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MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13: Which laptop wins?

MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The battle for the title of best laptop just got a whole lot more interesting. The Dell XPS 13 vs MacBook Air comparison is one we’ve been making for years, with Dell’s laptop usually landing on top thanks to its best-in-class design, gorgeous display and powerful performance. But Apple just threw a big wrench into things. 

The new MacBook Air with M1 is the first with Apple Silicon, which delivers absolutely blistering performance and a massive battery life boost that puts both the Dell XPS 13 and Apple’s own MacBook Pro on notice. That’s not to say the latest XPS 13 is a slouch by any stretch, as Dell’s flagship notebook just got a performance boost of its own via Intel’s 11th Gen Tiger Lake CPUs.

But which new version of the two best laptops on the market is most worth your money? Read our full Dell XPS 13 vs MacBook Air showdown to see how these powerful notebooks stack up on value, performance and more. 

MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13 2020 specs

MacBook Air M1Dell XPS 13
Starting price$999$999
Display13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600 Retina display13.4 inch Infinity Edge display (1920 x 1200 or 3840 x 2400, touch optional)
ProcessorApple M111th Gen Intel Core i3/i5/i7
GraphicsApple M1Intel Iris Xe
Storage256GB to 2TB256GB to 2TB
RAM8GB / 16GB8GB / 16GB
Ports2 USB-C Thunderbolt 3, headphone jack2 USB-C Thunderbolt 4, microSD slot, headphone jack
Battery life (tested)14:4111:07
Dimensions12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches
Weight2.8 pounds2.8 pounds

MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13 2020: Price and value

The new MacBook Air and Dell XPS 13 have the same starting price of $999, but there’s some variance around what you get for the money -- especially at higher configurations. Both laptops start with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage, with the MacBook Air sporting Apple’s M1 chip and the XPS 13 starting with an 11th Gen Intel Core i3 CPU. 

The MacBook Air M1 starts with a higher resolution 2560 x 1600 display compared to the XPS 13’s starting 1900 x 1200 screen. But while Apple only offers one resolution option, the XPS 13 can be configured to sport a 4K touch display for an extra $392. 

The MacBook Air’s $1,249 configuration gets you a bigger 512GB SSD, with options to upgrade to 1TB ($200) and 2TB ($600). A similarly configured XPS 13 will cost you a bit more, as a $1,499 model will get you 512GB of storage in addition to an Intel Core i7 CPU. Dell also offers upgrades to 1TB ($147) and 2TB ($441) storage drives. Upgrading to 16GB of RAM on the MacBook Air costs $200, while doing so on the XPS 13 is much cheaper at $98.

Overall, the XPS 13 offers more configuration options, the highest-end display option and gives you the flexibility to choose between three different processors based on your needs. But in terms of sheer bang for your buck, the MacBook Air’s base configurations give you a bit more for the money. 

Winner: MacBook Air

MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13 2020: Design

Dell has been refining the XPS 13’s design to near perfection over the years, and the 2020 iteration might just be the best-looking laptop on the planet. With razor-thin aluminum edges, a soft arctic white interior and a truly borderless InfinityEdge display, Dell’s flagship notebook is a joy to look at and use. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Meanwhile, MacBook Air hasn’t really changed much for 2020. The notebook’s slim shape and aluminum exterior are still easy on the eyes (especially in gold), but the Air’s chunky display bezels are starting to look a bit dated.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both of these laptops are wonderfully portable. But at 2.8 pounds and 11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches, the XPS 13 has a slightly smaller overall footprint than the MacBook Air (12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches, 2.8 pounds).

Winner: Dell XPS 13

MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13 2020: Ports

The MacBook Air and XPS 13 are both light on ports, but one laptop has a slight edge. Each notebook sports just two USB-C ports (the XPS 13 has Thunderbolt 4; the MacBook Air is still rocking Thunderbolt 3) in addition to a headphone jack. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide )

But the XPS 13 has the added bonus of a microSD card slot, which is handy for quickly transferring photos and videos, and comes with a USB-C to USB-A adapter for using your older accessories. Power users will likely have to spring for a dock or dongle for either notebook, but the XPS 13 gives you a little bit more out of the box.

Winner: Dell XPS 13

MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13 2020: Display

The MacBook Air and XPS 13 have some significant pros and cons on the display front, so it comes down to which features are most important to you. The XPS 13 offers the more modern, immersive display, with a near bezel-less InfinityEdge display that boasts an impressive 91.5% screen-to-body ratio. And while the XPS 13 starts with a 1920 x 1200 screen, you can configure it with an optional 4K (3840 x 2400) touch display.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The MacBook Air’s lone 2560 x 1600 display option is sharper than the XPS 13’s display out of the gate. However, its chunky bezels are starting to show their age, especially compared to the practically borderless XPS 13.

The good news is that both of these laptop screens look great in day to day use. When watching movies and shows on both notebooks, we noticed lush colors, fine details and satisfying contrast. But our lab results reveal some key differences between the 1080p XPS 13 and the MacBook Air.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Dell’s laptop is the brighter of the two, registering 469 nits of brightness on our light meter compared to the MacBook Air’s 365 nits. But the MacBook Air has a slight edge on color, producing 114.3% of the sRGB spectrum compared to the XPS 13’s 97.9%. 

It’s also worth noting that the XPS 13 is the only laptop of the two to offer a touchscreen, if that’s a priority for you. Despite more and more iOS apps becoming available on Mac, you’ll have to stick to your trackpad and keyboard for now.

Winner: Dell XPS 13

MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13 2020: Keyboard and trackpad

Now that Apple has ditched the controversial butterfly keyboard for the Magic Keyboard found in newer MacBooks, the MacBook Air and Dell XPS 13 are pretty comparable when it comes to typing experience. Both laptops allowed us to type comfortably at our average speeds on the 10fastfingers typing test. Dell does deserve some bonus points for the soft-touch coating on the keys, which extends to the wrist rest as well.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Air has the larger trackpad at 4.8 x 3.2 inches versus the Dell’s 4.4 x 2.5 trackpad, but both proved responsive and reliable for multi-finger gestures. The MacBook Air’s touchpad uses haptic feedback while the XPS 13 gives a true physical click, so it’s a matter of deciding what feels best to you.

Winner: Tie

MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13 2020: Performance

Here’s where Apple has definitely taken the lead. The M1 chip in the new MacBook Air offers some of the best performance we’ve seen from a Mac, and beats the 11th Gen Core i7 CPU found in our Dell XPS 13 on almost every benchmark we put it through.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The new MacBook Air scored a 5,962 on the Geekbench 5.1 general performance test, topping the XPS 13’s 5,319 by a solid margin. Apple’s laptop ran circles around the XPS 13 on our video editing test, converting a 4K video to 1080p in 9 minutes and 15 seconds — that’s about twice as fast as the XPS 13’s 18:22. 

Apple’s laptop also beat the XPS 13 on the PugetBench Photoshop test (which performs 21 different Photoshop tasks), scoring 653 compared to the XPS 13’s 588. We saw a similar gap when running the Civilization VI game on both systems, with the MacBook Air turning in a framerate of 37 frames per second compared to the XPS 13’s 21 fps. 

Both of these laptops shine in real-world use, and we had no issues juggling dozens of browser tabs and applications at the same time on both. But if you’re looking for the best sheer performance out of the new, the new MacBook Air and its M1 processor come out on top.

Winner: MacBook Air

MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13 2020: Battery life

The new M1 chip doesn’t just give the Air stellar performance — it also helps give Apple’s new notebook some of the best battery life you can find on a laptop right now. The new MacBook Air lasted a whopping 14 hours and 41 minutes on our custom battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi), putting most of its Intel-based competitors to shame. And while the Dell XPS 13’s 11-hour battery life (for the 1080p version) is nothing to sneeze at, the new Air lasted nearly 4 hours longer. 

Winner: MacBook Air

MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13 2020: Software

This round ultimately comes down to your preference of Windows vs. macOS. Windows 10 is the most ubiquitous operating system amongst mainstream laptops, offering a ton of flexibility and support for a wide range of productivity apps. And while the XPS 13’s integrated Xe graphics aren’t going to play AAA games at high settings, Windows has access to a larger library of games via marketplaces like Steam and the Epic Games Store.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The MacBook Air runs on macOS Big Sur, which improves on Apple’s famously clean software experience with a better Safari, an improved Messages app and new features like Control Center that make the Mac experience feel more in line with that of iOS. And thanks to the M1 chip, you’ll see even more iPhone and iPad apps make their way to the Mac ecosystem. 

There is one big thing to consider if you are springing for the MacBook Air: App compatibility. macOS Big Sur doesn’t run 32-bit apps, and users on the MacRumors forums are reporting that many major programs, such as Ableton Live and Elgato Video Capture, are having trouble with the new software.

Winner: Tie

MacBook Air M1 vs. Dell XPS 13 2020: Overall wi

The battle between the MacBook Air and Dell XPS 13 is always a close one, but the superior performance and battery life made possible by the M1 chip gives Apple the win here. The MacBook Air is one of the fastest and longest-lasting laptops we’ve tested, and makes the XPS 13’s otherwise strong numbers look slow by comparison. 

MacBook Air M1Dell XPS 13
Price and value (10 points)87
Design (15 points)1114
Ports (5 points)23
Display (15 points)1213
Keyboard and trackpad (10 points)99
Performance (20 points)2017
Battery life (20 points)2015
Software (5 points)44
Overall (100 points)8682

That said, there are plenty of areas in which the XPS 13 continues to be the best in its class. Dell’s razor-thin design and nearly bezel-less display should give Apple users serious envy, and it has a few extra options when it comes to connectivity.

Of course, your decision between these two may come down to personal taste -- gamers and power users may prefer the flexibility of Windows 10, while those tied to the Apple ecosystem might want macOS. But in terms of raw performance and battery life, the MacBook Air is the new mainstream laptop to beat.

  • BYU’01
    Corrections:
    the XPS can be configured with 32 GB of DRAM; the Apple cannot
    value? You can get the XPS with 32 GB of memory and a 1 TB SSD FOR $1599 or that plus a 4K+ screen for $1999 from Costco with a 4-year warranty. That smashes a similarly configured MacBook.The Apple’s battery life is enviable. Can’t wait to see some non-synthetic performance reviews comparing performance with common, non-Apple apps and beyond ‘look at how many tabs of Chrome I can open at once’ tests.
    Reply
  • grahaman27
    This comparison gave both the new macbook air (which I own) and dell xps 13 (which I also own) a score of 4 for software...... even after noting m1's software limitations and compatibility issues and mentioning dell xps is fully compatible with everything. the xps should have gotten a 9 at least, vs 4 for macbook.
    Reply
  • Eric Gold
    BYU’01 said:
    Corrections:
    the XPS can be configured with 32 GB of DRAM; the Apple cannot
    value? You can get the XPS with 32 GB of memory and a 1 TB SSD FOR $1599 or that plus a 4K+ screen for $1999 from Costco with a 4-year warranty. That smashes a similarly configured MacBook.The Apple’s battery life is enviable. Can’t wait to see some non-synthetic performance reviews comparing performance with common, non-Apple apps and beyond ‘look at how many tabs of Chrome I can open at once’ tests.
    For me it was the reverse. I waited to hear about Chrome on M1 before I ordered. Happy Chrome, happy wife.
    Reply
  • Drift680
    BYU’01 said:
    Corrections:
    the XPS can be configured with 32 GB of DRAM; the Apple cannot
    value? You can get the XPS with 32 GB of memory and a 1 TB SSD FOR $1599 or that plus a 4K+ screen for $1999 from Costco with a 4-year warranty. That smashes a similarly configured MacBook.The Apple’s battery life is enviable. Can’t wait to see some non-synthetic performance reviews comparing performance with common, non-Apple apps and beyond ‘look at how many tabs of Chrome I can open at once’ tests.
    macOS is much more optimized than Windows, just like how iOS beats Android with its much less RAM.
    MacBook Air with 1TB SSD and 16 GB RAM costs $1599. Considering how well macOS is optimized on ARM architecture, in terms of real-world performances, it is basically equivalent to 32GB RAM on Windows. That said, the prices are identical.
    Reply
  • grahaman27
    I just realized you weighted software with 5 points... convenient. The biggest drawback of the M1 is software compatibility, however you shrank the weight of software on this to 5 points. Terrible comparison.
    Reply
  • varase
    grahaman27 said:
    I just realized you weighted software with 5 points... convenient. The biggest drawback of the M1 is software compatibility, however you shrank the weight of software on this to 5 points. Terrible comparison.
    Here's the thing - most everything that is incompatible now will be updated to compatibility in the near future ... and a lot of the software tested here was probably transcompiled from x64 to Apple Silicon's AArch64 (involving a 30-35% or so performance hit) - so the blistering performance exhibited here will only get faster as Universal 2 versions become available.

    Chances are the M1 MacBook Air will never really get slow despite feature creep within the ownership window due to its outstanding performance, whereas you can't really say the same for the Dell - even with the strongest CPU available (which pushes up the price).

    The Air comes with one CPU - and that CPU beats the pants of the strongest one you can get in the Dell. You can get CPUs which will beat the M1, but they won't fit into the Dell and would burn up with the Dell's cooling system. Add to that the fact that the Air is an all day sucker and you're drawn to the inevitable conclusion that if you're OS and architecture agnostic, the Air does a much better job of being a small portable highly performance and efficient laptop.

    Expect to see a lot more of this in the future as Apple Silicon expands its presence throughout all the performance classes of consumer computers.
    Reply