent and would be drowned-out by anything louder than ambient noise levels. In a quiet room, though, I did notice it occasionally, usually when I opened an application for the first time. This is slightly disappointing, as you would hope a £1000+ Ultrabook would be using components of high quality that are not prone to coil whine – even if it is not very intrusive.
To get the ‘idle’ power draw for the XPS 13, I left Windows on the desktop for 30 minutes. The ‘load’ power draw reading comes from running Prime 95 and Fire Strike simultaneously.
The XPS 13 demonstrates fantastic efficiency as the power draw is very low, even under 100% load. On the next page we see how this helps the laptop’s battery life.To test the battery life of a laptop, we use PCMark 8’s in-built battery benchmark – which loops its ‘Home’ benchmark until the battery fails. We do this with the screen brightness set at 50%.
5:22 is a great score here. Given that the battery benchmark is a relentless assault on any laptop, we can expect real-world performance to be around double the benchmark result. As such, the XPS 13 should easily last a full day at the office, making it a great option if you are looking for a long-lasting productivity machine.
All-in-all, the Dell XPS 13 (9360) is a good Ultrabook, but it is not without its problems.
To start with the good aspects of the XPS 13 though – the build quality is excellent thanks to the aluminium chassis. Dell have also done a great job at reducing the laptop’s footprint, while still retaining the 13.3″ display. As such, the XPS 13 is noticeably smaller than other 13.3″ laptops.
However, I must say I am not too keen on the carbon fibre palm rest. This is a matter of personal preference, but I would have liked to see more aluminium here instead – I think the carbon fibre’s dotted design looks a little tacky, and definitely out-of-place on this high-end Ultrabook.
Performance is generally pretty good, though – the Kaby Lake i7-7500U is a good mobile chip even if it is only a dual-core. It is an ultra-low power chip, too, which helps the laptop’s power consumption to be very low indeed. Battery life is also excellent and will easily last at least a whole day of prolonged use, as long as you are not performing excessively demanding tasks.
However, there are just a couple of niggling issues which prevent the XPS 13 from fully excelling. One problem is the disappointing write speeds demonstrated by the PCIe SSD – and, sure, this won’t be a big deal for most people, but when the speed drops from 1700MB/s (read) to just over 400 MB/s write, its noticeable.
The last issue is the intermittent coil while. I did not notice it happen regularly, but on the occasion I was opening up a new application, there was occasionally some coil while – for a £1179 laptop, this is a bit disappointing, even if it is not overly regular or intrusive.
Despite the minor issues, the Dell XPS 13 is still a good machine. The standout feature is definitely the reduced footprint when compared with other 13.3″ laptops, so if portability is your biggest priority, the XPS 13 is definitely worth thinking about.
You can buy one directly from Dell for £1179 inc. VAT HERE.
KitGuru says: For those looking for an ultra-portable laptop, the Dell XPS 13 is well worth a look. It is just a couple of minor issues which hold it back from our highest award.