Dell XPS 15 review: A pricey premium laptop with a better-than-HD display

In our benchmark testing, the modern Core i7 processor and generous amount of RAM performed as one would expect, matching the XPS 15 up closely with other recent premium laptops. Multitasking took a hit, perhaps hindered by pushing all the pixels on the very high-res screen, and the comparable MacBook Pro always gets a leg up on some of these tests as programs such as iTunes and Photoshop are especially well-tuned for OS X.

Looking beyond the numbers, this is a typical premium-level Core i7 laptop, with more than enough power for everyday tasks, including heavy multitasking. In hands-on use, the XPS 15 felt fast and responsive, and very much like an executive-level system.

One thing that makes this higher-res laptop different from other higher-res systems we've tested is the inclusion of a graphics card (the MacBook Pro also offers one, but the state of Mac gaming makes it hard to quantify). The Nvidia 750M found here is a middle of the road GPU, and fine for casual gaming.

But, the 3,200x1,800 display is something that game makers and Nvidia haven't seemingly adjusted for yet. Games through both Steam and Origin played in smaller windows when set at resolutions lower than 3,200x1,800, and the 750M really can't handle playing games at the native resolution, even in games that support that. The solution we implemented was to change the actual system resolution to 1,920x1,080, which is an annoying extra step you shouldn't have to deal with.

Once we did that, however, games such as BioShock Infinite and Metro: Last Light ran fine for a non-gaming PC, and the newer Battlefield 4 worked well at 1,920x1,080 and medium detail settings.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Even though the XPS 15 has a higher-res screen, discrete GPU, and high-powered CPU, it's very thin and light, and a good candidate for on-the-go use. Unfortunately the battery only ran for a disappointing 3 hours and 34 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. So many run-of-the-mill laptops do better now, so it's reasonable to expect more. In anecdotal use, however, it ran more than an hour longer, so that's a little better.

Dell has put nearly everything I could ask for from a slim, premium 15-inch into the XPS 15, including a great higher-res screen, a discrete GPU, and a powerful CPU. Perfectly executed, the $1,900-and-up price seems fair, but a handful of missteps keep me from loving this system as much as I hoped I would. Those include a drab outer design, some funkiness with gaming resolutions, mediocre battery life, and twitchy multitouch touch-pad gestures.

If you can look past those issues, this is the closest you'll find to a current-gen MacBook Pro without switching to OS X.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

HandBrake multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

BioShock Infinite (1,920x1,080, in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Dell XPS 15
Acer Aspire V7

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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System configurations:

Dell XPS 15
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ; 16GB DDR2 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB (dedicated) Nvidia GeForce GT 750; 1TB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 1.6GHZ Intel Core i5-4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,792MB (shared) Intel HD 4400 Graphics; 128GB Samsung SSD

Razer Blade 14
Windows 8 (64-bit); Intel Core i7-4702HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M; 128GB Samsung SSD

Acer Aspire V7
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-4500U; 12GB DDR2 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 4GB (dedicated) Nvidia GeForce GT 750; 1TB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013)
OSX 10.9 Mavericks; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-4850HQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 750M + Intel Iris Pro Graphics; 512GB Apple SSD