Out with the old, in with the new. Dell XPS 15 (2018)


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Jim K

Let me start off by saying this ... I am not a reviewer.  However, I just bought a new XPS 15 and figured I'd post this in case anyone had any questions.  This is what I bought...

 

2018 XPS 15

  • i7-8750H w/ 1050ti Max-Q
  • 512GB m.2 SSD
  • 16GB RAM
  • 1920 x 1080 Display
  • SD card slot
  • 2x USB 3.1 Gen 1 with PowerShare
  • HDMI 2.0
  • Thunderbolt 3 (4 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3) 
  • Headset jack
  • Price (for this configuration before tax): $1500 (w/ a $30 savings and 10% coupon)

 

This is replacing my old XPS 15 L501X which I bought in 2011.

 

Couple of pictures ...

 

20180525_181226.thumb.jpg.7d7e0da29f5530d9a97148ca3a38bb01.jpg

 

20180525_181239.thumb.jpg.77143b6a1cb5dc775e9976ee993a6087.jpg

 

20180525_181300.thumb.jpg.4304ce3c78e5687523187696ca27769f.jpg

 

20180525_181319.thumb.jpg.a1bf95d70c96e5aab4c058b06f0a0aa7.jpg

 

20180525_181408.thumb.jpg.d660b3a8461d6b0fc798198ec98c8609.jpg

 

The SSD that came with this notebook is a SK hynix w/ the following benchmark below...

 

1376287019_as-ssd-benchPC401NVMeSKhy5_25.201818-28-33.thumb.png.fd9861c19cccb837b718ba723e564ccd.png

 

...which is kind of "meh" for a PCIe SSD ... but I'm not worried about it.  Plenty fast enough for the notebook.

 

So, what do I think about the notebook?  It is fine ... I like the small compactness of it and it is fairly lightweight (4 pounds according to the specs).  There is hardly any flex on the backlight keyboard and the notebook is overall very sturdy (lots of aluminum).  The keyboard, itself, still getting used to it.  Very hard to explain ... but it is just different (not bad...just different).  I really like the track-pad ... nice and smooth.  So smooth, in fact, my finger slipped and broke its neck the first time I used it.  Finger print reader works without fail and I dig it.  RAM is replaceable ... though I doubt I'll be adding any in.  It came with Micron Tech DDR4-2666.  Bluetooth mouse support, oh man ... I really like this as there are no more dongles. :) 

 

Will it game?  Why, yes ... sure.  I played Doom for about an hour on GeForce Experience recommended settings and it looked really good ... though the CPU got a little toasty (88C for CPU and 84C GPU...recorded by HWInfo as Max temps after 1 hour).  The fan noise wasn't really a problem but you can tell they were spinning.  I experienced maybe one or two little stutters ... but overall it was smooth.  I'm not really going to use this for gaming ... but it can if needed or I get bored.

 

Here is the Unreal Heaven Benchmark if interested...

 

Capture.thumb.JPG.fa7b3e6c7228022d95915d339f4f2da0.JPG

 

 

What do I not like about this notebook?  Well, for one ... the power cord is shorter than my older XPS 15 which kind of sucks.  The speakers, well they are notebook speakers but they are not anywhere near as good as the old XPS 15 (which had really good speakers for a notebook).  The screen is fine but there is noticeable backlight bleeding in both lower corners (obvious more noticeable as the screen gets darker).  The USB port on the left side is very close to where the power plugs in ... so if you have a big USB stick or whatever you'll probably have to use the right port.  Webcam placement is dumb ... but I never use it so whatever.  Cannot add an internal drive (which is why I opted for the larger 512GB vs 256GB).  Cannot (easily anyway) change the battery ... might be an issue down the road as my older XPS went through two batteries during its lifetime.

 

Overall, this is a nice notebook and built like a tank (little to no flex anywhere).

 

If anyone has any questions regarding this notebook ... let me know.

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DevTech
31 minutes ago, Jim K said:

 

Overall, this is a nice notebook and built like a tank (little to no flex anywhere).

 

I have a Dell XPS 15 9550 which is very similar with a i7 6700HQ and 960 GPU. I have taken mine apart a few times and replaced the motherboard due to an errant Dr. Pepper...

 

Your model is two CPU refreshes ahead but uses the same chassis by the looks of it.

 

"...which is kind of "meh" for a PCIe SSD ... but I'm not worried about it.  Plenty fast enough for the notebook."

 

Dell previously used Samsungs for the NVMe but I replaced mine anyways with a Samsung 960 Pro which I recommend highly.

 

"the notebook is overall very sturdy (lots of aluminum)"

 

Actually the notebook is sturdy due to more expensive Carbon Fiber Composite materials.

 

"The keyboard, itself, still getting used to it."

 

In my case I had a similar awkwardness with the keyboard which vanished when I replaced it. Hopefully that's not your situation but the new keyboard has a fantastic feel.

 

" The fan noise wasn't really a problem"

 

Given simple Physics Laws of Thermodynamics, the end of fans that sounded like Jet Engines is due more to Thermal Throttling than clever heat management. I would prefer to have the option of a Jet Engine when I need it but alas, that's not the trend in these thin workstation powerhouses.

 

"The screen is fine but there is noticeable backlight bleeding in both lower corners (obvious more noticeable as the screen gets darker). "

 

I have the 4K LCD Touch Screen and it is gorgeous beyond belief. I am still amazed every time I use it. I suspect they make a larger profit on the 1080p screen and use multiple suppliers to minimize costs. If so there will be support forums and listings of the various panels available and you might be able to get it serviced.

 

"Webcam placement is dumb"

 

They need some real estate at the bottom so would you want to add 1/2 inch to the top or live with a bottom webcam? It's not dumb, it's a difficult design choice that I have to grumpily agree with.

 

"Cannot add an internal drive (which is why I opted for the larger 512GB vs 256GB).  Cannot (easily anyway) change the battery ... might be an issue down the road as my older XPS went through two batteries during its lifetime."

 

The cheap model with an SSD drive uses a much smaller battery. In theory one could source a small battery and then add an SSD but again the design tradeoff here is a fantastic battery that permits 2 hours of battery life while doing full CPU load professional workloads. I couldn't care less about battery life figures for checking Facebook in Hipster coffee shops...

 

Once you have removed the bottom cover a few times, the battery replacement is just plain trivial which involves pulling one connector that you have to do every time anyways to remove power and then a few screws gets you a very nice battery that extends the entire width of the unit.

 

It should be easy to source it for a long time to come on Alibaba etc.

 

I would be curious to know if the several revs in the motherboard ended up with a second NVMe slot which Dell has a habit of not documenting but somebody should have a mobo photo...

 

Your laptop is an example of a truly great design which has been basically unchanged through a few refresh cycles, quite rare these days...

 

Now, about Dr. Pepper... The keyboard is rated as spill proof and Dell demonstrated that at a computer show by dumping a glass of water on a running laptop and of course the laptop was angled forward for the audience to see it. The Achilles Heel in the design is that if the laptop is angled flat or backwards, the liquid will literally bounce off the spill proof keyboard and into the heat escape vents at the base of the LCD. Inside, right next to that vent on the motherboard is the main power supply circuits. It's dead Jim!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jim K
10 hours ago, DevTech said:

I would be curious to know if the several revs in the motherboard ended up with a second NVMe slot which Dell has a habit of not documenting but somebody should have a mobo photo...

Looks like it is about the same motherboard design as older generations (at least the 9560).  There isn't an obvious 2nd NVMe slot....doubt it would be hiding under the battery...haha.

 

20180526_073423.thumb.jpg.7f165b65f3111457f66787bd098a9ba9.jpg

 

 

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DevTech
12 minutes ago, Jim K said:

Looks like it is about the same motherboard design as older generations (at least the 9560).  There isn't an obvious 2nd NVMe slot....doubt it would be hiding under the battery...haha.

 

There is a spot for a SSD SATA right next to the NVMe where the battery and in that config a much smaller battery is provisioned. Just to the right of the NVMe there is an unused connector which I suspect is for the SATA. With the right cable adapters it might be possible to duct tape a M.2 SATA right there which would permit the combo of a 2 TB Samsung 960 Pro and a 2 TB Samsung 860 Pro? Would be nice to try.

 

FWIW, I drilled a few holes in the bottom cover right next to the NVMe because they get quite hot and can then go into throttle mode which sucks for a high perf device.

 

Sadly, my Samsung 960 Pro is only 512 so I pack an external USB 3 to hold VMs and stuff. A full install of Visual Studio 2017 can take 100 gigs and ther is the Adobe stuff so 512 is frustratingly tiny and forever forcing painful decisions...

 

You can get external USB 3 drives in a 2" super thin form factor using flash and I considered duct taping one of those to the bottom, but the capacity on those drives is still too small. (Disclaimer: whenever I mention Duct Tape, it is being used as a code word for "Home Brew" and would probably involve glue and putty and paint so the resulting effort would look like a tiny bulge in the case)

 

These Dell XPS are beautiful and advanced engineering, but for me I am tempted to a return to a 17" Workstation with thicker case and lots of drive bays... One of the Alienwares had 2 undocumented NVMe slots for a total of 4! The problem with 17" is lack of the amazing 4K IPS Touch Screens with full color range. I also could use 64 gig RAM and a 1080 for GPU AI computing... but then there is that new Razor Core external GPU via Thunderbolt and we have Thunderbolt...

 

Oh one thing missing in your review, that still annoys me because I missed noticing it myself before purchase, is lack of an Ethernet port due to the ultra-thin size. Sort of like the Webcam situation where you understand why they did it but maybe they could have made a really small bulge in the LAN spot??

 

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Mindovermaster

You know if this matches the System76 Oryx Pro? Looks similar in specs, and the price looks "about" the same.

 

But, if it were me, I did like my Dell Vostro 15" that I had way back, circa 2005. Might give them the chance again ;)

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zhangm

How's the trackpad?

 

I've used multiple Dell systems that happened to have awful trackpads from Alps, including my XPS1530 and now a few Precision systems. Curiously they seem to be hit or miss - the 1330 got a Synaptics pad, which was tiny but quite good.

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Jim K
27 minutes ago, zhangm said:

How's the trackpad?

 

I've used multiple Dell systems that happened to have awful trackpads from Alps, including my XPS1530 and now a few Precision systems. Curiously they seem to be hit or miss - the 1330 got a Synaptics pad, which was tiny but quite good.

I like the touchpad ... nice and smooth.  It is a Synaptics touchpad (HID\SYNA2393), using the Microsoft Precision driver. 

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tsupersonic

Do you have any coil whine? It's been a problem with my work laptop (Latitude series), but I hear it's a problem with all modern Dells. 

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      Honestly, if you've read my XPS 13 9300 review from April, you can skip straight to the performance and battery life section, because there is absolutely nothing new when it comes to the design, display, keyboard, or trackpad. However, it's a big design change from the one that I reviewed about a year ago, which has Intel's Comet Lake processors. In fact, the redesign that we got in the XPS 13 9300 was the first in a redesign for the entire lineup.



      It's less of a wedge shape than it used to be. In fact, the XPS 13 always looked a bit thick to me, probably because the footprint has always been so small. But now, the footprint is actually smaller and it's a bit thicker, but it just looks and feels more balanced.

      The model that Dell sent me is Frost with a white woven glass fiber interior. It's not a new style, although if you want to go really old school with a traditional XPS style, you can still get it in silver with the black carbon fiber interior. However, you'll notice on the new ones, the sides are silver instead of black.



      And yes, the ports have changed from that old design. Dell has ditched USB Type-A on its XPS lineup entirely, going all the way up to the XPS 17. Instead, you'll find just two Thunderbolt 4 ports on the XPS 13, one on each side. On the left, there's also a microSD card slot and on the right, there's a 3.5mm audio jack.



      One thing that I really like about the two Thunderbolt 4 ports is that they're on opposite sides, so you can easily choose which side you want to use to charge the device. Most companies that have two Thunderbolt ports put them on one side, which will inevitably become a pain point at some point.

      And the other nice thing is that yes, you can connect two 4K displays on a single port, something that not even the super-powerful XPS 17 can do.

      Display and audio
      While the chassis is smaller, the screen is bigger than the ones from a year ago. That's because Dell switched from a 13.3-inch 16:9 display to a 13.4-inch 16:10 display. Most people do like the taller screen, but I personally like something that's a little wider so I can work more easily with two apps side-by-side. For me, something like the 16:10 XPS 15 makes a lot more sense.



      You have four options for the display. It comes in FHD+ and UHD+, and is available in touch and non-touch. Dell sent me the FHD+ touch model, which is probably my favorite. Battery life is much better at FHD instead of UHD, which has about four times as many pixels. But also, on a smaller screen like this, you probably won't miss the extra pixels. Also, I personally like touch, but if you go for non-touch, the XPS 13 weighs in at 2.64 pounds instead of 2.8 pounds.



      The bezels are even smaller, and yet Dell still managed to fit an IR camera in the top bezel. Back in the day, Dell XPS was often mocked for placing the webcam below the screen, in the chin. It added an IR camera and the very next year, it removed it in favor of shrinking the webcam enough to fit on top. But now, we finally have a webcam and an IR camera in the top bezel without compromises.

      Dell has something called Dell Cinema, which consists of CinemaColor, CinemaSound, and CinemaStream. CinemaColor refers to the display, which supports Dolby Vision HDR, 500-nit brightness, and more. There's even an app that lets you set it to different configurations like movie, sports, animation, and evening.



      CinemaSound refers to the two 2.5W Waves MaxxAudio Pro speakers, which sound phenomenal. Seriously, for a laptop that doesn't have speakers that you can actually see while using it, I've never seen something this powerful. Then there's CinemaStream, which prioritizes network resources for streaming video.

      All of this adds up to Dell Cinema, which is meant to make Dell XPS laptops the best they can be for streaming media, and it surely gets the job done.

      Keyboard and trackpad
      I quite like the keyboard that debuted this year, along with the Precision trackpad. The backlit keyboard feels quieter and more comfortable than its predecessor, which is always nice. It's also a bigger keyboard than the ones we were seeing up until a year ago.



      Dell actually made use of all of the real estate that it could, so the keyboard is pretty much edge to edge. The keys are larger, so it feels less cramped and personally, I think that it's prone to fewer errors. The trackpad is also a bit larger, and using Precision drivers, it supports the gestures that you're used to.



      Also, to be clear, this is not a MagLev keyboard, like the one that you'd get from the XPS 13 2-in-1. Frankly, I'm surprised that Dell didn't include it when it redesigned the XPS 13, since second-generation MagLev is actually quite good.



      You'll find the power button in the top-right corner of the keyboard, and it doubles as a fingerprint sensor. I don't use it though, because Dell's PCs don't scan your fingerprint when you first press the button. You have to scan it after the PC boots up, unlike most PCs that have a fingerprint sensor baked into the power button. Dell considers that a security risk though, thinking that you might walk away between when you press the power button and when the PC boots.

      Performance and battery life
      OK, here's the meat of this review, because the Intel Tiger Lake CPU is the only real change in this device. Tiger Lake is Intel's second generation 10nm family, so along with the maturation of its 10nm nodes, it also comes with the company's new Iris Xe graphics. It also comes with faster 4267MHz memory.

      First of all, let's be clear that this can obviously do anything that you'd previously expect from an Intel U-series processor. For general productivity, conference calls, and so on, it's fantastic. But when you add on Iris Xe, it takes on a whole new level. You can use it to play games, edit video, and more.

      But of course, there are still limits, as there always will be with integrated graphics. Gaming is, more or less, limited to FHD resolutions. Obviously, if you're a serious gamer that's looking for higher resolutions or frame rates, then you probably already know that this isn't the machine you're looking for. But if you're looking for an ultra-mobile productivity machine that can do some Forza or Halo on the side, the XPS 13 will actually get the job done.

      Now let's talk about video editing. I edited 4K 60fps video on this machine, and frankly, I'll probably never do it again. It wasn't that bad though, and you could do it in a pinch. It took about 25 minutes to render, as opposed to the five minutes or so that it would take on my desktop with an Intel Core i9-10900K and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. I also edited a 1080p 60fps video on here, and the experience was very smooth. All of this was done with two 4K displays attached to one of the Thunderbolt 4 ports and the main display turned off.

      As far as battery life goes, I was impressed. In most of my usage, I got close to seven hours of work without connecting to power, sometimes getting over eight hours. This was with the power slider at the first notch above battery saver and the screen brightness at 25%. Honestly, this screen is wonderfully bright, so I had to turn it off when indoors, not just for battery reasons.

      For benchmarks, I used Geekbench, Cinebench, PCMark 8 and PCMark 10. Tiger Lake still isn't ready for heavier tests like 3DMark's Time Spy.

      Dell XPS 13 9310
      Core i7-1165G7 Dell XPS 13 9300
      Core i7-1065G7 Dell XPS 13
      Core i7-10710U Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7
      AMD Ryzen 7 4800U PCMark 8: Home 3,902 3,899 3,501 4,566 PCMark 8: Creative 4,781 4,253 3,966 4,861 PCMark 8: Work 4,020 3,797 3,342 3,926 PCMark 10 4,864 4,402 4,314 5,252 Geekbench 5 1,551 / 5,529 1,160 / 6,362 Cinebench 1,911 3,449
      As you can see, AMD's Ryzen 4000 processors still score better in most departments, but you won't find features like Thunderbolt 4 on an AMD PC.

      Conclusion
      When I reviewed the Dell XPS 13 9300 back in April, I said that "the best gets better". The already compact chassis was made even smaller, the screen was made bigger, the keyboard was made more comfortable, and the CPU was swapped out for something with more powerful Iris Plus Graphics. Now, thanks to Iris Xe graphics, it's even better than that.



      In fact, one of the best changes I've noticed, which is as a result of Intel's 11th-generation processors, is Thunderbolt 4. One of my biggest complaints about Dell XPS laptops over the past year was that I couldn't use both of my monitors with a Thunderbolt dock, and now I can.

      Other major complaints I had haven't changed since April though. I still hate that Dell's fingerprint sensors require you to boot the machine before scanning your fingerprint, and I hate that there's no 4G LTE option. Seriously, this is an ultra-portable PC. Dell boasts that it's a 13-inch PC in an 11-inch chassis, so why wouldn't it be built to be more portable and have connectivity for such a use case?

      But of course, this is a remarkable machine, and it's certainly among the best on the market. If you're looking for a very compact clamshell, this is the way to go.

    • By Abhay V
      A host of anti-virus engines are flagging recent Dell printer drivers as unsafe
      by Abhay Venkatesh



      Recent releases of Dell printer drivers for various versions of Windows are being flagged by a number of anti-virus programs as malware, as spotted and reported by journalist Brian Krebs on Twitter (via WindowsCentral). A few examples of such reports can be viewed on Virus Total that provides logs of malware detection by various anti-virus programs.

      The drivers in question seem to include releases from Dell in the past few months, including one from September 24, detailed here. Krebs posted the results of the file in the logs on Virus Total, which show the file being flagged as “Malware” or “Trojans” by a number of programs including the likes of Avast, McAfee, Microsoft, Fortinet, and more. The logs suggest that at least 29 anti-virus engines detected the file as unsafe.

      It is currently not clear what is triggering these detections, and if the said files are safe for installation or have been compromised. Krebs suggests that users that are looking to download the latest drivers hold off on downloading them for the time being. It is possible that the computer maker re-releases the drivers after scrutiny or provides an update at the least about the reports and the validity of its driver offerings.



    • By Rich Woods
      Dell XPS 13 unboxing with Intel Tiger Lake, Iris Xe, and Thunderbolt 4
      by Rich Woods

      Announced a month ago, Dell's XPS 13 is here. Unlike the XPS 13 2-in-1 that came alongside it, this PC is purely a spec bump, but it's an exciting spec bump. It includes Intel's 11th-generation 'Tiger Lake' processors, and this is the first production machine that I've used with the new CPUs.

      Tiger Lake is Intel's second-generation 10nm family, and the company is once again jacking up the graphics power. It now comes with the firm's Iris Xe graphics, and it says that you shouldn't have a problem with 1080p gaming on an ultrabook now. It's really impressive when you think about it. The XPS 13 has such a tiny footprint, and now it has so much more power than it used to.

      There are other perks of Tiger Lake too. The two USB Type-C ports are Thunderbolt 4 now. That means that each port can support dual 4K displays if you want, or you can use them to plug in an external GPU and more. Tiger Lake also brings faster memory.

      Check out the unboxing video below: