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Dell XPS 15 (2020) vs. ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2): Which is best?

Dell XPS 15 (2020) vs. ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2)
(Image credit: Future)

This face-off between the XPS 15 and ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a battle for dominance in one of the high-end market segments to see which is the 15-inch laptop supreme. Lenovo and Dell are two of the best-regarded brands in the business and both have put out strong options here.

The Dell XPS 15 (2020) has undergone some additional design changes this year to deliver an even more impressive 4K display to go with its 10th Gen Intel processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU and up to 64GB of RAM.

While the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme slimmed down to a mere 3.8-pounds with a similar complement of features, including a 4K display, Nvidia GeForce GTX GPU, up to 64GB of RAM and of course, the much-vaunted ThinkPad keyboard that is going to be a tough matchup for any laptop.

Only one laptop can claim victory in this arena, so here’s a look at how each laptop fared across seven different categories and our decision on which one, the XPS 15 or ThinkPad X1 Extreme, walks away the winner.

Dell XPS 15 (2020) vs. ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2): Price

Dell XPS 15 (2020) review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

While both of these laptops certainly fall into the premium tier, the Dell XPS 15 does at least offer a more reasonable starting point at $1,299 for the 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-10300H CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and Intel UHD Graphics. 

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme, by comparison, starts off at $1,721 for an Intel Core i5-9300H CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, but it does also include an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU.

Both laptops offer a massive range of upgrades, however, the XPS 15 is upgradeable to an Intel Core i9-10885H processor, 64GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti GPU and a 15.6-inch (3840 x 2400) InfinityEdge touchscreen for $3,399.99. 

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme can top it though at $4,643 without discounts for a model with the Intel Core i5-9750H CPU, 64GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q GPU and a 15.6-inch (3,840 x 2,160) OLED touchscreen.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 (2020)

Dell XPS 15 (2020) vs. ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2): Specs compared 

Dell XPS 15 (2020)ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2)
Price $1,299 ($2,399 as tested) $1,721 ($3,066 as tested)
CPU 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-10750H 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-9750H
RAM 32GB DDR4 2933MHz 32GB DDR4 2666MHz
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q / Intel UHD Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q
Storage 512GB SSD 1TB SSD
Display 15.6-inch UHD InfinityEdge Touchscreen 15.6-inch UHD OLED touchscreen
Ports USB Type-C, 2 Thunderbolt 3, SD card reader, headset/mic jack 2 Thunderbolt 3, 2 USB Type-A 3.1, HDMI 2.0, SD card reader, headset/mic jack, RJ45 Ethernet (requires adapter), optional smart card reader
Battery life 8:01 (tested) 5:28 (tested)
Dimensions 13.6 x 9.1 x 0.7-inches 14.2 x 9.7 x 0.7-inches
Weight 4.5-pounds 3.8-pounds

 Dell XPS 15 (2020) vs. ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2): Design 

Dell XPS 15 (2020) review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Both of these laptops offer a traditional clamshell laptop design and in the case of the Lenovo, it leans hard into the traditional with a look that captures the classic ThinkPad design perfectly.

That isn’t meant to be a criticism, the ThinkPad design is classic for a reason and Lenovo has updated it enough to keep this laptop modern-looking. Its 3.8-pound weight defies the slightly larger overall dimensions of this laptop when compared to the XPS 15 (2020). Materials are one feature that helps set the ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2) apart from its predecessors with a carbon-fiber weave on its lid blending nicely with the otherwise familiar minimalist and stealthy matte-black design with red accents.

(Image credit: Future)

There are just a few things that detract from the overall design of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2); the bezels are excessive for a laptop in this price range and seem particularly outdated when held up against the XPS 15. The recessed fingerprint reader and power buttons can be frustrating to find at times and while the appearance is great when you unbox it, it’s a bit of a fingerprint magnet.

Turning to the XPS 15, it also features a very traditional look with a CNC aluminum lid that bears a striking resemblance to a MacBook Pro 16-inch from the exterior, but on the inside things get a lot more interesting. The screen will be the first thing to grab your attention as the virtually bezel-free InfinityEdge display is even more astounding this year with bottom bezel now eliminated along with the rest. 

The carbon-fiber finish that surrounds the keyboard and massive trackpad gives the interior a nice premium look that also resists fingerprints well. While the XPS 15 (2020) is smaller than the ThinkPad Extreme X1 in every dimension save for the thickness, it is actually quite a bit heavier at 4.5 pounds compared to 3.8 pounds.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 (2020) 

 Dell XPS 15 (2020) vs. ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2): Ports

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Dell has fallen much harder into the USB Type-C-only craze, but it does at least offer an SD card reader and a combo headset/mic jack beyond its standard USB Type-C port and two Thunderbolt 3 ports. While this is at least a solid number of ports, it does mean that you will almost certainly need a USB-C hub or some USB-C accessories in your bag.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2)perhaps resembles the other extreme with a massive collection of ports, including two Thunderbolt 3 ports, two USB Type-A 3.1 ports, an SD card reader, HDMI 2.0, an RJ45 Ethernet dongle (adapter needed) and an optional smart card reader. 

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2)

Dell XPS 15 (2020) vs. ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2): Display

Dell XPS 15 (2020) review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Looking specifically at the 4K models for each laptop, both are fantastic options, but there is a clear winner.

The Thinkpad X1 Extreme has a slightly lower resolution at 3840 x 2160-pixels to the 3840 x 2400-pixels of the XPS 15. At this screen size, both are incredibly sharp, but you will get slightly more on the screen vertically with the Dell.

This is going to become a theme, but our colorimeter, which measures the sRGB color coverage of the display, showed an excellent result for the ThinkPad X1 Extreme at 163%, well above the 122% average. But it is up against the buzzsaw that is the 210% result for the XPS 15 (2020).

Brightness again goes in favor of the XPS 15 (2020) which maxed out at 418 nits compared to 384 nits for the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, which again bests the category average of 367 nits.

While the display specs alone would have clinched this one for the XPS 15, I have to mention the InfinityEdge display again as the virtually non-existent bezels do make it even more impressive looking.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 (2020)

Dell XPS 15 (2020) vs. ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2): Keyboard and Touchpad 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The keyboard on the XPS 15 (2020) has large keycaps that are spaced nicely and comfortable to type on. Our reviewer typed slightly faster than her typical average, but the ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2) is in another league, which is to be expected as it is essentially the calling card of the ThinkPad line. 

Our reviewer found the entire keyboard experience on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme to be top-notch, from the key shape to the click and bounce of the keys, calling it “the best in the business”. 

Turning to the touchpad, this is another story; the XPS 15 (2020) features an absolutely mammoth 5.9 x 3.5-inch touchpad that is responsive while doing a solid job at palm rejection to avoid its size being a hindrance. The 3.9 x 2.7-inch touchpad on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is, on the other hand, smaller than most, and while it performs well it doesn’t offer the same ease of use for gestures or swipes as the XPS 15 (2020).

Winner: Draw 

Dell XPS 15 (2020) vs. ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2): Performance 

Dell XPS 15 (2020) review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

This is another category where it is difficult to call one of the laptops a loser as both are excellent, but one did come out ahead in our testing. 

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme put up a solid result in the Geekbench 4.3 overall performance test with 23,533, but that does put it behind the Dell XPS 15 (2020) at 25,934, while still being well ahead of the premium laptop average of 17,203.

Video transcoding was considerably closer with the XPS 15 (2020) coming out on top by mere seconds. It converted a 4K video to 1080p in 10 minutes and 6 seconds compared with the 10:19 result for the Thinkpad X1 Extreme.

Given the 10th Gen Intel processor of the Dell XPS 15 (2020) compared to the 9th Gen Intel CPU in the ThinkPad X1 Extreme this result wasn’t surprising and again both are obviously excellent in this regard.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 (2020)

Dell XPS 15 (2020) vs. ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2): Battery Life

Dell XPS 15 (2020) review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

4K laptops don’t typically excel in terms of battery life and the ThinkPad X1 Extreme definitely fell victim to this problem in our testing with just 5 hours and 28 minutes of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits. 

The Dell XPS 15, on the other hand, bucked this trend with an impressive 8:01 in the same test, which doesn’t beat the 9:08 premium laptop average, but that includes numerous laptops with sub-4K resolution.

Winner: Dell XPS 15 (2020)

Dell XPS 15 (2020)ThinkPad X1 Extreme (Gen 2)
Price (15)1210
Design (15)1411
Ports (10)79
Display (15)1513
Keyboard and touchpad (15)1313
Performance (15)1312
Battery life (15)129
Total (100)8677

Overall winner 

Dell XPS 15 (2020) review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The Dell XPS 15 (2020) is the clear winner between these two laptops for the majority of users with a more affordable starting price and less expensive upgrades for those who want to max out the specs and turn it into a real performance monster. The 4K display is virtually unbeatable in every metric and the design is classic, but with a few nice modern touches. Given the display and performance, the over 8 hours of battery life is all the more impressive and enough to push things over the top for the XPS 15 (2020).

Of course, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is still an excellent laptop, finishing just behind the XPS 15 in a number of these categories and exceeding it in a few areas that might make it the better choice for some users. The keyboard is one of these differentiators. If you are someone who types thousands of words a day, the luxurious keyboard might be enough to sway you. And for travelers who hate the idea of an extra bag full of dongles, the large array of legacy ports on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme are a potential lifesaver.