Dell XPS 15 £650
25th Nov 2010 | 15:39
Dell's well-built high-performance machine offers stunning value for money
Dell XPS 15 review: Overview
With a name like Xtreme Performance System, you know just what you're getting from Dell's XPS range. The XPS series has been around a while now but the latest Dell XPS 15 incarnation is one of the best yet, boasting incredible power, some impressive features and a commendably solid build.
It's natural to assume that the best laptops will strip your wallet bare, and for truly great performance you'd need to throw down a grand or more. However, the Dell XPS 15 has a specification including a speedy Intel Core i5 processor and a dedicated Nvidia graphics card, yet the price is a mere £650.
Most of the other mid-range Core i5 laptops we've seen lately, such as the Packard Bell TX86 and the Toshiba Satellite L650, are lacking a dedicated GPU. The closest we've seen with this sort of specification is the Medion Akoya P6625, which features an ATI graphics card.
The Dell XPS 15 has a premium design, with a light metallic finish to the plastic lid and a darker brushed aluminium surface inside. This is definitely a laptop you'd be proud to show off in public.
The only quirk to the XPS 15's design is the rear end of the chassis, which sticks out an inch or so behind the display. The effect is a little strange, especially when the lid is closed. We also would have preferred a slightly slimmer model, because the 40mm thickness makes the XPS 15 a little bulky.
Still, we found the chassis to be solid throughout with no weak points, which adds to the premium feel and makes the XPS 15 a good laptop for lugging around on long trips in backpacks and cases. Factor in the 2.8kg weight and 287-minute battery life and we had no concerns with carrying the XPS 15 around all day, even without the charger.
We're suckers for a good backlit keyboard, and the XPS 15 didn't let us down. Not only do you get a pleasing glow from beneath the keys, but the typing action is firm and the keys are perfectly sized for touch-typing. However, the travel is a little shallow and spreadsheet fans will despair at the lack of a numeric keypad.
The touchpad is just as usable thanks to its generous stretched area and two firm mouse buttons. The pad can easily be deactivated if required.
Dell XPS 15 review: Specifications
The Dell XPS 15 is built for play as well as work, and an essential part of any entertainment laptop is the screen. A widescreen 15.6-inch display is in place here and is definitely a highlight.
Although the XPS 15's 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution is nothing special, and doesn't make the most of high-definition films, we found contrast levels were superb with truly black blacks. Colours are also realistically reproduced which brings photographs and video to life.
The true widescreen aspect ratio is what we expect of mid- to high-end laptops these days, perfect not just for watching films, but for working on documents side-by-side also. The XPS 15's display is bright enough to make working late a more comfortable experience, but the reflective Super-TFT coating is a pain in bright conditions and means fiddling with your accounts or watching DVDs should be conducted indoors.
The XPS 15 has some great features for a mid-range laptop, including 500GB of storage. Not only that, but the hard drive spins at 7,200 revolutions per minute (compared to the standard 5,400RPM), which makes a real difference when copying folders, opening applications and so on.
We also enjoyed the XPS 15's HD webcam, which captures your mug in glorious 720p. Not so good for hosting a web chat when you're hungover or generally disheveled – we recommend dimming the lights first.
Port lovers will rejoice to hear the XPS 15 has tons of them. USB 3.0 ports enable speedy communication with compatible devices, and an eSATA port is also at hand for even faster data exchange with external storage devices.
The 9-in-1 memory card reader offers considerably more flexibility than the usual card readers we see. There's no VGA port on the XPS 15 for hooking up an external monitor, but you do get an HDMI socket and a rare DisplayPort also.
Networking is similarly strong, with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet on board for the fastest possible wireless and wired connections.
Dell XPS 15 review: Performance
For the XPS 15, Dell opted for an Intel Core i5 processor running at 2.53GHz, and the power it affords is truly staggering for a mid-range laptop. We witnessed no slowdown at all, even with several applications running at once, so you can comfortably browse the web while playing your MP3 collection and running applications such as virus scanners in the background.
There are very few laptops at this price that can offer such strong performance, with the Packard Bell TX86 and the Toshiba Satellite L650 being two of the notable few.
We were also impressed by the dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT 420M graphics card, with 1GB of video memory. Most manufacturers would make do with integrated graphics, good enough for watching movies and little more. However, the XPS 15 allows you to play even the latest games thanks to its support for DirectX 11.
You will need to turn down detail levels on some of the more demanding titles, or else suffer chugging frame rates during particularly fierce battles. However, it's great to have the option to play those games at this price.
Another benefit of the XPS 15's graphical spec is Nvidia's Optimus technology, which basically switches between the dedicated GPU and the Intel integrated graphics depending on the applications you're running. The switch is performed automatically and can also be configured manually if desired.
The result is extended battery life when you're not running graphically intensive titles on the XPS 15. As mentioned previously, we managed 287 minutes of life away from the mains, which is more than we'd expect from a laptop with this much power.
If you wish to further extend battery life, there's a touch-sensitive button above the XPS 15's keyboard that opens the Windows Mobility Center, where you can change the display brightness, toggle wireless networking and more.
Dell is also making a big deal of its built-in JBL speakers with Waves MaxxAudio technology, and after testing it out on the XPS 15 we can see why. Sound quality and maximum volume are highly impressive for a laptop, definitely much better than the tinny efforts we usually see (or rather hear). We still prefer dedicated speakers or headphones when listening to music, but they'll do very nicely in a pinch.
Dell XPS 15 review: Conclusion
Dell's XPS 15 is a mid-range entertainment machine that has an impressive specification given the asking price. We'd have thought it too good to be true if it wasn't for Dell's excellent track record with laptops, and the XPS 15 certainly didn't disappoint.
Where to start? The chassis is one of the most solid we've seen at this price and, at under 3kg, can realistically be carried around in a bag quite comfortably. Dell has drilled tons of ports into the sides, including a 9-in-1 memory card reader, USB 3.0 and eSATA ports, and even a rare DisplayPort. Storage is fast and plentiful.
Even better is the performance, which offers tremendous value for money. The XPS 15's Intel Core i5 processor is powerful enough to comfortably handle extensive multi-tasking, while the Nvidia graphics card can run the latest games.
Battery life does not suffer as a result, mostly thanks to Nvidia's Optimus technology which shuts down the dedicated GPU when not in use.
Sound and picture quality are also strong, thanks to the bright and colourful Super-TFT display and the built-in JBL speakers. Watching movies on the move has rarely been bettered at this price.
Although the XPS 15's display is bright and vibrant, it isn't quite as sharp as we'd have liked. The surface is also highly reflective, a real annoyance when used outdoors.
We did like the design of the XPS 15, but the chassis is a little bulky and that jutting rear end does look a little strange. Still, when you consider how well built this laptop is, it's a minor quibble.
Anyone looking for a high-powered entertainment laptop but restrained by their budget will find the Dell XPS 15 a perfect companion. With excellent performance, strong build quality, a colourful display and surprisingly powerful audio, this mini machine can effortlessly keep the whole family amused.
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