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Looking to buy a Dell XPS 13? Make sure you read this first

dell xps  buying guide (skylake)
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

We’ve already said that the Dell XPS 13 (2015) is one of the best ultra-portable laptops we’ve seen – but when you’re ready to pick out a model, what features should you choose? Let’s look at the greatest hardware for the XPS 13, and what you need to know before you buy.

The best: XPS 13 Touch, Core i5, 256GB – $1,400

Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13

This upgraded version of the XPS 13 takes what made the laptop such a winner in 2015 and adds even more functionality, including a 13-inch screen that’s been turned up to 3,200 x 1,800 resolution, with a versatile Intel Core i5-6200U processor. This helps the XPS stay competitive with the latest lightweight laptop releases while ensuring it remains ultra-portable. Overall, the model ensures that the XPS 13 remains one of the most attractive ultrabooks on the market.

Related: Dell XPS 13 (Skylake) review

The 256GB PCIe SSD is an average-sized, high-speed drive that’s suitable for most users without forcing you to pay for space that you don’t need – although if this XPS is going to be your only computer, you may want to consider an external drive sometime in the future. The 8GB of RAM falls into the same category, suitable for nearly all purposes except the most demanding, in which case you may not want such a small laptop anyway.

Budget buy: XPS 13, Core i3, 128GB

While we like the Core i5 model a lot, there is an argument to be made for the entry-level XPS 13. It is priced at $800, a full $600 less than our top pick. Yet many features are the same. It has the same InfinityEdge thin-bezel display, the same great keyboard, the same excellent touchpad, and even the same battery.

Only the internal hardware is different. The display is 1080p, the processor is a Core i3, RAM is downgraded to 4GB, and the hard drive is a 128GB SATA solid state unit. Obviously, this means the entry-level model is slower. But that as an interesting side effect. Because the budget XPS 13 has the same battery as its more expensive sibling, its battery life will be slightly better.

The only reason not to buy this version of the XPS 13 is Asus’ Zenbook UX305CA. It’s $100 less than the Dell, which is important when budget is a concern. And while it has a slower Core M series processor, it beats the base XPS 13’s specifications with its 8GB of RAM and a 256GB hard drive. The Asus is probably the better all-around value if you can’t spend more than a grand on your next laptop.

It’s all about the screen

Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13

One of the biggest differences between the current Dell XPS 13 models is the screen options available. Two choices are available — a basic 1080p display, and a 3,200 x 1,800 touchscreen. The latter offers a much higher resolution and is the only way to gain touchscreen compatibility, as a 1080p touch display is not available.

Realted: Best products of 2015: Computing

Screen resolution and features may be very important to some buyers, while others don’t really care at all as long as they can see everything. If you don’t care about screen resolution and don’t use many touchscreens, there’s nothing wrong with choosing the lower-res HD screen. Keep in mind that we’re talking about a 13-inch laptop here, so even a large jump in resolution may be hard to notice when browsing online, creating documents, or performing other traditional tasks.

On the other hand, if you plan on using your XPS for intense design work, or entertainment, you may prefer the higher resolution. We recommend finding a new XPS 13 or similar ultra HD ultrabook in person so you can judge screen clarity yourself if you have any doubts about whether the resolution bump is worth it.

Realted: Dell’s XPS 13 goes gold

Ultimately, we picked the 3,200 x 1,800 display as our preference. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and should still look sleek even several years down the road. While the 1080p display is nice, the high-resolution InfinityEdge version really puts the XPS 13 over the top.

The ever-improving XPS 13

dell xps 13 2015 review screen logo
Greg Mombert/Digital Trends

If you’ve already tried Googling the Dell XPS 13, you may have run into some confusion on just what laptop we’re talking about. This happens because the XPS 13 isn’t so much a single model as it is a line of Dell laptops with the same name.

Related: MacBook Air vs Dell XPS 13: Clash of the tiny titans

The first XPS 13 was released in 2012. Since then, Dell has made continuous improvements to this laptop model, regularly releasing updated versions of the XPS 13 that included new features but kept the old name – sometimes even multiple updates in the same year. Note that there was a significant jump in quality between the late 2013 XPS 13 and the early 2015 XPS 13. When we talk about how great the XPS 13 is, we’re talking about the model that arrived in 2015.

There were two 2015 versions of the Dell XPS 13, the major chassis re-design at the start of the year, and a smaller update later in the year that kept the same design but improved processor speed, resolution, and a few other features. Both models are typically referred to with parentheses as “XPS 13 (2015)” to help differentiate them from previous versions, and both models are solid purchases.

How can you tell the difference? It’s all about the processor. The original 2015 XPS 13 used 5th-generation Intel Core processors, while the newer refresh has the latest 6th-generation Intel Core processor.

The new version is, of course, better. It is a bit quicker than the early 2015 model and has a slightly larger battery. However, the early 2015 model is still a good buy if you can get a deal on it. A variety of retailers, including Dell itself, have begun to slash pricing on the older XPS 13 to clear inventory.

You can always follow the links we provided in this article, which head to the right version of the laptop. But if you are recommending the XPS to friends or asking for it as a gift, be sure to specify exactly which one you are talking about to avoid confusion.