MacBook Air (M2, 2022) vs Dell XPS 13 (2022): Battle of the lightweight laptops

MacBook Air (M2, 2022) vs Dell XPS 13 (2022): Battle of the lightweight laptops

This year has seen some great laptops launch on the Windows side, with one of the most recent being Dell’s completely refreshed XPS 13, which is lighter and thinner than ever. But Apple has also come out with an upgrade for its own lightweight laptop, the MacBook Air, and that means competition is once again heating up between Windows and macOS machines. If you’re looking to buy a laptop today and can’t decide between these two, we’ll be comparing the Dell XPS 13 and the MacBook Air to see why you might prefer one over the other.

To be clear, these are both great devices, and they’re both going to give you a great experience with their respective operating systems. Of course, the OS alone is very likely to make the decision for you – if you prefer Windows 11, the XPS 13 is the best choice for you, but if you’re a macOS user, then the MacBook Air is your only option here. Regardless, let’s take a closer look at the differences between these two.

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MacBook Air (2022) vs Dell XPS 13 (2022): Specs

MacBook Air (2022) Dell XPS 13 (2022)
Operating system
  • macOS Monterey (upgradeable to macOS Ventura)
  • Windows 11
CPU
  • Apple M2 (8 cores, unknown speeds)
  • 12th Generation Intel Core i5-1230U (12W, 10-core, 12-thread, up to 4.4 GHz, 12MB cache)
  • 12th Generation Intel Core i7-1250U (12W, 10-core, 12-thread, up to 4.7 GHz, 12MB cache)
Graphics
  • 8-core GPU
  • 10-core GPU
  • Intel Iris Xe graphics (up to 96 EUs)
Display
  • 13.6-inch IPS, 2560 x 1664, 500 nits, True Tone, P3 Wide Color
  • 13.4-inch FHD+ (1920 x 1200) InfinityEdge non-touch, 500-nit, anti-reflective
  • 13.4-inch FHD+ (1920 x 1200) InfinityEdge touch, 500-nit, anti-reflective
  • 13.4-inch UHD+ (3840 x 2400) InfinityEdge touch, 500-nit, anti-reflective
Storage
  • 256GB SSD
  • 512GB SSD
  • 1TB SSD
  • 2TB SSD
  • 256GB PCIe 4 SSD
  • 512GB PCIe 4 SSD
  • 1TB PCIe 4 SSD
RAM
  • 8GB unified memory
  • 16GB unified memory
  • 24GB unified memory
  • 8GB dual-channel DDR5 5200MHz
  • 16GB dual-channel DDR5 5200MHz
  • 32GB dual-channel DDR5 5200MHz
Battery
  • 52.6Whr battery
    • Up to 67W USB-C power adapter
  • 51Whr battery
    • 45W charger
Ports
  • 2 x USB4 / Thunderbolt (USB-C)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • MagSafe 3
  • 2 Thunderbolt 4 (USB Type-C) ports
    • USB Type-C to Type-A adapter included
    • USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter optional
Audio
  • Quad-speaker audio system with Dolby Atmos
  • 3-microphone array
  • Quad stereo speakers (4W total output)
  • Dual-array microphones
Camera
  • 1080p FaceTime HD camera
  • 720p HD camera
Biometric authentication
  • Touch ID in power button
  • Fingerprint reader
  • IR camera
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Bluetooth 5
  • Intel Wi-Fi 6E 1675 AX211 (2×2)
  • Bluetooth 5.2
Color
  • Silver
  • Space Gray
  • Starlight
  • Midnight
  • Sky
  • Umber
Size (WxDxH)
  • 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 in (304.1 x 215 x 11.3 mm)
  • 11.63 × 7.85 × 0.55 in (295.4 × 199.4 × 13.99 mm)
Dimensions
  • Starts at 2.7 lbs (1.24 kg)
  • Starts at 2.59 lb (1.17 kg)
Price Starting at $1,199 Starting at $999

Operating system

As we mentioned above, there’s a good chance that the operating systems these two laptops run make the decision for you. Most of us already have our affinities, so if you~re a Windows user, you’ll prefer the Dell XPS 13, but if you’re a macOS fan, you’ll want the MacBook Air. One operating system isn’t necessarily better than the other, but there are reasons you might prefer either one.

The Dell XPS 13 runs Windows 11, and the benefits of Windows start with the fact that it’s the most popular operating system for PCs. What that means is that most apps out there are designed for Windows, or they likely work better on Windows, so you’ll have very broad compatibility and just about anything will work. Plus, Windows 11 brought some big UI changes that make the OS more visually appealing and a bit more welcoming to new users. And soon, Microsoft will be rolling out an update to Windows 11 version 22H2, which includes even more improvements, with new parts of the OS updated to the newer design language, plus many new features.

macOS vs Windows

On the other hand, macOS is often considered the best option for content creators, particularly video creators. That’s for a couple of reasons – first, macOS includes iMovie out of the box, which is a great and free video editor, while Windows doesn’t offer anything near the same level (there are third-party options, but still). But Apple also sells Final Cut Pro, which is often considered the best video editor out there. Outside of that, many creation apps get a lot of attention on macOS, including Adobe’s Creative Cloud, so it’s a great place to be overall. macOS is also sometimes considered more newcomer-friendly than Windows. Later this year, Apple will also be rolling out macOS Ventura, which includes new features like Stage Manager.

Performance: Apple’s M2 takes the MacBook Air to new heights

Both the MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13 come with brand-new processors for 2022, as you’d expect, but Apple is likely still pulling ahead, based on what we know for now. Since the MacBook Air isn’t out yet, we don’t have numbers we can really use to compare the performance of these two models in benchmarks, but we do have Apple’s official comparisons, and they suggest that the MacBook Air will pull ahead in core areas.

For starters, CPU performance. The Dell XPS 13 is packing Intel’s 12th-generation processors, specifically from the U9 series. This means these are 9W processors, but since they have a configurable TDP, Dell is boosting them up to 12W continuously for better performance. The processors have 10 cores and 12 threads. Apple’s M2 chip is an 8-core processor, but Apple doesn’t compare it directly to Intel’s U9 series, but it does compare them to the U15 series, which has a higher 15W TDP, and thus, better performance. Even in that comparison, though, Apple comes out on top.

Graph comparing the CPU performance of the Apple M2 and Intel Core i7-1255U, showing that the Apple M1 has 1.9 times more performance at the same power level of 15W

That’s right, Apple says the M2 chip can deliver almost twice the performance of an Intel Core i7-1255U at the same power level (15W). And even if the Intel processor uses more power (it can go near 30W), Apple’s processor is still faster. Considering the Dell XPS 13 is using a slower Core i7-1250U, Apple’s advantage in terms of performance should be even more noticeable.

That performance advantage is even more significant on the GPU front. Compared against the same processor, Apple claims the 10-core GPU in the Apple M2 can reach 2.3x the performance of Intel’s processor at the same power level (roughly 15W). And the M2 can match the peak performance of the Core i7-1255U while using one-fifth of the power. And again, this comparison is using a more powerful Intel chip than what the XPS 13 has, so the MacBook Air should have an even bigger advantage here. To be fair, though, the MacBook Air’s base configuration only has an 8-core GPU, not the 10-core one.

Graph comparing the GPU performance of the Apple M2 and Intel Core i7-1255U, showing that the Apple M2 has 2.3 times more performance at the same power level of 15W

This shouldn’t be too surprising considering Intel hasn’t made a ton of changes to the integrated graphics with its 12th-generation processors, and the Apple M1 already had a faster GPU. That’s only increased with the M2. We should clarify that Apple’s measurements for the M2 are based on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, though. That PC has a fan for active cooling, which the MacBook Air doesn’t have. It shouldn’t affect performance in burst workloads, but if you’re stressing the CPU for an extended period, the MacBook Air performance may go down a bit.

The Dell XPS 13 has more RAM than the MacBook Air, but less storage.

Aside from the processor, the Dell XPS 13 does have an advantage in terms of RAM capacity since it can be configured with up to 32GB, as opposed to the 24GB of the MacBook Air. However, it’s worth noting that Apple’s M2 chip uses “unified memory”, which is part of the same chip instead of being housed separately on the motherboard. This results in higher bandwidth, plus it means the CPU and GPU can both access the memory at will, which can also help with performance. Finally, for storage, Apple offers up to 2TB, while the XPS 13 maxes out with 1TB – another advantage for the MacBook Air.

Display and sound: Two great panels

Moving on to the display, things get a bit more balanced, though it kind of depends on how much you want to spend. The MacBook Air comes with a 13.6-inch display, which is essentially a slightly taller version of the previous models. It comes in a single resolution option: 2560 x 1664. This is kind of the perfect resolution for a laptop of this size. It’s very sharp and it’ll give you a great experience, but it doesn’t waste energy by going with a 4K panel that would be sharper than necessary and use more power. This panel also reaches 500 nits of brightness.

MacBook Air 2022 Starlight front view

Display on the M2 MacBook Air

One thing you might not like about this panel is that Apple insists on adding a notch to its displays, which is what’s happening here. The screen stretches closer to the edges of the laptop now, but to fit a webcam, it needs a notch. Also, this screen doesn’t support touch input, if you’re interested in that.

On the other hand, the Dell XPS 13 has a 13.3-inch display with a 16:10 aspect ratio (similar to the MacBook Air, if you exclude the area on the sides of the notch). The resolution is different, though – the base model comes in a Full HD+ resolution (1920 x 1200), or you can upgrade to a 4K+ (3840 x 2400) panel. Full HD+ is still pretty sharp on a display of this size, so it’s not necessarily a huge downside compared to the MacBook Air, though the difference is noticeable. The 4K+ panel is extremely sharp, but as we’ve mentioned, it’s a bit too much for this size and it will drain your battery much more quickly.

Hands typing on Dell XPS 13

On the bright side, there’s no notch here, and while touch support isn’t included in the base model, you can configure it if you want it. The Full HD+ panel has optional touch support, while the 4K+ option supports touch by default.

The XPS 13 sticks with a 720p webcam, while the MacBook Air has upgraded to 1080p.

You might not like the notch on the MacBook Air, but at least Apple took the opportunity to upgrade the webcam to a 1080p sensor, which is a very welcome upgrade and gives you great image quality for video calls and meetings. Plus, it uses AI in the Apple M2 chip to enhance the video call even more. Dell, on the other hand, decided to stick with a 720p webcam, which just isn’t as good. On the flip side, the XPS 13 supports Windows Hello facial recognition (now using a discrete sensor instead of being built into the webcam) in addition to having a fingerprint reader, while the MacBook Air only has Touch ID if you want biometric authentication.

As for sound, both laptops have a quad-speaker stereo system, which is impressive considering their size. Both Apple and Dell are known for having some of the best speakers on a laptop, so you’re bound to get a great experience with either one.

Design: The Dell XPS 13 comes in more unique colors

Looks can also be an important factor when buying a new laptop, and if you feel that way, we’d say Dell has a bit more to offer here. Well, technically it has fewer options, but we think they’re more interesting. The XPS 13 is available in either Sky or Umber colors, which equate to a light blue and a sort of dark shade of burgundy. They’re not super flashy, but they have a touch more personality than most of the options Apple offers.

Dell XPS 13 in SKy and Umber colors

That’s not to say the MacBook Air has bad options necessarily. In addition to the classic Silver and Space Grey options, Apple now offers Starlight, a soft and elegant shade of gold, and Midnight, a nearly black color with a subtle hint of blue. These are two great additions that definitely help make this a more appealing laptop visually, though they’re still very subdued.

All four color options for the M2 MacBook Air

Another aspect of the design that’s important to consider is portability, and on that front, it’s a balanced match-up. The Dell XPS 13 is the lighter laptop, at least in its base configuration. It starts at 2.59lbs, as opposed to the 2.7lbs of the MacBook Air. To be fair, it’s not a huge difference, so both of these are quite portable. The MacBook Air is thinner, though, measuring a mere 11.3mm, significantly less than the 13.9mm of the XPS 13. That gives the MacBook Air an advantage if you need to fit the laptop in a tight space.

Ports: The XPS 13 has fewer ports, but they’re more useful

This may come as a surprise, but the MacBook Air actually does have more ports than the Dell XPS 13 for 2022. Dell’s laptop only has two Thunderbolt 4 ports, and it comes with a couple of adapters so you can use a USB Type-A accessory or 3.5mm audio. Yes, even the headphone jack is gone.

On the other hand, the MacBook Air has two Thunderbolt ports, a MagSafe 3 charging port, and it keeps the headphone jack. In fact, not only does it keep it, it even adds support for high-impedance headphones over the headphone jack, making it even more useful for audiophiles or audio production in general.

The Thunderbolt ports on the MacBook Air only support one display and no external GPUs.

Here’s the caveat, though: the Thunderbolt ports on the MacBook Air aren’t actually all that useful. One of the most popular features of Thunderbolt is that it can drive two 4K displays at 60Hz at the same time, but that’s not supported on the MacBook Air. It only supports one external display, regardless of the resolution or refresh rate. Plus, Apple Silicon processors like the M2 don’t support external GPUs, another feature that usually makes Thunderbolt special. That takes a lot away from the value of Thunderbolt ports, and if you have a dock, the Dell XPS 13 actually becomes much more versatile because of that.

Apple also doesn’t seem to have added support for Wi-Fi 6E to the MacBook Air, so the XPS 13 technically supports a newer version of Wi-Fi. Both support Bluetooth 5, too, so there aren’t huge differences here.

MacBook Air (2022) vs Dell XPS 13 (2022): Final thoughts

At the end of the day, these are both great laptops, and which one you should buy is ultimately up to your specific needs. They both have strengths and excel at things where the other might not do as well. But if you want the most well-rounded experience, it’s probably fair to say that the MacBook Air is a bit better in terms of covering all bases.

The MacBook Air offers significantly more performance, it has a sharper display in the base configuration, a better webcam, it’s thinner, and it has more ports, including a headphone jack. Yes, it does start at $200 more than the XPS 13, but, for example, the CPU comparison above used a Core i7 processor, and the XPS 13 actually stats with a Core i5, so that performance difference will only be exacerbated (both laptops also have a weaker GPU in the base model).  And again, you’re getting that sharper display and webcam, too.

MacBook Air 2022 Midnight overhead view with lid open

The Dell XPS 13 is more interesting if you want a laptop that looks more unique, and it also gives you options like 32GB of RAM and a 4K display if you really want it. Also, most notably, it has much more useful Thunderbolt 4 ports, so you can connect more displays or an external GPU. And while it is technically behind the MacBook Air in terms of performance, if you just need a laptop for browsing the web and writing up documents, this will do just fine. Starting at $999, it’s noticeably cheaper than Apple’s laptop, and it’ll definitely serve you well.

Regardless of your choice, you can check out both laptops below. The 2022 Dell XPS 13 is already available to buy, but the MacBook Air is expected to launch in July. Otherwise, you can always check out the best Dell laptops or the best Macs if you want to see what else each of these companies has to offer.

    The new Dell XPS 13 comes with a complete redesign, coming in Sky and Umber colors. It's also the thinnest and lightest XPS laptop ever.
    The 2022 MacBook Air is powered by the new Apple M2 chip, plus it has a new taller display and an all-new design.

About author

João Carrasqueira
João Carrasqueira

Editor at XDA Computing. I've been covering the world of technology since 2018, but I've loved the field for a lot longer. And I have a weird affinity for Nintendo videogames, which I'm always happy to talk about.

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