Review

Dell XPS 15 review: With 4K OLED, Core i9-9980HK, and a GTX 1650, what else could you want?

Dell's new XPS 15 is a beast of a machine, as it tends to be. I always look at it as the ultimate prosumer laptop, packing a ton of power into a relatively thin and light body, although it's still not classified as a gaming PC or a mobile workstation.

In the CPU department, the XPS 15 has the best of the best, an Intel Core i9-9980HK, while it also packs a 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650. The model that Dell sent me also has 32GB RAM and a 1TB SSD, so it's actually a pretty sweet deal at $2,331.99.

Most of that is just a general refresh, including this generation's new Intel CPU and Nvidia GPU. It's in the same chassis as last year too, so one of the big changes is that it's now offered with a stunning 4K OLED display, adding to just how phenomenal this laptop is.

And of course, it has Dell's special new tiny webcam, which fits above the screen now without compromising on the bezel size.

Specs

CPU Intel Core i9-9980HK Processor (16M Cache, up to 5.0 GHz, 8 cores)
GPU NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 (4GB GDDR5)
Display 15.6-inch OLED 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) InfinityEdge display, non-touch, 400-nits, 100% DCI-P3, 100,000:1 contrast ratio, antireflective
Body

357x235x11-17mm (14.06x9.27x0.45-0.66in), 2kg (4.5lb)

RAM 32GB Dual Channel DDR4 at 2666MHz
Storage 1TB PCIe SSD 3x4
Ports (1) Thunderbolt 3 with power delivery & DisplayPort (4 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3)
(2) USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A
(1) HDMI 2.0
(1) SD card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC)
(1) 3.5mm Headphone/Microphone combination jack
(1) wedge-shaped lock slot
Battery 97WHr, non-replaceable
Audio Stereo speakers professionally tuned with Waves MaxxAudio Pro; 2W x 2 = 4W total
3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack Widescreen HD (720p) 2.25mm webcam and dual array digital microphones
Material CNC machined aluminum in platinum silver with carbon fiber composite palm rest in black
Connectivity Killer AX1650 (2x2) built on Intel WiFi 6 Chipset + Bluetooth 5.0
Miracast capable
OS Windows 10 Home
Price $2,331.99


Note that pricing is based on current pricing at Dell.com, which apparently includes 12% off of a normal price of $2,649.99.

This isn't even the top-end model. There's another one with similar specs but 64GB RAM for $2,639.99. This is, however, the lowest price if you want the Core i9. Anything lower than this will get you a Core i5 or a Core i7, both of which are also 45W H-series chips. It actually starts at $967.99 with a Core i5-9300H, integrated graphics, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD. You'll have to get the next model up for $1,363.99 to get the GTX 1650 GPU, and that comes with a Core i7-9750H, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD.

Day one

Display

The new Dell XPS 15 comes in the same chassis that it has used for a few years now, so if you've read my previous XPS 15 reviews, you can probably skip this section. It comes in the usual silver body with a black carbon fiber weave palm rest; Dell doesn't even offer the Frost or Rose Gold options with the white palm rest that are on the XPS 13.

Aesthetically, this is my least favorite color from the XPS lineup, and it's the one that's been around the longest. I'm still hoping that Dell will bring over the new colors that it's introduced in the XPS 13 series, but I'm not holding my breath.

The lid is stamped with a chrome-colored Dell logo, and that's the only decoration that you'll see. The logo itself does give it a nice look.

Since the chassis hasn't changed, the ports remain the same. That means that once again, it comes with a 130W barrel charger. This always disappoints me, because I always want everything to use USB Type-C. The good news is that you can indeed charge the XPS 15 through its included USB Type-C port, but you'll probably want the 130W USB Type-C charger that came with the XPS 15 2-in-1, which is, as far as I know, the only 130W USB Type-C charger that exists. You can grab one on Amazon for $70 here.

Along with the barrel charging port, the left side of the device includes a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt 3, and a 3.5mm combo audio jack. Sadly, that means that Dell still hasn't upgraded the Type-A ports to USB 3.1 Gen 2, which would offer double the data transfer speeds at 10Gbps.

On the right side, there's another USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, an HDMI 2.0 port, and an SD card reader. I really do love the selection of ports on this PC, including the full-size SD card reader. Remember, the XPS 15 2-in-1 only had four USB Type-C ports, so we may want to be careful what we wish for in a redesigned chassis.

There's also a battery life indicator, which is one of my favorite things on XPS laptops, even if I barely use it. You just press the button on the side, and the four LED lights next to it will light up. Well, four will light up if you're on a full charge.

There's still a flap on the bottom panel where you can reveal things like the serial number. The bottom panel can be removed with 10 Torx screws, but unfortunately, Dell says that you can't remove the battery (you might want to think about getting the extended warranty). I will point out though that Dell does publish a pretty comprehensive service manual for this PC, which covers replacing just about every part inside of it, from the battery, to storage and RAM, to the system-board assembly. So if you know what you're doing, DIY repair and upgrades are always an option.

That sweet, sweet OLED display

Aside from upgraded internals, the biggest change to this year's XPS 15 is the option for a 4K OLED display, and just as you'd expect, it's absolutely gorgeous. There's no support for touch, but Dell is still offering its UltraSharp 4K option, which does have touchscreen support. There's an FHD model as well, which does not support touch, but would certainly get you better battery life.

Here's the deal with OLED, and why you should always get OLED if you have the option. With a regular LCD, it's generally always backlit. That's why if the screen shows you something that's all black, you can still tell that it's on. Pixels can be turned off on an OLED screen, offering true blacks, making it hard to tell where the screen ends and the bezel begins. Colors rendered on top of the true black look more vibrant and less washed out than they would on top of a backlight.

If you use a premium smartphone, you're probably already using an OLED display. Apple uses it in its iPhone X, XS, and XS Max, Samsung uses it in all premium Galaxy smartphones, and you'll also find the display technology in handsets from Google, OnePlus, LG, and Motorola.

The only downside to OLED is that it does have a risk of burn-in, a problem where the diodes degrade and an image is sort of stuck on your screen. The technology has improved to where this isn't as much of a problem, but you might want to think about using a screensaver, just to be safe in the long run.

One issue that I had is that even with the brightness turned all of the way up, it seemed a bit dim at times. This was mainly an issue with indoor use, and it really wasn't a big deal. The screen is 400 nits, and if you go the UltraSharp route, it will be 500 nits.

Left: UltraSharp, Right: OLED

Speaking of the UltraSharp option, and as much as I love OLED, I'm not even sure an OLED option was necessary. When Dell originally briefed me on the product, I put the two next to each other and the difference between them was somewhat trivial, just because Dell's UltraSharp displays are already so good.

Still, I'd recommend the OLED one, just because it's so beautiful. The blacks are black, and the colors are vibrant. You won't regret it.

I should also mention Dell Cinema, a combination of what Dell calls CinemaColor, CinemaAudio, and CinemaStream. CinemaColor uses Dell Color Profiles for better color and contrast, and Dolby Vision HDR. CinemaSound uses Waves MaxxAudio Pro for better sound quality, and then CinemaStream uses Killer Wireless to prioritize video streams in your network traffic.

All-in-all, it adds up to a fantastic media consumption experience, with the beautiful screen, narrow bezels, and solid audio quality. I did have one significant issue though. The XPS 15 regularly drops the Wi-Fi connection for me. I tried adjusting the Killer Wireless settings to see if it would help, and it did not. I hope Dell fixes this with a driver update sooner rather than later.

One other notable change in this year's model is that the webcam is now above the display. Dell's XPS laptops have frequently been mocked for placing the webcam below the screen, and that finally changed with this year's XPS 13. Dell specially engineered a tiny camera sensor that can fit in the top bezel without compromising on the size of the bezel.

Unfortunately, this means that there's no IR camera for facial recognition, something that Dell had in some of its XPS laptops while the camera was underneath the screen. The timeline on this is actually pretty strange. Dell only introduced the IR camera about a year before it killed it off.

Keyboard and trackpad

Just like with the Design section, you can skip over this part if you've read my previous XPS 15 reviews, because the keyboard and trackpad haven't changed either. This PC uses a full-size, chiclet-style, backlit keyboard, similar to most XPS machines.

Unlike the XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new XPS 13 2-in-1, it isn't using Dell's new MagLev technology, although you can probably expect to see it when the chassis does get redesigned. I really wasn't a fan of MagLev in the XPS 15 2-in-1, but it got much better with the second-generation of the technology in the XPS 13 2-in-1.

But MagLev isn't something to think about in the XPS 15. It's all pretty standard. I found the keyboard to be precise and accurate, and it's good enough for a premium laptop. The keys aren't as quiet or as sturdy as a Lenovo ThinkPad or an HP EliteBook, but it's fine.

One thing that I really like is the carbon fiber palm rest. It feels cool and smooth, and I like the weaved look, although it's worth noting that it's different from the textured weave that you'll see on the white palm rest of the Frost XPS 13. The material of the palm rest definitely adds to it being a more comfortable typing experience.

The glass trackpad is a good one, using Microsoft's Precision drivers. That means that it gets solid performance and that it supports all of the gestures that you're used to. I think it could stand to be a bit wider though, since it's tall enough, making use of most of the space below the keyboard. That's one thing that I'd like more PC OEMs to emphasize, larger trackpads that make use of the space they have.

Finally, to the top-right of the keyboard, there's a power button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor. The bad news is that it doesn't scan your fingerprint when you boot it up. You have to go back when you're at the lock screen. Dell says that PCs that scan your fingerprint when you boot them up are a security risk, thinking of the idea that after you press the power button, you might walk away from your PC and someone could use it after it automatically logs you in.

To be honest, I don't buy it. I think that people who spend a couple thousand dollars on a PC tend to be familiar with how it works. If I know that my PC will automatically scan my fingerprint and log me in, I'd know not to walk away from it.

Unfortunately, this leaves Dell as pretty much the only OEM left that does this. Companies like Huawei, LG, Acer, and even Lenovo now with its new ThinkBook 13s have fingerprint sensors in the power buttons that automatically log you in.

Performance and battery life

The Dell XPS 15 model that was sent to me includes an Intel Core i9-9980HK CPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 4GB GPU, 32GB RAM, and a 1TB SSD. Frankly, it's a beast, and it's probably the best you can get without going to a gaming PC or a mobile workstation with RTX graphics.

The Core i9-9980HK is a 45W octa-core CPU with a 2.4GHz base frequency and a 5GHz turbo frequency. And since it's a K-series chip, it's unlocked for overclocking. It definitely packs a punch.

In terms of real-world performance, yes, it still packs a punch. I absolutely love it. One of the key things that I used it for was editing 1080p 60fps videos, and it performs great, without any real stuttering and snappy rendering times. In fact, I've found Nvidia's new GTX (1650, 1660, and 1660 Ti) GPUs to be fantastic for video editing, although for gaming, you'll definitely want to go the RTX route.

Obviously, there are limits. I found that it does start to choke up if you try to edit video in Premiere Pro while a video is rendering in the Media Encoder.

One annoyance is that Nvidia still hasn't released Studio drivers for its GTX 16xx graphics cards just yet, even though they're available for GTX 10xx and RTX 20xx cards. Hopefully, this is something that will be remedied sooner rather than later. If you're unfamiliar with the Studio (formerly called Creator Ready) drivers, they're more optimized for things like video editing than the Game Ready drivers, which are optimized for gaming.

And of course, for productivity tasks, the XPS 15 flies. I do most of my work in the browser, which did present a problem because of the connectivity issues stated above. If the Wi-Fi gets dropped as I'm saving an article, I lose my work.

As far as battery life goes, it's a mixed bag, and that's no surprise for a laptop like this one. Streaming 4K Netflix content (Stranger Things) on the XPS 15, I was able to get about seven and a half hours of battery life, which is pretty great. Editing and rendering video, I was able to get just under two and a half hours. To no surprise, it all depends on what you're doing.

As mentioned above, this machine does ship with a 130W barrel charger, which I never used. I used the 130W USB Type-C charger that came with the XPS 15 2-in-1, something that I hope Dell makes more use of in the future.

For benchmarks, I did plenty this time. I ran PCMark 8, PCMark 10, 3DMark, and VRMark.

PCMark 8: Home
PCMark 8: Creative
PCMark 8: Work
PCMark 10
3DMark: Time Spy
VRMark: Orange Room


I ran more different benchmarks than I usually do because they show different things. All three PCMark 8 test show the XPS 15 excelling in their respective areas. The Creative test focuses on GPU-intensive tasks, and while it did well on the productivity-focused Work test, it's not as good as an ultrabook with a U-series processor.

But I included 3DMark and VRMark to show that this is not a gaming machine. As you can see from the details of the VRMark test, it fell short of the target frame rate on the least of its tests, although it is above the minimum spec. I don't run these tests on ultrabooks because the scores are so low that it's not even worth mentioning.

Ultimately, the benchmarks scores are about where I'd expect them to be. As I've said a few times, this is about as powerful as it gets without venturing into the territory of gaming PCs and mobile workstations.

Conclusion

The Dell XPS 15 is always one of my favorite laptops of the year, because it has that just right level of power. It comes with a 45W Intel Core processor and dedicated graphics, along with a beautiful 4K screen. And that's just what you get with every model, let alone with the improvements made this year.

My biggest issue with the product was that I had Wi-Fi connectivity issues, and that's a software/driver issue, so it should be easily fixed. There's no IR camera, which is a bummer but not something that really puts me out of my way. And as I've complained about, it comes with a barrel charger when USB Type-C would do. But that's really all of my complaints, and they're pretty minor.

On the other hand, it has a stunning 4K OLED display. OLED is back in a big way, showing up in a variety of 15.6-inch 4K laptops, and I'm super happy to have my beloved screen technology included on the XPS 15.

But the screen is just part of what makes the new XPS 15 great. After all, like I noted earlier, Dell's UltraSharp displays are pretty great as well. It's also the power of the Intel Core i9-9980HK processor and the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650. And what's cool is that the GTX 1650 comes standard in everything except the base model, so even if you want a Core i7-9750H, 16GB RAM, and a 512GB SSD, you can get that for $1,715.99, and that comes with the OLED screen.

In the power versus battery life balance that we all have to live with, if you're one that prefers power, the Dell XPS 15 is one of, if not the best choice on the market. Like I said, it's a great prosumer PC, good for everything including editing videos, some casual gaming, and pretty much everything else that you need to do. At $2,331.99 for this model, you're not only getting a good deal, but you're pretty future-proofed.

 

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