Compact but very powerful, the Studio XPS 13 notebook is a stylish and fully featured tour de force from Dell.

With a few exceptions, Dell has often been seen as the safe choice, a PC manufacturer that offers good value for money, if sometimes workmanlike designs. Forget everything you thought you know, and meet the Dell Studio XPS 13 notebook.

Various models are available with different processor and storage combinations, starting at £749. We tried the top-spec Dell Studio XPS 13 model with 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 128GB of Samsung solid-state drive.

Focusing on the design first, the Dell Studio XPS 13 reeks of art deco tech, all black with silvered aluminium accents such as the hinge bracket and screen support structure, along with a neat silver trim that encircles the chassis top. On the lid outer is a finely grained black leather insert, finalising the executive flair for the design.

Open the catchless lid and you'll find that a keyboard comprises adjoining flat-top keys, beautifully backlit à la Apple when light levels drop. In fact, Dell has bettered Apple here by minimising light bleed between keys, making for a seamless dark-room experience. Backlight brightness is easily changed between three preset levels, using the Fn + cursor-right keys.

Beyond the keyboard of the Dell Studio XPS 13 are touch-sensitive buttons, also backlit in white, that readily change speaker volume or allow media playback control. You can even switch wireless functionality on and off here with the glance of a fingertip. A high-precision if compact trackpad is barely satin textured, inlayed between the glossy plastic top deck, with two softly sprung buttons for mouse control.

NEXT PAGE: The core specification and features explained >>

Compact but very powerful, the Studio XPS 13 notebook is a stylish and fully featured tour de force from Dell.

Hitting the sweetspot between portability and useful screen estate, this XPS Studio houses a 13in 16:10 widescreen, regrettably of highly reflective sheen, with a glass front that stretches from screen edge to screen edge. It's a white LED-backlit panel, which provides purer colours, although backlighting was not absolutely even on our sample.

A 1.3Mp webcam is inset into the bezel top, bracketed by a pair of built-in microphones for online conferencing.

At 2.2kg it's not the lightest 13in laptop you'll find but it does feel remarkably solid and robust. In design terms alone, given the quality of build and the feeling of integrity of the whole notebook, Dell could be on to a winner here. And we haven't even explored the component specification yet.

At the heart pf the Dell Studio XPS 13 is a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, running high-speed DDR3 RAM: 4GB of it. The 128GB SSD storage may be limited in hard disk terms, but anything over 100GB is more than enough space to install every app you'd need and leave room for personal files. If you want to expand the storage capabilities with an external drive, you really are spoilt for choice.

There are two USB 2.0 ports of the Dell Studio XPS 13, one on each side, with the right-hand one doubling as a powered eSATA port, allowing connections to a hard disk drive fast enough to compete with internal SATA storage. On the same side is a mini FireWire 400 port, just below an ExpressCard/54 slot.

Wireless connectivity of the Dell Studio XPS 13 is threefold. There's a dual-band 802.11 wireless adaptor capable of 5GHz 802.11a/n operation as well as the usual 2.4GHz 802.11b/g. Bluetooth is included, and for roaming broadband, a slot in the battery bay takes a SIM card to activate the on-board 3G wireless modem.

NEXT PAGE: More ports and the Dell Studio XPS 13's graphics capabilities >>

Compact but very powerful, the Studio XPS 13 notebook is a stylish and fully featured tour de force from Dell.

On the left of the Dell Studio XPS 13's chassis is a Gigabit Ethernet port, and some video output ports. Count them: there's three to choose from. In chronological order, there's a VGA D-Sub connector, for legacy displays and projectors. Next up is an HDMI port, for modern displays and flat-screen televisions. And the final option is a DisplayPort connector, the new computer industry competitor to HDMI which offers comparable high-definition video specifications alongside digital audio.

Driving the onboard graphics is an nVidia GeForce 9500M solution, which actually comprises a 9400M integrated chip (as used by the new Apple MacBooks and Mac mini) with a 9200M GS discrete card.

Using Hybrid SLI, the pair can be set to work together, when they are known collectively as a GeForce 9500M. Used as intended, the low-power integrated chip allows you to save power when on batteries, while the pair combine together for best graphics performance when on mains power.

We used our usual FEAR game test to evaluate the graphic cards' performance. With the game's graphics set to Maximum quality, we recorded an average of 21 frames per second - not a bad result, but not too far off what we've measured from the efficient on-board 9400M chip running alone. Dropping graphics quality a single notch to High, however, gave us an average framerate of 51fps, a great result.

In our MobileMark 2007 battery life test, the XPS Studio used its six-cell powerpack to good effect, providing just over three hours (188 mins) of unplugged productivity. We would have preferred to see four hours-plus, but considering the notebook's hidden firepower this is still an impressive run.

And what about its overall real-world performance?

Until we tested the Sony VAIO VGN-AW11XU this month, the Dell Studio XPS 13 had hit our highest recorded score for a notebook computer, achieving a startling 108 points in WorldBench 6. This result is faster than more than a few desktop system we see in the lab.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

Dell Studio XPS 13: Specs

  • 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P9500
  • 1066MHz FSB
  • 6MB L2 cache
  • 13.3in (1280x800) 16:10 LED-backlit glossy LCD display
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit SP1
  • 128GB SSD
  • 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 RAM
  • nVidia GeForce 9500M graphics (9400M + 9200M GS) with 256MB RAM
  • VGA D-Sub
  • HDMI
  • DisplayPort
  • slot-load 8x DVD±RW DL drive
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 1 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x combo eSATA/USB 2.0
  • 1 x mini FireWire 400
  • ExpressCard/54
  • mic-in
  • 2 x headphone out
  • stereo speakers
  • dual built-in mics
  • multi-card reader
  • 802.11a/b/g/draft-n
  • Bluetooth
  • 3G modem
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • power consumption 26W idle, 65W load
  • six-cell 56Whr lithium ion battery
  • 319x236x23-34mm
  • 2.2kg
  • 2-year warranty
  • 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P9500
  • 1066MHz FSB
  • 6MB L2 cache
  • 13.3in (1280x800) 16:10 LED-backlit glossy LCD display
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit SP1
  • 128GB SSD
  • 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 RAM
  • nVidia GeForce 9500M graphics (9400M + 9200M GS) with 256MB RAM
  • VGA D-Sub
  • HDMI
  • DisplayPort
  • slot-load 8x DVD±RW DL drive
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 1 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x combo eSATA/USB 2.0
  • 1 x mini FireWire 400
  • ExpressCard/54
  • mic-in
  • 2 x headphone out
  • stereo speakers
  • dual built-in mics
  • multi-card reader
  • 802.11a/b/g/draft-n
  • Bluetooth
  • 3G modem
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • power consumption 26W idle, 65W load
  • six-cell 56Whr lithium ion battery
  • 319x236x23-34mm
  • 2.2kg
  • 2-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

‘Desktop replacement’ used to be a euphemism for a noisy and heavy laptop. Not so with the Studio XPS 13. It’s as powerful as many desktops, yet compact enough to carry almost anywhere. To expand its modest display it can be plugged into any screen thanks to a versatile collection of video ports. Despite all that raw power, the Studio XPS 13 is near-silent in general use, thanks to no hard disk noise and a fan that only kicks in when the laptop is under load. Combining great style, solid build quality and sheer outright performance, the Studio XPS thoroughly earns its PC Advisor Gold Award.

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