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Dell XPS 15 (2017) review

Dell took what was arguably a best-in-class 15-inch Windows notebook and made it even better. It retains the line’s terrific screen, premium build, svelte design and full feature set, boosting it for 2017 with the latest processors from Intel and Nvidia.

It’s more traditional and certainly a lot more staid than multipurpose hybrids models such as the HP Spectre x360, but it makes up for that with the power and features you can’t really cram into a hybrid.

I also think it eclipses the current (2016) MacBook Pro in most respects, including using it for photo and graphics work as well as gaming. If the choice is between the Mac’s only standout features — the clever Touch Bar and almost absurdly large touchpad — and the Dell’s far better features, specs and price, I’ll take the Dell any time.

Those features include a 4K touchscreen display with hardware calibration support, 100 percent Adobe RGB and most of the DCI-P3 coverage and excellent accuracy. Also included is a decent complement of connectors, an SD card reader and much stronger specs — all for less money than the MacBook Pro.

While it’s a little bigger and heavier than the MacBook Pro, it’s not so in any significant way. A bigger tradeoff is battery life, but that’s a price you pay for more powerful components. And yes, the XPS runs Windows while the MacBook runs MacOS, but I’m not wedded to any particular operating system, though.

While the 7th-generation Core processor probably contributes to better battery life, the real silicon standout for this model is the Nvidia GTX 1050 graphics processor. The 1050 is the lowest-end option in Nvidia’s current notebook-processor line, incorporating its latest Pascal architecture. In addition to giving the system pretty solid gaming performance, Pascal has improved battery optimization over its predecessor. That’s a huge boon for people who work in photo editing, design, 3D, video and other creative applications which use GPU acceleration, as well as the obvious gamers. While it’s not as powerful as the last-generation, top-of-the-line 980M, those were generally used in gaming-specific systems. This class of notebooks usually used the 960M, and it’s an improvement over that.

However, the 1050 is also the only processor in the line that’s not VR ready. And while the chip supports G-Sync, the XPS 15 doesn’t seem to. I didn’t notice any tearing (horizontal distortion across the screen when playing a PC game), though I believe it’s already optimized internally for the laptop display. And I doubt G-Sync kicks in when connected to an external monitor, because the 1050 seems to communicate via the integrated graphics processor and G-Sync requires direct communication between the display as well as the chip. (If you disable the integrated chip, the Nvidia control panel claims it doesn’t see the GPU, so you can’t turn it on.)

Penny wise

The system seems quite expensive until you start thinking about what you’re getting for the money, although the cheapest model looks like an exception.

This year’s crop of XPS 15 models incorporate 7th-generation Core i3, i5 or i7 processors. The entry model, a dual-core i3 with an HD (1,920 by 1,080-pixel) nontouch screen only comes with integrated graphics and starts at $999, It looks like a US-only option; in the UK you have a choice of Core i5 or or i7, and in Australia, only i7. If you don’t need the wider color gamut and accuracy of the XPS’ display or care about the speed boost of an SSD, you might as well go cheaper and get the more flexible Inspiron 15 5000 2-in-1 instead. It’s slightly bigger and heavier, but it’s a better value for the money.

Once you start looking at models with the 1050 GPU, prices run from $1,250 (£1,350, AU$2,124 online only or AU$2,500) to $2,550 (£1,800, AU$3,144 online only or AU$3,700); if you want the 4K UHD display, you’ll pay at least $1,650 (£1,800, AU$3,000). All of the 4K models incorporate a bigger 97Wh battery (compared to the standard 56Wh), which makes them about 0.5 pound/1.8 kilogram heavier — our unit with the 4K display and 97Wh battery weighs 4.5 lbs/2kg. Dell doesn’t offer a touch version of the HD display for the XPS 15, though, so you’re out of luck if that’s what you want.

Dell XPS 15 (2017)

I think the cheapest configuration I’d recommend is the $1,450 (£1,430, AU$2,124 online only or AU$2,500) Core i7 with the HD display because of the combination of features and performance. Though if you’re looking for the smallest and lightest performance Windows model in the 15-inch class, the XPS 15 is it for comparable configurations. With 4K, I think our $2,075 (£1,800, AU$3,000) test setup really is a sweet-spot model — and it’s a lot cheaper than the most closely configured MacBook, with a Radeon Pro 460 upgrade, at $2,900 (£2,790, AU$4,410).

Are you for 4K?

I’m a bit of a contrarian compared to my colleagues when it comes to the usefulness of 4K, mostly because they’re more concerned about entertainment and the availability of 4K content. From that perspective, sure — it’s probably not worth the price premium, now, but that doesn’t mean next year or the year after you won’t be glad you opted for it.

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