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Home > Notebook Reviews > Dell XPS 15 L521X and 9530

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Dell XPS 15

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What's hot: Great looks and build quality, slim. Lovely full HD display.

What's not: Thermal mangement and heat issues throttle power and can stymie performance.

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Reviewed October 2, 2012 (updated May 2014 to add latest model video review) by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

The Dell XPS 15 is one of the nicest looking laptops Dell has turned out in some time. Gone is the disorganized design language of the XPS 15z, replaced with a unified, if somewhat MacBook Pro-looking package that continues the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook style. The 15.6" notebook features Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 and i7 CPU options and switchable graphics with Intel HD 4000 and your choice of Nvidia GT630M or GT640M dedicated graphics. All XPS 15 models have an excellent 1080p WLED display covered in Gorilla glass.

Dell XPS 15

The XPS 15 L521X notebook goes after the powerful thin-and-light and style segments that the HP Envy 15 and 15" MacBook Pro inhabit. It's 0.91" thick and weighs a lithe 5.79 pounds. The lid and casing are unibody aluminum, and the keyboard deck is magnesium alloy coated with a black soft touch finish. The bottom cover has a black silicon soft touch finish with a pop-open metal door that reveals the Windows product key and serial number (just like the Dell XPS 13 and Dell XPS 14). There's no arguing: this is an attractive machine.

Dell XPS 15

Specs at a Glance

Our unit has the quad core 2.1GHz Intel Core i7-3612QM, 8 gigs of DDR3 1600MHz RAM, a 750 gig 7200 RPM HDD, 32 gig SSD drive and Nvidia GT640M graphics with 2 gigs of DDR5 VRAM (Kepler). Ours has a Blu-ray drive, and you order it with a DVDRW if you prefer. Our config lists for $1,699, so this isn't a cheap machine. The base model starts at $1,299 with a Core i5-3210M, 6 gigs of RAM and a 500 gig HDD plus 32 gig SSD. Other goodies include a very good chiclet style backlit keyboard, 1.3MP webcam, dual band Intel WiFi with WiDi, Bluetooth 4.0 and a 9 cell battery that's sealed inside.

Dell XPS 15

Hot Under the Collar

Is this a well-built machine that's put together as tightly as the MacBook Pro? Yes. Is it a performance champ? Yes and no. Thermal issues have plagued the XPS 15 since its launch this summer. The machine doesn't get hot to the touch, but the CPU and GPU inside run fairly hot. Dell has issued several BIOS updates to tune CPU and GPU throttling, and our machine with the latest A09 BIOS, throttles the dedicated GPU significantly. That means gaming is problematic with today's demanding 3D titles. After 5 minutes of game play in Crysis 2 and Batman Arkham City, our frame rates dropped from the mid-30's to an unplayable 12 fps. So the Dell XPS 15 is a performance powerhouse for tasks other than gaming.

Dell XPS 15

Dell XPS 15

Dell XPS 15

Dell XPS 15

 

Deals and Shopping:

 

Dell XPS 15 Video Review

 

Dell XPS 15 Video Review: 2014 Edition

 

Benchmarks

PCMark Vantage: 10,304

3DMark Vantage: 8731 (GPU 7373, CPU 19,439)

Windows 7 Experience Index:

Processor: 7.3
RAM: 7.7
Graphics (for Aero): 7.0
Gaming Graphics: 7.0
HDD: 5.9

Benchmark Comparison Table

  Dell XPS 15 Core i7, GT640M Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 HP Envy 15 2nd gen Core i7, AMD 7690M Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Core i5, Intel HD4000 MacBook Pro with Retina Core i5, NVidia GT650M
PCMark Vantage 10,304 11,824 8247 8152 19,174
3DMark Vantage 8731 9882 6216 3209 10,656

 

Conclusion

The Dell XPS 15 is a good looking machine that looks expensive, and frankly is expensive when loaded with a Core i7 and decent dedicated graphics. It's designed to look good in the boardroom and deliver more than ample performance for everyday tasks. The full HD 1080p IPS display is a lovely though the gloss can be distracting (the same can be said for most glossy screen laptops). What holds the Dell XPS 15 back? Thermal management is lacking and the machine too often throttles the CPU or GPU to keep internal temperatures under control. Surface temperatures aren't terribly high, rather Dell is protecting the internals from heat-related failure. That makes it hard to recommend this machine to serious 3D gamers and video editors.

 

Website: www.dell.com

Price: Starting at $1,329, $1,699 as tested

 

 

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Specs:

Display: 15.6", 1920 x 1080 IPS WLED backlit display. Switchable Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics and NVidia GT640M with 2 gigs DDR5 VRAM. Also available with GT630M and 1 gig VRAM. Mini Display Port and HDMI. Supports WiDi.

Battery: 9 cell, 65 Wh Lithium Ion rechargeable, sealed inside.

Performance: 2.3 GHz 3rd gen Intel Ivy Bridge quad core i7-3610QM. 8 gigs DDR3 1600MHz RAM. Available with other CPU options including a Core i5.

Drives: Blu-ray drive (also available with DVD burner) 750 gig 7200 RPM HDD with 32 gig SSD to speed boot and application load times.

Size: 14.6 x 9.8 x 0.91 inches. Weight: 5.79 pounds.

Camera: 1.3MP webcam with digital array mics.

Audio: Built in stereo speakers with Wave MaxxAudio 4.0, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 dual band WiFi 802.11 a/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0. Supports WiDi.

Software: Windows 7 and now available with Windows 8.

Expansion and Ports: Three USB 3.0 ports, mini Display Port,HDMI, 3.5mm audio jack, SD card slot.

 

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