Heat and Noise
The single cooling fan inside the XPS 13 keeps running most of the time with a quiet, almost inaudible hum. This keeps some air moving around the densely packed internal components and helps push heat away from the CPU and the Wi-Fi card. If you push the CPU to 100 percent for an extended period of time (by running benchmarks or transcoding a large 1080p video file) then the fan will kick into high gear (with a high pitch) as it attempts to push more hot air out of the vents on the bottom of the notebook.
We were a little concerned about the temperatures on the bottom of the chassis since the vents are on the bottom and hot air can come into contact with your lap, but much to our surprise the heat wasn't an issue (likely because of the heat-dissipating nature of the carbon fiber) and lap temperatures largely remained well below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The XPS 13 delivered 7 hours, 23 minutes of battery life during our standard battery rundown test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds). This is a full 30 minutes longer than the HP Folio 13 and an hour longer than the ASUS UX31E ultrabook. If we turned down the screen brightness even more and weren't actively using Wi-Fi then we probably could have gotten closer to the "8 hours, 53 minutes" of battery life that Dell claims on the XPS 13 product page.
Battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):
After spending some time with the Dell XPS 13 we were left with the feeling that this is actually a reasonable alternative to a MacBook Air. Yes, if you buy the XPS 13 you have to live without Apple's operating system and you have to settle for a less-than-stellar screen. But you get a VERY durable Gorilla Glass screen, carbon fiber to keep the notebook cool, and exceptional performance with great battery life.
In all honesty the ultrabook market is going to be flooded with competition in 2012, and that means Dell needs to seize every opportunity to surpass other ultrabooks. That's why things like the missing SD card slot and the average screen might prove to be the downfall for what would otherwise be the best ultrabook on the market. As it stands now, the Dell XPS 13 is the leader of the pack in terms of performance among ultrabooks. What remains to be seen is whether the competition will rise to the challenge and provide those extra features that the XPS 13 fails to deliver.
Software & Support
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