Dell Studio XPS 13

The Dell Studio XPS 13 is a very good laptop. It could have been excellent, but Dell seems to have actually tried too hard in some areas, such as the laptop's design, and we feel it's backfired slightly.

CNET Rating
User Rating

View more from Dell »

In the beginning, Dell created the high-end XPS range, and saw that it was good. Years later, it created the Studio range — a slightly trendier alternative to its long-running Inspiron series. Dell then went and baffled the backside off everyone by launching the Studio XPS line, an alternative to the Studio and XPS ranges. Confused? We certainly are.

The Studio XPS 13 is available now for a starting price of AU$1,999. The model reviewed here, retails for AU$2,490.70.

The Studio XPS 13 is the smaller, 13.3-inch sibling of the Studio XPS 16. Like its big brother, it's a fairly attractive unit, but we're not convinced it's as stylish as the XPS M1330, Dell's other 13.3-inch XPS laptop, which we reviewed last year. We think Dell has tried too hard during the design process, using nearly every trick in the book of good laptop design — all at once.

The lid in particular is a busy, contrived mass of leather, brushed aluminium and plastic. These are all fine in isolation but together they're just a mess. It's almost akin to a car maker taking random body panels from Ferraris, Bentleys and Audis, welding them together and expecting perfection.

Dell has placed one of the primary exhaust vents at the back edge of the laptop, which, in our opinion, isn't a good idea. It gets partially obscured when the screen is open at a 90° angle, and is blocked almost completely when the screen is tilted back further. This, unsurprisingly, causes the laptop to get hot.

There are plenty of really good things about the Studio XPS 13's design. The screen, for example, doesn't have a bulky, protruding bezel surrounding it — it's entirely finished in edge-to-edge "glass" (it's actually plastic), like you get on a MacBook.

We also really appreciate the fact that the keyboard and mouse selector buttons are backlit, which makes using this laptop in dimly lit rooms a doddle. Then there's the solid underside of the laptop, which has hollow vents in attractive patterns. Even the stickers on the laptop's bottom are neatly aligned in the centre. Well done, Dell.

There are a good selection of input/output ports on the Studio XPS 13. It comes with D-Sub, HDMI and DisplayPort video outputs; mic and twin headphone sockets, for sharing with a friend; and two USB ports, one of which doubles as an eSATA port.

The Studio XPS 13 is designed to be quicker and more efficient than the XPS M1330. It uses a range of "performance optimised" P-series Core 2 Duo CPUs, instead of the T-series "performance" chips used in the M1330. P-series CPUs have the advantage of a faster 1066MHz front-side bus (versus 667MHz to 800MHz on the T series) and a lower thermal envelope, meaning potentially longer battery life. Our sample uses the most potent core components available on the Studio XPS 13 — a 2.53GHz Intel P9500 CPU with 6MB of L2 cache, alongside 4GB of 1066MHz DDR3 RAM. Thankfully, Dell offers the option for a 64-bit version of Vista so you can use 4GB RAM and above effectively.

The Studio XPS 13's graphics solution is arguably the laptop's most interesting feature. The Nvidia graphics-based laptop benefits from the option of Hybrid SLI technology — first seen commercially on the Apple MacBook. In this arrangement, the laptop uses a discrete GeForce 9500M GPU, as well as a motherboard-integrated 9400M chip. The latter is used during everyday computing to power mundane tasks like looking at pictures, while the former kicks in automatically when the user requires more oomph. All this is displayed on a 13.3-inch, white LED backlit 1280x800-pixel display.

The Studio XPS 13 does well in the storage department. Dell provides the option of a 500GB, 7,200rpm drive on top of the 320GB standard, and like all the trendiest laptops, the Studio XPS 13 also gives you the choice of a 128GB solid-state hard drive. This offers considerable performance improvements in disk-intensive applications, at the expense of affordability and capacity. Our advice to the average user is not to bother, unless you've just won the lottery.

The Studio XPS 13 has 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi as standard, gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth. The package is rounded off with an internal, slot-loading DVD rewriter, a 2-megapixel webcam, Microsoft Works 9, a six-cell battery and 2GB of DataSafe online storage for a year.

The first thing we noticed about the Studio XPS 13's performance was the fact that it gets hot — quickly. The metallic underside heats up rapidly, making it uncomfortable to use the device on your lap — particularly against bare skin. This is almost unforgivable in a modern laptop and, considering the amount of talk we've heard in recent years about laptop heat damaging testicles and causing infertility, we'd advise our male readers to be wary.

The laptop's raw performance is certainly impressive. It achieved 4801 in the PCMark05 test, less than the 5653 achieved by our test XPS M1330, which admittedly used a 2.4GHz Intel T7700 CPU. Graphics performance in the 3DMark06 test was significantly better though, with the Studio XPS 13 scoring a commendable 3556, indicating that it's far more suited to gaming than the XPS M1330, which clocked just 1448.

We're still running battery tests on the Studio XPS 13, so check back shortly to see how it fared away from the mains.

The Dell Studio XPS 13 shoots for excellence but comes up short. It's almost as if it's trying too hard in some areas, when less really would have been more. Having said that, it's worth checking out for its very strong performance, relatively solid build quality and wireless capabilities.

Previous Story

Acer Aspire One AOD150

Next Story

Dell Studio XPS 16

Add Your Review 31

* Below fields optional

Post comment as

ChewKian posted a comment   

Screen went bad after about 12 months (warranty expired). Problem starts with an inch and half margin on the right side going "fuzzy" (like tv with bad reception). Initially can still make out the images/icons although in inverse video (like film negatives). Eventually no image; just flickers. Changed the screen. Problem rectified, but only for about 4 months. Only this time, I discovered that if if apply a little pressure on certain parts (randomly) of the screen with my thumb/finger I can restore the image. Its as if the is a bad connection. Didn't trouble-shoot with original screen so don't know if its the same situation. Am very very DISAPPOINTED
with this purchase! CKian


Stefan posted a review   

The Good:fast, portable, good battery life

The Bad:gets a little hot

I was initially disappointed by the machine's problems but I soon realized that all its freezing problems stemmed from Vista and were not hardware realized. After installing Win 7 this machine runs like a dream. I've had a lot of laptops and this one is by far the best. It only gets hot when I use it for graphics intensive applications. But i can't think of the last time I played a video game with the machine on my lap.


kamyar posted a review   

The Good:back light , wonderful monitor

The Bad:Freezing in win 7 64-bit, keyboard driver

i think there is something wrong with hard drive driver, in the middle of work it freezes and HDD light keep lit for 2 -3 Min and then everything comes back. I checked the keyboard and apparently display switching key doesn't work with dell fn key and instead working by win key. I think it's driver issue


johnny posted a reply   

Hey kamyar, I've been in experiencing the same problem with my recently purchased xps 13. Have you fixed the problem by any chance? Sometimes during startup and usage, the hdd light stays on and the system clock freezes. I've called dell half a dozen times and up until i read your comment, I thought I had a faulty harddrive.


B posted a comment   

The Good:relatively fast, facial recog, screen

The Bad:Vista Premium, Blue Screen of Death - a lot, crashing, hanging.

Blue screens quite a bit, hangs up and gets bogged down. Started within a week of receiving it. Contacted Dell - they are of no help.


Jack posted a comment   

Overheats, Power-Lead gets in the road of the mouse cord ALL the time. Not enough USB sockets.


crazybmanp posted a review   

The Good:nothing

The Bad:overheating, crashing, bios problems, wifi (heat-related) dropouts, system hangups

horrid little laptop that overheats and kills itself.


torechan posted a comment   

on reading others forgot to mention. DONT INSTALL VISTA! I run XP, was told that this is not good for solid state (something about limited life) same IT guy suggested Windows 7. Can anybody elaborate on why that might be?


torechan posted a review   

The Good:looks cool, fast for some stuff

The Bad:the thing is unusable! Productivity wise serious issues

Frankly the hangups I can live with, but it has a very seruious conflict with Microsoft office and attachments. Can hang up for almost an hour. If Dell could fix this, they would at last have a decent computer.


Lee posted a comment   

The Good:Fast, backlit keyboard

The Bad:Facial recognition doesn't work when joined to a domain

I just got a Studio XPS 13 when Dell started offering the N10M Hybrid SLI chipset (step above the 9500M) and have been very pleased so far. I think whatever problems previous posters had been experiencing with their systems must have been resolved by some firmware/driver updates because this thing has been blazing fast and hasn't locked up once.

It came preloaded with Win7 Home Premium x64 but I reloaded it with Win7 Enterprise x64 because I work for an MS Gold Certified partner. I use it for work and play and was a little dissapointed when I found that once you join the system to a domain the facial recognition software doesn't work. This was more a gimmick for me but apparently there is an updated version in the works that will support domain environments.

I have used it for gaming as well and been very impressed with the performance. I have not had any of the heat problems other users have reported either, even running in High Performance mode. The fans definitely get very active and some areas get warm but not beyond what I would expect for a laptop. I do place it on a table usually, which does help with under chassis ventilation so that may help somewhat.

I did read some threads on a few forums prior to purchasing that mentioned problems with DPC latency but those seemed to have been fixed by a recent BIOS update.

In summary, this laptop has been awesome so far for me and worth another look for someone that might have been turned off by some initial release bugs. Just make sure you apply all of the latest drivers and updates and you'll be very happy.

Sponsored Links
CNET's latest

User Reviews / Comments  Dell Studio XPS 13

  • ChewKian


    Screen went bad after about 12 months (warranty expired). Problem starts with an inch and half margin on the right side going "fuzzy" (like tv with bad reception). Initia..."

  • Stefan



    "I was initially disappointed by the machine's problems but I soon realized that all its freezing problems stemmed from Vista and were not hardware realized. After installing Win 7 this machine run..."

  • kamyar



    "i think there is something wrong with hard drive driver, in the middle of work it freezes and HDD light keep lit for 2 -3 Min and then everything comes back. I checked the keyboard and apparently ..."

CNET Speedtest

Recently Viewed Products