Buying Guide

Dell XPS 13 (2020) buying guide: Everything you need to know

So, you decided to buy the new XPS 13. Good choice! The 2020 redesign of the XPS formula looks brilliant, from its tighter design to its redesigned keyboard. I was thoroughly impressed when I went hands-on with the laptop earlier this year.

However, with configurations that range from $1,000 to over $2,000, you might be left scratching your head about which configuration to buy. Understandable. I’ve tested hundreds of laptops over the years. Let me steer you in the right direction.

Note: Eventually, you’ll be able to buy the XPS 13 through all your typical retailers, but right now, only Dell’s own digital storefront sells them.

The $1,000 base model: Core i3, 4GB of RAM, 256GB SSD

My best advice? You should always start by considering the base model, and add on features from there. For the new XPS 13, that starts at $1,000. It comes with a 10th-gen Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD.

Think of it as a MacBook Air competitor. Though it’s the same size as the more powerful models, it has just a dual-core processor and 4GB of RAM. That means it’ll be solid for basic web browsing, word processing, and video-watching. But it does have multitasking limits, and heavier applications like Photoshop or Premiere won’t perform well.

The base model has a “UHD+” display, a 1,900 x 1,200 resolution IPS panel. It’s an odd resolution if you’re used to 1080p. The extra vertical pixels are there to match the extra 0.1 inches of screen space. Unlike previous designs, the new XPS 13 has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which is a bit taller than your average screen. You’ll see black bars on the top and bottom of 16:9 videos, but you’ll also be able to view more of a document or webpage at once, and multi-tasking with two windows side-by-side is easier.

This UHD+ screen is fantastic, measuring at over 500 nits, with super high contrast and great color accuracy. The color gamut is a bit too narrow for professional photographers, but most people will adore this display. The base model’s screen, however, is not a touch screen.

You can make just two changes to the base configuration: An upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for $60, or an upgrade to the “Alpine White” color for $50. I love the look of the white interior, and the lighter silver used on the lid, but that will come down to your personal preference.

The $1,250 quad-core model: Core i5, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD

The primary difference between the base model and the step-up option, is the jump to a Core i5 processor. That doubles your core count to four, which is what most people will want. To match the four cores, this configuration also offers 8GB of RAM.

Overall, this configuration is the best value for most users. It’s powerful enough to handle a wide range of tasks and has enough RAM for multitasking. It’s not a mobile workstation. However, if you’re not planning to handle massive Excel spreadsheets, edit high-resolution photos or video, or perform some similarly demanding task, this model will more than meet your needs.

The Core i5 model still comes with the basic “G1” integrated graphics. Intel does have an Ice Lake Core i5 with “G4” Iris Plus graphics, but to limit confusion, Dell doesn’t offer that option. This means you’ll be limited to older games. All 2020 Dell XPS 13 models have Thunderbolt 3 support, though, so external graphics is an option.

Unfortunately, you’re still stuck with just a 256GB SSD. Though speedy transfer speeds and cloud storage have helped reduced the need for a lot of internal storage, being able to bump up to 512GB would’ve been excellent. It’s likely you’ll need additional cloud storage, or an external hard drive.

A touch screen is also not offered on the Core i5 model, which is a loss for those who prefer to have touch screen but don’t need the power of the Core i7.

$1,250 FROM DELL

The $1,550 touch model: Core i7, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD

The third configuration adds touch screen functionality to the mix. Though the XPS 13 isn’t a 2-in-1 device, Dell says touch remains a popular feature. Other manufacturers include touch in all configurations, but Dell saves it as a premium feature, starting at $1,550. The touch screen adds 0.15 pounds of weight which, honestly, you’ll never notice.

This model comes with a powerful Core i7 processor. While the Core i7 does have faster clock speeds and more CPU cache, it’s still maxed out at four cores. H-series Core i7 chips feature up to six cores, and are found in larger laptops like the XPS 15. A six-core Core i7 was previously offered in the 2019 XPS 13 (read more down below), but the newer Ice Lake chips are capped at quad-core.

You’ll still see a small bump in performance over the Core i5 in many applications, but not as large a jump as upgrading from the Core i3 to the Core i5.

Dell XPS 13

The other benefit of this Ice Lake Core i7 processor is its graphics. The “G7” tag on the end of the processor name means it comes with Intel’s improved Iris Plus integrated graphics. I tested Intel’s G7 graphics on the XPS 13 2-in-1, and found it was twice as fast as Intel’s older integrated graphics in benchmarks. You still can’t play modern games at 60 frames per second without reducing resolution below 1080p, but Fortnite was playable at 1080p and Low settings.

This configuration comes with just 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, but you can increase those by moving up to the highest configuration.

$1,550 FROM DELL

The $1,900 4K+ model: Core i7, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD

The highest-end configuration has everything you could want in a 13-inch laptop. You get the option for 16GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage. You get the same Core i7 processor and the Iris Plus graphics as the prior model.

The main difference is the 4K+ display, of course. The aspect ratio remains 16:10, meaning the odd resolution comes out to 3,840 x 2,400 pixels. That’s technically more pixels than a traditional 4K screen, which is never a bad thing. Even the 13-inch MacBook Pro, for example, has a lower resolution of 2,560 x 1,600.

It’s more than just extra pixels, though. This 4K+ model comes with a wider color gamut to please creatives. Given how solid the UHD+ screen is, though, I would recommend reserving this for only professionals whose jobs depend on seeing precise colors. This 4K+ screen will also put a serious dent on the battery life of the laptop.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an option to save a few bucks on a non-touch 4K model.

Dell now offers up to 2TBs of SSD storage, which matches what the company offered in previous years. A version with 32GB of RAM is still missing, though Dell says it’s on its way.

$1,900 FROM DELL

Should I buy a warranty?

Dell offers a number of warranties on its laptops. Every laptop comes with a basic one-year hardware warranty, with options to extend that to two-year ($159) or four-year ($299).

You can take it further, though, with a service called “Premium Support Plus.” The notable difference here is that this service includes accidental damage, which is as comprehensive as it gets. That gets spendy though, costing up to $569 for four years.

For most people, I don’t recommend these services unless you’re someone who really doesn’t like troubleshooting PCs. The more attractive warranty is the accidental damage service (which doesn’t include customer service) that starts at just $59 for the first year. This will cover repairs on accidents like liquid spills or drops.

What about the 2019 XPS 13?

The new XPS 13 has several advantages over the older model. The screen is larger at 16:10, the bezels are smaller, it features two Thunderbolt 3 ports, the touchpad and keyboard are larger, and the screen is brighter, It seems to be an improvement at nearly every aspect.

However, the 2019 XPS 13 is still sold on Dell’s website (and all across the internet), under the model name XPS 13 7390. You’ll even see listings for older models such as the 9370, though I recommend sticking with either the 2019 or 2020 models.

So, is the 2019 model (7390) worth buying? Actually, there are several reasons why you’d want to stick with the 2019 model.

The Dell XPS 7390 has an extra USB-C port (non-Thunderbolt 3) on one side. More importantly, the 10th-gen Intel processors used in the 7390 offer a six-core variant, the Core i7-10710U. Those extra cores provide a meaningful bump in content creation capabilities, which may be of interest to photographers, programmers, and others. If you want maximum performance, but still want a 13-inch laptop, the older 2019 model is the better choice (for now).

You also have more configuration options in the older model. Larger hard drive and more RAM are available as optional upgrade to the less expensive configurations.

Finally, the 7390 is on average around $50-100 cheaper than the newer model when you compare the models spec-by-spec. The 2020 model looks and feel more modern, and the 16:10 display is a definite advantage. However, the 2019 model might be better if you’re on the extreme. Budget buyers looking for the least expensive XPS 13 will appreciate its lower price, and extreme power users will like the optional six-core processor.


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