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Dell XPS 15 review: A big screen that stands out in a crowd

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Spending more on the optional 4K display is more for bragging rights at this point. The most notable purveyors of 4K video content, Netflix and Amazon, only offer their UHD (another term that means 4K) streams to their own respective apps built into select smart TVs and smart TV devices. YouTube and a few other streaming video services have some 4K content, but much of it is poorly shot nature or action sports videos, with a few moments of ultra-high-definition brilliance to be found if you search long enough.

The other big reason to want a 4K display is PC gaming, which looks awesome at UHD resolutions. But the Nvidia 960M graphics card here really isn't going to push newer games at 4K, although it will work for older or simpler games. I've been playing The Witness, a lush but graphically unchallenging puzzle game, at 4K and medium detail settings with great results.

The combination of a high-end processor and decent graphics card, plus 16GB of RAM made for an impressive performer, as one should expect for the price. In some tests, only dedicated high-end gaming laptops beat the XPS 15. In one, the XPS beat even those specialized gaming systems.

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While Dell isn't pushing this as a gaming machine, it performs well enough that it can stand in for any of the army of "mainstream" gaming systems released over the past year or so, including the HP Omen, Lenovo Y series and others, each of which uses similar Nvidia 860M or 960M graphics cards.

In our video streaming battery test, the system ran for 4 hours 1 minute, which is passable for a powerful 15-inch laptop, but less than we'd like to see from something so slim and portable. Samsung's very similar Ativ Book 9 Pro ran for about 20 minutes less, but the most recent 15-inch MacBook Pro ran for 9 hours 17 minutes in the same test, keeping Apple firmly in the lead when it comes to laptop battery life.

Conclusion

High-end midsize laptops frequently suffer from comparisons to the elephant in the room, Apple's much-loved MacBook Pro. In many cases the Pro is better designed, runs faster or longer, has better specs and is easier to use.

But Dell makes a very compelling case for being the superior 15-inch premium laptop in several categories -- it offers a higher-res 4K touch display, better gaming graphics, and a slim bezel that just looks much cooler than the Apple version. But it's not a slam dunk, as the MacBook Pro still earns points for far better battery life and an unmatched touchpad. As close as it is, the final choice will likely come down to which operating system, Windows 10 or Os X, is a better fit for you.

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

MSI GS60 Ghost Pro
185
Lenovo Ideapad Y700
187
Dell XPS 15 (Late 2015)
202
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro
301
Microsoft Surface Book (dGPU)
479

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)


Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Dell XPS 15 (Late 2015)
13446
Lenovo Ideapad Y700
13123
MSI GS60 Ghost Pro
12754
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro
12543
Microsoft Surface Book (dGPU)
7252

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance



Streaming video playback battery drain test

Microsoft Surface Book (dGPU)
462
Lenovo Ideapad Y700
315
Dell XPS 15 (Late 2015)
241
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro
224
MSI GS60 Ghost Pro
155

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)


3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

MSI GS60 Ghost Pro
1138
Lenovo Ideapad Y700
1005
Dell XPS 15 (Late 2015)
731
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro
625

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance


Metro: Last Light gaming test

MSI GS60 Ghost Pro
26.33
Lenovo Ideapad Y700
20
Dell XPS 15 (Late 2015)
19.67
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro
17

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

System Configurations

Dell XPS 15 (Late 2015) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 2GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 960M; 512GB SSD
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Pro Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 2GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 950M; 256GB SSD
MSI GS60 Ghost Pro Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 3GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 970M; 128GB SSD + 1TB 7200rpm HDD
Lenovo Ideapad Y700 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2133MHz; 4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 960M; 128GB SSD + 1TB 5,400rpm HDD
Microsoft Surface Book (dGPU) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro; 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1GB Nvidia GPU; 512GB SSD

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