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Dell Studio XPS 13 (1340) Review

Written By: James Rintamaki on May 11, 2009 24 Comments

dellstudioxps13

The Dell Studio XPS 13 is quite the mash up of power, portability, aesthetics, and features.  This 13” laptop is packed with a current generation Intel P8600 processor, NVIDIA hybrid SLI graphics, “edge-to-edge” slim LED screen, and finally a Dell keyboard finally worthy of being typed on.  Summary in a sentence?  All around power in a medium to small package that’s almost (literally) too hot to handle.

Specs:

The specifications of the model reviewed are as follows:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 (3MB cache/2.4GHz/1066Mhz FSB)
  • nVidia GeForce MCP79MX chipset (9400M G graphics)
  • 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz (2 DIMMs)
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit
  • 6 Cell Primary Battery
  • Dell Wireless 1515 802.11a/g/n WLAN half Mini Card
  • 13.3 inch HD WXGA Edge-to-Edge Laptop screen with 2.0 Megapixel Camera
  • 320 GB Free Fall Sensor Hard Drive (7200 RPM)
  • Obsidian Black with Leather Accent
  • 8X DVD +/- RW w/dbl layer write capability

Video review:


 

Quick gallery:

Top and bottom:

view_top view_bottom

Left and right:
view_left view_right

Front and back:
view_front view_back

 

Screen and general build quality:

All in all, I am impressed with the screen.  The horizontal viewing angles are very good – no matter where the laptop sits in my lap, I can still see things just fine – and while vertical angles aren’t quite as good, I don’t loose a lot of color/etc if I tilt my head forward to back (as with the Latitude E4200).

 

I like the “edge-to-edge” screen that Dell implemented in this laptop. This basically means that the screen doesn’t have a ‘recessed’ feature; the screen and bezel are are all one, smooth piece (besides the hinge).  The hinge itself does appear to be all metal and is “tight” enough to keep the lid completely closed even with the lack of a latch.

bezel bezel2hinge

The lid opens a fair amount, though not a full 180 degrees, I would give it about 155 (this is of course a total guess).

lid_fully_opened

Being that it is a LED backlit screen, the lid is very thin and the levels of brightness vary greatly.  There are 16 levels of brightness in total and I found that even at half brightness, the display looked great (which also means saving on battery life without having to sacrifice back light). 

Build quality, too, was rather impressive.  One major pet peeve of mine with laptops is how most of the time, the battery is always a little bit loose, even when it’s “locked” in.  The battery on the Studio XPS 13, however, is a very tight fit and has an extremely secure locking mechanism, much to my delight.   The screen lid is very sturdy – I had to give it a good amount of twisting force before I was able to see any flexing or “liquid ripple” effects on the LCD.  And of course, the item I hate most about most laptops is keyboard flex, however…:

 

Keyboard:

This is by far one of the best (if not the best) Dell laptop keyboards I have ever used.  There is virtually no flex, and I say ‘virtually’ because the keyboard does ‘sink in’ a tad bit only if you press really hard (which you would never normally do when typing – even when angry).  This was a big surprise to me given that so many Dell laptops I have had in the past have suffered from horrible flex (Studio 15, XPS M1330, and XPS M1210).

keyboard

 

The keys are very quiet and require a little more force than most laptop keyboards.  This isn’t to say that you necessarily have to actually press harder to type, it’s just that it seems there is more of a “pop back up” when you let go of the key.  The keys are also “square cut” as opposed to angling outwards like a trapezoidal fashion (it’s hard to explain..just see the picture) – it’s very similar to Sony laptop keyboards:

keyboard_closeupkeyboard_angled

A very nice bonus feature is that this keyboard comes equipped with LED back lighting with two different brightness levels, and it actually looks quite nice (which also proves to be very useful when working in the dark):

keyboard_backlit

 

Performance & Gameplay:

I’ll start off by listing some benchmark results:

HD_Speed:

  • Read: 73.8 MB/s (avg during 1 minute test)

HD Tune:

  • Read:  36.7 MB/s min, 83.8 MB/s max, 65.7 MB/s average
  • Access Time:  17.1ms
  • Burst Rate:  74.3 MB/s
  • CPU Usage:  15.1%
    HDTune_Benchmark_ST9320421ASG

Vista score (5.3):

  • Processor:  5.3
  • Memory:  5.9
  • Graphics:  5.8
  • Gaming graphics:  5.3
  • Primary hard disc:  5.8
    vista score

Super PI:

  • 1M:  22.251 seconds
  • 2M:  55.423 seconds

As you can see, it scored rather well on the Vista charts ( I was surprised to see such a high ranking for a hard disk), as well as having fast read speeds. I tired to run PCMark05, but it kept getting hard drive access errors, so I was unable to get that to work.   I used the laptop for a few hours, playing games (FEAR, Call of Duty 4) web browsing, light photo editing, and 1080p and 720p Windows Media/DivX encoded videos, and it all functioned just fine.

 

While playing Call of Duty 4 (shown in the video review above), the optimal settings were set at max everything except for the resolution, which as 1024×768.  Playing with these settings, I averaged about 15fps, and when I upped the resolution to it’s max of 1280×800, I averaged about 10fps.   Playing back HD content (WM or DivX) was smooth – no hiccups or lagging what so ever, and of course doing simple tasks like light photo editing in paint.net, web browsing with FireFox, or writing this review, I had no issues.

 

Weight, heat, noise, and battery:

One of my major disappointments with this laptop is it’s weight which clocks in at just under 5 pounds, 2 ounces. For being a 13.3” laptop, this machine is a bit hefty; the Dell XPS M1330 weighs 4 lbs 3.5oz, also with a 6 cell battery — almost a full pound lighter than this.

While the weight, though heavier than other 13” notebooks, is disappointing, the heat this sucker produces can be almost unbearable.  Without having a proper thermometer to accurately record the temperature, when I was testing COD4 and had the laptop on my lap, I felt as though it could have actually burned me if I kept it there long enough.  Perhaps it is because the main exhaust vent is located right in front of the screen when it is opened, and therefore restricts air flow.   The main source of heat is on the bottom, where the heat sink goes in between the fan and the memory – be careful, it can get EXTREMELY hot!

bottom_cover_removed 

Perhaps another reason for such heat build up is that maybe the fan doesn’t spin very fast.  Through out the entire game testing, not once did I hear the fan get noticeably loud.  Yes, I could hear it, but not even as loud as my Lenovo X61s.  Either A) the fan doesn’t spin up very fast, B) it’s some crazy new fan technology that suppresses sound, of C) ???.

Battery life on this laptop was surprisingly good.  Given the fact that it has such powerful components, I was expecting just under 3 hours max.  However, combined with the hybrid graphics, and good power management, you can range anywhere from 1.5 hours to almost 5.  Using battery eater pro, I managed to squeeze out 1hr 30min on the classic benchmark mode.  Doing just simple web browsing, and writing a bit of this review, I managed to get about 4 hrs 40 minutes.  This was all done on the 6 cell battery, so pair this machine up with the 9 cell battery, and you could potentially get upward towards 7 hours (with light usage and conservative power schemes).   As with all Dell laptop batteries, it comes with charge indicator lights which allows you to press a button on the battery to see approximately how much charge you have left:

charge_level

Conclusion:

Having owned and/or reviewed numerous 13” laptops, I would have to say that this is one of the better ones.  However, I really wish this would have been a bit lighter and ran ALOT cooler, and only then I would have possibly said this was a near perfect laptop.  To verify that I am not exaggerating the heat issue, the folks at TestFreaks.com (which gives this laptop a 9.0 of 10) also many reports of the heat issues that I also experienced. 

Coming in at a relatively small 13.3” foot print, this laptop does have a lot of power under the hood.  I was able to play COD4 at a reasonable, though not great, 15fps on almost max settings, while still being able to squeeze out a very respectable battery life of about 4.75 hours.   

Another great selling (ha) point of this laptop, is if you wait for the right delloutlet.com deal, paired with a nice 15-20% outlet coupon, you may be able to snag one of these refurbished for around $670 like I did.

Pros:

  • Great battery life to performance ratio
  • Hybrid graphics (scales for battery life or performance when needed)
  • Fast and large hard drive paired with DDR3 memory
  • BEST dell keyboard yet (no flex, good feedback)

Cons:

  • Gets VERY hot, and quickly too
  • Weighing in at 5lbs 2oz, it’s heavy for a 13.3”

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24 Responses to “Dell Studio XPS 13 (1340) Review”

  1. A on: 25 May 2009 at 1:13 am

    Nice Review … Looks like you got a good deal. I’m Planning to get one too, Can you point me to any deals sites ?? Thanks !!

  2. James Rintamaki on: 27 May 2009 at 9:47 am

    @ A: If you go to the dell outlet and go to dell home section, you can see if they have any refurbished items in stock (or check slickdeals.net forums for coupons/deals/etc)

  3. katak on: 30 May 2009 at 11:58 am

    but i really concern about the heat problem..so many complain about it..what do you fell so far?did you still love it?

  4. James Rintamaki on: 1 June 2009 at 3:33 pm

    @katak: I honestly don’t use a laptop on my lap too much, so the heat doesn’t really bother me. Like I mentioned, the palm rest and keyboard don’t get uncomfortably warm, and even my old netbooks got warm while on my lap — I would just get a notebook / newspaper to “block” the heat to my lap, haha. That being said, if you are planning on using this on your lap alot…I’d strongly suggest getting some sort of ‘barrier’ or choose another laptop.

  5. lucas on: 3 June 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Helllo James , i hope you´re fine and Thank you for this great review !
    may you help me for a second ?
    , i bought a Studio XPS 13 but since new , the sound scratches in itunes, wmplayer or wven in youtube , this happens more frequently when i´m typping or web browing… i´ve formetted and update all drivers from dell, does your notebook has the same gap or have any idea how to fix it ?
    Thank you !
    Lucas

  6. Diana on: 3 June 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Hello! Very nice review =), I just got this laptop and I was wondering about the time of initial battery charge, Any specific amount of time? Thnx!!

  7. Joe on: 6 June 2009 at 12:22 am

    The heat issue can be resolved immediately by updating the bios to A07. This update can be downloaded from the Dell site. I updated the bios as soon as I received the laptop and have had absolutely no heat issues.

  8. James Rintamaki on: 6 June 2009 at 8:18 am

    @Joe — does it make the fan run more often / does the system become louder? (or is it not obvious how it fixes it?) — and you are saying that you didn’t happen to “test the heat issue” before the bios update?

    @Diana — do you mean how long does the battery last? if so, it’s in the review :) [a bit less than 5 hours if you are conservative w/your usage)

    @Lucas — have you run the dell diagnostics? you may need to call dell about it

  9. Joe on: 7 June 2009 at 11:53 am

    It simply reduces the heat with which the computer operates. The fan will occasionally come on but it is very quiet.

  10. James Rintamaki on: 10 June 2009 at 8:22 am

    @Joe – ah, I just searched around google about the bios updates and there’s a few other posts that mention the same thing that the bios updates helps the thermal issues: @hubpages, @ engadget, and the dell.com review pages

  11. Mspirit on: 11 July 2009 at 9:40 pm

    I was having a terrible time this couple of days deciding which laptop to buy I had one thing in mind a 13″ light laptop…There was the Toshiba U400, hp dv3t, Sony SR, Lenovo U330 and of course the dell XPS 13 I had researched a lot about them but them in a folder called the chosen ones..:)

    Until I read your review in detail..I knew for sure this dell is the one…lol

    Thanks for the review, hope I didn’t take much of your time :D

  12. Mspirit on: 13 July 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Please, about the keyboard..you sure have it for some time now..

    Do you feel the keyboard keys are about to pop up I mean like are they weakly attached?

    Because I was in the shop today and I felt the keyboard keys somewhat weren’t balanced :S

  13. James Rintamaki on: 13 July 2009 at 9:10 pm

    @Mspirit, I never noticed any issue with the keyboard – in fact, like I said, it’s one of the best I’ve ever used. Perhaps it was just a bad display model that was abused by the shop’s customers :)

  14. Mspirit on: 13 July 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Thanks for the fast reply :D

    This was my only worry :)..I will be buying this computer (isa) anytime this week…

    Thanks again!

  15. shay on: 21 July 2009 at 2:35 pm

    hey, thank you so much. i read a few other reveiws right before this one, and the heat issue scared me. i had just bought one of these yesterday amd its already on its way.. no stopping now aha. so thanks

  16. jake on: 24 July 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Just got one to.

    P9600 500gig 4gig 9500M G etc all maxed.

    Dell outlet total cost =994.23$

    Im so excited, I cant wait!!! till 8/03/2009

    About the heat issue, some input for every ones nerves.

    Im sitting on an acer 4530-5430 model with 9100M G purchased 1 year ago, I was also feeling the 80-85c temps.

    About 4 months ago Nvidia released a driver and I really felt the difference in my lap, maybe 5-10c lower?.
    I also noticed how the driver update made a difference running Linux UBUNTU.
    I hope this helps a bit.

    p.s WooHoooO

  17. ted on: 6 August 2009 at 9:54 pm

    Thanks for the Review!
    I’ve seen a no. of positive and negative reviews of this laptop. Common to all reviews is the heat issue. So,I may try using a cooling fan. This helps to reassure me that this is a decent unit. Best Buy has this featured for $899 this week.
    This weekend, NC and I think a few other states have a “TAX free” Sales tax weekend, no sales tax on computers. This is a partial incentive for making a purchase!

  18. Toani on: 20 August 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Hi guys!
    I have read this laptop has some issues with multimedia keyboard. I have read also two people writing about problems with the T and Y keys. Is it true?

  19. Mrfixit on: 19 November 2009 at 2:09 am

    make sure when you get it to update your video drivers or u probably are going to be seeing my best friend Blue screen of death

  20. shamu on: 15 December 2009 at 2:39 am

    I seem to be getting some blips of scratches on my screen. I don’t know how they get there or what is apotential cause. The LED screen is really nice except I’m just paranoid about the scratches =/

  21. javi on: 19 December 2009 at 10:14 am

    @Toani: i’ve recently adquired a dell xps 1340 and yes i have some problems with the multimedia keyboard. Sometimes it’s not working, and then you need to restart to work again…

    Somebody knows a solution for that?

  22. Mike on: 16 February 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Hi James,

    I was very impressed by your review. You got it except the battery life. I have this laptop for the last 8 months and didn’t have any issues except getting hot quickly. At the end of the 8th month, this laptop stopped working with battery power. ” The battery is completely dead and needs to be replaced” was the message I got. Before this error, message I was getting ” AC adaptor couldn’t be determined” message. I called DELL and they send me an AC adaptor, but the problem was not resolved. They send me a new battery, now it works perfectly fine. In short, the battery life is 8 months

    Thanks

  23. Hakan on: 1 April 2010 at 7:54 am

    Excuse me,where did you take it?

  24. phyber on: 2 September 2010 at 5:34 pm

    I consider all what you say. Dell studio xps 1340- best deal. Next bussines day included.
    N1 battery life, N1 servis(europ),
    I am using intel P8800 and its enough for adobe prem cs5. Graf. card is not so good. But you can play all games older 1 year on max or hihg average.

    N1-review. Thx

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