Dell has fully redesigned the Precision laptop, and by redesign, I mean take a Dell XPS 15 and stuff workstation-level components inside of it. The Precision 5540 takes the 15.6-inch, 4K OLED display, slim design and powerful performance from the XPS 15. Unfortunately, the Precision doesn't inherit the XPS' amazing battery life, but the Precision 5540 is one of the best workstations on the market. And if you love the XPS 15, you'll love this workhorse version of it.
Editor's Note: We previously stated that the Precision 5540 was not Mil-Spec tested, which was incorrect, and we have corrected the following review accordingly.
Dell Precision 5540 price and configuration options
The base model of the Dell Precision 5540 costs $1,219 and comes with an Intel Core i5-9400H processor, an Intel UHD 630 GPU, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200-rpm HDD and a 1080p display. I tested the $3,197 version, which comes with an Intel Core i9-9980HK CPU, Nvidia Quadro T2000 GPU with 4GB of VRAM, 32GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 4K OLED display. You can also max this baby out at a meaty $4,420, upping it to an Intel Xeon E-2276M CPU, 64GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and a 2TB HDD.
CPU: Intel Core i9-9980HK
GPU: Nvidia Quadro T2000
Storage: 512GB SSD
Display: 15.6-inch, 4K OLED
Size: 14.06 x 9.27 x 0.45~0.66 inches
Weight: 4.4 pounds
If this isn't your speed, check out our top cheap gaming laptops under $1,000, which can double as cheap workstations if you're on a budget.
Dell Precision 5540 design
The Dell Precision 5540's chassis is a carbon copy of the Dell XPS 15, which lets it sport a classy aluminum design, but it also isn't very original. Its hood is simply silver and home to a glossy Dell logo.
Opening it reveals a black carbon-fiber deck with a small keyboard (minus a numpad) and superthin bezels on the display with the webcam on top. If you love the XPS 15's design, you'll love the Precision 5540, but if you hate it — well.
At 4.4 pounds and 14.06 x 9.27 x 0.45~0.66 (0.88, counting the feet) inches, the Precision 5540 is a relatively light and thin 15-inch laptop. However, the MSI WS65 9TM (4.3 pounds, 14.1 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches) and the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 (4 pounds, 14.2 x 9.7 x 0.7 inches) came in with a smaller footprint, while the HP ZBook 15 G5 (5.7 pounds, 14.8 x 10.4 x 1.0 inches).
Dell Precision 5540 ports
The Dell Precision 5540 has the same number of ports as the Dell XPS 15, so it's a decent amount, but there should be more for a workstation.
On the left side, there's the power jack, one USB 3.1 port, an HDMI 2.0 port, one Thunderbolt 3 port and a headphone jack, while the right side features a lock slot, one USB 3.1 port and an SD card slot.
Dell Precision 5540 security and durability
The Dell Precision 5540 passed 15 MIL-STD 810G tests, which means it can withstand extreme temperatures, altitudes, sand, dust, humidity, shock and more.
Dell Precision 5540 display
In the Stranger Things, ahem, I mean Ghostbusters: Afterlife trailer, Finn Wolfhard's blue shirt popped on the Precision 5540's screen. Even though the quick shot of the diner was dimly lit, I could spot the details of the coffee pots on the counter. And that 4K screen made those doughnut holes look so damn crisp and delicious that I was actually hungry right then.
Our colorimeter clocked the Precision 5540's display for 200% of the sRGB color gamut, which flies past the 165% workstation average, the ThinkPad P1's 179% and the ZBook 15's 112%. The MSI WS65 came in at a more colorful 251%.
At 384 nits, the Precision 5540's panel is awesomely bright, skidding past the 332-nit category average and the ThinkPad P1's 285 nits. However, the MSI WS65 and the ZBook 15 killed it on brightness, with 393 nits and 631 nits, respectively.
Dell Precision 5540 keyboard and touchpad
Like the XPS 15's keyboard, the Precision 5540's keys were relatively comfortable to type on, but still a little too shallow to be satisfying. The keyboard backlighting is white and fairly bright. Despite having copious space, there's no number pad on the deck. That's something that you expect to see on a workstation.
I scored 71 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is around my 70-wpm average. The carbon-fiber palm rests makes typing comfortable, but it takes a bit to get used to the keys, as my fingers always felt close to bottoming out.
The 4.1 x 3.1-inch touchpad could be smoother, but its decent overall and offers a nice click. Thanks to its Windows 10 Precision drivers, two-finger scrolling and three-finger tabbing was responsive. I would still take a gaming mouse instead of a trackpad.
Dell Precision 5540 audio
The Dell Precision 5540's forward-firing speakers were decent, but they could've been louder and they didn't boast a lot of bass. I listened to Rise Against's "Prayer of the Refugee," and the opening electric guitar strums were bright and clear, but the percussion or bass guitar is barely audible when the guitar is playing. The vocals sound crisp, but when all of the instruments are playing together, they start to sound muddy.
The Waves MaxxAudio app helped a little bit, but didn't do enough to make the sound significantly better. It had a full equalizer as well as dials for details, bass and width, but even when I turned the bass up to the max, I could barely catch any. Need great sound? I would consider taking a look at our best noise-cancelling headphones page.
Dell Precision 5540 performance
Packed into the Dell Precision 5540 is an Intel Core i9-9980HK processor and 32GB of RAM that easily powered through 40 Google Chrome tabs and five 1080p YouTube videos while Spotify played in the background.
On the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance test, the Dell Precision 5540 scored an awesome 29,023, flying above the workstation average (23,589). It even crushed the MSI WS65's Core i7-9750H (22,876), the ThinkPad P1's Xeon E-2176M (18,782) and the ZBook 15's Core i7-8850H (22,013).
The Precision 5540 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in just 8 minutes and 30 seconds on our HandBrake benchmark, nailing the 10:12 category average and sliding past the MSI WS65 (10:36), the ThinkPad P1 (9:45) and the ZBook 15 (9:53).
Dell’s 512GB SSD copied 4.97GB of data in just 7 seconds, translating to 727 megabytes per second, which is relatively fast, but still below the 1,226 MBps workstation average. However, the MSI WS65 (727 MBps), ThinkPad P1 (848 MBps) and the ZBook 15 (508 MBps) didn’t make the cut either.
Dell Precision 5540 graphics
The Dell Precision 5540's Nvidia Quadro T2000 GPU with 4GB of VRAM scored 7,562 on the 3DMark Fire Strike synthetic graphics benchmark, which falls short of the 11,801 workstation average. It beat the Quadro P2000 GPU in the ThinkPad P1 (6,044) and the ZBook 15 (6,121) but couldn't top the MSI WS65's Quadro RTX 5000 (15,364).
On the Dirt 3 benchmark, the Precision 5540 nailed 206 frames per second, besting the 177-fps category average and the ThinkPad P1 (190 fps). However, it was surpassed by the ZBook 15 (235 fps) and the MSI WS65 (222 fps).
Dell Precision 5540 battery life
While the Dell Precision 5540 mimics most things about the XPS 15, it didn't take any pointers on battery life. After the laptop continuously surfed the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, the battery lasted only 6 hours and 20 minutes, which slides past the workstation average (6:05), but it could be better. The ThinkPad P1 (4:16) did significantly worse, while the MSI WS65 (6:57), and the ZBook 15 (8:56) surpassed the Precision 5540.
Dell Precision 5540 webcam
Most 720p laptop webcams are bad, and this one is no different. The test shot I took was blurry from the hair on my head to the stubble on my face. The contrast was also way off, as the lights above me washed out most of the ceiling. Even my skin tone was washed out, as everything was much whiter than it was, and my face was also a little too red. I recommend picking up a better shooter from our best external laptop webcams page.
Dell Precision 5540 heat
The Precision 5540 is relatively cool under pressure. After it streamed a 15-minute 1080p video, the underside hit 99 degrees Fahrenheit, which is only slightly above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The center of the keyboard and touchpad hit 100 and 87 degrees, respectively. Meanwhile, the hottest the machine got was the lower-left underside, which reached 100 degrees.
Dell Precision 5540 software and warranty
Dell's most important app on the Precision 5540 is the Dell Precision Optimizer, which lets you optimize certain apps from Adobe or Autodesk to get a slight boost in performance. The app will also let you run analytics to determine what's bottlenecking your CPU and GPU. On top of that, the app has a System Updates section, which'll keep your laptop up to date.
Dell also stuffs the Precision 5540 with Dell Power Manager (battery management), Dell Command (updates your system) and Dell Digital Delivery (delivers updates to Dell apps). Counting Windows 10 bloatware, you also get Bubble Witch 3 Saga, Candy Crush Friends and Hulu.
While the Dell Precision 5540 kills it with its performance, vivid OLED display and compact footprint, its design is still just a cut-and-paste of the XPS 15 and the battery life could be better.
If you're looking for workstation at a similar price, consider picking up the MSI WS65 9TM ($3,499), which boasts stronger graphical power, a more colorful display and longer battery life.
But overall, the Dell Precision 5540 is a solid workstation for those who are a fan of the XPS line.