Which Dell XPS 13 configuration works best for me?
Buying a new laptop can be an overwhelming experience. You don't want to get stuck with something soon-to-be outdated, and you want to plan for the future. If you want your new laptop to remain relevant for a few years, why not just buy the most expensive option and be done with it? Your budget might not allow for the most expensive option, and that option might not even be the best for you.
Dell XPS 13 can be opened up so a few of the internal parts can be upgraded. This means that you can save some money now on specs you don't really need for your daily workload, and upgrade later when the newest, biggest, fastest hardware arrives on the market. If you're not sure where to go from here, we've put together an XPS 13 buying guide broken down into separate hardware to ensure you spend where it counts.
What to know before you buy
There are a few important bits of information involving what you can upgrade and what you can't upgrade in your XPS 13. This information is especially important if you plan on holding onto your new XPS 13 for quite some time — planning for the future is important, especially considering how fast laptop technology moves.
|Processor||Intel Core i3/i5/i7 (Skylake)||No|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 520
Intel Iris Graphics 540
|Hard drive||128/256/512GB SSD
Dell offers ascending 6th-generation Skylake processors that start with the Intel Core i3-6100U with a 2.3GHz clock speed. The middle option is the Intel Core i5-6200U with a 2.8Ghz clock speed, and the top processor offered is an Intel Core i7-6560U with a 3.2GHz clock speed.
The processor is not upgradeable further down the line, so you're going to want to go with something that works now and that will work in the future. Envision yourself in five years; are you putting your XPS 13 through a grueling task? If so, you'll want to opt for at least the Core i5 — it's only $100 more than the Core i3. If you really want to be on the safe side and your budget allows it, go with the Core i7 for maximum power and future proofing.
If you can't see yourself doing anything other than light tasks in the future — word processing, web browsing, and a bit of Solitaire — you could probably get away with a Core i3, but a Core i5 will keep your XPS 13 singing for a few years down the road as system requirements ramp up for new software.
Now consider your graphics card (GPU); Dell does not offer a dedicated GPU for hardcore gamers out there, so you're going to have to live with an integrated chip (which typically means less power). This means if you want to get the best graphics card possible, you'll have to go with the best processor possible.
In this case it's the Intel Core i7 — it comes with Intel Iris Graphics 540, which delivers about a fifth of the power of a dedicated GTX 980Ti card can put out (but, again, that's not an option here). One step down, with the Intel Core i5 and Core i3 processors, you'll find Intel HD Graphics 520, which have about half the graphics power of the Iris Graphics 540.
You won't be able to play demanding games on ultra settings with any of these integrated GPUs, but you will be able to enjoy mid-range settings on quite a few current games using the Core i7 paired with Iris Graphics 540 configuration. If you don't plan on using your XPS 13 for gaming, focus on the processor instead of the GPU that comes with it.
First and foremost, you can upgrade your XPS 13's solid-state drive (SSD) any time you want. If you're looking to save a few dollars on the total price of an XPS 13 right now, go with a 128GB SSD, and when a newer, bigger SSD arrives, you can have fun replacing it.
If your budget allows, Dell offers up to a 1TB PCIe SSD. It does cost quite a bit more — $400 more than a 512GB SSD — but if you need it, you need it. Those of you who are audio- and videophiles will find a bigger hard drive a necessity. Right now, only the Intel Core i7 configuration has a 1TB SSD available, so keep that in mind. If you don't need that much processor, going the self-upgrade SSD route is going to be your best bet.
The RAM in your XPS 13 comes soldered right to the motherboard, so you won't be able to replace it in the future. For this reason, you want to take care making sure you have enough RAM for now and for the future; here's a quick rundown of what you can expect from XPS 13 configurations:
If you'd like to go with 4GB of RAM, you'll be stuck with a Core i3 or a Core i5 processor — if you plan on using your XPS 13 for light duties only, 4GB should get you through. If you are looking to the future, you're going to want at least 8GB of RAM, and maybe even up to 16GB. Keep in mind that the 16GB RAM option is only available in configurations with the Core i7 processor.
Going with a lot of RAM — i.e. 16 GB — in your XPS 13 will boost the price up quite a bit considering you're also getting a Core i7 processor, but you will be thankful in the future as system requirements ramp up, or if your daily computing tasks become more intensive. You definitely don't want to get caught short.
There are two display options available with XPS 13: touch and non-touch. The touch display is set at a 3200 x 1800 resolution — perfect for those of you who will be using your laptop for video editing or other fine-detail tasks. If you are in love with the idea of a literally hands-on screen, then you won't want to skip the touch configuration.
The non-touch display is set at a 1920 x 1080 resolution, which still looks great in the XPS 13's chassis — gotta love the almost complete lack of a bezel. Non-touch display configurations cost considerably less, so if you don't plan on going with a hands-on approach, and don't plan on doing any video editing, you're going to be just fine. Don't forget, the battery lasts longer on non-touch display configurations.
Finding the sweet spot
No matter which configuration you choose, know that you're getting an amazing ultrabook. Dell has consistently hit it out of the park with the XPS 13 series, and its reviews and user feedback are a reflection.
The sweet spot for most XPS users is the non-touch display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and Core i5 processor configuration. It is enough for both a medium daily workload, a bit of light gaming, and enough storage space to keep you happy until you decide to upgrade. This configuration costs about $1100, and you can add a higher-resolution touch display for $300 more.
Prices overall range from $800 to about $2000, so you're sure to find something that fits your budget and workload. Keep our advice in mind heading in, and you'll come out the other side with a laptop that suits you perfectly.