Round three: features
Connections are key.
If you believe the marketing hype, everything on a laptop is a feature, from the lid latch to the dock connector. But for comparison's sake, we've broken features down into three subcategories: audio/video, storage and slots, and networking. Things have improved massively for Apple here recently, offering nearly the same options as the PC competitors.
Apple prides itself on its products' audiovisual capabilities — but the MacBook Pro includes the bare minimum of A/V features: a microphone and some average but loud speakers, one FireWire 800 port and only two USB 2.0 ports for connecting to external peripherals, such as a camera or a mouse. It also has mini-DisplayPort video out, although its usefulness will be limited, as you'll need to buy an adapter to hook it up to anything other than Apple's own monitors. Apple also doesn't support HDMI, so you'll need to get a third-party adapter and send sound over another wire if you wish to hook up to your TV.
You'll need a third-party adapter to get HDMI out of a MacBook. (Credit: Monoprice)
The Dell has all of this except the FireWire 800 and mini-DisplayPort, but trumps with the full-sized DisplayPort, VGA and HDMI. One of its USB ports also doubles as an eSATA port, and it also has FireWire 400.
Both have line in and out 3.5mm jacks, although the Dell uniquely has dual-headphone jacks while the Apple alone supports optical audio. Both have webcams, although the MacBook Pro's video quality is significantly better. The Dell's speakers are also quieter and tinnier than the Apple's.
We're going to call this one a draw: while the PC offers more video connectivity, the Apple offers a better audio/visual experience. Advantage: nil.
Storage and slots
If you have lots of MP3s or digital video, storage capacity matters, and the Dell Studio XPS 13 provides an extra 250GB of storage space compared to our MacBook Pro test configuration, which will set you back another AU$220 to upgrade to match. While both laptops are equipped with dual-layer DVD burners and SD card readers, the Mac's card reader can only read SD, SDHC and MMC, whereas the Dell adds MS and xD reading into the fold, and throws in an ExpressCard Slot to boot. Advantage: Dell.
The MacBook Pro and the Dell Studio XPS 13 both include gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate), and 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity. Advantage: nil.
Winner: the Dell Studio XPS 13 takes this round, but by the barest of margins.
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