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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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Written by  Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman Editorial 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
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Dell XPS 17 9720
8.2/10 CNET Score
$2,799 at Dell
8.2/ 10
SCORE

Dell XPS 17 9720

$2,799 at Dell

Pros

  • Big, high-res screen
  • Enough graphics power for creative and mainstream gaming
  • Slim design for such a large laptop

Cons

  • Low-res webcam
  • Minimal ports

If Apple isn't going to make a 17-inch MacBook Pro, then someone else is going to have to. That's what I always think when I see one of Dell's big-screen XPS 17 laptops. 

The oldest XPS 17 review of mine I could find dates back to 2011, although I've been covering this particular product line (or its identically named antecedents) since at least 2007

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. 

Dell XPS 17 9720 (2022)
Dan Ackerman/CNET

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. 

Dell XPS 17 9720 (2022)

The XPS 17 next to a 16-inch MacBook Pro. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

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.

Dell XPS 17 9720 (2022)

Ports on the MacBook Pro and XPS 17 compared. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

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.

Because my time testing this laptop overlapped with Valve's annual Steam Summer Sale, I had plenty of gaming opportunities with it. Among the recent games I played on the XPS 17 were medieval multiplayer game Chivalry 2, Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters and turn-based RPG King Arthur: Knight's Tale. In general games chugged at higher resolutions but ran great at either FHD or usually QHD. 

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. 

Geekbench 5 (multicore)

Dell XPS 17 9720 13241MacBook Pro 16 12627Asus Zenbook Pro 16X OLED 12476Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7601HP Spectre x360 16 5447
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R23 (multicore)

Dell XPS 17 9720 16152Asus Zenbook Pro 16X OLED 14958MacBook Pro 16 12365Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 10412HP Spectre x360 16 6498
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Wild Life Extreme

Asus Zenbook Pro 16X OLED 12892Dell XPS 17 9720 12615Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 9380HP Spectre x360 16 7508
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

System Configurations

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