Hands-on: Dell's XPS 13 2-in-1 gets thinner and 2.5X faster with Intel's 10th-gen Core i7

Dell's redesigned XPS 13 2-in-1 gets an Intel "Ice Lake" 10th gen Core i7-1065, Iris graphics, a 500 nit 4K+ panel, and newfangled memory.

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Let’s be honest, Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 has been the Jan Brady of the famed XPS family. Not anymore. The new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390 finally steps out into the limelight with Intel’s newest 10th-generation, 10nm-based Core i7 CPU, Iris graphics, much faster memory, and a fabulous 4K panel.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 10th gen Core i7 Ice Lake Adam Patrick Murray
The redesigned XPS 13 2-in-1 still features a milled aluminum lid.

The darling of the new XPS 13 2-in-1 is Intel’s 10th-gen Core i7-1065 G7 processor. Cynical nerds will want to yawn at a quad-core in an ultra-thin laptop, but the XPS 13 2-in-1 platform has always been built around low power, 5 watt dual-cores CPUs such as the Core i7-8500Y. The Core i7-1065 G7 boasts Intel’s new Sunny Cove cores with improved IPC and a smarter boost capability that improves performance despite running at lower clock speeds than the previous 8th-gen Whiskey Lake CPUs.

How much more? Dell said its new Core i7-1065 G7 laptop offers 2.5x the performance of the previous Core i7-8500Y-based version.

Faster Iris graphics 

With the Core i7-1065 G7 comes faster graphics too. Prior Intel CPUs offered increased graphics performance based on the number of execution units inside them. At the top-end of Intel’s graphics offerings were processors coupled with a small amount of on-die DRAM. With the 10th-gen chip, Intel ditches the embedded DRAM and instead clocks up the graphics cores to reach Iris levels of performance.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 10th gen Core i7 Ice Lake Adam Patrick Murray

While the older version was fanless, Dell needed active cooling to run the much faster 10th-gen Core i7-1065 G7, so it now uses an etched copper vapor chamber design and two fans.

Brand new memory

Memory has been one of the major limitations of ultra-thin laptops. Unlike larger gaming laptops which use DDR4 RAM running at clock speeds from 2,400MHz to 3,200MHz, ultra-thin laptops typically rely on much slower, but much more energy efficient LPDDR/2133 memory. With the 10th-gen Core i7, Intel has finally baked in support for LPDDR4 and the even lower power and higher clocked LPDDR4X.

For the XPS 13 2-in-1, Dell will offer 4GB of LPDDR4/3733 and 8GB of LPDDR4X/3733 initially. Once higher capacity LPDDR4X chips are available, Dell said it will also offer 16GB of LPDDR4X/3733 and 32GB of LPDDR4/3733.

That likely means the newly equipped Dell XPS 13 will offer at least 50 percent more memory bandwidth than was possible with LPDDR3-based ultrabooks. 

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 10th gen Core i7 Ice Lake Adam Patrick Murray

The screen is taller than before and uses a 16:10 aspect ratio panel with a 4K+ resolution of 3840x2400. Dell also moved the previous model’s chin-mounted camera to the top bezel.

XPS 2-in-1: Fanless no more

With the increased CPU and GPU performance comes a cost: more heat. The previous 8th-gen Core i7-8500Y featured a fanless design, but Dell had to dump it to squeeze in the 10th-gen CPU and its Iris graphics capabilities. Dell said that to keep the convertible laptop as thin as possible, it skipped using more traditional heat pipe designs and instead opted for an etched copper thermal chamber design. In fact, Dell said, the laptop is slightly thinner than before, with a thickness of 7mm to 13mm compared to the 8mm to 13.7mm of the older version.

Besides the CPU and cooling system updates, Dell also beefed up the display, going away from the narrow 16:9 aspect panel of the older design. The new XPS 13 2-in-1 comes with a touch-enabled 13.4-inch panel (yes, 13.4) in 1,920 x 1,200 and 3,840 x 2,400 resolutions. Both panels are rated to hit a blazing 500 nits, with the 4K UHD+ panel offering 100 percent of sRGB and 90 percent of DCI-P3 color gamut.

The new display includes a technology called Eyesafe that greatly reduces bluelight emissions from the LED backlighting. Most phones—and even Windows—feature a “night mode” to lower bluelight levels, but they do so by clumsily amping up warm colors so much it looks like you’re wearing a pair of brown glasses. Eyesafe (which Dell says it has the exclusive lock on for the year) reduces blue emissions without ruining the color.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 10th gen Core i7 Ice Lake Adam Patrick Murray

Dell swapped out the previous rubber dome keyboard for a new quieter version of the MagLev keyboard that uses magnets to push the keys back into position.

Quieter MagLev

Dell first shipped its MagLev keyboard with the larger XPS 15 2-in-1 last year. MagLev uses magnets to repel the keys back up after being pressed. In theory, it lets the keyboard offer decent action while requiring less travel. For the XPS 13 2-in-1, Dell uses a second iteration of the keyboard that’s slightly quieter than the original MagLev. The travel remains at 0.7mm compared to most ultra thin laptop’s 1.4mm or so.

Storage upgrades? Fuhgetaboutit

We saved the bad news for the end. To cram a quad-core CPU, Iris graphics, and fans into the laptop while still keeping the battery at a decent 51 watt hour capacity, Dell said it had to solder the SSD onto the motherboard.

While most people are used to ultra-thin laptops shipping with soldered RAM (LPDDR3 requires it), some buyers appreciate the option of eventually dropping in a big cheap SSD. That won’t happen with the new XPS 13 2-in-1.

The camera is finally where it belongs

We don’t want to end on a sour note (for the 1 in 100 that look to upgrade a thin laptop’s SSD) so we’ll point out that the XPS 13 2-in-1’s camera, once mounted on the bottom bezel and great for people looking up your nostrils, has been moved to the top of the display lid.

Dell said the new XPS 13 2-in-1 will start at $999 (we’d guess with the FHD+ panel, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD) and didn’t specify when it would be available other than: Coming soon.

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