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Are PC’s toast?

March 1st, 2012 · No Comments

Well, perhaps not as long as they make stuff like this..


We argued on Seeking Alpha that PC’s are being cannibalized by tablets, especially the ones like the Asus Transformer, which have a keyboard attached and have specs that most laptops can only dream about.

However, the ultrabook category still has some nice products, here is PC Magazine:


This ain’t no MacBook Air clone. Sure, the Dell XPS 13 ($999.99 direct) will be compared to the Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Thunderbolt) ($1,299 direct, 4 stars), because all 13.3-inch ultrabooks are. But instead of building just another skinny aluminum wedge, Dell has lavished design and, dare we say it, craftsmanship on Intel’s ultrabook concept. The result stands with the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s ($1,495 direct, 4 stars) and Editors’ Choice HP Folio 13 ($1,048.99 direct, 4 stars) as the status symbols of the category. And if you can forgive its skimpy port selection—really? not even a memory-card slot?—it could be the most tempting of the lot.

At 0.7 by 12.4 by 8.1 inches (HWD), the XPS 13 is one of the most compact ultrabooks—according to Dell, 14 percent smaller in volume than the MacBook Air 13-inch. Certainly the 2.96-pound portable won’t be a burden in your briefcase. Like most ultrabooks, the Dell XPS 13 comes in plain and fancy configurations. The $999.99 base model tested here includes a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 128GB solid-state drive, along with 4GB of RAM and Windows 7 Home Premium. Stepping up to the $1,499.99 version gets you a 1.7GHz Core i7 chip and a 256GB SSD.

Design
The Stealth bomber wishes it had as many high-tech materials as the XPS 13. The top cover and a ring around the base are machined aluminum, while the base itself is carbon fiber composite. The palm rest is magnesium alloy with soft-touch paint. Finally, the nearly bezel-free 13.3-inch display is covered in edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass that adds durability and looks gorgeous (think of the best smartphone or tablet screen you’ve seen).

The overall effect is striking, from the silvery aluminum cover to the metal plate on the bottom with etched Windows and Intel logos (no stickers on the palm rest!). It’s also sturdy, with virtually no screen flexing and no vibration during typing. Our only complaint is that, when closed, there’s almost no protrusion or screen edge to grip, making the Dell hard to open.

The screen settles for the 1,366 by 768 resolution that’s the baseline among netbooks, missing the chance to impress us with the 1,440 by 900 of the MacBook Air or the 1,600 by 900 of the Asus Zenbook UX31-RSL8 ($1,049 list, 4 stars). Its viewing angles are slightly narrow; once or twice we found ourselves wishing we could tilt the screen back a fraction further. On the positive side, the display’s colors are vivid and it’s exceptionally bright; Dell advertises 300 nits but we would have guessed more—you can turn the backlight fully halfway down, not just a notch or two, without things getting dingy.

The eye-pleasing screen is matched by a finger-friendly keyboard, with slightly scalloped keys and a precise, slightly clicky design that avoids the too-shallow typing feel of some ultrabooks. The keyboard lacks dedicated Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys (they’re doubled up on the cursor arrows) and the seldom used context-menu key, but provides a bright LED backlight for typing in dim environments. The large touchpad works smoothly; its lower left and right corners serve as nicely tactile mouse buttons.

Features
The Dell XPS 13 hits the wireless trifecta with 802.11n Wi-Fi (which worked perfectly in our tests), Bluetooth, and Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) for zapping video and audio to an HDTV set equipped with a Belkin ScreenCast or Netgear Push2TV adapter. Speaking of audio, the ultrabook’s is surprisingly clear and crisp.

From being lavish with features, however, the XPS 13 abruptly becomes a minimalist when it comes to input/output ports: There’s a USB 2.0 port and headset jack on the laptop’s left side, and a USB 3.0 port and Mini DisplayPort alongside a handy pushbutton-and-LED battery gauge on the right. You’ll look in vain for VGA or HDMI video; for an Ethernet port for connecting to wired office networks; or for a memory-card slot, as tempting as it would be to slip the Dell into your digital camera bag.

By contrast, the ultrabook I/O champ, the Toshiba Portege Z830-S8302 ($1,429 list, 3.5 stars), makes room for all four of the above—VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, and a card reader—in a 2.5-pound chassis, and most competitors manage at least an HDMI port. Dell sells a USB Ethernet adapter for $30 and Mini DisplayPort to HDMI and VGA adapters for $30 and $37, respectively, so it’s not the end of the world, but it’s a gripe if you dislike dongles.

After subtracting a system-recovery partition and the software preload, the 128GB SSD has about 75GB free. Happily, there’s no bloatware to speak of, unless you count Skype, Microsoft Office Starter 2010, and a McAfee Internet Security trial. Dell boosts the XPS 13’s one-year warranty with a year of in-home or -office service after remote diagnostics, accidental damage service, and LoJack for Laptops theft protection.

One of the XPS 13’s neatest features is one that Intel has touted as part of its ultrabook “sleep instead of switch off” specification but that we haven’t seen in person before: Smart Connect technology, which lets the laptop periodically wake itself from sleep mode (you set the interval from 5 to 60 minutes), as long as it’s connected to a trusted Wi-Fi or wired network, to check your Outlook email and calendar, TweetDeck feed, or other active applications so the latest data is waiting for you when you reawaken the ultrabook and return to work. We tried it briefly with Gmail and it worked like a charm—we can see Smart Connect saving minutes every morning.

Performance
Dell XPS

As mentioned earlier, the Dell XPS 13 is built around a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 processor, the “Sandy Bridge” model i5-2467M, and the same Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics used in all ultrabooks to date. The hardware posted first-class overall performance with a score of 3,535 in our PCMark 7 benchmark test, ahead of the HP Folio 13’s score of 3,146 (and behind the Asus UX31-RSL8’s result of 3,634, but our Asus test unit had a slightly quicker 1.7GHz CPU instead of the 1.6GHz chip used in models on sale today).

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However, that new Dell is quite limited. When one will be able to buy an iPad with a 10 inch 2048×1548 resolution super IPS screen, a 13 inch 1366×768 really seems a firm step down. And it has no Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, or even memory-card slot.

We prefer the Asus Zenbook UX31
It has:

  • USB 3.0
  • 13 inch bright 1600×900 screen
  • Super Bang & Olufsen sound
  • Monoshell construction
  • Security features
  • Solid state harddisk
  • the top pick in the ultrabook category

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