Sleek design with soft touch finish; Colorful and bright full HD screen; Solid performance and graphics; Good audio
Grainy webcam; Keyboard somewhat mushy;
An elegant design, beautiful full HD display and fast performance make the Dell XPS a compelling multimedia notebook.
Dell's XPS series of notebooks are known for high performance and high-end design. The Dell XPS 15 (starting at $1,299, $1,699 as tested) follows that tradition, placing a quad-core Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor and Nvidia graphics into a stylish chassis that's sure to draw comparisons to the MacBook Pro. Dell also throws in Waves MaxxAudio. But how does the XPS 15 stack up to the competition?
Design15-inch MacBook Pro (albeit a darker one). A chrome Dell insignia sits in the center of the silver machined aluminum lid instead of the backlit, half-eaten Apple logo. An thin band of silver aluminum wraps around the sides. The MacBook Pro similarities end there.
Inside you'll find a magnesium alloy deck with a matte black soft touch finish. This material not only looks cool, it feels comfortable on the wrists when typing. A black, backlit keyboard sits in a slightly recessed area in the center of the deck.
The rubberized motif continues on the bottom of the laptop. A gray matte soft touch band sits along the notebook's silicone underside surrounding a black soft touch panel with a small metal panel in the middle.
Although the design feels solid and premium, the XPS 15 is relatively hefty. It weighs 6 pounds and measures 14.6 x 9.8 x 0.91 inches. Both the Acer Aspire V3-571G-9435 (0.99-1.3 inches and 5.8 pounds) and the HP Envy 15 (1.1 inches, 5.8 pounds) are thicker but lighter. The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display is lighter and slimmer, measuring 0.71 inches and weighing 4.5 pounds, as is the regular 15-inch MB Pro (.95 inches, 5.6 pounds).
When we watched a 1080p trailer for Skyfall, details like the stubble on his beard were sharp. Better still, the display offered wide viewing angles; colors remained true as we moved as much as 90 degrees to the right and left of center.
With a display brightness of 323 lux, the XPS 15 outshone the 260 lux mainstream category average as well as the MacBook Pro (223 lux), HP Envy 15 (243 lux) and Acer Aspire V3 (212 lux). However, the display's glossiness was a distraction at times, reflecting everything from the lights to ourselves.
When we took the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we hit a word rate of 47 wpm with a 0 percent error rate. That's pretty close to our usual 50 wpm with a 1 percent error rate.
When making selections the touchpad provided strong tactile feedback with a reassuring click. Our only nitpick is that the pad got stuck when we accidentally placed the edge of our left palm on the pad while trying to navigate with our right index finger.
After running a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes the notebook's touchpad measured 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys and the notebook's underside measured 86 and 89 degrees. The hottest point of the notebook was the small metal panel on the bottom of the laptop that measured 92 degrees. However, this was below our 95 degree comfort threshold. In fact, we used the XPS 15 in our laps for over an hour in total comfort.
The Dell XPS 15 has some serious hardware inside its sleek silver-and-black chassis. This machine comes with a quad-core 2.1-GHz Intel Core i7-3612QM processor, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive with 32GB mSATA SSD and an Nvidia GeForce GT 640M GPU with 2GB of VRAM, the XPS 15 notched 3,599 on PCMark07. That's 1,269 points above the mainstream category average. The Dell even outgunned MSI's 15-inch gaming notebook, the GT60, which scored 3,336.
The XPS 15's 32GB mSATA SSD booted Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) in 46 seconds, slightly faster than the 55 second category average. The Aspire V3 and its 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive matched the average, while the GT60 took 53 seconds.
This notebook duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 2 minutes and 17 seconds for a transfer rate of 37.1 MBps, slightly faster than the 36MBps average. The the Aspire V3 notched a sluggish 19.6 MBps and the GT60's dual hard drive reached 74.8 MBps.
During the OpenOffice spreadsheet macro test, the XPS 15 took 4 minutes and 54 seconds to match 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses. That's 1:23 faster than the 6:17 average. However, the Aspire V3 turned in a faster time of 4:35.
During the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the XPS 15 notched a frame rate of 57 frames per second with everything maxed out at full HD resolution. The Aspire V3 turned in a higher 78 fps, but that was at a lowly 1366 x 768 pixels. If you flip the settings to auto on the Dell you'll see a sky-high 113 fps at full resolution.
When we played the more taxing "Batman: Arkham City," the machine managed a brisk 36 fps at 1366 x 768 with the settings on low, but we got a barely playable 28 fps when we upped the resolution to 1920 x 1080. You can forget about maxing everything out, as we saw only 13 fps. A dedicated gaming rig like the MSI GT60 got 47 fps with the settings on high at 1366 x 768, thanks to its higher-end 3GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 670M graphics card.
The XPS 15 delivered solid results on our synthetic benchmarks. The laptop registered 1,801 on 3DMark11, far above the 997 mainstream category average. However, the Acer Aspire V3-571G-9435, which also has a Nvidia GeForce GT 640M GPU with 2GB of VRAM, scored 1,929. Here, too, the Acer probably benefitted from its lower-res display. In Boot Camp mode the MacBook Air with Retina Display beat the XPS 15, scoring 2,275.
Software and Warranty
The Dell XPS 15 is blissfully free of the bloatware found on other systems. Dell Support Center is there to take care of the majority of our maintenance and diagnostic needs with PC Checkup and Backup and Recovery. Dell Webcam Central offers a number of whimsical scenes and effects such as an ominous storm cloud background with flashes of lightning.
There's also MaxxAudio-powered Dell Audio control panel that comes with a number of presets for the ideal listening experience.
Third-party software includes Microsoft Office Starter, Skype, Adobe Reader X, Windows Live and a 30-day free trial of McAfee SecurityCenter. The Dell XPS 15 comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty. See how the company fared in our Best & Worst brands report.
In many ways, the XPS 15 is a good MacBook Pro alternative. You would have to pay $200 more to get a 15-inch MacBook Pro sans Retina Display with a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i7 CPU, Nvidia GeForce GT 650M GPU and a full HD screen. We prefer the keyboard on the Envy 15 and its Beats Audio, but HP doesn't offer that 15-inch system with a 2GB graphics card like this Dell.
Shoppers on a tighter budget can get similar graphics performance, but without the 1080p display, from the $849 Acer Aspire V3-571G-9435. And gamers should gravitate towards the MSI GT60 for $1,599. However, if you want a premium multimedia notebook, the Dell XPS is a very good and well-rounded choice.
|CPU||2.1GHz Intel Core i7-3612QM processor|
|Operating System||MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|RAM Upgradable to||16GB|
|Hard Drive Size||750GB + 32GB mSATA SSD|
|Hard Drive Speed||7,200rpm|
|Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive + mSATA SSD|
|Optical Drive Speed||8X|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce GT 640M|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235|
|Touchpad Size||3.9 x 2.8 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Kensington Lock|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Combo Headphone/Mic Jack|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini DisplayPort|
|Card Slots||3-1 card reader|
|Warranty/Support||1-year Limited Hardware Warranty|
|Size||14.6 x 9.8 x 0.91|