Dell recently refreshed its XPS line up of laptops, slotting in two new models and updating its XPS 13 Ultrabook to Ivy Bridge. The XPS 15 is in some ways the odd one out of the lineup. While it is physically quite similar to the XPS 13 and 14 it doesn’t bear the Ultrabook moniker, instead it uses normal laptop hardware, freeing it from Intel’s tight Ultrabook definition.
Expect to see more of these families of products where some are Ultrabooks and some aren’t. One of the biggest effects of Intel’s Ultrabook push is that it is driving manufacturers to focus more on thin and light laptops, even if they don’t qualify under Intel’s schemes. There are actually many advantages to this, such as more powerful processors, optical drives and much freer use of discreet graphics processors.
The XPS 15 is a perfect example, built with a focus on power over battery life. Our review sample has a core i7-3612QM CPU, GeForce GT 640M, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD (with 32GB cache drive) and a 1920 x 1080 screen. This is packed into a chassis that is only 20.7mm thick, with a much smaller footprint than normal 15in laptops thanks to a thin bezel screen similar to that used on the XPS 13.
The chassis itself is made of a mix of Aluminium with a silicone base. The screen is covered with a sturdy, but annoyingly reflective layer of Gorilla glass, and the palmrest is magnesium alloy with a soft, rubberised finish. It is beautifully constructed and looks fantastic thanks to this mix of materials.
Typing on the XPS 15’s backlit Chiclet keyboard is surprisingly comfortable. The soft touch palmrest is both cool and comfortable and the generously sized trackpad is fast and responsive. Dell has included a thin rubber strip around the edge of the screen, which sits on the edge of the palmrest when closed, reducing the amount of dust that can build up inside. The combination of this rubber and the sturdiness of the aluminium lid also means the keys don’t press against the screen when closed.
On the left side of the chassis sit three USB 3 ports, Mini-DisplayPort and HDMI. There is also a fold down Gigabit Ethernet port, employed so it fits with onto the thin Aluminium band. The right hand side has a slot loading optical drive, Kensington lock, SD reader and audio in and out. It is a solid feature set, and our only real issue with it is the lack of a USB on the right hand side – it is not a deal breaker but for convenience at least one port on the right would have been handy.
Not only is the construction solid, but the performance of the XPS is excellent. In our real world benchmarks we saw an overall score of 0.86 thanks to the core i7, and it endured just under six hours of light battery life testing. Considering that this isn’t using an Ultrabook chip, this battery life in particular is impressive, although in the heavy use test it only managed an hour and 22 minutes.
It is no slouch in the gaming space either. In our Crysis test the GeForce GT 640M managed a borderline playable 26 fps at high detail, and a speedy 40fps at medium. With a little tweaking this makes for a solid gaming laptop on top of its other strong points, even the cheaper specifications come with a GeForce GT 630M which should allow for decent gaming performance.
With the XPS 15 Dell is continuing to deliver one of the more exciting laptop lines we have seen this year. Not only does it sport enough grunt for serious work and play, but it does so in a wonderfully small package. The construction is excellent, it looks fantastic and little touches like the thin bezel screen are hard to walk away from, making it one of the best 15in laptops on the market today.