Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dell XPS 15 Review

The XPS 15 is Dell’s flagship multimedia notebook. It features a gorgeous 1080p display, quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, and an excellent JBL audio system with subwoofer. Our full review details who this notebook is good for and who it’s not.

Screen: 15.6″ glossy 1080p B+RGLED display (1920×1080 resolution)
Processor: Intel Core i7-2670QM quad-core processor (2nd generation, Intel Sandy Bridge)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GT 525M 1GB with Optimus (automatically switches to integrated Intel graphics to save power)
OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Memory: 8GB DDR3 memory @ 1333MHz
Storage: 750GB hard drive with 7200RPM rotational speed (Seagate ST9750420AS)
Ports: 2x USB 3.0, 1x eSATA/USB 2.0 combo, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, Ethernet, 2x headphone jacks, microphone, 9-in-1 media card reader
Optical Drive: DVD burner
Wireless: Intel WiFi Link 1000BGN
Weight: 6 lbs. w/ 6-cell battery
Dimensions: 15″ x 10.4″ x 1.3~1.5″ (width x depth x height)
Battery: 6-cell li-ion (56Wh)
Features: backlit keyboard, JBL speakers including subwoofer, 2.0MP webcam, aluminum exterior
Warranty: 1-year
Product Page:
We purchased this unit for $899 after coupons during a sale which makes this notebook a superb value. The screen, quad-core processor, and all the little high-end features like the backlit keyboard and name brand speakers are not typically found at this price point.

Design and Build

This generation of XPS notebooks are a departure for Dell; it has little resemblance to XPS notebooks of the past. There’s no light displays, bleeding edge design elements, or anything to set it apart from the crowd. Dell has since moved all its gaming notebook focus to Alienware and turned the XPS line into a premium multimedia series. And based on what we’ve seen in this review, they have done a respectable job of it.

The XPS 15 has a high-end look and feel thanks to extensive use of aluminum on the palm rest and lid. The rest is ABS plastic which is of good quality. I sincerely appreciate the lack of glossy plastic; there’s only a touch of it in the keyboard surround.

Chassis strength is good; it has almost no flex. The lid has more flex than I expected but no ripples display on the screen when pressed in from behind.

Something that always speaks to me are design details. The aluminum around the palm rest is one piece and has beautifully beveled edges around all cut outs. The mirror finish around the power and multimedia buttons looks great. Lastly I’m glad to see the huge XPS badges on previous XPS notebooks absent from this generation.

Something I’m not a fan of is how the status lights are located on the back of the notebook; they can’t be seen unless the lid is closed. At least they included them – that’s more than can be said for some notebooks.


It’s gorgeous. This is a B+RGLED screen, meaning it uses multi-colored LEDs to light the screen. There’s so much color that it’s a tad oversaturated, but I won’t complain – it’s better than the alternative. It’s extra bright compared to ‘typical’ 15.6″ notebooks and the contrast is excellent – blacks look like true black. The display surface is glossy so watch out for reflections; keep a microfiber towel handy for cleaning.

I wish more notebooks would come with a 1080p screen – that means a lot of extra working space. It has 1920×1080 pixels total resolution, meaning two windows can easily be used side by side. Those that use Microsoft Excel will love the available vertical space.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The XPS 15′s full-size keyboard has a superb feel and is one of my favorites in a long time. The keys have sufficient key travel to provide good tactile feedback with pleasantly soft key presses. It makes little noise with no ‘clacking’. The backlighting is helpful when there’s not enough ambient lighting – and it just plain looks cool.

The oversized Synaptics touchpad is large like a MacBook Pros’ and has an excellent matte surface. The two buttons are soft and provide good feedback as well. Overall I can’t say enough about the quality of the input devices.

Dell XPS 15 Performance

Most if not all $500 budget notebooks have enough power and ‘oomph’ for the outright majority of tasks including Internet surfing and office productivity. Those needing a bit more spend more for something like this XPS 15. The only thing the XPS 15 isn’t good at is gaming, which we’ll talk about in a moment.

The quad-core Intel Core i7 processor is the fastest mobile processor available and I couldn’t trip it up. It has a total of eight processing threads, meaning it’s superb for applications where number crunching and other intensive processing is required – video editing, encoding media, and so on. And if you do something like Folding at Home, this processor will surely get you up the ranks fast.

Our XPS 15 is equipped with an ample 8GB of RAM, which is great if you like using Photoshop or other programs that typically take up a lot of memory. Additionally it has a large and relatively fast 750GB hard drive spinning at 7200RPM. Dell also offers a 256GB SSD for a few hundred more; an SSD has no moving parts and is leagues faster starting up and launching programs.

Then there’s the graphics card; an anemic Nvidia GeForce GT 525M. It has plenty of video memory – 1GB – but it’s depressingly weak and not capable of playing modern 3D games at anything more than low settings. Dell offers a slightly faster GT 540M 2GB but it’s not fast enough to quality the XPS 15 as a “good” gaming notebook. I get the feeling that Dell could have included a more powerful graphics card but decided to not cannibalize its Alienware sales. Still, I wouldn’t have minded a graphics card just a bit more powerful than this one.

We ran a series of benchmarks on the XPS 15 to compare its performance to other notebooks in this segment; it did quite well as expected, except of course in 3D performance.

PCMark 7 – Measures overall system performance

Laptop PCMark 7 Score
Dell XPS 15 (Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia GT 525M 1GB RAM, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD) 2,522 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dm4t Beats – Intel Core i5-2430M, Intel HD3000, 8GB RAM, 5400RPM HD 2,382 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SA (Intel Core i5-2430M 2.50GHz, AMD Radeon 6630M, 4GB RAM) 2,022 PCMarks
HP Envy 17 3D – Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 6850M 1GB, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 2,592 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad U400 – Intel Core i5-2430M, AMD Radeon 6470M, 6GB RAM, 5400RPM HD 2,287 PCMarks

PCMark Vantage – Measures overall system performance, higher scores are better

Laptop PCMark Vantage Score
Dell XPS 15 (Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia GT 525M 1GB RAM, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD) 9,011 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad Y470p (Intel Core i5-2450m, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 6,727 PCMarks
HP Pavilion g6z (AMD Fusion A4-3305M 1.90GHz, 4GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 3,322 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X130e (AMD E-300 1.30GHz, AMD 6130, 4GB RAM, 5400 RPM HD) 1,981 PCMarks
HP Folio 13 (Intel Core i5-2467M 1.60GHz, Intel HD3000, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD) 9,026 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 1440 Review (Intel Core i3-370M, Intel HD, 6GB RAM) 4,931 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 6,056 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 3450 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30Ghz, 4GB RAM 5,901 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron N411z – Intel Core i3-2330m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 5,285 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T420 – Intel Core i3-2310m 2.1GHz, 2GB RAM 3,204 PCMarks

3DMark Vantage – Measures 3D graphics performance, higher scores are better

Laptop 3DMark Vantage
Dell XPS 15 (Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia GT 525M 1GB RAM, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD) 4,211
HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 6,970
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 4,747
HP Pavilion dv6t Select Edition – Intel Core i5-2410m, Intel HD 3000 Graphics, 6GB RAM 1,845

3DMark 11 – Measures 3D graphics performance, higher scores are better

Laptop 3DMark 11
Dell XPS 15 (Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia GT 525M 1GB RAM, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD) 1,022
Lenovo IdeaPad Y470p (Intel Core i5-2450m, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 5400RPM HD) 1,339
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 1,041

Input and Output Ports

The XPS 15 has a solid array of ports for a consumer class notebook.

The left side holds a single USB 3.0 port and the cooling exhaust vent:

The right side has the optical drive, two headphone jacks, the microphone jack, and the eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port:

The front of the notebook has just the 9-in-1 media card reader:

On the back we have a mini DisplayPort, HDMI, the Ethernet jack, TV tuner (optional; not on our test unit), AC power jack, a USB 3.0, and the Kensington lock slot.

I am a big fan of putting ports on the back of the notebook; on a desktop replacement notebook this placement makes sense since they’ll be in one place most of the time and it keeps cables out of the way (the power cord especially). Business class notebooks typically have the majority of ports on the sides since they’re designed to be used with docking stations.

Battery Life

I measured 4.5 hours of life out of the standard 6-cell battery while surfing the Internet with half screen brightness. This is a respectable time for a desktop replacement notebook. Dell also offers the XPS 15 with a 9-cell battery that effectively increases the battery life by 50% since it has that much more capacity.


Dell says the XPS 15 speakers have 20W of total power output which is crazy on a notebook (at most we’ve seen a couple watts). However after listening it’s not hard to believe. The dedicated subwoofer on the bottom provides almost table-shaking sound and the speakers located on either side of the keyboard are loud enough to fill a medium-size room (like a dining room). There’s certainly enough sound to entertain a few people watching a movie, for example. This is an impressive setup.

The XPS 15 also features two headphone jacks, which is an overlooked but convenient feature.

Heat and Noise

There’s a single fan on the left side of the notebook. It stays off most of the time for basic tasks like surfing the Internet.


The Dell XPS 15 is one of the most well put-together notebooks I’ve reviewed in some time. The only thing it’s not good at is playing games; the Nvidia graphics cards it’s offered with are simply not powerful enough. However it excels everywhere else and fills its role as a premium multimedia notebook nicely. The 1080p screen is a must-have upgrade. The build quality and design are well above average; the speakers are the most convincing I’ve heard on a notebook; lastly the keyboard and touchpad are excellent.

And to top it all off, the XPS 15 is an excellent value – look for coupons and check out the Dell Outlet for the best deals.


Solid design and build quality
Gorgeous 1080p screen
Excellent keyboard and touchpad
Great speaker system

Low end graphics card
Fan can be a tad noisy

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