Review

Dell XPS 17 (9700) review: The 17-inch laptop is back, and it's spectacular

Dell's XPS lineup has been among the best for years, and the company has gradually refined whatever pain points it did have, such as when it used to put the webcam below the screen. But this year, the lineup underwent a major redesign, with Dell chopping down the bezels even more, something that I wouldn't have guessed was possible.

The firm has long touted how small the footprint is on its laptops, always saying that the XPS 15 fits in the footprint of a 13-inch laptop, and that the XPS 13 fits into the footprint of an 11-inch laptop. With the XPS 15 fitting into an even smaller footprint this year, there was room for something bigger.

Dell announced the new XPS 17 in May, and it's the first new XPS 17 in around a decade. If you read my review of the latest XPS 15, then there are pretty much two things to know. The screen is bigger, and it's more powerful with Nvidia RTX graphics. In fact, it's the first XPS laptop ever with RTX graphics.

Specs

CPU Intel Core i7-10875H (16MB Cache, up to 5.1 GHz, 8 cores)
GPU Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GDDR6 with Max-Q
Display 17-inch 4K UHD+ (3840x2400) InfinityEdge touch display; HDR 400, 500-nit, 100% Adobe RGB minimum + 94% DCI-P3 typical, 1600:1 contrast ratio, anti-reflective, anti-smudge
All panels - Dolby Vision, 178° wide viewing angle +/- 89° / 89° / 89° / 89°, Eyesafe technology
Body 374.45x248.05x19.5mm (14.74x9.76x0.77in), 2.51kg (5.53lbs)
RAM 32GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
Storage 1TB PCIe 3 x4 SSD
Audio Studio quality tuning with Waves MaxxAudio Pro and Waves Nx 3D audio
Quad-speaker design with 2.5W x2 woofers and 1.5W x2 tweeters = 8W total peak output
3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack featuring Waves Nx 3D audio with headtracking
Dual microphone array optimized with Waves MaxxVoice supporting VoIP - Microsoft Cortana capable
Battery 97Whr - 130W USB Type-C charger
Ports (4) Thunderbolt 3 with power delivery & DisplayPort
(1) Full-size SD card reader v6.0
(1) 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack
Wedge-shaped lock slot
Input Touch Display (optional)
2 Digital Array Microphones
Full size, backlit chiclet keyboard; 1.3mm travel
Glass surface Precision Touchpad
Windows Hello fingerprint reader in power button & HD (720p) Windows Hello camera in the upper bezel
Ambient Light Sensor for display backlight control
Connectivity Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 (2x2) built on Intel chipset + Bluetooth 5.1
Material CNC machined aluminum in platinum silver with carbon fiber composite palm rest in black
Edge-to-edge Corning Gorilla Glass 6 on the touch panel
OS Windows 10 Home
Price $2,999.99


Obviously, these specs are for the unit that Dell sent me. The base model starts at $1,399.99, although that one has integrated graphics, a Core i5-10300H, an FHD screen, and 8GB RAM.

Day one

Design

While the XPS 17 was introduced alongside the XPS 15 redesign in May, this design was actually first shown in January at CES with the XPS 13. This design consists of a 16:10 display, narrow bezels on all four sides, and no USB Type-C ports. Indeed, if you put the XPS 13, 15, and 17 next to each other, they look nearly identical except for being different sizes.

The Dell XPS 17 is indeed the 17-inch laptop that can fit into the footprint of a 15-inch laptop. The most important thing that that means to me is that it can fit into a regular-sized bag. That's not always the case with 17-inch laptops; in fact, it's pretty rare. It's a bit heavy at five and a half pounds, but that's the kind of laptop that this is. It's got a lot of power under the hood, and it also fits into a small footprint. That combination makes the XPS 17 unique.

The top-down view is the one thing that looks the same. The chassis is made out of aluminum, and the laptop comes in a silver color with a chrome-colored Dell logo stamped in the lid.

The sides are silver-colored as well. This was a big change with the redesign since the sides have more traditionally been black. I think this gives it a much cleaner look. But as I mentioned, there are no USB Type-C ports, even on the 17-incher.

Instead, there are four Thunderbolt 3 ports, two of which are on each side. The bad news is that they're not full Thunderbolt 3 ports, so if you're like me and you work from a Thunderbolt 3 dock that has two 4K monitors attached to it, you won't be able to use the full resolution. My workaround was to disconnect one of the monitors from the dock and connect it directly to the laptop. Still, it's disappointing, considering how premium and powerful this PC is.

The cool thing about having two Thunderbolt 3 ports on each side is that you can charge the PC from either side. I know that this sounds like a small thing, but it's really nice, and it's a rarity in laptops.

Also on the right side, you'll find an SD card reader and a 3.5mm audio jack. I'm kind of surprised that the SD card reader is there with everything else being cut, but I guess it's nice that it's there.

Display and audio

The screen on the Dell XPS 17 is a flat 17 inches, compared to 17.3 inches on a traditional 17-inch laptop. The reason for that is because this has a 16:10 display, and to be clear, being that it's measured diagonally, this display is larger than a 17.3-inch 16:9 screen. It comes in your choice of 3840x2400 or 1920x1200 resolutions. Dell sent me the former, and it is absolutely beautiful.

It comes in at 500-nit brightness, so it works great in bright sunlight, and indoors, I only found myself using it at about 25% brightness. It also has 100% Adobe RGB, 94% DCI-P3, and a 1600:1 contrast ratio.

The colors are also nearly perfect, and that actually goes for whatever angle you're viewing the display from. Dell promises a 178-degree viewing angle, and it delivers. You can look at this thing from any angle and not see any visible distortions.

Plus, it's big. I'm not always a fan when companies make taller screens like this because it means that it's also narrower. But at 17 inches, there's plenty of screen real estate for everything.

The company also has something called Dell Cinema, which includes CinemaColor, CinemaSound, and CinemaStream. CinemaColor includes HDR technologies and more, and there's actually an included app that lets you apply different display settings such as movie, evening, sports, and animation.

The bezels are small, but that doesn't mean Dell removed the webcam, or moved it. It's shrunken down to fit into that tiny top bezel, and there's an IR camera for facial recognition as well. You're not making any sacrifices in that department like you would have been in the old days.

CinemaSound has to do with the Waves MaxxAudio Pro speakers. There's an app for that too, but this one is called MaxxAudio Pro instead of CinemaSound. The XPS 17 has large speakers on either side of the keyboard, and they sound fantastic. The dead giveaway is that it has both woofers and tweeters, a rarity on laptops.

Indeed, this has four speakers, two of which are 2.5W and two of which are 1.5W. Obviously, they're used for different frequencies. If you're looking for sound quality and volume in a laptop, you definitely came to the right place.

Keyboard and trackpad

The keyboard found in the XPS 17 is the same as can be found in its other clamshell laptops. Dell does have a technology called MagLev that it uses in the XPS 13 2-in-1 and XPS 15 2-in-1, but perhaps surprisingly, the technology didn't make it into the smaller, redesigned clamshells.

Dell didn't add a numpad, which is a decision that I'm happy with. I'm not a fan of the numpad, and it's not even easy to ignore because it moves the regular keyboard to the left, leaving it off-centered. I'll take the quad-speaker setup instead.

Key depth is 1.3mm, which is pretty standard for a consumer laptop these days. It's quite comfortable to type on, and it's definitely one of the better keyboards in a consumer laptop. If we were talking about commercial laptops, that might be another story, but we're not talking about commercial laptops. I find that I make very few mistakes with this keyboard, something that I do appreciate after using some keyboards that I've had some issues with.

There's a power button in the keyboard, which doubles as a fingerprint sensor. Unfortunately, you do have to scan your fingerprint after the PC boots up, as opposed to how everyone else with a fingerprint sensor in the power button does it, scanning your finger before it boots up.

Dell considers this to be a security issue, assuming that you might walk away from your PC between when you press the button and when it boots up and someone might sit in front of it. I have a bit more faith in the user than Dell does, and I think you'd get to know your PC and whether or not you're safe to grab a cup of coffee while it's booting up.

My favorite feature of the XPS 15 is on the XPS 17, which is that the Precision trackpad is massive. Huge trackpads are something that Apple introduced on its MacBook Pro PCs a while back, and I've been waiting for a Windows OEM to follow suit. If the real estate on the keyboard deck is there, I say use it. The large, clickable trackpad feels great, and it makes drag-and-drop operations a breeze.

Performance and battery life

Both performance and battery life are excellent on the XPS 17. This thing is great for anything. I used it for things from gaming with Forza Horizon 4 and Halo: Reach to 4K video editing to general work. Sure, there was the occasional bump in the road, particularly when it came to gaming, but it absolutely handled anything that I threw at it.

After all, this thing has top-end hardware for its class. It has an Intel Core i7-10875H processor, which has eight cores, 16 threads, and a 45W TDP. It's the better Core i7 from the H-series, the other one being the hexa-core Core i7-10750H. It's only bested by the Core i9-10885H, which is available in the XPS 17.

For graphics, it comes with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q with 6GB GDDR6. With RTX graphics, it supports things like real-time ray tracing and deep learning super sampling (DLSS). RTX graphics was how I knew it would support some solid gaming. You can get it with integrated graphics if you don't want the power at all, or you can get it with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti.

Keep in mind that this is a creator laptop, not a gaming laptop. It uses a 130W charger, while most gaming laptops are closer to the 230W range, and it doesn't have the thermals for it. This is primarily a work machine, but I'm here to let you know that it does have the power to play as well.

Even more impressive is battery life. I often say that you have to choose between power and battery life, and with the UHD+ display, you can bet that this uses a lot of power. I used it with the power slider one notch above the battery saver, and with the screen at around 25% brightness. I can tell you that you can easily get six hours out of this, and in many cases, you can take it further than that. With general work, I was able to get up to eight hours.

Of course, the touchscreen model comes with a 97Whr battery. In other words, this has one of the biggest batteries that you'll find in any laptop (much larger and you can't take it on a plane). The non-touch model comes with a 56Whr battery.

For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8, PCMark 10, 3DMark, VRMark, Geekbench, and Cinebench.

PCMark 8: Home PCMark 8: Creative

PCMark 8: Work PCMark 10

3DMark: Time Spy VRMark: Orange Room

Geekbench 5 Cinebench


If you're not the type to go through benchmark scores, all you need to know is that this is a powerful machine.

Conclusion

My biggest complaint about the Dell XPS 17 is that it doesn't have full Thunderbolt 3 ports, which would have been able to handle two 4K displays on a single port. If that bothers you too, just wait for the next one. Intel's next generation of CPUs is going to support Thunderbolt 4, which is really just the full Thunderbolt 3 that I'm describing. My other gripe is that there's no cellular model. I realize that it's something of a rare feature on more powerful laptops, probably because it uses battery, but I don't care. It's 2020 and I should be able to work from anywhere.

Let's be clear that this is an absolutely incredible laptop that's nearly perfect. It's an absolute pleasure to use, no matter what you're using it for. If you're playing games, it can do that. If you're streaming movies, it's got a killer HDR display and stunning speakers. If you want to edit video, it's got the power for that as well.

All of it comes in a beautiful chassis and yes, a small footprint. The fact that this thing has a 17-inch display and can fit in a regular bag is a feat of engineering. Honestly, the Dell XPS 17 is in a class all its own, and I can't think of anything like it. If you're looking for a laptop that can do everything, this is it.

If you want to check it out on Dell.com, you can find it here.

 

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