The latest revamp of Dell's Inspiron and XPS laptops continues to move in the right direction, clearly inspired by the growth of Apple's MacBooks and the push toward thinner, snazzier ultrabook-style laptops.
A larger version of the Dell XPS 14 we reviewed recently, this XPS 15 is a similarly solid, slablike laptop with a minimalistic design, but also with plenty of extra features, from a high-res display to Nvidia graphics, making it feel like a truly premium laptop. Our review sample included a quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU and discrete Nvidia GeForce 640M graphics, for $1,699. Other configurations start from $1,299, but I wouldn't want to pay that for a Core i5 laptop.
You can find something close to this particular CPU/GPU combination for less (Hewlett-Packard has a similar Pavilion dv6 for $1,200), but here you get the premium design, the build quality, and the premium support service Dell offers with XPS systems.
The XPS 15 is a high-end workhorse for gaming, video editing, or other creative tasks, but if $1,699 is a bit steep, we've seen several midsize laptops for under $1,000 recently that offer up-to-date processors, discrete graphics, and reasonably sharp looks. One alternative worth considering is Dell's updated Inspiron line, including the Inspiron 14z, which can trade up to an Intel Core i7 and midrange AMD graphics for $1,049. It's not as attractive or well-built, but it's a worthwhile alternative if you're looking to save a few hundred dollars.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,699 / $1,299|
|Processor||2.1GHz Intel Core i7-3612QM|
|Memory||8GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||750GB 7,200rpm / 32GB SSD|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GT 640M / Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||15x10.4 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.9 pounds / 6.8 pounds|
The aluminum outer chassis in the XPS 15 (like the XPS 14) is combined with a magnesium alloy wrist rest and a soft-touch silicone bottom panel. The 14-inch version of this laptop felt dense and heavy. So much so that I said it was "heavier than any 14-inch laptop without an optical drive needs to be." This 15-inch model is about a pound heavier, but somehow the weight feels better distributed, and certainly expectations of what a powerful 15-inch laptop should feel like in the hand are different. That said, a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display is significantly lighter, and I can't see carrying the XPS 15 around with you more than once in a while.
The heft does have some advantages. It's not technically a rugged laptop, but the XPS 15 feels like it might stop a bullet (don't try this at home). At the very least, it'll do some major damage if you drop it on your toe, and it feels like it would be largely impervious to everyday knocks.
The sparse interior is highlighted by a keyboard that's similar to the island-style ones found in systems from Apple, Sony, and others. It has an especially bright backlight, and the Shift, Tab, CTRL, and other important keys are a good size. But overall, the key faces could be larger, and there's a lot of dead space on the left and right of the keyboard.
The large, button-free, multitouch click pad should be a familiar sight by now. This version works well with multitouch gestures, such as two-finger scrolling, and is about as responsive as you're going to find, save for Apple's MacBooks. Both the keyboard and touch pad seem to be the same as those found on the XPS 14. On that smaller laptop, both were a better fit. Here, both could stand to be bigger.
One area where the XPS 15 beats the XPS 14 (and many other 15-inch laptops as well) is screen resolution. For a premium 15-inch laptop, the 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution is entirely appropriate, and I'd expect nothing less in something that costs $1,299 and up. Having a 1080p screen can be a bit overwhelming on a 13-inch laptop, and it's a matter of taste for 14-inch models (the XPS 14 we reviewed had a 1,600x900 display). The screen itself was bright, with edge-to-edge Corning Gorilla Glass over it, but very, very glossy, picking up a lot of glare from nearby lights.
|Dell XPS 15||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||HDMI, Mini DisplayPort||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 3.0, SD card reader||2 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray player/DVD burner||DVD burner|
The right edge of the system is dominated by a slot-loading optical drive, along with headphone and mic jacks and an SD card slot. The left side has all the USB and video-out ports, including both HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. All three USB ports are of the 3.0 variety, and one of them supports the charging of USB-connected devices while the laptop is off or asleep.
The least expensive XPS 15 configuration starts at $1,299, and includes an Intel Core i5-3210M CPU, an Nvidia GeForce 630M GPU, and a 500GB hard drive/32GB solid-state drive (SSD). This $1,699 configuration trades up to a Core i7-3612QM and a GeForce 640M GPU, plus a 750GB HDD/32GB SSD. It also includes a Blu-ray drive, which is a step up from the basic DVD burner in the base model.
In our benchmark performance tests, the Dell XPS 15 matched up well against other midsize quad-core Core i7 laptops with Intel's current-gen Ivy Bridge chips. This is the top CPU choice for this particular system. The 15-inch Maingear EX-L 15 can use the top-of-the-line Core i7-3820QM for faster scores, but it also costs around $500 more. A closer comparison, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y480, was also a bit faster (and around $500 less).
At this level, however, the differences in benchmark performance are largely academic. Any of these laptops would be more than fast enough for any task you'd throw at them, from HD video rendering to Photoshop to running high-end games.
The included Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card in this system isn't the top of Nvidia's laptop line, but it's a solid midrange part (whether you should expect more than "midrange" in a $1,699 laptop is another story, however). In our very challenging Metro 2033 test at full 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, the XPS 15 ran at 20.3 frames per second, which is considered an excellent score on that test. The more forgiving Street Fighter IV test at the same resolution ran at 73.1fps.