Dell is a little late to the party that started with the holiday 2011 shopping season, but the Ultrabook craze is still young, so we're not too worried for the lovely Dell XPS 13 that started shipping on Leap Day 2012 (now that's memorable). Dell's Ultrabook uses premium materials that include an aluminum lid, magnesium alloy deck, a really cool looking and feeling carbon fiber bottom and a Gorilla Glass display, but they manage to keep the price at the current $999 sweet spot for the base model.
This is one of the quicker Ultrabooks: though Intel mandates the hardware platform, we've seen a good deal of variation on performance among brands. The Asus Zenbook UX31 and 13" MacBook Air (technically not an Ultrabook since it doesn't ship with Windows) live at the high end of the speed scale. The 1.6GHz Intel i5 ULV Dell is right up there with them, scoring 9850 on PCMark Vantage. There's a Core i7 option that also ups SSD capacity to 256 gigs, but we find the Core i5 suitably fast. The laptop has 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM that's soldered to the motherboard like most Ultrabooks.
The base machine ships with a very fast 128 gig Samsung SSD drive. Ours is the middle config with the 256 gig SSD and it scored absurdly high on PCMark Vantage. If you buy the 128 gig version, you'll have around 80 gigs free since Windows, other installed apps, the recovery partition and hibernation partition eat up space.
The Dell XPS 13 has a 1366 x 768 edge-to-edge display that's better than most Ultrabook displays in terms of viewing angles and color depth, though it's not a resolution leader with the Zenbook running at 1600 x 900 and the MacBook Air at 1440 x 900. The Dell has a very bright display (Dell claims approx.. 300 nits) and it's a good companion for those of you who venture to brightly lit public places to work.
Above: the Dell XPS 13, 13" MacBook Air and Toshiba Portege Z830 stacked up.
Ports are rarely in abundance in Ultrabooks, and the XPS has a particularly small motherboard and chassis since Dell was trying to make a 13" machine with an 11.6" footprint (in reality they managed something in between). That means there's no room for an SD card slot or wired Ethernet, but you do get two USB ports (1 is USB 3.0) and a Mini DisplayPort that can drive huge monitors. The machine has Intel Advanced N dual band WiFi with Bluetooth and it has Intel WiDi.
Here's our in-depth Dell XPS 13 video review, our full review will follow in a few days.