Review: Dell XPS 14 (XPS L421X)
Dell’s latest series of 14-inch Ultrabooks brings a little of the American company’s trademark customisability to the form factor. We took a look at a mid-range version of the XPS 14.
Harley Ogier | Monday, July 30 2012
Product type: Ultrabook
RRP incl GST: $1,799 - $3,499 depending on model, $2,599 (as tested)
- Intel Core i7-3517U dual-core 1.9GHz CPU (Turbo Boost up to 3GHz)
- 8GB RAM
- Nvidia GeForce GT 630M GPU with 1GB dedicated memory
- Weighty for an Ultrabook at 2.15kg
Well-built, and the highest performing Ultrabook we've seen to date.
Dell’s latest series of 14-inch Ultrabooks brings a little of the American company’s trademark customisability to the form factor. While you can’t pick and choose processors, RAM and storage individually, there are five models of XPS 14 ranging from an entry-level $1,799 model, with Intel Core i5 CPU and 4GB of RAM, up to a top-end $3,499 model, with Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD and dedicated Nvidia GeForce GPU.
Our review model had a third-generation (Ivy Bridge) Intel Core i7-3517U dual-core CPU, 8GB of RAM, 500GB 5400RPM hard drive, and Nvidia GeForce GT 630M graphics card with 1GB of dedicated GDDR5 video memory. It retails for $2,599, and is one step down from top-of-the-line.
The whole thing is just under 21mm thick, but weighs around 2.15kg: double the weight of most of the Ultrabooks we’ve tested. However, an aluminium lid and outer edge, Gorilla Glass screen and silicone base make for exceptionally sturdy construction. It’s not ‘rugged’, per se, but it’s hardier than the average offering in the Ultrabook category.
The 1600 x 900-pixel display is a nice touch – like Samsung’s Notebook Series 9 (also reviewed this issue), it’s well above the 1366 x 768-pixel resolution most commonly found in laptops with 11-15-inch screens.Colour accuracy, contrast and brightness are good, and the horizontal viewing angle seems quite wide – although the vertical viewing angle is limited.
Being an Ultrabook, the XPS 14 has no optical drive. Connectivity is fairly limited, with just two USB ports (both USB 3.0). However, you also get DisplayPort, an HDMI output, Ethernet port and an SD card reader. Wirelessly there’s Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n supporting 2.4GHz and 5GHz for networking, and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless peripherals.
When we tested the core i5-based Samsung Notebook Series 9 earlier in July 2012, it was the highest-performing Ultrabook we’d had through the labs to date. When it comes to the power of the new Ivy Bridge chips, Core i7 systems are even more impressive: the XPS 14 thoroughly exceeds the Series 9 in every area bar storage and battery life, with almost double the graphical performance and around 5-10% higher CPU performance.
The Notebook Series 9 wins in terms of storage performance, but it includes an SSD where our XPS 14 did not. The Series 9 also had 10% longer battery life in our ‘productivity’ battery test, running for 4 hours 47 minutes versus the XPS 14’s 4 hours 15. However, we suspect the SSD version of the XPS would deliver equal or better battery life to the Series 9 – in fact, Dell claims up to 11 hours in certain tests for the SSD version. Our battery tests are more demanding, but there should still be a noteworthy increase from the HDD to SSD version.
Graphical and CPU performance are easily sufficient for most gaming, albeit at fairly low graphics detail/quality settings.
Our review models of the Dell XPS 14 and the Samsung Notebook Series 9 both retail for the same $2,599: this creates an interesting trade-off scenario. Both are brilliant machines in their own right, and neither is an overall ‘winner’.
The Series 9 is as slim as it gets, includes a capable but not performance-topping Core i5 CPU, and works well as an ultraportable machine for business or study.
The XPS 14, on the other hand, features a dedicated graphics solution and resultingly good graphical performance, fast Core i7 CPU, and a business-rugged yet weighty build. If you really want a gaming laptop, there are specialty series for that like Dell’s own Alienware, or Asus’s Republic Of Gamers (ROG) series. However, the XPS 14 is a great portable PC for pulling double-duty – weekdays at the office, weekends gaming on the couch or at LANs.
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