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Dell XPS 17 (2021) review

The best 17-inch laptop retains the throne

Dell XPS 17 (2021) review
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Laptop Mag)

Our Verdict

The Dell XPS 17 offers excellent power on the multitasking and gaming front, with great audio and a comfortable keyboard, but the battery life could be better.

For

  • Powerful overall and gaming performance
  • Sleek, attractive design
  • Excellent speakers
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Runs cool

Against

  • Display could be more vivid
  • Below-average battery life

Laptop Mag Verdict

The Dell XPS 17 offers excellent power on the multitasking and gaming front, with great audio and a comfortable keyboard, but the battery life could be better.

Pros

  • + Powerful overall and gaming performance
  • + Sleek, attractive design
  • + Excellent speakers
  • + Comfortable keyboard
  • + Runs cool

Cons

  • - Display could be more vivid
  • - Below-average battery life

Bigger is better, particularly when it comes to the Dell XPS 17. Since its reemergence onto the premium laptop market, the big brother of the XPS 15 and 13 has flexed its muscle at every turn, serving up big heaps of performance, a head-turning 17-inch display, and excellent audio. And it has done so without being any bigger or heavier than your average 15-inch laptop. It’s big alright, but big where it counts, earning it a place on our best laptops page. 

However, it’s also pretty big in the pricing department with a $2,949 sticker (for our configuration);  that’s sure to leave all but the most deep-pocketed shoppers clutching their wallets. And while all that power and a super high-res display is tantalizing, it does put a major dent in the endurance. But if ridiculous power in an easy-to-manage form factor is your deal, the Dell XPS 17’s shortcomings are mere quibbles. 

Dell XPS 17 pricing and configurations

I quickly learned that all the power under the XPS 17’s hood comes at a steep price –– to the tune of $2,949. My review unit has a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i7-11800H processor with 32GB of RAM, a 1TB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD, an integrated Intel UHD Graphics GPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM and a 17-inch, 3840 x 2400 touchscreen display. If you want the Core i9-11900H processor, it’ll cost you $2,599, but you’ll only get half the RAM with a 1920 x 1200-pixel non-touch display.

The laptop’s base model is $1,549 and has a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i5-11400H processor, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD, an Intel UHD Graphics GPU and a 17-inch, 1920 x 1200-pixel non-touch panel.

The Dell XPS 17 can also be configured with up to a 4TB SSD or an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 GPU depending on your processor of choice.

Dell XPS 17 design

The XPS 17 continues to be a one-trick pony. But damn, if it isn’t a pretty good trick. Once again, the premium system is clad in an anodized aluminum lid colored platinum silver. The Dell logo sits in the middle of the lid, gleaming triumphantly amidst the matte finish. The chamfered sides of the notebook match the emblem’s shine.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Opening the lid reveals the familiar black interior made of carbon fiber. The massive touchpad takes up a sizable portion of the palm rest, and above it is a full-size keyboard nestled between two speakers. The power button sits in the top-right corner and doubles as the fingerprint scanner. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Weighing 5.3 pounds and measuring 14.7 x 9.8 x 0.8 inches, the XPS 17 is the big kid on the block. Both the LG Gram 17 (5.1 pounds, 14.9 x 10.2 x 0.7 inches) and 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro (4.3 pounds, 14.1 x 9.7 x 0.6 inches) are slimmer and lighter. 

Dell XPS 17 security

The XPS 17 doesn’t have much in the way of security measures, but the fingerprint reader embedded in the power button and the IR, Windows Hello-compliant webcam is more than what its competitors offer. 

Dell XPS 17 ports

You’ll need a dongle with the XPS 17 as it only has a quad of Thunderbolt 4 ports to plug into along with a headset jack and a full SD card reader. 

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Dell XPS 17 (2021) review

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Dell XPS 17 (2021) review

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Thankfully, Dell is kind enough to ship a USB-C-to-USB-A adapter with the laptop unlike some other company I know (coughs, looking at you Apple). 

Dell XPS 17 display

Similar to its smaller siblings, the Dell XPS 17’s display is ensconced in Dell’s InfinityEdge design with its barely-there bezels. The thin bezels allowed Dell to squeeze a 17-inch display with a 16:10 aspect ratio into a 14.7-inch body. In layman’s terms: little bezels means more screen. 

Watching King Richard on the 3840 x 2400-pixel resolution screen yielded incredible detail like the molding in the cabinetry as well as the delicate creases in actors Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton's neon color-blocked windbreakers. Speaking of neon, the girls’ hot pink and orange jackets were the stars of the scene making everything else look dim by comparison. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

However, I was surprised to discover that the XPS 17’s panel only measured 77.6% on the DCI-P3 color gamut scale. It’s below the 82.9% premium laptop average as well as the MacBook Pro’s 80.7%. The Gram 17 proved to be the most vivid at 109.3%

The XPS 17 got some serious revenge during the brightness test, outshining the competition with a blinding 464 nits, easily surpassing the 388-nit average. The MacBook Pro and Gram 17 reached 429 nits and 382 nits, respectively. 

The 10-finger capacitive touchscreen offers a seamless, agile response, keeping pace with me as I scribbled “Laptop Mag” across the panel in my sometimes legible cursive. And although the display is mighty shiny, the anti-reflective coating drastically cut down on any reflection or glare even when I worked outside. 

Dell XPS 17 audio

Knock, knock. Who’s there? The Dell XPS 17’s top-firing quad-speaker system which is made up of a pair of primaries and tweeters. When I listened to Lil Nas X’s “Industry Baby,” I heard a slight bass thump even when the Waves MaxxAudioPro software’s equalizer was off. When I switched to the Hip-Hop Hard preset, the thump increased. Is the bass going to rival a pair of computer speakers? No, but it’ll blow most laptop speakers out of the water. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

As for the rest of the soundstage, the trumpets blared without drowning out the high hat or snares and the vocals were nice and clean and filled my smallish living room/dining room space. 

Dell XPS 17 keyboard

The Dell XPS 17’s island-style keyboard is big, well-spaced and a bit pillowy, narrowly avoiding mushyville. I easily tapped 75 words per minute on the 10fastfingers typing test. As usual, the bright, white backlighting easily let me typing in the gloom of my bedroom with the lights turned out and the blackout shade drawn. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Just like its predecessor, the 2021 XPS 17 has a 3.5 x 6-inch touchpad which, thankfully, has great palm rejection. And when I wasn’t perusing through websites, Windows 10 gestures like pinch-zoom and three-finger tap were quick and responsive. 

Dell XPS 17 performance

There can only be one. And that one is without a doubt the Dell XPS 17 with its 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-11800H processor, 32GB of RAM and 1TB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD. I had 50 Google Chrome tabs open with some running Twitch and YouTube while others ran Google Docs and Sheets with a few open to random news sites and Tweetdeck. The laptop churned on unaffected. 

The premium laptop also tore through our synthetic benchmarks including Geekbench 5.4, our overall performance test where it reached 8,929, crushing the 4,813 category average as well as the Gram 17’s (Core i7-1165G7 CPU) 4,458. 

The laptop-turned-steamroller continued pushing through on the Handbrake test, taking only 7 minutes and 21 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p. It smoked the 15:55 average and the Gram 17’s 23:28. However, the MacBook Pro wasn’t too far behind with 8:00.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

And the XPS 17 had an 843.9 megabytes per second transfer rate, cooking the Gram 17’s (1TB M.2 2280 SSD) 683.2MBps and the 618.8 premium laptop average. 

Dell XPS 17 gaming and graphics

The Dell XPS 17 did not come to play games. Oh wait, maybe it did. Armed with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM, the premium laptop can also play AAA titles at a solid framerate. And when you’re not gaming or doing something graphically demanding, the laptop will switch over to its Intel UHD Graphics via Nvidia’s Optimus technology. 

The notebook hit 101 frames per second on the Sid Meyer VI 1080p benchmark, stomping the 29 fps premium laptop average and the Gram 17’s (Intel Iris Xe Graphics) 24 fps. 

On the Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark, the XPS 17 notched 61 fps, sailing past the 45-fps category average. The framerate dropped to 18 fps at 4K, matching the average. 

During the Grand Theft Auto V test, the XPS 17 reached 74 fps at 1080p, beating the 69-fps average. The XPS 17 eked out the win with 35 fps on 4K compared to the 30-fps average. 

When we ran the Far Cry New Dawn benchmark, the XPS 17 achieved 59 fps, breezing past the 55-fps category average. On 4K, the XPS 17 scored 29 fps, surprisingly falling short of the 44-fps average. 

Dell XPS 17 battery life

Power and a super-high res display do not bode well for any laptop’s battery life. And so it goes for the Dell XPS 17 which only lasted 7 hours on our battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. That is much shorter than the 10:55 of the MacBook Pro and the premium laptop average. However, don’t be surprised if the 1920 x 1200-pixel iteration of the laptop lasts much, much longer. 

The Gram 17 was the last laptop standing with an impressive 14:00, completely lapping the XPS 17.

Dell XPS 17 heat

Ninety-five degrees, no more, no less. After running a fullscreen HD video for 15 minutes, the touchpad, center of the keyboard and undercarriage all measured 95 degrees Fahrenheit, matching our comfort threshold. 

Dell XPS 17 webcam

The Dell XPS 17’s 720p webcam is passable for video conferencing. If you’re looking for sharp detail with color accuracy, you’ll want to check out our best webcams page. In my test shots, my muted mustard blouse was brighter than usual while, out of my blue, purple and pink locs, only the latter hue showed up with everything else looking like nondescript stringy blobs. 

Dell XPS 17 software and warranty

The bloatware is almost non-existent on the Dell XPS 17. It’s a welcome absence that makes room for manufacturer-branded software such as the Dell Power Manager to manage power profiles or Digital Delivery to keep your software up-to-date and restore it in case of a crash or system wipe. Premier Color is there for screen calibration while Customer Connect comes in handy should you need to troubleshoot. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

And since you have an Nvidia GPU, the XPS 17 has Killer Control Center to prioritize network bandwidth usage and Nvidia GeForce Experience to optimize your gaming.

There is some bloatware courtesy of Microsoft in the form of Twitter, Fishdom and Cooking Fever. The laptop also comes with a 20GB of free Dropbox storage for a year. 

The Dell XPS 17 ships with a one-year hardware warranty with onsite and in-Home service after remote diagnosis. See how Dell fared during our annual special reports: Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands.

Bottom line

Sometimes a simple spec change is all that’s needed to keep you at the top of the heap. Such is the case with the Dell XPS 17. Thanks to its 11th Gen Intel processor and 30-series Nvidia GPU, the premium system has more than enough power to keep even its fiercest competitors struggling to keep up. And it doesn’t hurt that the laptop has a large, bright display, a great pair of speakers, and a comfy keyboard. 

However, for $2,949, I wish the display was more vivid and the battery life leaves something to desire. If you’re on the hunt for longevity with comparable power, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is the way to go (although you might want to hold off until Apple’s next event). If you’re searching for an ultra-lightweight system with endurance, the LG Gram 17 is your laptop. But if you’re looking for the Cadillac of premium laptops, you’ll be hard-pressed to outdo the Dell XPS 17. 

Sherri L. Smith
Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for Laptopmag.com since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.