Dell XPS 13 versus MacBook Air: Which should you buy?

Which one of these two laptops has been updated three times since it first launched with newer hardware inside while the other has been left to pasture yet is still sold at a high price? Hint: It's not Apple that's been updating anything.

It may seem a little unfair to compare a brand new model with a year's old MacBook Air, but the truth is, it's one of the important comparisons to make. Both are still sold, both are premium ultrabooks and you, the savvy consumer, should know knows exactly what you're going into before parting with your cash.

So, in the battle of the ultralights, which comes out on top?

Update 27 January 2017: We've refreshed this post to reflect the latest model of the Dell XPS 13 (9360) and the hardware improvements it brings.

Let's start at the top and break out the hardware specs first.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategoryDell XPS 13MacBook Air
Operating SystemWindows 10macOS
Display13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 (non-touch)
3200 x 1800 (touch)
13.3-inch 1440 x 900 (non-touch)
ProcessorIntel Core i3/i5/i7 {7th generation)Intel Core i5/i7 (5th generation)
GraphicsIntel HD 620Intel HD 6000
Storage128GB SSD, 256/512GB/1TB PCIe SSD128/256/512GB SSD
Battery60 Wh54Wh
Dimensions304 x 200 x 15 mm325 x 227 x 30-170mm
Weight1.29kg (2.8lbs)1.35kg (2.96lbs)
PriceFrom $799From $999

Design has traditionally been Apple's strong suit, with a long history of aesthetically-pleasing products that stand out from the crowd. But while the MacBook Air (opens in new tab) has stayed the same for a number of years, Windows laptops have quickly caught up, and in some cases have surpassed Apple's design prowess.

The XPS 13 (opens in new tab) is one such contender, and there's no denying it's one of the finest looking laptops money can buy. The almost bezel-free InfinityEdge display has a lot to do with that, as does the aluminum and carbon fiber body. It's not as ultimately slim as the MacBook Air, but there's more hardware squeezed inside.

It's also squeezed inside a more compact body. One of the crowning design features of the XPS 13 is that you're getting a 13.3-inch notebook in the form factor of something like Apple's old 11-inch MacBook Air. That's what bezel-trimming gets you.

MacBok Air

Inside is where the two start to really separate. The MacBook Air has a lower resolution, non-touch display, a fixed 8GB RAM option and a now two-generations-old processor. The XPS 13 has options for a glorious QHD+ touch display, up to 16GB of RAM and has been refreshed with Intel's latest, 7th-generation Kaby Lake processors. You also get up to 1TB of lightning fast PCIe SSD storage in the XPS 13, though it's easy enough to buy a smaller drive and upgrade it down the line. You can also upgrade the MacBook Air SSD should you wish, but out of the box you get a maximum of 256GB, with a configuration for 512GB available should you request it at order.

The pricing is where things split fairly evenly. Strictly speaking, the XPS 13 is a better match for the MacBook Pro, or at least it is towards the higher end of its spec list. The lower spec models are a more even match in hardware and price.

The XPS 13 starts at $799, while the MacBook Air (opens in new tab) is priced from $999. You can spend much more on a fully specced XPS 13, but you'll get a lot more laptop for that money if you do. But it'd be fair to call it a mostly even playing field. If the MacBook Air had some of the options the XPS 13 does, you can imagine it would at least match Dell's price, if not go above. These are both premium ultrabooks, though, with a price to go with it.

All the hardware, design and price considerations mean little though if you're set on one particular operating system. Windows 10 or macOS are your choices, and which one you prefer may have a bigger influence in your overall buying choice.

However, unless you're invested in Apple services, macOS isn't necessarily a winning choice. Microsoft's major products like Office and OneDrive all work on macOS, and there are a host of third-party cross platform software solutions like Adobe Creative Cloud.

macOS does, however, have one advantage that Windows 10 does not: you can run Windows on macOS, either by setting up a dual-boot or using a VM solution such as Parallels (opens in new tab). On Windows 10 that's all you get; Apple doesn't just let people download macOS to use on their own machines.

Both have app stores, both have content ecosystems, and both have access to iTunes. You can even sync iCloud to Windows if you're also an iPad or iPhone owner.

Ultimately it will come down to which experience you prefer and what you're going to be using on your laptop. Windows 10 is less divisive than Windows 8 before it, while macOS hasn't gone through a significant UX change in some time. Unless you need Apple apps, Windows 10 has at least as much to offer, and in most cases, you'll be better served finding an alternative to Apple's apps, anyway.

Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Lots of people buy the MacBook Air and are very happy with them. But right now, in 2017, there's not a strong case to buy one. If you're absolutely set on an Apple laptop, the MacBook Pro (opens in new tab) is a better option all-round. The MacBook Air is starting to show its age. And if you're really looking for super thin and light, there's always the 12-inch MacBook.

But if you're not drawn like a moth to the emblem on the lid, the Windows ecosystem has a lot to offer. The Dell XPS 13 is without doubt one of the best laptops you can buy right now, regardless of operating system. It's a glowing reference point of what can be done in a current notebook, melding design, hardware and a range of prices that don't just include those spending the most. And it's not doing this through a senseless race to be the thinnest, either.

Which of these two should you buy?: The Dell XPS 13. It's more up to date and better value for your money.

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at

  • How about rent? I'm joking I just love these "what expensive device should I buy" articles. As a retail slave I envy you guys lol
  • I got my XPS 13 on the Pi Day sale. $999 quickly became $688.60. Sure I had been saving for a Surface since the Surface 2 so I had the spare change laying around. Anyway, there are deals to be had. Look for last years XPS also. Those are much cheaper now.
  • The table doesn't scale properly. Is this app optimized for windows 10??
  • Scaling just fine for me on my lumia 950 in the windows central win10 app... Make sure you're not using the older win 7 app I guess? I dunno, just a suggestion
  • I would rather go with dell xps 13
  • "OS X does, however, have one advantage that Windows 10 does not. And that's that you can run Windows on OS X, either by setting up a dual-boot or using a VM solution such as Parallels. On Windows 10 that's all you get; Apple doesn't just let people download OS X to use on their own machines." You technically could, but when you're picked up in the middle of the night and missing, you'll know why
  • Gotta admit, it's pretty amusing that the one advantage of OSX is that windows 10 is a more flexible operating system. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • But then whats the need for OSX? You'll end up paying for hardware (XPS is better) including the original OS which ever laptop has, and an extra Windows Licence on the Air! This in order to make it work! So at the end the price goes even higher for lower specs Apple devices as usual!
  • sorry, but stupid question. Its just about your SW preferences: Do you want Apple and iOS with all the +/- of iOS and iOS support or you want Windows with a bigger software/hardware support?  
  • Except that the MacBook Air can run MacOS X and Windows (so it has the same advantage), while the Dell can only run Windows. (Well.. they can both run Linux, ChromeOS and Android as well). As the article notes, this isn't for technical reasons - it's not because the MacBook Air is somehow more capable - it's because Apple DRMs their OS to their own hardware and doesn't license it to anyone else whereas Windows is a general purpose OS that Microsoft licenses to pretty much everyone.
  • But then whats the need for OSX? You'll end up paying extra for Windows Licence on the Air! This in order to make it be prodcutive! So at the end the price goes even higher for lower specs Apple devices as usual!
  • Certain developers in the professional sector are still Mac only.
  • You can get something like hackintosh os for a non-drm'ed copy that mostly works on non-Mac machines
  • The obvious choice is dell
  • What about battery life? Lumia 730 DS, Windows 10 Mobile.
  • "But if you're not drawn like a moth to the glowing emblem on the lid" Very nice lines Richard :D
  • Lol, it is a very well finished product.. Even though, i find it extremely uneasy to use..
  • Personally, I wouldn't even consider a non-touch screen, so the Mac is right out.
  • How is the build quality of the XPS? I returned a Inspirion because it's build was awful. You could feel the whole unit flex it was so plasticy.
  • I have the original XPS 13s, one a core I5 and one a core I7.  I have no issues with the build qualty of those and actually wich they would die so I would have an excuse to buy a new one.  The core I5 is great, still has decent batter life after 4 years, the I7 only gets 2-3 hours of battery life at this point and gets VERY hot, but it still runs fine.  I did a test of the new XPS 13 here at work to compare to the SP3 and SP4, personally I preferred the new XPS13 with touchscreen, but the people that wanted the devices wanted the Surface Pros so that is what we bought.  YMMV.  There is also a business class Latitude version of the XPS13 as well, but not sure of the model number.
  • My XPS13 died within two weeks (display backlights just flickered instead of machine even trying to POST). Other than that, the build quality was fantastic except for the fan sound, which sounded like a man dying quietly. No keyboard flex, screen hinge felt very solid. While the machine lasted, I got about 6 hours/charge with the FHD, non-touch display.    
  • I had all the issues you mentioned until two BIOS updates later. Well, I never had the flicker thankfully. Great laptop. Windows updated made the battery life much better also. Typically I'm getting around 9 hours depending on what I'm doing. Sometimes longer, sometimes shorter.
  • It's a massive omission by Dell that their XPS range don't support Windows Hello or HDMI 2.0 They're effectively outdated when considering next gen windows.
  • But it does have thunderbolt 3 and real USB 3.1 gen 2 type C. So that helps a bit. At least the XPS 15 does Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Modern high end win10 laptops *NEED* to have at least a fingerprint reader for log-in, and preferably visual detection.  Hello is awesome, and there is no going back!
  • I have face recognition on my surface and it's great, especially when I don't have keyboard connected. But on a normal laptop I'd be fine with password (obviously would like extra features). I type 70WPM, entering a password is no issue for me ;)
    And if you get a touch screen model pin is easy. What I find far more annoying is that there is no ambient light sensor. It's 2016, should be no reason a laptop doesn't have one. Imagine trying to sell a phone without one, people would hate it. Those things are cheap, no reason not to have,could put it rough next to camera. Had my friend get the 15 for her architecture classes, felt bad when it showed up with no light sensor, especially since she's coming from a mac, which does that kind of stuff really well. Posted from my lovely MS Surface Pro 4 i7 512 16GB - assuming that it currently isn't BSODing or suffering some other horrible software or hardware malfunction.
  • The 13 has that also.
  • Why did I subconsciously read, "The XPS, buy it"? Lol Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • And if you're left handed, then there is only one choice at all because the MAC keyboards all make it virtually impossible to do range selection left handed care of no control key on the left.
  • HP Sepctre X360 is the best choice. But otherwise I guess Dell any day over the Mac
  • I agree completely. I tested out the Spectre X360 and the XPS 13 over multiple days and went with the X360. I just couldn't justify paying an extra $150 to get slightly lighter and smaller and give up so much in other areas. The X360 has a better keyboard, trackpad, and build quality and I gained a touch screen, convertible form factor, active pen support, virtually no bloatware, and longer battery life. Sure it would be nice to have thinner bezels but, for me, it's was not worth giving up so much while paying more to get it. I'm always baffled why tech reviewers consistently rate the XPS 13 over the Spectre X360.
  • The Air looks so old and outdated compared to the XPS.
  • The MacBook Air will probably get a major refresh next month so right now the comparision doesn't really make sense.
  • Why does there always seem to be some reason it is unfair to compare a Windows device to an Apple device.
  • Because apple is for rich people and windows is for us commoners
  • Try telling that to a well off gamer. Apple products are primarily for poseurs. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • So is this somehow related to USA?? /s
  • More like Apple is for ignorance that marketing made believe a lower specs product that admits to have higher profits is better! So not for smarter rich people!
  • The big refresh happened a few months back with the MacBook Pros. No new Air was announced so it is presumed dead. And they still have the balls to charge more. XD
  • Until then.
  • Dell XPS 13/15 anytime anyday.....who needs a Macbook?
    No one beside me!!! Sent from Windows Central App for Windows 10
  • Honestly, at 799$ we get an i3, 4gb ram and non touch screen xps 13.. and 8gb model cost a $1,000. Also, we can't compare 56wh of Dells to 54wh bettery in Macbook.. Its miles better than Dells. I'd go with Macbook.. I was massively disappointed with Surface Book (bought it when it came out and returned it in a week). My bother-in-law just bought it and I was playing around with it last week.. still there were plently of glitches.. fan came on while watching anything +1080. Got hot and battery life tanked.. (Still a big fan of Windows 7.. not so much of 10).
  • Both laptops are nice I think. The Surface Book is nice as well but it's still a Gen 1 product. For versatility and power in that form factor it's still head and shoulders above the MacBook (my sister has the top shelf SB) but there is always room for improvement. Still, it's a better Gen 1 product than the original Air which literally caught on fire. Having all this choice is really nice though.
  • Too old hardware for the Air. Few reasons to buy it now.
  • II picked up the Dell a few days ago. Nice device, the only issue so far is getting used to the keyboard but that happens with any new computer. As for the comparison to the Air, whenever WP and iPhone are compared the number of apps is an issue, why not here, also? The Windows store has nearly a million apps, with well over 16 million more. I don't have the numbers available right now, but the last time I checked there was about 20,000 apps on the Mac store, and not many more available without he store. This alone, if you listen to the WP haters, is enough to abandon Mac as a serious competitor.    
  • No trackpoint on either, so both are a no go...
  • The 90's called... In all seriousness though, I like a good TrackPoint at times over certain Lenovo trackpads.
  • Just wait till June (WWDC). Apple will surely release an all new Macbook Air/Pro redesign. Then take a call.
  • And the mac will still be behind.
  • And then Dell (And others) will realease their new line of 'Surface Books'... And even the Surface 5 Pro! Then take the call!
  • Oh a silly Touchbar on teh horizon!
  • No touchscreen on the mac,  plus it being an apple product,  means its out for me!
  • is there any need for Comparison? ....ofcource an intelligent person always go for Dell.
  • I would lay my hands on XPS any day even with my eyes closed.... only IF I had that much $$ to spend... someone guide my org to get new laptops :)
  • I got a i5/8G/128GB on the Pi Day special from Microsoft directly and absolutely like it. It is a really nice laptop. And yes it was a truckload cheaper than a comparable MacBook Air and also runs a few programs only available for Windows and not OSX. Battery life is stellar and on par with the MBA, I get about 10 hours easy.
  • A big FYI,  Not all windows programs work on windows equipped mac either.  There are compatability problems.
  • I have just recently opted for XPS13 having received a sweet sweet deal at Microsoft Store UK. I chose Dell over Surface Pro 4 due to battery lifea and price... I just couldn't justify spending so much £££ on a device that doesn't go on the battery fo longer than 4-5 hours and some folk don't even get that. today hwever I was at Microsoft client event and envied all of those Surface owners a little! XPS13 is cool but Surface is waaaay cooler! 
  • my biggest issue with the new XPS series is the web cam placement, at the bottom of the screen, always shooting up. Stupidest idea ever.
  • I would get the Dell XPS 13.
  • "OS X does, however, have one advantage that Windows 10 does not. And that's that you can run Windows on OS X, either by setting up a dual-boot or using a VM solution such as Parallels. " How is that an advantage? An operating system that can install and run on thousands of configurations including Mac and run 10's of thousands of 32 and 64 bit applications vs an operating system that runs on only one. And it wouldn't even run Windows if not for a third party hack like Paralells. I love my Mac but the I'm a Mac, I'm a PC thing went out with MySpace.
  • Don't forget about having to pay extra for the Windows Licence on Macs in order to run Windows on them to make them usefull!
  • Of course the Dell. Why? Because Windows 10.
  • Love the new xps13, 9350. But do not get the touch version as windows 10 cannot handle screen scaling well and it eats power. I get about 2 3/4 hours on light loads. Also the standard screen is excellent and non reflective. Windows 10 is of course a good reason to avoid the xps as it totally sucks.. Window 7 has driver issues on the xps13. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Why would you want to run eight year old software on a brand new laptop with cutting edge hardware anyway?
  • I know Joe, You need to install windows 10 right away on the MacBook book to make it relevant....
  • How does battery life compare?
  • My question too
  • Uh, XPS 13, that's really a no brainer IMO. I thought about replacing my 2013 MBA with a newer version, but coudln't justify shelling out $800+ for that crappy TN screen and an outdated CPU. After much thinking I picked up a MS Signature XPS 13 FHD non-touch for $730 shipped and could not be happier.
  • I'll be back guys, gotta flash my phone to dead 8.1 and go back to production ring.
  • Same here....but I went a little cheaper and got the normal inspiron 13.3 " and then added 32 GB of ram and a 2 TB SSD myself. In under 800 bucks, touchscreen, all day battery life, tons of storage, ram, WINDOWS 10 on touchscreen is SICK! I sold my MacBook and kept my dells. I got my wife an 11" inspiron and maxed out the ram and 2 TB SSD as well. WAY better value than the overpriced MacBook 12.
  • ..the next comparison i would like to see is the overly-blinged hp spectre vs macbook air
  • Only advantage I know of for OS X is you can compile apps for iOS.  As far as I know, OS X is REQUIRED for compiling iOS apps.  Plus it is the easier, legal way to run OS X, Windows and Linux (not the only way, just the only legal way  ) The Dell is a pretty sweet system, and if you want, Dell also offers an XPS 13 with Ubuntu pre-installed on it. Unfortunately it is a little too sweet for my wallet at this time.  Maybe after the holidays are paid off    
  • I thought they expanded it to Linux to compile apps for OS X, but I could be wrong on that. 
  • Dell XPS 13! No touch on Macbook and less features. 
  • hey there. im currently running windows 10 insider preview (fast ring) on a MacBook pro mid-2012. im actually really tired of macs after looking at awesome concepts like 2 in 1s and tablets and such, and the only reason i would buy another MacBook pro is dual boot. i love being able to have both mac and windows capabilities in 1 computer (I travel a lot so its a huge benefit there). however, I'm leaning more towards buying a 2 in 1 due to the price compared to the macs, as well as having a range of uses and my transitioning to the windows ecosystem (and if the xps 15 is made into a 2 in 1, its an instant buy for me).
  • Anytime something says, ComputerX vs Macbook Pro, always pick ComputerX.
  • It's baffling that a site called windows central is promoting MacOS. I think you should change your name to Digital Central.
  • That's not promoting MacOS, it's comparison between 2 devices on different platforms
  • Which is an even dumber exercise i.e. comparing two very different devices with different levels of specs on different operating systems …
  • It would definitely be Dell for me. 1. I like Dell. 2. I like Microsoft. 3. I love good tech. Apple products really shine but they've been caught and even overtaken. The slickness is more on the other side of Apple's ocean currently, plus their product cost more for less now, costing more was allowed when no one else was doing it better. Not anymore.
  • In the absolute darkest days of Windows 8 my wife who came from a Mac family needed a new laptop after a slip on some ice. She'd converted to Windows after taking some courses that required Windows only software and living with me in a tech ecosystem revolving mostly around Windows, Xbox and Android.  I think that time frame would have been Winter 2013/14 and for me it was probably the worst time to be a Windows machine owner. OEMs were still producing absolute garbage hardware wise and Windows 8 was struggling alot. At the time we decided to check out the Apple store which had only recently opened in our city. I expected to be blown away by the quality of the Macbook, and because I was a student the Air was what I was most interested in. However on closer inspection even in 2013 the Air had a shoddy display for it's price.  Ultimately we waited and ended up with a BestBuy version of the Yoga 2. Later on a Surface Book and an HP Spectre X360. Unless one is heavily invested in the Mac ecosystem I can't see why you would buy any Macbook at this point. Heck, even my Father-in-law who has been a Mac user for a couple of decades is struggling. He's a huge racing fan and really wants a VR racing game he can enjoy and was absolutely devasted to learn his Mac Pro (trash can model) just won't hack it.  I'm sure there are a lot of Mac users out there who would love to be able to load OSX onto something like the XPS13. It's a shame that Apple just won't allow it. If they aren't interested in keeping their devices up to date they should just let OEMs do it. The way they generate revenue has changed a lot from the last time they tried that. If they had been allowing that in the Winter of 2013/14 I'd likely be a Mac user now.  EDIT: typo.
  • .
  • What kind of logic motivated this comparison?  The MacBook Air is not and has never been the Mac "equivalent" of the XPS 13.