Which is better, the new MacBook or Dell's XPS 13?

Dell's XPS 13 may be the reigning king of ultrabooks, but the new MacBook looks like a winner as well. Which is the best ultrabook, the new Macbook or the XPS 13? I've got specs and details.

The comparison is a little complicated, because the XPS 13 comes in multiple versions, starting at $800 on the low end, and going up to $1,300. So I'll compare the MacBook against the low and high ends of the XPS 13 line.

Size

For ultrabooks, smaller is better, and the new MacBook wins easily here. It weight a mere 2.13 pounds versus 2.6 pounds for both XPS models (2.8 pounds for the touchscreen model). It's thinner as well.

Screen

The MacBook screen is a 12-inch Retina display, with a resolution of 2,304 x 1,440. That makes it smaller than both XPS models, which have 13.3-inch screen. The low-end XPS has a resolution of 1920 x 1080, while the higher-end one comes in at 3200 x 1800. The higher-end machine is also touch-enabled. So if you want a larger screen, the XPS is a clear winner. And at the top end, the resolution is higher as well.

Processor

The new MacBook is nobody's idea of a powerhouse with a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor. Even the low-end XPS 13 has a faster one, an Intel Core i3-5010U Processor running at 2.10 GHz. And the higher-end XPS is faster still, an Intel Core i5-5200U processor running at 2.70 GHz. The only wild card here is that Apple engineers tend to wring every bit of performance out of their hardware. Still, it's hard to imagine it beating the XPS 13 for performance.

As for the graphics , the XPS has slightly faster Intel HD Graphics 5500 versus a Intel HD Graphics 5300 for the MacBook.

RAM

The MacBook has 8 GB of RAM, besting the low-end XPS's 4 GB. At the high end, though, the XPS 13 has 8 GB as well, so at the high end it's a tossup..

Hard disk

The MacBook comes standard with a 256 GB flash drive, which is double the XPS 13's 128 GB. At the high end of the XPS line, 128 GB is standard as well, although you can double that to 256 GB for an extra $100.

Extras

Apple is making much of its new keyboard and touchpad. The trackpad features haptic feedback, and the keys on the keyboard have a new mechanism that Apple says makes each key springier. It's hard to know whether all this is hype or reality. And the MacBook also does away with multiple ports and replaces them with a single connector it calls USB-C, which is a five-in-one port for USB, DisplayPort, Power, and VGA. Without an adapter, though, you can only use one of those features at a time.

Operating system

If you're a Mac OS X fan, you'll want the MacBook. If you're a Windows 8.1 fan...scratch that, no one outside Microsoft is a Windows 8.1 fan. If you can put up with Windows 8.1 until Windows 10 hits, you'll want the XPS.

Price

The new MacBook is a pricy bit of equipment, at $1,300. That's significantly more than the $800 for the low-end XPS, and the same price as the high-end XPS 13. For most people, the $500 premium versus the low-end XPS probably won't be worth it. At the higher end, it's a closer call, although you get more hardware for your money with an XPS 13.

Bottom line

If a small size is absolutely essential, the new MacBook is for you. The same holds true if you're a big Mac OS X fan. But if price matters, the low-end XPS is far superior. And even at the high end the XPS gives you more bang for the buck.

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