Dell XPS 15 review: A pro laptop that throws down the gauntlet for Apple

dell-xps-15-main.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent
  • Average user rating
    5.4

Pros

  • Impressively bright and colourful 4K display
  • Slimline chassis is just 17mm thick
  • Quad-core Core i7 delivers high-end performance
  • Discrete Nvidia GeForce GPU for graphics-heavy applications

Cons

  • 4K display reduces battery life
  • 2kg weight means it's no Ultrabook
  • No optical drive

Dell recently redesigned its popular XPS 13 laptop, which it claimed was "the smallest 13.3-inch laptop on the planet". Not content with that, Dell has followed up with a new version of the larger XPS 15, which is also, apparently, the world's smallest laptop in its size class.

The XPS 15 doesn't simply offer a larger 15.6-inch screen. As well as enhanced 4K resolution and touch-screen controls, it includes a quad-core Core i7 processor and a discrete Nvidia GPU. All of this will appeal to business and creative users who need a more powerful laptop for tasks such as high-definition photo- or video-editing.

dell-xps-15-main2.jpg

The 15.6-inch XPS 15 is slim, compact and well built, but weighs a relatively hefty 2kg.

Image: Dell

Edgy design

At first glance, the XPS 15 looks very similar to its 13-inch stablemate. It has the same edge-to-edge glass panel for the display, with only a very narrow black border running around the edges of the screen. There's a similar matte-black finish for the keyboard panel, and the XPS 15 measures just 17mm thick compared to 15mm for the XPS 13, which is pretty good going for a 15-inch laptop.

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The XPS 15's keyboard is backlit, while the trackpad is a good size.

Image: Dell

The build quality is impeccable too, with a firm, comfortable keyboard and a large trackpad, while the thin screen panel -- just 5mm thick -- still feels firm enough to provide plenty of support when you're carrying the laptop around with you.

Inevitably, though, the XPS 15 is quite a bit heavier than its smaller sibling -- Dell quotes 2.0kg for our touchscreen review unit, but our scales insisted on 2.1kg. You can't balance the XPS 15 in one hand, as you can with many 13-inch laptops, and you'll certainly notice the weight when you carry it around in your bag. Even so, the XPS 15 is slimmer and lighter than most 15-inch laptops -- especially high-end models with such a powerful specification. Equally inevitable are the comparisons with Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro, which has a similar price, weight and size. But, as we discovered, the XPS 15 manages to outgun its Apple rival in a number of respects.

4K display

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Our review unit had an UltraSharp 4K Ultra HD (3840x2160) touch display, but a cheaper HD (1920x1080) option is available.

Image: Dell

The most obvious feature of the XPS 15 is, of course, its 4K Ultra HD display. This has a resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels or 282 pixels per inch (ppi), which leaves the 2,880-by-1,800 (220ppi) of the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro's Retina Display now looking relatively modest. The image quality is superb -- in fact, it's so bright and colourful that we were able to turn the brightness level down to about 30 percent when watching streaming video on BBC iPlayer without any real loss of visibility.

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The IGZO IPS screen's viewing angles are terrific too, with the image remaining clearly visible even when you turn the screen right away from you, so the XPS 15 will be ideal if you need to give an impromptu presentation when you're out visiting clients. The display is touch-sensitive too, although that still doesn't strike us as essential in a laptop display.

We were also glad to see that Windows 10 has finally got to grips with the scaling problems that affected 'high-dpi' displays such as this in the past. This means that interface elements within apps, such as tool icons and menus, now scale up in size to improve visibility when you're running the display at its full 4K resolution. The only glitch we encountered here was when running BBC iPlayer in full-screen mode, which reduced the playback controls to an almost unusable size. But, thankfully, scaling problems like that now seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

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The XPS 15 has an SD card slot, a USB 3.0 port, a battery gauge button and a Kensington lock slot on the right side, and a power input, a second USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port, a Thunderbolt 3 port and a headset jack on the left side.

Image: Dell

Performance

The power-efficiency of Intel's 6th-generation (Skylake) processors is illustrated by the fact that the slimline XPS 15 still manages to house a quad-core Core i7-6700HQ processor running at 2.6GHz (3.5GHz with TurboBoost), along with a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M GPU with 2GB of dedicated VRAM. Our review unit also included 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid-state drive for a total price of £1,599 (inc. VAT, or £1,332.50 ex. VAT).

Processor performance is good, although the XPS 15's GeekBench 3 multi-core score of 13,362 is only fractionally ahead of the ageing 4th-generation Haswell processor in the mid-2015 15-inch MacBook Pro (which scored 13,281). However, the £1,599 version of the MacBook Pro uses Intel's integrated Iris Pro GPU, which can only manage a score of 31fps when running the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test. In contrast, the XPS 15's GeForce GTX 960M cruises ahead with a Cinebench score of 83fps, which is more than enough to cope with demanding applications such as high-definition video-editing and even a spot of CAD.

The XPS 15 also has twice as much solid-state storage as the MacBook Pro, so there's little doubt which laptop provides the best value for money. Dell even sneaks in a Thunderbolt 3 port, while Apple -- which, of course, designed Thunderbolt in the first place -- is still using Thunderbolt 2 on the Mac range.

Battery life

The one area where the MacBook Pro did manage to come out on top was battery life. When using its integrated graphics option, the XPS 15 managed 5.5 hours of streaming video, compared to 7.5 hours for the MacBook Pro. But, to be fair, that was probably inevitable given the amount of power required to drive the XPs 15's pixel-packed 4K display.

If you don't need the 4K display then you can save a bit of money by opting for the entry-level version of the XPS 15, which has a more conventional HD 1,920-by-1,080 display. That model costs £1,149 (inc. VAT, £957.50 ex. VAT) with the same Core i7 processor and Nvidia GPU, but only 8GB of memory and 256GB of solid-state storage. You can also upgrade the 4K model to 32GB of memory and 1TB of solid-state storage for £1,899 (inc. VAT. £1,582.50 ex. VAT). There aren't many other build-to-order options, though, so users looking for even more powerful CPU or GPU options will need to consider Dell's Precision range of mobile workstations instead.

Conclusions

The 4K display and quad-core Core i7 performance of the XPS 15 will be overkill for business users who simply want to run standard productivity apps such as Microsoft Office. However, the XPS 15 will certainly appeal to creative users who need to work with high-definition photos and videos. It's good value for money too, and with its slimline design and elegant edge-to-edge display the XPS 15 shows that Dell is capable of taking on Apple at its own game.

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Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i3 (6th Gen) 6100H / 2.7 GHz
Number of Cores Dual-Core
Cache 3 MB
64-bit Computing Yes
Features Hyper-Threading Technology, Intel Smart Cache
Cache Memory
Installed Size 3 MB
RAM
Memory Speed 2133 MHz
Memory Specification Compliance PC4-17000
Technology DDR4 SDRAM
Installed Size 8 GB DDR4-2133MHz; up to 32GB (additional memory sold separately)
Memory
Max Supported Size 32 GB
Technology DDR4 SDRAM
Speed 2133 MHz / PC4-17000
Form Factor SO-DIMM 260-pin
Slots Qty 2
Display
Widescreen Display Yes
Image Aspect Ratio 16:9
Monitor Features 100% Adobe RGB color gamut, BFR/PVC-free, Full HD wide-viewing angle (WVA), IGZO technology, Infinity Edge display, PremierColor technology
Type LCD
TFT Technology IPS
Display Resolution Abbreviation Full HD
Environmental Parameters
Humidity Range Operating 10 - 90% (non-condensing)
Hard Drive
Type SSD
Capacity 32 GB
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 530
Memory Allocation Technology shared video memory (UMA)
Integrated Webcam Yes
Camera Features HD video recording
Sound Stereo speakers , two microphones
Audio Codec Realtek ALC3266
Features MaxxAudio Pro
Input
Type backlit keyboard, touchpad
Features glass integrated button touchpad, precision touchpad
Hard Drive (2nd)
Type HDD
Interface Serial ATA-600
Capacity 500 GB
Spindle Speed 7200 rpm
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Wireless Controller Dell Wireless 1820A - M.2 Card
Processor
Type 6th Generation Intel Core i3-6100H (3M Cache, up to 2.7 GHz)
Processor Number 6th Generation Intel Core i3-6100H (3M Cache, up to 2.7 GHz)
Generation 6
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 2.7 GHz
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Type none
Battery
Cells 3-cell
Capacity 56 Wh
Card Reader
Type 6 in 1 card reader
Supported Flash Memory MultiMediaCard UHS, SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, SDIO, SDXC Memory Card, SDXC UHS Memory Card
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V ( 50/60 Hz )
Output 130 Watt , 19.5 V , 6.67 A
Connections & Expansion
Interfaces 2 x USB 3.0
Thunderbolt 3
HDMI
Headphone/microphone combo jack
Memory Card Reader 6 in 1 ( SD Card, SDIO, SDHC Card, SDXC Card, SDXC UHS Card, MultiMediaCard UHS )
Header
Brand Dell
Product Line Dell XPS
Model 15 (9550)
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 4.1, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Interface (Bus) Type M.2 Card
Wireless NIC Dell Wireless 1820A
System
Notebook Type notebook
Platform Windows
Hard Drive Capacity 532 GB
Monitor
Diagonal Size 15.6 " FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge
Image Brightness 350 cd/m2
Miscellaneous
Case Material aluminum, carbon fiber
Features Intel Smart Response Technology, USB PowerShare technology, battery life Indicator, security lock slot (cable lock sold separately)
Included Laptop Accessories power adapter
Color Category silver
Dimensions & Weight
Width 14.1 in
Depth 9.3 in
Height 0.7 in
Audio Output
Type stereo speakers
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 1 year warranty
Environmental Standards
ENERGY STAR Qualified Yes
Audio Input
Type two microphones
Physical Characteristics
Weight 3.92 lbs
Power
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 104 °F
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Windows 10 Home, 64-bit, English
Type McAfee LiveSafe (1 year subscription), Microsoft Office (30 days trial)
Video Output
Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 530
Video Memory
Memory Allocation Technology shared video memory (UMA)
Notebook Camera
Integrated Webcam Yes
Resolution 1280 x 720
Camera Features HD video recording
Input Device
Type backlit keyboard, touchpad
Features glass integrated button touchpad, precision touchpad
Interfaces
USB 3.0 Ports Qty 3
HDMI Ports Qty 1
Interface HDMI, Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.0, headphone/microphone combo jack
Qty 2
OS Provided
Family Windows 10
Edition Windows 10 Home
Type Windows 10 Home, 64-bit, English
Language English
Power Device
Voltage Provided 19.5 V
Output Current 6.67 A
Power Provided 130 Watt
Nominal Voltage AC 120/230 V
Frequency Required 50/60 Hz
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Location carry-in
Full Contract Period 1 year

Topics: Laptops, Dell, Hardware, Mobility, Reviews

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Dell XPS 15 Non-Touch Laptop -DNCWX1626S

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