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Dell XPS 27 (2017) review: A feast for the senses in an all-in-one footprint

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Editors' note: Originally published on January 18, 2017. Updated to reflect new configurations, performance results for the Intel 7th-generation CPU and Radeon RX 570 GPU and well as hands-on testing of the updating gaming and "entry-level VR" experiences.

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8.1

Dell XPS 27 (2017)

The Good

The XPS 27 (2017) has a terrific audio system, especially for an all-in-one, and a display with excellent color reproduction. It can also be configured to deliver decent gameplay and basic VR capability.

The Bad

The webcam is poorly placed and it's not the most graceful-looking all-in-one. And the back connectors are miserably difficult to work with.

The Bottom Line

For discriminating ears and eyes, the XPS 27 (2017) all-in-one offers the best combination of features for the money.

Ear candy wrapped in a sturdy chassis with an excellent display and reasonably good performance for the money, the update to the computer we praised in 2014 as "almost everything you could want in an all-in-one" gets an overhaul for 2017. Most notably, this year's XPS 27 (model 7760) PC boasts the most sophisticated audio system built into a PC and a UHD 4K display with a broad color gamut, making it a great home entertainment system or compact-footprint choice for audio editing.

Prices start at $1,550, with choices of seventh-generation Core i5 and i7 processors (Skylake). You can choose integrated graphics or a switchable discrete AMD Radeon RX 570 GPU, as well as opt for a UHD 4K (3,840x2,160-pixel-resolution) touchscreen display or a nontouch panel of the same resolution but 50 nits brighter and Dell's thin-bezel Infinity Edge. The seventh-generation/Radeon RX 570 models aren't available in the UK, but the previous, non-game/VR-ready models -- which weren't available earlier this year -- are, starting at £1,700. Dell still doesn't offer the 10-speaker model in Australia.

Dell XPS 27 AIO (2017)

Price as reviewed $2,799
Display size/resolution 27-inch 3,840 x 2,160 touchscreen display
PC CPU 3.6GHz Intel Core i7-7700
PC Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz
Graphics 8GB AMD Radeon RX 570
Storage 512GB SSD, SD card slot
Connections 1 x Ethernet, 2 x USB-C/Thunderbolt, 4 x USB 3.0 Type-A, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-A; 1 x DisplayPort 1.2, 1 x HDMI out; audio out, headphone jack
Networking 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

The updated components do a much better job of future-proofing the system than the last generation. While it's still not a gaming powerhouse, it should get you through a few years of midlevel-frame rate fun, and the Radeon RX570 delivers a solid entry-level VR experience -- good enough for today's typical VR graphics.  Sadly, you can't configure any of the less-expensive systems with a full SSD drive; the rest use small SSDs for caching, to speed up the slow 5,400rpm spinning disk drives. So if you're going to get this system, you should probably go for the highest end model.

Hear ye, hear ye

If you've got discriminating ears -- or just like your music really loud -- this is the system for you. It has 10 speakers; you can only see six of them -- two tweeters and four full-range drivers -- lined up prominently under the screen, but there are also two down-firing and two passive radiators (the latter for better bass).

The goal of the audio design seems to be bleeding-ear, furniture-vibrating loudness with minimal distortion, a broad frequency-response range and good surround-sound directionality -- each of which is difficult to achieve in an all-in-one by itself, much less simultaneously.

And Dell achieves those goals. When cranked up all the way, it's loud enough that I couldn't hear myself singing at the top of my lungs. (Thankfully, the office was deserted.) Music ranging from soft to loud, high frequencies to low and instruments and voices with complex overtones all sounded great cranked to the max.

I could feel "Smells Like Teen Spirit," even in the middle of the volume range, and it produced rich sound at the lower volumes. The surround-sound rendition in movies and music seemed quite accurate and encompassing. I did find the highs a little too bright for my taste, but that's personal preference, and the rest of the frequency range sounded a bit warmer. The system incorporates the Waves software audio control panel as well, bearing the imprimatur of producer Jack Joseph Puig who also helped design the hardware.

To incorporate PC-shaking audio, Dell had to create a rigid cabinet for the system. It remains to be seen whether the bass vibrations will affect the workings over time.

The closest competitors for high-quality audio are the recent HP Envy All-in-One models that incorporate four front-firing Bang & Olufsen speakers; while the HP line sounds good, it's not nearly as full-toned. Then again, with Dell you're paying a premium for the higher-quality sound and display.

Color me impressed

The 27-inch touch display on our evaluation unit wasn't isn't quite up to that of the Microsoft Surface Studio or iMac 27-inch for pixel density, but it's still damn good with excellent color accuracy. It covers 100 percent of Adobe RGB for photo editing and most of DCI-P3 for better color rendition when playing movies, and the Dell PremierColor software is quite good, allowing you to control all of the important parameters and offering presets for all the essentials -- including separate profiles for Adobe RGB and P3. Dell's software only supports the $200 X-Rite i1Display Pro calibrator, but since it doesn't store profiles in hardware it doesn't matter whose calibration tools you use. (Note: the second time I tested the system I did see some backlight bleed in the upper right corner.)

Similarly to the the stand for the touchscreen version lets it fold flat, though it's not as much of a desk hugger, while both the touch and nontouch versions can tilt back by 30 degrees. However, neither version supports a stylus, so I'm somewhat at a loss as to why you'd want to lay it flat unless you want to make it disappear when not in use.

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Like the Microsoft Surface Studio, the stand for the XPS 27's touchscreen lets you lay it horizontally as well as tilt it up to 60 degrees back and 5 degrees forward. The stand for the nontouch display can only tilt backward 30 degrees.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I found the display very reflective, even when tilted to try to reduce the angle of incidence. Sadly, that's the norm these days. And it's a fingerprint and dust magnet, which is sort of a problem for a touchscreen.

Game ready... sort of

It's not a gaming system, but it performs pretty respectably; as long as you're not hung up on frame rates or need to max out the quality settings, you'll probably be pretty happy. Yes, it's got an IPS display, but I didn't notice any related artifacts. With quality set at medium, it routinely hit around 100fps in Doom, and even with the quality cranked up a bit in Bioshock Infinite, I didn't experience any glitchiness. The sound is great, as you'd expect, though there was occasional stuttering. According to Dell that shouldn't occur, but I didn't have time to troubleshoot.

VR looked good (given the sad state of VR graphics today) and operated smoothly with the Oculus Rift, but as VR rendering gets higher resolution and starts piling on the polygons that may change. It has exactly enough USB ports for two sensors, a headset and two hand controllers -- without a keyboard and mouse. But you can always use adapters in the USB-C ports, or attach a hub.

While the built-in monitor doesn't support FreeSync, you can drive an external FreeSync monitor. I tried it with the Samsung CF791 and worked it fine -- once I disabled the Intel integrated graphics processor in the BIOS. Without that, Doom simply couldn't detect the Radeon. I'm not sure if that's Dell's problem or Microsoft's.

Design compromises

The guts of the computer reside in the display section, like in an iMac, but for both aesthetic and practical reasons I prefer them in the base, as with the HP Envy AIO series or . The XPS 27's cables run out from a recess in the back through an opening in the stand. That's fine if you're a set-it-and-forget-it hardware user, but it's a pain if you need to get into the back USB ports on a regular basis, since the stand forces you to contort your hand to get it into the recess, and you can't actually see anything without turning the system around and using a flashlight. And to do that, you have to turn the system around, which is hard; it weighs 38 pounds (17.3 kg) and the base has rubberized feet so there's a lot of resistance. You can always hang an unsightly hub off to the side, though. After dealing with this design the second time around, I hate it even more.

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Awkward.

Sarah Tew/CNET

At the top of the display sits an array of four microphones and vents for heat dissipation. The mic array is designed in part so that you can "Hey, Cortana" the system from a distance, which is nice. But making room for all the audio bells and whistles in the XPS 27 means that the webcam is at the bottom of the display, a bad placement similar to that of the XPS 15 laptop. Unfortunately, while you can easily raise the laptop, if you only occasionally use the webcam, moving the desktop so the webcam's not pointing up your nose is a bit more difficult.

In total the system has five USB ports -- one USB 3.1 on the side and the other four USB 3.0 inset behind the display, though you lose one to the Bluetooth mouse and keyboard dongle -- plus two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C, one DisplayPort, an HDMI and an Ethernet jack. An SD card slot sits on the left side of the display.

Worth the dough?

If I had you at "10 speakers" or "excellent color accuracy," then this is definitely the all-in-one for you. Despite some irritating aspects of the design it really is a great system that I enjoyed using and highly recommend if you've got discriminating ears or eyes. But it's overkill if you're just looking to work at home or watch cat videos and surf the web.

Multitasking Multimedia Test 3.0

Microsoft Surface Studio 171HP Envy Curved AIO 34 (2017) 186Dell XPS 27 (early 2017) 196HP Envy AIO 27 (late 2016) 198Apple iMac 27 (2017) 212Dell XPS 27 (mid 2017) 217
Notes: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Geekbench 4 Multi-Core

Dell XPS 27 (mid 2017) 15750Apple iMac 27 (2017) 14128Dell XPS 27 (early 2017) 4006HP Envy Curved AIO 34 (2017) 4001Microsoft Surface Studio 3589HP Envy AIO 27 (late 2016) 3724
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 OpenGL

Dell XPS 27 (mid 2017) 115HP Envy Curved AIO 34 (2017) 113Apple iMac 27 (2017) 106
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (fps)

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Microsoft Surface Studio 2341Dell XPS 27 (mid 2017) 2250HP Envy Curved AIO 34 (2017) 1045Dell XPS 27 (early 2017) 1019HP Envy AIO 27 (late 2016) 811
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 OpenGL

Dell XPS 27 (mid 2017) 115HP Envy Curved AIO 34 (2017) 113Apple iMac 27 (2017) 106
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (fps)

System configurations

Apple iMac 27 (2017) Apple MacOS Sierra 10.12.5; 3.4GHz Intel Core i5-7500U; 8GB 2400MHz DDR4 SDRAM; 4GB Radeon Pro 570; 1TB Fusion Drive Journaled HFS+
Dell XPS 27 (early 2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-6700; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 4GB AMD Radeon R9 M470X; 512GB SSD
Dell XPS 27 (mid 2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 3.6GHz Core i7-7700; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133Hz; 8GB AMD Radeon RX 570; 512GB PCIe SSD
HP Envy AIO 27 (late 2016) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-6700T; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 950M; 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD
HP Envy Curved All-in-One 34 (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700T; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB AMD Radeon RX460; 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD
Microsoft Surface Studio Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-6820HQ, 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz, 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M; 2TB HDD + 128GB SSD
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8.1

Dell XPS 27 (2017)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 8