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Article updated on April 28, 2024 at 4:00 AM PDT

Dell XPS 16 9640 Review: A Big, Bold and Brawny Creator Laptop

Dell's new 16-inch XPS model offers a unique design backed by strong performance and surprisingly long battery life. Just be prepared to pay for its many configurable charms.

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Matt Elliott
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Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops | Desktops | All-in-one PCs | Streaming devices | Streaming platforms
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Dell XPS 16 9640

Pros

  • Striking design and solid build quality
  • Strong overall performance
  • Long battery life
  • Big and beautiful OLED display
  • Quad speakers produce great sound

Cons

  • Function row is less functional without physical keys
  • HDMI and USB-A connectivity requires a dongle
  • Upgrades can quickly get expensive

When I last looked at Dell's largest XPS laptop, it offered a traditional design centered on a 17-inch display powered by a 13th-gen Intel processor and RTX graphics. With this year's update, Dell has introduced a radical new design while slightly shrinking the display and making the requisite update to Intel's current Core Ultra CPUs. 

The Dell XPS 16 9640 features a 16.3-inch display that feels every bit as spacious as the previous 17-inch XPS 17 9730's while saving you a bit of travel weight. A bigger departure is the minimalistic design that features a borderless touchpad, a nearly flat keyboard with little to no spacing between the keys and a Function row that consists not of physical keys but touch-sensitive icons.

The invisible touchpad is a cool trick, and thanks to its accurate and lively haptics, it's as fun to use as it is to look at. I'm less sold on the touch-sensitive yet haptic-less Function row, but I must say the XPS 16 9640's overall look is indeed unique and rather stunning. And I was pleased to see that Dell has an OLED display option, which wasn't available for the XPS 17 9730. Add in strong overall performance and surprisingly robust battery life, and the Dell XPS 16 9640 checks a lot of boxes for creatives who are looking for a big-screen laptop and are willing to spend a pretty penny to get it.

Dell XPS 16 9640

Price as reviewed $3,399
Display size/resolution 16.3-inch 3,840x2,400 90Hz OLED
CPU Intel Core Ultra 7 155H
Memory 32GB DDR5 SDRAM
Graphics Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070
Storage 1TB SSD
Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4 USB-C, USB-A 3.2 Gen 2, microSD card, combo audio
Networking Wi-Fi 7, Bluetooth 5.4
Operating system Windows 11 Home 23H2
Weight 5 pounds (2.3 kg)

Our Dell XPS 16 9640 test system includes significant upgrades that nearly double its price from the baseline $1,899 to a lofty $3,399. The base model features an Intel Core Ultra 7 155H processor, 16GB of RAM, Intel Arc graphics, a 512GB SSD and a 1,920x1,200-pixel IPS display. Our test model offers 32GB of RAM, RTX 4070 graphics, a 1TB SSD and a 4K OLED display. For the case, you can choose between a creamy silver that Dell calls platinum or a matte black the company dubs graphite.

There are a few other customization options not included on our test system: a Core Ultra 9 185H CPU, RTX 4050 and 4060 GPUs, and up to a 4TB SSD. You can also opt for vPro, which delivers remote-management features for IT departments in charge of a fleet of XPS 16 machines.

The Dell XPS 16 9640 starts at £1,849 in the UK and AU$2,798 in Australia.

Dell XPS 16 9640 in black in front of a yellow wall
Matt Elliott/CNET

The XPS 16 9640's performance was on par with that of other laptops we've tested with the Core Ultra 7 155H processor and RTX graphics. It's a versatile performer, offering strong application performance as well as graphics performance. It posted solid framerates on our 3D gaming tests, but its RTX 4070 is set to run at a maximum of 70 watts, so it's not quite at gaming laptop levels with a full-throttle RTX 4070 such as the Alienware m16 R2. With minimal venting and a compact chassis, the XPS 16 9640 does produce a fair amount of fan noise under heavy load, but it's relatively quiet during normal operation.

Perhaps the most impressive result is its showing on our battery test. A 4K OLED display might be crisp and beautiful, but that combination of a high pixel count and OLED technology usually has an adverse effect on a laptop's runtime. Dell outfits the XPS 16 9640 with a robust six-cell, 99.5-watt-hour battery, and it lasted more than 11.5 hours on our online streaming battery drain test, which is a positive result for any laptop and an outstanding outcome for one with a large 4K OLED display. 

Big and bold

The most striking part of the XPS 16 9640's design is its apparent lack of a touchpad. I can assure you, it's there. It just lacks borders and blends seamlessly into the wide wrist rest. The invisible touchpad sits centered below the display and is large enough that I didn't find myself clicking on an area outside of its haptics. The haptic feedback is excellent and customizable, so you can dial in how lively you'd like the click response to be.

The touchpad lacks borders, and the keyboard lacks space between the keys. The latticeless design looks different than the typical island-style keyboard that provides some separation between the keys, but I found typing on the XPS 16 9640's keys to be no different than using a more traditional keyboard design. The keys offer shallow travel and a slightly mushy response. If I could change one thing about the keyboard, it would be firmer feedback with each key press and not the key spacing.

Dell XPS 16 9640 borderless touchpad
Matt Elliott/CNET

The third component of the laptop's streamlined design is eschewing a traditional row of Function keys for a strip of touch-sensitive icons. As I discussed in my previous review of the Dell XPS 14 9440, I'm not a fan. I didn't enjoy my MacBook Touch Bar years, and I don't like this row of icons that lack haptic feedback and feature always-on LEDs. I get that physical Function keys would detract from the overall design; it's nice that the icons can flip between media and function keys. But the loss of physical keys I can feel myself pressing is not a trade-off I'm willing to make for the sake of design.

Dell's focus on keeping the look of the XPS 16 9640 as minimal as possible results in neither a notch nor a cut-out area on the laptop's front edge that would aid in raising the lid. This arrangement made opening the XPS 14 9440 laptop needlessly difficult, but I didn't have nearly as much trouble on this larger model despite each sharing the same design. It's not quite as easy as other laptops that give you a way to get a better grip on the front edge of the display to lift it, but I was still more successful than not in opening the XPS 16 9640 with one finger.

Dell XPS 16 9640 flat keyboard in black
Matt Elliott/CNET

The above design elements give the XPS 16 9640 a unique and minimalistic design, but it's not just surface looks -- this is a solidly put-together laptop. The machined aluminum chassis feels rigid and doesn't creak or flex. The display bezels are incredibly thin to keep it about as compact as a 16-inch laptop can be. It weighs 5 pounds, which is appreciably lighter than the 5.5-pound XPS 17 9730 but negligibly heavier than other 16-inch models, including the 4.8-pound Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 and 4.7-pound Apple MacBook Pro 16. Lighter still are the Acer Swift X 16 and HP Spectre x360 16, with each weighing just 4.3 pounds.

We received the display upgrade to a 4K OLED panel. It adds $300 to the bill and provides a crisper picture and superior contrast. In testing, it offered good color coverage with 100% sRGB, 89% AdobeRGB and 99% P3. It hit a peak brightness of 382 nits, which, with its stellar contrast, is ample for nearly every environment, with the exception of working outside in direct sunlight. You can save $300 by stepping down to the RTX 4060. If choosing between the two equal options, I'd opt for the OLED powered by an RTX 4060 rather than the baseline IPS and an RTX 4070.

The OLED panel can operate at a refresh rate of 90Hz for smoother movement or at 60Hz to help extend battery life. Unfortunately, the refresh rate isn't dynamic, so you'll need to dig into settings to change it if you go from, say, watching or editing video or gaming at 90Hz to unplugging and working on battery power and downshifting to 60Hz.

Dell XPS 16 9640 speakers on the side of the keyboard
Matt Elliott/CNET

Along with strong visuals, the XPS 16 9630 boasts impressive audio output. This is one of the few laptops that had enough of a bass response that music playback was actually enjoyable. Granted, I experienced this joy while seated in a small room directly in front of the laptop, but at this very same desk in this very same room, I'm usually somewhere between underwhelmed to sorely disappointed by a laptop's audio. The XPS 16 9640 features a total of 10 watts of output by way of a pair of 3-watt main speakers and a pair of 2-watt tweeters. Most laptops offer only two 2-watt speakers.

Another upgrade the XPS 16 9640 received from the previous XPS 17 is a 1080p webcam. It's hard to give Dell kudos for this move since the 720p camera was already outdated on last year's XPS 17. The camera produces images nearly free of the graininess of a 720p camera, with accurate colors and skin tones. You'll appear clearly on video calls. And you can use the camera with Windows Hello for easy, secure logins via facial recognition. The power button also doubles as a fingerprint scanner if you'd prefer to go that biometric route.

Dell XPS 16 9640 has a Thunderbolt 4 port and microSD card slot on its right side
Matt Elliott/CNET

Ports are minimal but should suffice for most users, with two Thunderbolt 4 ports and a USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port along with a headphone jack and microSD card slot. The two biggest missing items are an HDMI output and a USB-A port, but Dell includes a dongle for each of those connections. 

At $3,399, our XPS 16 9640 test system costs less than the $3,999 configuration of the mostly maxed-out MacBook Pro 16 we tested at the end of last year but is still at the high-end of the premium laptop class. It offers the design and performance that's befits its price, however, and Dell's numerous customization options mean you can likely land on a configuration that meets your needs and budget. 

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How we test computers

The review process for laptops, desktops, tablets and other computerlike devices consists of two parts: performance testing under controlled conditions in the CNET Labs and extensive hands-on use by our expert reviewers. This includes evaluating a device's aesthetics, ergonomics and features. A final review verdict is a combination of both objective and subjective judgments. 

The list of benchmarking software we use changes over time as the devices we test evolve. The most important core tests we're currently running on every compatible computer include Primate Labs Geekbench 6, Cinebench R23, PCMark 10 and 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

A more detailed description of each benchmark and how we use it can be found on our How We Test Computers page. 

Geekbench 6 (multicore)

Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M3 Max, 2023) 21482Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 13250Dell XPS 16 9640 12855Alienware m16 R2 12793Acer Swift X 16 12473HP Spectre x360 16 11459
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

PCMark 10 Pro Edition

Acer Swift X 16 7645Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 7071Dell XPS 16 9640 6667HP Spectre x360 16 5789
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R23 (multicore)

Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M3 Max, 2023) 24056Alienware m16 R2 18404Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 17167Acer Swift X 16 16689Dell XPS 16 9640 14014HP Spectre x360 16 8096
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Alienware m16 R2 7073Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 5443Dell XPS 16 9640 5239Acer Swift X 16 4406HP Spectre x360 16 3669
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Online streaming battery drain test

Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M3 Max, 2023) 1263Dell XPS 16 9640 702HP Spectre x360 16 637Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 608Alienware m16 R2 602Acer Swift X 16 257
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Guardians of the Galaxy (High @ 1,920x1,080)

Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 144Alienware m16 R2 134Dell XPS 16 9640 124Acer Swift X 16 117HP Spectre x360 16 85
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Shadow of the Tomb Raider (Highest @ 1,920x1,080)

Alienware m16 R2 143Acer Swift X 16 119Dell XPS 16 9640 109Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 109HP Spectre x360 16 71
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Dell XPS 16 9640 Microsoft Windows 11 Home; Intel Core 7 Ultra 155H; 16GB DDR5 7,467MHz RAM; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070; 1TB SSD
Acer Swift X 16 Microsoft Windows 11 Home; AMD Ryzen 9 7940HS; 16GB DDR5 6,400MHz RAM; 6GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050; 1TB SSD
Alienware m16 R2 Microsoft Windows 11 Home; Intel Core 7 Ultra 155H; 16GB DDR5 5,600MHz RAM; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070; 1TB SSD
Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 Microsoft Windows 11 Home; Intel Core i7-13700H; 16GB DDR5 4,800MHz RAM; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060; 1TB SSD
HP Spectre x360 16 Microsoft Windows 11 Pro; Intel Core Ultra 7 155H; 16GB DDR5 RAM; 6GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050; 1TB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M3 Max, 2023) Apple MacOS Sonoma 14.1; Apple M3 Max (16-core CPU, 20-core GPU); 48GB unified memory; 1TB SSD