Dell XPS 14 review

Pros

  • Class-leading battery life
  • Better graphics than most Ultrabooks
  • Solid build

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Thick and heavy for an Ultrabook

If there’s one thing Ultrabooks are generally not great for, it’s 3D hardware acceleration. The trade-off for slimness combined with extended battery life is almost always the need to rely on integrated graphics. Even with the significant improvement of the latest HD 4000 chipset found in Intel’s most recent Ivy Bridge processor generation, performance is still behind the discrete graphics option. With this in mind, Dell has introduced the XPS 14, which is still classed as an Ultrabook, but sports Nvidia graphics.

The graphics chipset in question is Nvidia’s GeForce GT 630M. This sports 96 CUDA cores, which is reasonable for a notebook, although not in the same ballpark as high-end gaming graphics. The GT 630M also comes with its own dedicated 1GB of GDDR5 video memory. There is still HD 4000 graphics available from the Intel processor, and Nvidia’s Optimus technology allows the system to switch dynamically between the two without a reboot. So you can call upon powerful discrete graphics when required and miserly integrated graphics at other times.

The Intel processor is primarily focused on low power consumption, however. The Core i5 3317U is the latest Ivy Bridge generation, hence the HD 4000 graphics. But this is only a 1.7GHz CPU, although Turbo Boost 2.0 will increase a single core to 2.6GHz for short periods when required. The dual cores benefit from Hyper-Threading, so are presented as four virtual cores. So this is not a particularly powerful processor, but should be able to turn itself to most types of task. It will be assisted greatly by the generous amount of RAM Dell has supplied. There’s 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 memory on a single DIMM, which is the maximum possible with this model, and not user accessible.

The main price for all this power is weight. The XPS 14 is a hefty 2.1kg, and is also relatively thick by Ultrabook standards at nearly 21mm. It will be more significantly noticeable in your bag than some Ultrabooks. But this extra heft is also partly due to the build quality. The brushed aluminium lid and edging are very solid indeed. The keyboard surround is covered in a soft rubberised material, but clearly has metal underneath. The base is a similarly rubberised metal. The end result is a reassuring sense of quality and durability.

Main storage comes in the form of a 512GB Samsung SSD PM830 solid-state disk. Many manufacturers, including Asus with its Zenbook Prime UX32A and Acer with its Aspire S3, have opted to ally a large conventional hard disk with a small SSD, to get the best of both worlds. But Dell has gone the whole hog and supplied a large SSD. So you really do get capacity, performance and low power consumption, all at the same time, but most certainly with a premium to match.

Dell has used the extra screen size of the 14in display to decent effect, supplying a few extra pixels compared to the 13.3in screens, with a native resolution of 1,440 x 900. The screen is bright and colourful, offering good viewing angles. The only downside is the glossy finish, which is quite reflective in bright conditions, but not too bad otherwise. The screen is coated with Gorilla Glass, so is as solid as the rest of the notebook. Audio quality is merely decent, however, with a good level of volume available but not a lot of bass, which is hardly a surprise for this class of notebook.

The island-style keyboard has a reassuringly definite action, and comfortably sized keys. It’s very pleasant to type on, continuing the sense of quality. The large trackpad is also comfortable, although there’s not much to differentiate it from the wrist rest, either in texture or colour, making it less intuitive for usage in darkness.

The range of ports available is not extensive, but at least they are positioned on the side edges of the notebook, with none at the back. On the left can be found two USB 3.0 ports, mini DisplayPort, HDMI, and a Gigabit Ethernet port that flips open when required. The right merely houses a headphone jack, SD card reader and Kensington lock slot. The most significant omission is VGA, which will be a drawback if you ever need to connect an older projector, as is often the case at convention centres. However, this particular model also lacks 3G capability, although the usual 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 are in evidence.

Performance is as expected for the specification. The XPS 14 manages 2.39 in the rendering portion of Maxon Cinebench R11.5, which is par for the course for a Core i5 3317U processor, although the OpenGL result of 18.12 benefits from the Nvidia graphics, providing about 50 per cent more power than the integrated HD 4000 chipset would offer. Similarly, the score of 1,199 in Futuremark’s 3DMark11 is about twice what you would expect from HD 4000 graphics, illustrating how much more 3D power this notebook has compared to most Ultrabooks.

The XPS 14 also has far superior battery life than you would expect for this level of processing power. In MobileMark 2007’s Productivity test, the Dell lasted an incredible 512 minutes, meaning this notebook would give you even longer away from the power socket than HP’s capable Folio 13 or Toshiba’s Z930-10Q. Admittedly, this test won’t utilise the Nvidia graphics and you will get considerably less endurance with this enabled. But a full day’s work or at least a couple of films will be possible, maybe even three, making this a formidable business travel companion.

Verdict

The Dell XPS 14 doesn’t quite have the in-your-face gorgeousness of the Samsung Series 9 900X3B. In particular, it’s a little too heavy and fat. But it does provide a good balance of portability and power that, alongside its excellent battery life, make it a true mobile warrior, despite the weight. However, at £1,279, this is also one of the most expensive Ultrabooks on the market, even when you take the larger-than-13.3in screen and discrete graphics into account. If you do want the extra graphics power, with true all-day battery life, this is a great notebook, assuming you can afford it.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Product

Dell XPS 14

Processor

1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3317U

RAM

8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM

Graphics

Intel HD 4000 and Nvidia GeForce GT 630M with 1GB GDDR5 memory

Hard disk

512GB Samsung SSD PM830 solid-state disk

Optical disc

None

Display

14in Dell HD+ display with TrueLife Infinity and 1,440 x 900 pixels

Networking

Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

Interfaces

2 x USB 3.0, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, LAN, headphone, SD card reader

Width x Depth x Height

335.8 x 233 x 20.7mm

Weight

2.1kg

Warranty

1 year collect and return