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The Dell XPS 13 and 15 Notebook Review: Raising the Bar

Subject: Systems, Mobile
Manufacturer: Dell

Introduction and Specifications

Dell's premium XPS notebook family includes both 15 inch and 13 inch variants, and ship with the latest 6th-generation Intel Skylake processors and all of the latest hardware. But the screens are what will grab your immediate attention; bright, rich, and with the narrowest bezels on any notebook courtesy of Dell's InfinityEdge displays.

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Since Ryan’s review of the XPS 13, which is now his daily driver, Dell has added the XPS 15, which is the smallest 15-inch notebook design you will find anywhere. The XPS 13 is already "the smallest 13-inch laptop on the planet", according to Dell, giving their XPS series a significant advantage in the ultrabook market. The secret is in the bezel, or lack thereof, which allows Dell to squeeze these notebooks into much smaller physical dimensions than you might expect given their display sizes.

But you get more than just a compact size with these XPS notebooks, as the overall quality of the machines rivals that of anything else you will find; and may just be the best Windows notebooks you can buy right now. Is this simply bluster? Notebooks, like smartphones, are a personal thing. They need to conform to the user to provide a great experience, and there are obviously many different kinds of users to satisfy. Ultimately, however, Dell has produced what could easily be described as class leaders with these machines.

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Continue reading our review of the Dell XPS 13 and 15 notebooks!!

Specifications

If you search around for the XPS 13 or 15, you'll find numerous configurations for these model names. The XPS 13 Ryan reviewed last year is actually the XPS 13 9343, and the new version in this review is the XPS 13 9350 (our XPS 15 is the 9550).

  Dell XPS 13 (9350) Dell XPS 15 (9550)
Processor Intel Core i5-6200U (Skylake) Intel Core i7-6700HQ (Skylake)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 520 Intel HD Graphics 530
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M
Memory 8GB LPDDR3-1866 16GB DDR4-2133
Screen 13.3-in QHD+ 3200x1800 InfinityEdge 15-in 4K UHD 3840x2160 InfinityEdge Touch
Storage 256GB Samsung PM951 512GB Samsung PM951
Camera 720p widescreen with dual-array digital mic 720p widescreen with dual-array digital mic
Audio 2 Watt Stereo Speakers 2 Watt Stereo Speakers
Wireless 802.11ac + BT 4.1 (Dual Band, 2x2) 802.11ac + BT 4.1 (Dual Band, 3x3)
Connection 2x USB 3.0
Thunderbolt 3
SDXC Card Reader
3.5 mm Headphone Jack
Noble Lock Slot
2x USB 3.0
Thunderbolt 3
HDMI
SDXC Card Reader
3.5 mm Headphone Jack
Kensington Lock Slot
Battery 56 WHr 84 WHr
Dimensions 304 x 200 x 9-15 mm
(11.98 x 7.88 x 0.33-0.60 inches)
2.9 lbs. (1.29 kg)
357 x 235 x 11-17 mm
(14.06 x 9.27 x 0.45-0.66 inches)
4.4 lbs. (2.0 kg)
OS Windows 10 Windows 10
Price $1249 - Amazon.com $2099 - Amazon.com

While our XPS 13 is listed at $1499 (though it sells for less), the base model of this new 13-inch version starts at just $799. That entry-level version offers an Intel Core i3-6100U processor, 4GB of DDR3-1866 memory, a 128GB SSD, and the 1920x1080 InfinityEdge display. The XPS 15 starts at $999, though our review unit is the highest-end $2499 MSRP configuration (which also sells for less), with a Core i7-6700HQ, 16GB of DDR4-2133, 512GB SSD, and the 4K display option.

While on the subject of specifications, here's a look at the I/O of both models:

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Along the left side both notebooks feature Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C connection), a USB 3.0 port, and 3.5 mm headset jack. The larger XPS 15 also includes a full-sized HDMI port, and the smaller XPS 13 has a battery indicator on this side.

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Looking at the right side we see simply an SDXC card slot and another USB 3.0 port with both, and the XPS 15's battery indicator is on this side. Also notice the speaker on the XPS 13, which has its stereo speakers positioned along the sides of the lower chassis (the XPS 15's downward-firing speakers are on the bottom).

I can't help but compare these XPS notebooks to Apple's MacBook Pro lineup; premium notebook designs at the same price-points. The Dell machines start off at lower prices, but once similarly configured they sit dead even with MacBook Pro 13 and 15 at $1499 and $2499, respectively. Why does this matter? Dell has actually has a very compelling alternative for prospective MacBook Pro buyers here, with many of the same attributes and slightly better specs compared side-by-side.

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Next we'll take a closer look at the design and build quality of these XPS notebooks, and spend some time on the keyboard and touchpad for each.

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August 1, 2016 | 12:19 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Well something non Apple to compete with Apple that actually provides TB connectivity, and TB3 at that, now for an enterprise license and all that windows 10 nonsense shut off and then maybe there can be some use from these systems for medical/HIPAA usage. M$ should be forced to offer it's enterprise licensing to all businesses, and not discriminate against the small business owners. Hopefully Dell will offer some form of enterprise Linux support for laptops like this. That Intel Core i7-6700HQ option is nice for the power users, and hopefully Dell will be offering a more up to date GPU SKU in some future variants. What really needs to be compared among this and the Apple variants is just what make and model of Intel TB/TB3 controller chip is being used in the laptop, I’d really like to know that to be able to properly compare any to laptop makers SKU’s full TB/TB# abilities.

Hopefully for any power laptop users maybe AMD could offer a 6 Zen core laptop APU in 2017 for the power laptop users market or maybe even some 8 core Opteron mobile APU/portable workstation variants also. 2017 is going to be a more interesting year for users of x86 based CPUs/SOCs/APUs especially for any of AMD’s new APUs on an interposer designs for the workstation(PC and mobile) market.

August 1, 2016 | 06:43 PM - Posted by stryakr (not verified)

This will all depend on the TDP of Zen from those specific segments and the relative performance as well. APUs haven't be terrible, but they don't compete well with Intel at higher price points/TDPs from what I remember.
We haven't seen much in the way of mobile CPUs from AMD in a while for that very reason; too hot and too "slow" to compete, so AMD targeted other platforms.

August 1, 2016 | 09:25 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

My first laptop has a single core Intel chip and it is rated for 65 watts, and that does not include the AMD discrete mobile graphics. So if it's a laptop for power users, or for mobile workstation use AMD's Zen 8 core part will do just fine, and cost a lot less than Intel's overpriced SKUs with Intel's dog food graphics. When AMD begins to make it's APUs on an interposer for Laptops and mobile workstations those chips will have the Zen cores, and a separate Polaris/Vega GPU die, and HBM all on the same interposer. So those APUs on an interposer will be very power efficient, more so than any system that has to use a PCI based GPU.

AMD's Zen cores will be fabricated at 14nm and should have the thermals to fit 8 cores easily into a laptop form factor! I'm not talking about any gimped down ultrabook thin and light form factor laptop for myself, as I have never bought into that overpriced and gimped of performance Ultrabook crap market. AMD will be able to offer Zen at a much more affordable price, and some Zen APUs with much better graphics and affordable pricing than Intel could ever provide.

I do not see any Intel CPU based mobile workstations that can function as a mobile workstation without the help of AMD's or Nvidia's GPUs and no mobile workstation user is ever going to be wanting to use Intel's dog food graphics, ditto for high end gaming!

August 1, 2016 | 02:21 PM - Posted by boidsonly

I bought into the 15" i7-6700HQ, 4k screen, 1 tb NVMe, 16 gb ddr4, NV 960m GPU last year and am very satisfied with it. It did not ship without a laundry list of issues but they have all been corrected minus the newest BIOS update which introduced flicker on the 4k models. We are waiting on a fix from Dell.
Anyone on the fence about this laptop should just make the leap. eBay is the best source for very reasonably priced models.

Here is the forum to read up on the 15" model:

http://forum.notebookreview.com/threads/dell-xps-15-skylake-9550-owners-...

August 1, 2016 | 02:49 PM - Posted by Shambles (not verified)

The most appealing thing to me about the XPS 13/15 refresh from a year or two ago was the fact that you could get a 1080P model with amazing battery life. I hope these new models still give you the same option.

August 1, 2016 | 06:40 PM - Posted by stryakr (not verified)

As I mentioned to Ryan on twitter, these have been out for a while; this however doesn't take anything away from Sebastian's review. It does have some issues but the BIOS updates and some drivers fixed it after a fresh install, which I strongly recommend.

You can find the 1080P version of the most expensive model, but you'r going to have to call them or chat to get it. I got the XPS 15 i7, 16GB, 512GB SSD, with 1080P from the refurb site for less than then the i5 version on the same so it's worth checking out.

August 1, 2016 | 04:59 PM - Posted by smashie (not verified)

I bought the 13 to use for work, it's the i7-6560U with 16GB RAM and 500GB NVMe. The display at 3200 x 1800 is amazing, yes glare can be an issue but it's run everything I've thrown at it so far. The nifty little type c adapter means I only have two cables connected to it when I use it back in my home office.

August 2, 2016 | 02:51 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Good luck getting the TB15 docking station. It's been pulled off the market because it's severely flawed.

August 4, 2016 | 04:49 PM - Posted by smashie (not verified)

I know I've got the smaller simple one

August 2, 2016 | 05:01 AM - Posted by overpowerlol

I brought myself a xps 13 9350 for Christmas. Best laptop I ever had!
It was a PITA to install windows 7 onto it due to having to bodge usb3 drivers into the install but it was all worth it to get rid of 10! I took it on holiday last month. Wifi off and middle brightness I watched 8 hours of films before the battery was flat!

August 17, 2016 | 10:33 PM - Posted by pauljason890 (not verified)

From the XPS 15 2016 teardown guide http://www.laptopmain.com/dell-xps-15-9550-disassembly/, the laptop has two RAM slots, a hard drive bay and a M.2 SSD slot (not PCIe slot, I'm very dissatisfied about this), the upgrade options is very large, so i bought it from newegg.com, and it is work great.

September 18, 2016 | 10:26 AM - Posted by Walde (not verified)

Editor of this case should ask Dell about the TB15 docking station and make a big deal about it because Dell uses this review to promote their laptop.
They have pulled the whole dock out of the market and they have told me that they are not developing new dock at all! That makes the XPS 13 laptop quite bad choice for working when there is no way to connect an external monitor or any other device that are connected through the dock.

Dell is not taking any responsibility about the dock case. They are still promoting the product although it is never gonna work.

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