Dell XPS 17 9720 (2022) Review: Creative, With a Side of Gaming
The big screen, powerful hardware and minimalist design recall the best parts of Apple's old 17-inch old MacBook Pro.
Updated July 11, 2022 4:00 a.m. PT
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Dan AckermanEditorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications.
"Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
ExpertiseI've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever.Credentials
Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Speaking of things that happened a long time ago, 2012 was when Apple discontinued the 17-inch MacBook Pro, and frankly there's still an audience out there for a big-screen 17-inch laptop with that same style and vibe -- a sharp, minimalist design wrapped around hardware that's creative-minded, but also great for students and business types.
One of the machines I use regularly is the 16-inch MacBook Pro, with the M1 Max CPU. It's a powerful (and powerfully expensive) laptop, but 16 inches still isn't 17 inches, so I was excited to spend some time with the latest XPS 17.
The least-expensive XPS 17 right now is $1,750 and includes a 12th-gen Intel Core i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD and a standard 1,920x1,080 display.
This particular configuration adds a lot of noteworthy upgrades to the CPU, graphics and other features. For $2,799 (currently – prices on Dell's website can shift frequently), you get a 12th-gen Intel Core i7, 32GB of RAM, 1TB of SSD storage and the top graphics option in the line right now, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU. The 16:10 touchscreen display has a 4K 3,840x2,400 resolution.
The biggest missing piece is probably a higher-res webcam, which has become ever more important in our Zoom meeting work-from-home era. Instead, the 720-resolution camera has added a discrete IR sensor for better overall camera performance. But note that the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro laptops, and even the upcoming new MacBook Air, have all upgraded to 1,080-resolution cameras, so it shouldn't be a big ask.
This hulking silver-gray tank of a laptop is built around the same design as the last few generations of this system. It's a CNC-machined aluminum chassis with carbon fiber on the inside. Despite its heft, I like that the lid can be lifted with one hand, or even by a single finger.
The thin bezel around the large screen minimizes any wasted space, even with the webcam tucked into the top border. Ports are on the thin side for a 17-inch laptop, with just 4 USB-C ports and an SD card reader. For HDMI or USB-A needs, you'll need an adapter or dongle.
Work and play
If you're investing in a big, expensive laptop like this, with CPU and GPU chops, it's probably out of professional interest. This will appeal to the Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere experts who are not already locked into Apple platforms.
The 4K display is a big help there, as is the taller 16:10 aspect ratio, which lets you fit more work into the screen at once. I threw some Photoshop projects at the system with no problem and appreciated the extra screen real estate.
Dell's keyboard and touchpad are considered excellent among Windows laptops and I've always liked the XPS versions. That said, the touchpad feels more floaty than Apple's best-in-class version.
But the XPS 17 has another trick for you -- it's also a decent stealth gaming laptop. The GPU options top out at the current-gen Nvidia 3060, so it's not going to match a similarly priced gaming laptop, but that GPU is fine for any current or upcoming game, with one important caveat -- you should dial most games down to 1,920x1,200 (FHD) resolution, or maybe 2,560x1,600 (QHD). These are a little different than the standard resolutions (like 1,920x1,080) you might be used to because this is a 16:10 display, rather than a 16:9 one.
In fact, the XPS 17 became my main gaming laptop for a while, not because it had the greatest gaming hardware, but because it ran games well enough while offering a great large-format screen.
True big screen laptops are rarer than ever, and 16-inch screens are usually the new 17-inch screens for most. If you're determined to find a 17-inch system that mixes the creativity of a MacBook Pro with mainstream gaming chops, the XPS 17 remains one of the only solutions that will satisfy both sides of that equation.
Dell XPS 17 9720
Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-12700H; 32GB DDR5 4,800MHz RAM; 6GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 graphics; 1TB SSD
MacBook Pro 16
Apple MacOS Monterey 12.4; Apple M1 Max 10-core chip; 64GB RAM; Apple 32-core GPU; 2TB SSD
Asus Zenbook Pro 16X OLED
Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-12700H; 16GB DDR5 RAM; 6GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 graphics; 1TB SSD
HP Spectre x360 16
Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-11390H; 16GB DDR4 3,200MHz RAM; 4GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 graphics; 1TB SSD
Dell Inspiron 16 Plus
Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-11800H; 16GB DDR4 3,200MHz RAM; 4GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 graphics; 512GB SSD