The new Dell’s XPS 14 family is built for maximum portability, speed and performance. In an effort to boost productivity, Dell used the most advanced Intel’s computing solutions there including powerful Ivy Bridge processors, Intel Rapid Start, Smart Response and Smart Connect technologies. Let’s check out what else the XPS 14 series excels with.
Look and Feel
Visually the new Dell XPS 14 is based on the smaller model – the XPS 13 one. It comes in the same clean and simple design with a contrast of black and silver. The XPS 14’s chassis including the lid with the glossy Dell logo is made of a single piece of aluminum, while the palm rest is made of aluminum-magnesium alloy, altogether making the whole body amazingly stable and solid.
The difference comes from the reviewed 14-incher’s bigger chassis measuring 13.2 x 9.17 x 0.82 inches and an overall weight of a healthy 4.54 pounds. It also distinguishes itself with a large silicon-coated pad upon which the laptop sits, surrounded by a slightly elevated soft-touch ring, highlighting its I/O ports. Overall, the XPS 14 ultrabook’s soft-touch surface delivers a pleasant feel and leaves a high-quality impression.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The Dell XPS 14’s contrasting silver-colored keyboard features an island-style layout with concave keys, and perfectly matches the surrounding bezel. Those springy keys have a good feel, though small enough (which can be, in fact, an issue for the users with larger-sized fingers). Overall, the fairly flat keys sport a decent travel, thus making for a reasonably satisfying touch-typing experience.
The ultrabook’s keyboard comes with strong backlighting which is really helpful in low-light environments. The Shift, Tab, CTRL, and other important keys are spacious, however the four directional arrows seem to be shortchanged a bit.
The XPS 14’s clickable touchpad is for the most part the same as on the 13’s ultrabook. Being responsive and accurate enough, that button-free surface features a single, short line on the bottom designating the space allocated for left or right clicking. Overall, it delivers a smooth navigating experience, perfectly supporting various multi-touch gestures (pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scrolls etc.).
Display and Sound
The 14-inch display of the Dell XPS 14 ultrabook comes with a resolution of fair 1,600 x 900 pixels in a 16:9 aspect ratio, which makes for a comfortable amount of screen real estate. Made of resistant and durable Corning Gorilla Glass, the screen surface is glossy.
Unfortunately, that glossy style doesn’t do many favors to the laptop, particularly in outdoor use – reflection can never be avoided here. However, the display is bright enough to be used in sunny situations (the panel shines with a high maximum brightness of 416 cd/m²), and shows a good deal of contrast. Fortunately, users can opt for an XPS 14 version with matte display.
In terms of viewing angles stability, the XPS 14 ultrabook is more than adequate, though not perfect. In horizontal change (when the laptop is turned from side to side) the picture stays mostly stable. As for the vertical one, it’s relatively unstable with the contrast quickly falling to unacceptable levels (the images get inverted and faded).
The sound system is supported by the Waves MaxxAudio 4.0 technology thanks to which the laptop delivers bigger, better sound, with higher highs, lower lows, and a wider stereo field. Indeed, the XPS 14’s bottom-built speakers deliver impressive output levels and can easily fill a mid-sized room.
However, due to their location, the sound can get a bit muted and muffled, when setting the machine on a soft surface (e.g. pillow, carpet etc.). The overall audio quality isn’t perfect, but considering it’s size, the ultrabook shines with balanced sound and good loudness. Some manufacturers, which make loud statements and boast using stickers on the devices’ housing, can learn from Dell.
Ports and Connectivity; Webcam
The larger XPS 14 family sports a wider selection of ports: Ethernet, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, two USB 3.0 ports (one with Power Share), a Kensington Security Slot, an 3-in-1 SD card slot and a combo 3.5mm headphone / microphone jack.
In terms of communication, the reviewed Dell XPS 14 machine offers a full- fledged RJ-45 network port along with the Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 Wi-Fi of 802.11a/b/g/n standards, and Bluetooth 4.0. The manufacturer also offers Intel Wireless Display here for wireless streaming of content to the TV. The 1.3-megapixel webcam captures sharp and colorful photos under good lighting and still manages to deliver strong images in low light.
Performance and Specifications
The Dell XPS 14 comes in various configurations ranging from an Intel Core i5-3317U CPU clocked at 1.7GHz, up to the Intel Core i7-3667U clocked at 3.1GHz (this version is available only to business-sector). The top-shelf non-business configuration features an Intel Core i7-3517U clocked at 1.9GHz. All the model come equipped with 4GB (up to 8GB) 1333MHz DDR3 RAM, while the storage capacity starts at a 5,400-RPM 500GB hard drive paired with an SSD of up to 512GB; integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU is also here.
Gaming fans can opt for more powerful NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M graphics with Optimus technology. Based upon those configurations, the reviewed Dell’s ultraportable predictably turns in strong performance, which is perfect for productivity, multimedia tasks and casual gaming. In our Dell XPS 14 review we are going to look at the Core i7-3517U configuration clocked at 1.9GHz with 4MB of cache, which excels with discrete Nvidia GT 630M graphics with 1GB of GDDR5 memory and 500GB 5,400 rpm hard drive with 32GB Flash cache.
In terms of benchmarks, the reviewed machine delivers the following results. On a synthetic PCMark07 benchmark that measures overall system performance, the XPS 14 scores 3,323 points which is well above the ultraportable category average (2,242). Still, there are better performing machines out there: the ASUS ZenBook Prime UX31A scores 4,989 (same specs, but a larger 256GB SSD); coming configured with a lower-end 1.6-GHz Core i5-2467M chip, the Samsung Series 9 delivers a score of 3,636 points.
The XPS 14’s 500GB hard drive teamed up with 32GB solid-state drive takes 46 seconds to boot Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit), thus delivering a better result compared to the 59-second category average. But unfortunately, it is still slower than its rivals – the Samsung Series 9 (16 seconds), ASUS ZenBook Prime UX31A (23 seconds) or the HP Envy 14 Spectre (35 seconds).
The disk I/O performance is not impressive either with max writes of just 108 MB/s and reads of 142 MB/s. To match 20,000 names with addresses in the Spreadsheet Macro test, the reviewed XPS 14’s version needs about 5 minutes and 26 seconds. This score is a way better than the 6:05 category average including the 7:04 time offered by the Samsung Series 9.
Fortunately, the XPS 14’s graphics performance is much better (thanks to its Nvidia GT 630M graphics). A score of 6,995 points on the 3DMark06 benchmark that measures overall graphics prowess is among the highest results in the ultrabook category. By comparison, the Envy 14 Spectre offers 3,438 score. In terms of power consumption, it’s worth mentioning that the reviewed model comes configured with an energy-saving ultra-low voltage dual-core processor of the current Intel Ivy Bridge family.
When it comes to battery life, the Dell XPS 14 machine, thanks to its built-in 69-watt-hour battery, lasts over 8 hours while continuously surfing over Wi-Fi, thus delivering plenty of longevity. During tests entailing watching movies with Wi-Fi enabled and the brightness level fixed at 65-70 percent, it delivers an impressive six hours and 18 minutes.
Thanks to the flash storage and the lack of optic drive, the only noise source left in this configuration is the fan. During office use the ultrabook operates silently throughout, with the noise level measured at 29.6 dB(A), which is comfortably low.
Software and Warranty
Dell bundles its XPS 14 with the following utilities: Dell Support Center (ability to perform a PC Check hardware scan, a visual readout of the available HD space + the ability to download new driers); Backup & Recovery application (allows the user to create a system recovery disk or use 2GB of free cloud storage from Dell’s DataSafe service); the mentioned above WavesMaxx audio software; Webcam Central utility (webcam’s control + shooting pictures). The reviewed XPS 14 also comes preloaded with Office 2010 Starter, a trial version of McaFee Security Suite, Windows Live Essentials and Skype.
From the factory Dell provides a warranty of only 12 months. However this comes with Next Business Day On-Site hardware service and premium over-the-phone software support.
The prices here seem to be quite reasonable. In USA dealers offer a wide range of buying options with the best prices starting at $1,090 for models with entry-level specifications (1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U configuration). Upgrading to a stronger Core i7-3517U will add $200 to the retail price. The most advanced models featuring 512GB SSD instead of the hard drive, go for sale starting at $1,900.