When Dell launched their dramatically redesigned XPS 13 in January 2015, the laptop-loving world went crazy (in a good way). It was smaller and lighter than other 13.3" laptops on the market yet it made no concessions to build quality, performance and materials. Of course, we couldn't wait for Dell to remake the XPS 15 in the new XPS 13's image, and now it's finally here. The Dell XPS 15 9550 has Dell's Infinity display-- there's nearly no display bezel, the glass reaches to the very edges. That makes the XPS 15 and XPS 13 look futuristic and clean. Since this is a conventional laptop that doesn't flip, separate or twist, there's no need for larger bezels to act as grab points as with a tablet. Dell claims this is the smallest 15" laptop in the world, and it's the size of a 14" model. That's even more impressive since the XPS 15 is as ever a powerhouse portable in the mobile workstation category--it has a quad core i7 CPU, dedicated NVIDIA GTX 960M graphics, two RAM slots and a 15.6" display. Machines with that much power are generally chunky, though there are a few thin and lights that compete with the XPS 15 like the 15" Retina MacBook Pro, Asus ZenBook Pro UX501 and even the 15" MSI Ghost Pro and HP Omen 15 gaming laptops.
The late 2015 XPS 15 starts at $999, and the configurations most folks would want start around $1,200 to $1,700. The most expensive upgrade is the $400 4K gloss touch screen with 100% Adobe RGB coverage and 95% of NTSC. That can bring a high end XPS 15 up to the $2,000 mark. Fortunately, the 1080p matte non-touch display is no slouch, and those on a tight budget will by no means be suffering with it. That said, graphic designers, photographers and video editors will want that lush 4K high gamut panel that offers much wider color coverage than the outgoing XPS 15's 4K display.
Design and Ergonomics
Take the XPS 13 and a grow it a bit, and you literally have the XPS 15. The designs are that close. The lid is aluminum and the chassis is milled from a single piece of aluminum alloy (this is called unibody design). The aluminum bottom panel is removable after you unscrew several Torx T5 screws and two Phillips head screws under the service tag door. The keyboard deck is covered in Dell's signature carbon fiber for grip and softness. It's a sweet looking notebook, even if it lacks the flowing lines of the HP Spectre x360 or the MacBook Pro. All surfaces are extremely rigid and the XPS 15 Infinity feels robust and durable.
The XPS 15 Infinity is a surprisingly cool and quiet machine when doing productivity work. And yes, Dell's coil whine is gone. Thin and compact laptops with this much horsepower inside are usually hot and noisy under modest to moderate load. Our quad core i7 model with 16 gigs of RAM, a 1TB Samsung 951 SSD and NVIDIA switchable graphics is silent when using MS Office, browsing the web and streaming video when unplugged. Like many Ultrabooks and slim laptops, the fan comes on when plugged into AC since charging generates heat and the laptop will run in higher performance mode. It's still a fairly soft whir that you'll only notice in a quiet room. When exporting 1080p long videos (like our YouTube video reviews) or playing Fallout 4, the fan is quite audible but not room-blasting loud. The bottom gets very warm but not burning hot. When the laptop is stressed with heavy loads, the dual fan system manages heat well and the XPS 15 didn't exceed 107F at the hottest points on the bottom.
Ports and the (Future) Joys of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3
The 4.4 lb. laptop is one of the lightest 15" laptops on the market and it's slim with a taper toward the front. Port selection isn't fantastic: two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, 3.5mm audio, a lock slot, HDMI 1.4 and a single USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port. A lot rides on that USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port, and it's a bit ahead of its time since USB-C adapter cables are still hard to come by and even Dell's Thunderbolt dock and small USB-C dock (HDMI, VGA and Ethernet) aren't yet available (the Thunderbolt dock is due in early 2016). I really wish Dell had included their usual mini DisplayPort rather than HDMI 1.4, or that they'd at least used HDMI 2.0. This machine is aimed at professionals who likely use high resolution external displays, including Dell's own lovely 4K monitors. The HDMI port can drive a 4K display, but at 30Hz rather than 60Hz. I tried a few USB-C to HDMI adapters, but apparently none supported HDMI 2.0, so I was again stuck with 30Hz. That slow refresh rate makes the mouse cursor look like it's stuttering across the screen (modest exaggeration) and movies look less smooth when not shown at their intended 60Hz. Fortunately, a few companies like Monoprice sell USB-C to DisplayPort adapters that will drive a 4K monitor at 60Hz (we tested it and it worked fine). If you have a 2K monitor, there's nothing to worry about since the HDMI port on the XPS 15 can drive a 2560 x 1440 monitor at 60Hz.
Ethernet? Not here. You'll need a USB to Ethernet, USB-C to Ethernet adapter or Dell's upcoming dock. As a consolation, these adapters are easier to find if you visit the Mac section of your local or online store since the 12" MacBook requires the same adapters.
The stereo speakers are incredibly loud but they sound distorted and buzzy at the default Dell EQ settings. Unless you've bought the laptop from a Microsoft Store and gotten the Signature Edition minus all Dell software, you'll have a Dell Audio control panel. Use it immediately to change the MaxxAudio Pro speaker enhancement setting to Music rather than the default MaxxSense. That will get rid of the over amplification of bass and treble that leads to distortion and compression. The audio software isn't all bad--when it's turned off the speakers sound anemic and timid. It's just a matter of getting the settings right.
There's no Windows Hello Infrared camera here for facial recognition login, nor is there a fingerprint scanner.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The XPS 15's keyboard feels much like the XPS 13's. It's nicely damped, has white backlighting that contrasts nicely with the black keys and key travel is short. 1.6mm is standard key travel for (not skinny) laptops. The Microsoft Surface Book has 1.5mm travel and the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover has 1.4mm. The XPS 15 9550 has 1.3mm. As you might guess, if you're coming from a desktop keyboard, ThinkPad or older and thicker Dell laptop, it will take time to adjust to the short key travel. At first I double-pressed letters by accident on occasion and had to lighten my touch to avoid punishing my fingers. After an hour, I was on good terms with the XPS 15's keyboard. That cushioned key feel really does help, and unless you're one of those typists who literally bangs on the keys, you can come to enjoy the XPS' typing experience. That said, I wouldn't have minded if Dell made the laptop a millimeter or two thicker to improve key travel.
Some folks reported problems with the spacebar being slightly tilted with the top (display side) being higher than the bottom (closer to the trackpad). Ours was indeed slightly skewed and at first tapping near the bottom of the spacebar felt mushy compared to the top and it didn't always register a press. After literally banging out 5,000 words, the spacebar seems to have seated better and I haven't missed typing spaces. It does still feel a little soft along the bottom edge when pressing down.
The large glass trackpad is devilishly good. The surface texture feels just right--not too slick or sticky and the buttons hidden beneath the trackpad feel balanced in their force requirements. The new Skylake generation high end laptops and convertibles from Microsoft and Dell have improved so much that they rival the Mac's excellent trackpads. Cursor movement is precise and predictable and two-finger gestures work well. The laptop uses Microsoft's software and drivers, so customization is minimal. I noticed that some settings in Windows 10's modern settings did nothing, but the control panel mouse settings did effect change. Note that Windows updates and Dell updates improve trackpad performance, so be sure to do all available updates before passing judgment on the trackpad.
Deals and Shopping:
Dell XPS 15 Video Review (4K Display)
Dell XPS 15 Full HD 1920 x 1080 Display Review
Dell XPS 15 vs. Microsoft Surface Book Comparison
Dell XPS 15 Infinity vs. 15" Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display Comparison
Dell XPS 15 vs. Asus ZenBook Pro UX501 Comparison
Display - Wide Gamut 4K Goodness, Mostly
Dell offers the XPS 15 with a matte, non-touch 1920 x 1080 full HD display with near 100% sRGB color gamut and a 4K 3840 x 2160 glossy touch screen with 100% Adobe RGB gamut (Adobe RGB is a wider color standard, and laptops with 100% Adobe RGB are still rare). In fact, our Datacolor Spyder colorimeter measured 95% NTSC coverage (that's what TVs use and we've never seen a laptop measure this high for NTSC). The 4K display with wide color gamut adds $400 to the price tag, and I can understand if you forego it in the interest of saving money. The 1080p display is pleasing and that's a respectable resolution. Better yet, it is matte for less glare. Some folks don't want a touch screen, or feel it's a requirement only in 2-in-1s and tablets. It has good 1200:1 contrast, 360 nits brightness and a fairly normal 6800K white point and it represents 95% of sRGB. Like the 4K display, the panel is made by Sharp, and I suspect it's an IGZO panel too.
For those who can afford the 4K display or for those who work in graphics, video production or print production, the money is well spent. Images and videos are sharp and require less zooming when editing. Colors are simply incredibly vivid--it reminds me of Super AMOLED phone displays vs. LCDs. Contrast is good, though not as impressive as Microsoft's Surface Book, and brightness is high at 350 nits. In fact, the Sharp IGZO panels looks much brighter than they really are thanks to a very high white point. Cool whites look whiter and brighter to the eye, and the 8500 degree Kelvin white point is so bright that I rarely raise brightness above 50% on the 4K panel-- it's hard on the eyes. In comparison, the 414 nit Surface Book is even brighter according to the colorimeter, but I run it at 70% brightness much of the time (I like bright displays).
That high white point could be a bit off-putting for graphics and video pros. Though the included (unless you get the Microsoft Signature Edition from a Microsoft Store that's stripped of all Dell software) Dell PremierColor program does a good job of offering several built-in color calibrations including sRGB, Adobe RGB and Cinema DCI-P3 and color temperature settings, yet the display's fixed hardware white point is still high. This seems to be inherent to Sharp IGZO panels over the generations, and though it's still possible to get a good color calibration for color accuracy, the panel simply looks a little different than others on the market using IPS, TN or PLS. I also find it a little harsher on the eyes--those whites are searing. On a positive note, most folks have never seen colors this alive and rich! The display has good sharpness and text is very clear using 200% scaling (which I recommend over the factory default 250%). You can run it at native resolution with no scaling, but icons and text are really small.
If you've read our other Skylake laptop and convertible reviews, you know that Intel has driver bugs that cause display driver crash messages and some strange transient color shifts in programs like the Microsoft Edge web browser. There's nothing wrong with your XPS. Download updates as available; Intel and Microsoft are working through the issues.
Performance and Horsepower
The XPS 15 is Dell's highest performance mainstream laptop, with the Dell Precision line serving mobile workstation needs for CAD types. It has the same fast quad core Intel CPUs you'll find in serious gaming laptops, the 15" Retina MacBook Pro, Dell Precision, Asus ZenBook Pro and the HP ZBook 15. In fact, it has the latest 6th generation Skylake CPUs, while the Mac and Asus are still running on 4th generation CPUs. Skylake brings improved battery life and integrated graphics performance on the order of 10%. All but the $999 entry level XPS 15 have quad core CPUs, and these are 45 watt Intel HQ CPUs. The base XPS 15 almost doesn't make sense since it takes away most of the features XPS 15 buyers are looking for. It has no dedicated graphics, a dual core Core i3-6100H CPU and an HDD rather than SSD. But for those who want a big screen XPS at an affordable price, it's certainly a viable option. I wish Apple would follow suit--if you want a 15" MacBook, the price of admission starts at $2,000.
The $1,200 XPS 15 nets you a quad core i5-6300HQ CPU, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M 2GB DDR5 graphics, 8 gigs of RAM and a 1 TB HDD with 32 gig caching drive. That's a respectably powerful machine that will be significantly faster than a dual core Ultrabook with a U series 15 watt CPU and integrated graphics. If you spend $1,400 you'll upgrade to a 256 gig SSD. These configurations have the smaller 56 Whr battery. The $1,700 model has a larger 86 Whr battery, Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU and a 512 gig SSD; it's the sweet spot in the lineup. Note that if you want the 2.5" drive bay for a second HDD or SSD, you'll have to order a machine with the smaller 56 Whr battery (the big battery doesn't allow space for the 2.5" drive bay). All have Dell-branded dual band WiFi 802.11ac (Broadcom) and Bluetooth 4.1. The models we listed have a 1080p matte non-touch display--add $400 for 4K.
All except the $999 model have NVIDIA 960M switchable dedicated graphics, there are no other graphic card options. The GTX 960M is at the lower end of NVIDIA's high end GTX GPU lineup (960M, 970M and 980M). The 970M and 980M are usually only found in high end gaming laptops, and the more heat and power-friendly 960M is the typical high end option for mainstream slim and light laptops in the performance category. It's sufficient to make most games very playable and enjoyable at 1080p and 45 to 60 fps.
The machine comes with 8 or 16 gigs of DDR4 2133 MHz RAM in two SODIMM RAM slots. You could take it up to 32 gigs using Intelligent Memory's 16 gig RAM modules. The RAM slots, M.2 SSD slot, battery and wireless card are readily accessible when you remove the bottom cover, as is the 2.5" drive bay if the XPS has the smaller battery. The SSDs use the faster PCIe interface and our 1 TB SSD is a Samsung PM951 NVMe drive that benchmarks well. The SSD benchmarks are better than the Surface Book's, though still lower than the latest generation MacBook Pro SSDs (Windows NVMe drivers aren't mature).
So what does all this mean? If you get the quad core i5 or i7 model, you'll have one of the faster laptops on the market and it competes well with quad core gaming laptops like the HP Omen 15, lower end MSI Ghost (higher end Ghost Pro models have faster NVIDIA 970M graphics) and even Dell's own Precision line. The NVIDIA GPU is optimized for gaming and photo/video production, while the NVIDIA Quadro graphics in the Precision are optimized for professional CAD work. The XPS 15 Infinity can play current demanding games at 1080p resolution and medium or high settings--it's significantly ahead of Surface Book with its NVIDIA 940M equivalent graphics. It's the perfect laptop for those who work professionally in Adobe Premiere Pro and it rips through huge 20 layer big print graphics in Photoshop. It will be one of the quicker options if you crunch numbers in huge Excel spreadsheets, and software compile times are quick. It's seriously overkill if you only use MS Office, run Photoshop for home photos and web graphics, surf the web and stream YouTube and Netflix.
Thermal throttling hasn't been an issue on our powerful Core i7 model with 16 gigs of RAM and a 1 TB SSD. Happily, Dell's issues with XPS throttling are well in the past, and the dual fan design keeps the CPU and GPU pumping despite the slim and compact design that leaves less room for heat sinks and cooling. When running Unigine Heaven and Fallout 4, the 960M reached 75C with no throttling. That's hotter than a GPU in a 17" gaming laptop but well below the thermal max. The CPU cores hit 70C in stress tests and ran at a cool 35C when doing simple tasks like word processing and streaming short 1080p video clips. When playing Civ V (a real time strategy game that uses the CPU heavily) the cores ran at a not terribly not 50C. Nice.
PCMark 8 Home accel: 3091
Geekbench 3: 3632 / 13,473
wPrime: 12 seconds
Unigine Heaven 4 (1920 x 1080, high, no tessellation) : fps: 42.7, score 1076. Max GPU temp: 82C
3DMark 11: P5538, X1813
3DMark Cloud Gate: 16,566
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited: 117,918
3DMark Fire Strike 3968
Cinebench R15: 46.25 fps OpenGL, 677 CPU score
We have the larger 84 Whr battery in our full HD and 4K review units and haven't had the opportunity to evaluate the 56 Whr model. Dell makes some extravagant runtime claims for the XPS 15 Infinity--17 hours. Really? I don't think so. Even if you had one with the lowly Core i3, a 1080p display, SSD and the big battery I can't see how that would be possible. Our 4K display and Core i7 are at the power hungry end of the spectrum, and we've averaged 6 hours of use for productivity and video streaming. Long sessions in Premiere Pro, gaming and compiling code will shorten runtimes. In our tests we ran brightness at 40% (which is quite bright!) and had WiFi on and active. That's a respectable runtime for a 4K quad core laptop, but it certainly falls short of the record-holding 15" Retina MacBook Pro that manages 9 hours. Of course, we haven't seen a Windows laptop with these internals that comes close to the Mac's runtimes, and the Asus ZenBook Pro UX501 fared much worse at 4 hours, as did the HP Omen 15.
Our Core i7 full HD model with the 84 Whr battery, an SSD, 16 gigs of RAM and switchable NVIDIA GTX 960M graphics ran 7-9 hours under the same test scenario, with an average runtime of 7.8 hours. That's impressive for a high end quad core laptop with a 15.6" display, and with some aggressive battery management and brightness settings.
Dell ships the laptop with their unique looking rounded rectangle charger. The 130 watt charger's cord isn't as long as some traditional laptop chargers, though it's not as short as Microsoft's Surface chargers.
As with the XPS 13 earlier this year, Dell has hit a home run. This extremely powerful portable is smaller and lighter than any other 15.6" laptop in its performance class. Build quality and materials are top notch and the carbon fiber keyboard deck is as ever comfy and uniquely Dell. The Infinity display, be it 1080p or 4K is stunning looking thanks to the bright IGZO panel and the nearly bezel-less display. The only downside is the Dell ChinCam: the webcam is below the display because there's no room up top, so folks will get a jowls-first view of your lovely visage. Performance is excellent and the GeForce GTX 960M can handle serious gaming as well as pro apps. The machine is decently quiet and cool unless gaming, the trackpad is excellent and the speakers are loud though not terribly full. The backlit keyboard is very well done, but the short travel means it falls short of Dell's own deeper keyboards and thicker Lenovo ThinkPads. The XPS 15 Infinity isn't cheap, but here you do get what you pay for. It has cutting edge technology, a crazy good full Adobe RGB display and strong dedicated graphics, which is much more than we can say about the current 15" MacBook Pro with Retina display. It has longer battery life and newer CPUs than much of the Windows competition and it's small and light enough to travel with frequently. Recommended.
Price: start at $999, $2,199 for our maxed out model with Core i7, 16 gigs RAM, 1TB SSD, NVIDIA GTX 960M and 4K Infinity display
Display:15.6" Sharp IGZO display. 1920 x 1080 matte non-touch and 3840 x 2160 UHD 4K gloss touch screen with full Adobe RGB options. Gorilla Glass NBT on 4K display. Intel HD 530 integrated graphics and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M 2BG DDR5 on most models. HDMI 1.4 and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3.
Battery:56 Whr and 84 Whr Lithium
Ion rechargeable batteries available.
Performance:6th generation Intel Skylake 45 watt CPUs, all but Core i3 are quad core. Available with Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs. 8 or 16 gigs DDR4 2133 MHz RAM in two RAM slots. Available with HDD + caching 32 gig SSD or PCIe SSDs in a variety of capacities.
x 9.27 x 0.45-0.66 inches. Weight: 3.9 lbs. with 56 Whr battery, 4.4 lbs. with 84 Whr battery.
Audio:Built-in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
Networking:Integrated Broadcom dual band
WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1.
Software:Windows 10 Home and Pro available.
Expansion and Ports:2 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, 3.5mm audio and
SD card slot.