One of the things we love most about Dell is its flexible configurations, and though this is more limited on the Z range, you should still see a processor choice of dual-core Intel ‘Sandy Bridge’ Core i5 to i7, 6 - 8GB of RAM, a 500 – 750GB hard drive running at a speedy 7,200rpm and, on the more expensive models at least, a dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT 520M graphics card.
Our sample sports a Core i5-2430M, which should be plenty of performance for most folk. Daily productivity and even heavier tasks like light video editing will be more than within the reach of this 2.4GHz CPU, which can turbo boost up to 3GHz and supports up to four virtual cores.
The processor is backed by 4GB of RAM and a 500GB drive, which is adequate on both counts. We’re hoping Dell will make SSD options available soon though, which would not only give better performance but would also contribute a little to battery life and keeping weight down.
Graphically, the GT 520M with its 1GB of video RAM is up to less intensive recent games as long as you’re not too demanding on the resolution or detail. For example, running Stalker Call of Pripyat at the screen’s native 1,366 x 768 was barely playable on medium detail, while dropping it down to 1,280 x 720 resulted in a mostly smooth 29fps average.
Best of all, the XPS 14z stays reasonably cool and quiet while under load, unlike the noisy Sony VAIO S and the MacBook Pro 13, which by all accounts also gets rather noisy and hot. Windows Home Premium 64-bit is running the show on the XPS 14z, and Dell’s Stage software provides a handy customisable launch bar somewhat reminiscent of OSX.
Unfortunately, battery life is where the smaller member of the XPS z family has taken its biggest hit. In our low intensity test with screen brightness at 40 percent and wireless radios disabled, it only managed four and a half hours (compared to nearly six for the XPS 15z), which is lower than average for a 13/14in laptop and will decrease further when using the dedicated graphics or Wi-Fi. Also keep in mind that, as the battery is non-removable, you can’t easily replace it when it starts degrading.
When we get to value, the XPS 14z starts at £799, while our edition costs £849, which seems fairly reasonable for what you get. Thanks to its unibody, all-metal design the 14z doesn’t have too many Windows-based rivals. The closest competitor for style would probably be the successor to the
HP Envy 14, which is a larger 14.5in machine with a £1,299 starting price and better specifications.
A more realistic comparison might be the aforementioned VAIO S, which is a slightly lighter and thinner laptop with better battery life and many of the same features including an optical drive with a similar starting price. However, it’s nowhere near as well-built, far noisier, its discrete graphics aren’t as powerful and you do lose nearly an inch of screen space.
Finally of course there’s the 13in version of the MacBook Pro. This starts at around £930 online, with that spec comparable to our £850 XPS - only the Pro doesn’t offer discrete graphics, which is a very important consideration if you’re planning on doing any gaming or using graphics accelerated applications. Aside from the obvious differences in style and the Dell being a little thinner and lighter, there’s also the USB 3 (on the 14z) versus Thunderbolt (on the Pro) debate, where Thunderbolt definitely offers greater future versatility but currently USB 3 is the better supported option by far. The Dell offers a larger screen, but that of the MacBook is better quality. Last but not least, it’s worth noting that you can hook the Dell directly up to 3D TVs without adapters thanks to its full-size HDMI 1.4 port.
Beautifully built and offering good usability, the all-metal, milled-aluminium XPS 14z gives you style and power in a relatively compact package, including enough grunt for light gaming. One of its standout features is that it manages to fit a 14in screen into the equivalent of a 13in chassis, but unfortunately the screen itself is distinctly average. This, combined with awkward rear-only connections and mediocre battery life, mean it’s worth considering for its strengths but not an automatic must-buy.