Revisiting past glories is a path fraught with peril, but Dell’s resurrection of its once-legendary XPS range is one of the success stories. Fusing power, panache and a fantastic pair of speakers, the XPS 15 gained a Recommended award in late 2010. Now, with added Intel Sandy Bridge processors, it’s even better.
Our model came equipped with the mid-range 2.3GHz Core i5-2410M, and it flew through our new Real World Benchmarks to an overall score of 0.66. That’s more than quick enough for most people, and it’s worth noting that’s the slowest processor Dell offers for the XPS 15.
Whichever CPU takes your fancy, it comes paired with Nvidia’s mid-range GeForce GT 540M graphics chipset. That might sound a little underwhelming, but it’s no slouch: it wasn’t until we pushed our Crysis benchmark up to High settings at the screen’s Full HD resolution that the action slowed to a sluggish 15fps. If you’re dead set on playing Crysis at this detail level, you’ll have to reduce the resolution; at 1280 x 720 and High settings, the Dell averaged 27fps.
With Nvidia’s Optimus technology dynamically switching between the Nvidia and integrated Intel HD graphics chipsets and a huge battery propping up its rear, the XPS 15 boasts a enormous amount of stamina for such a powerful laptop. In our light-use battery test, it lasted for 7hrs 25mins. That huge battery also helped in our heavy-use test: with brightness set to the screen’s maximum, the XPS 15 kept going flat-out for 1hr 59mins.
The XPS 15: improved performance, incredible stamina and smorgasbord of features
There are downsides to having a protruding battery – for one thing, the XPS 15’s thick chassis weighs a hefty 3kg even without the 650g power supply – but it also has some rather welcome side-effects. The Scrabble-tile keyboard was already excellent, but with the battery now leaning it slightly towards the typing position, it’s even more comfortable.
Previously, our only major disappointments with the XPS 15 were the average quality of the display and the flimsy feel of its lid. Unfortunately, the lid doesn’t feel any more durable, with even light prods resulting in ripples of showthrough. Image quality, however, is vastly improved. Dell obviously heard our complaints, and this time sent us a review unit with the superior Adobe RGB, or wide-gamut, Full HD display. Viewing angles are much wider, and the panel’s ample brightness and strong black levels result in an excellent 671:1 contrast ratio.
The panel’s only weakness is colour reproduction, which, while stunningly vivid, suffers from the usual issues associated with wide-gamut displays. As most applications, images and games are designed to be viewed on standard sRGB laptop panels, they can look cartoony and over-saturated when viewed on a display capable of producing a wider range, or gamut, of colours. Admittedly, many people will love the lurid colour reproduction, but those wanting colour accuracy will need to invest in a calibration tool.
Elsewhere, the XPS 15 cements its reputation as an entertainment thoroughbred. With our review unit sporting both Blu-ray and a DVB-T TV tuner, the Dell makes for a compact media centre. It also helps that the JBL speakers are among the best we’ve ever heard on a laptop.
There’s no lack of connectivity, either. A D-SUB output is a notable absentee, but HDMI 1.4 – which means you can connect the XPS to a 3D TV – and mini-DisplayPort are arguably far more useful additions. With two USB 3 ports, a USB 2/eSATA combo port, a three-in-one card reader and an optical S/PDIF output, the XPS 15 ticks all the boxes.
We were already fans of Dell’s XPS 15, but the improved performance, incredible stamina and smorgasbord of features make it more alluring than ever. We’d prefer a sturdier lid, but at $1333 the Dell is a fine example of just how much a Sandy Bridge entertainment laptop can offer.