Here's my review of the Dell XPS 15 laptop 9550 (Late 2015) after 3 weeks of intensive use.
The unit I have is a loan set from Dell Singapore. I brought it overseas recently to use as a video editing computer and made 16 videos for my Youtube channel. That's almost a video for each day of my trip. As I don't have any laptop, my initial plan for my trip was to get a secondhand dual-core Macbook Pro instead (I'm low on budget). After using this quad-core Dell XPS, I'm very lucky to get this loan unit before my trip because it cut down video exporting time significantly!
My review is written from the perspective of someone who uses this laptop mostly for graphic design, some 3D work, video and photo editing.
Design of the XPS is very similar to the Dell Precision 5000 series. They are indistinguishable except for the back plate that says XPS.
Beneath the laptop are two long strips of non-slip rubber and the speakers. Sound quality of the speakers is decent but you will have to use the laptop on a surface that allows sound to bounce off, if not you won't be able to hear the audio clearly.
The screen is 5mm thick and the whole laptop is 1.6cm thick, 2kg in weight. In my opinion, it's quite thin for a performance laptop.
Overall build quality is fantastic. The carbon fiber palm rest feels good to touch. Trackpad is large although I find the click a bit too stiff. Keyboard layout and comfort is good for typing, and there's backlight. The fan exhaust comes out from the top of the keyboard.
For my unit, there seems to be a problem with the spacebar. I can only get it to register when I hit the centre and not on the sides which is what I usually do with my thumbs. I hope it's an isolated issue because it's annoying to get around.
The model I received has the following specifications:
- Intel i7-6700HQ (Quad Core 2.60GHz)
- Glossy IGZO 3840 by 2160 resolution screen
- 256GB SSD
- 16GB RAM
- NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5
- 6-cell (84Wh) battery
It's here that I want to point out some similarities and differences between the Precision workstation laptops and the XPS series. From the exterior, they are almost indistinguishable. The main difference is the Precision is much more configurable than the XPS. With the XPS, you can only choose from the pre-configured models on Dell's website, and the changes you can make are usually software options. In other words, you can configure a Precision to match close to the specifications as an XPS, but you can't do it the other way because, well, they are already pre-configured.
The other thing to note is the battery life and graphic card differences. Non-touch screen versions of the XPS comes with the 56Wh battery. If there's a pre-configured non-Touch screen model with 84Wh battery, you should go for that for longer battery life. The larger battery capacity is usually reserved for the 4K screen laptop. Battery life for the 6-cell (84Wh) battery is between 5 to 6 hours. The more intensive the work, the faster the battery will drain. When I'm working, it's always plugged in. When I'm surfing the web, it can be unplugged. The battery charges to full in around 1.5 hours.
The XPS uses the gaming graphics card NVIDIA® GeForce™ GTX 960M (2GB GDDR5) vs Precision's Nvidia® Quadro® M1000M w/2GB GDDR5. I'm not an expert in 3D work but the performance differences between the two are not significant, at least in my opinion. However, some graphic software companies recommend that the Quadro graphics card for such work purposes.
There's the option for the matte anti-glare 1080 screen and 4K screen. The 4K screen supports 100% Adobe RGB which is great for designers concerned about colour reproduction. This is the screen that I'm using and the colours are rich. I don't like the glossy screen because it's very reflective.
The matte screen is an IPS panel at 1920 by 1080 resolution with NTSC 72% color gamut. Basically, the sRGB coverage is very good too, suitable for use as a graphic design laptop.
Downside to the 4K screen is not all software supports this high resolution, such as the Adobe graphic software.
Shown above is a photo of Adobe Premiere Pro CS5. I'm not sure if you can see clearly but the type at the top "Adobe Premiere Pro" are extremely sharp, and the type in the user interface are not as sharp, such as the words "Sequence 16".
If you're using software not supported on 4K resolution, all the buttons, user interface is going to be very small, to the point it's very frustrating to use. If you're using older software, you might have to spend extra money to upgrade the software, or like me, apply a hack to upscale the user interface but have to deal with the pixelation that comes with it. I highly recommend you check out relevant software forums for people using 4K screens and see what they have to say about it.
As of now, Adobe CS5 and CS6 are unusable on 4K screens without scaling. However, with scaling, you'll get pixelation and that's not a true representation of the output work you'll see. For example, you're not supposed to see pixelation with vector art in Adobe Illustrator.
The 4K screen is a touch screen which is quite handy. There are some people who wonder about how useful it is. I find that it's sometimes faster to use the touch-screen than the trackpad. I find that I prefer it to the trackpad at times. Anyway, if you don't want to, you don't have to use it. While the screen is not a fingerprint magnet, you still have to clean it once in a while.
- 1 Thunderbolt 3
- 2 USB 3.0
- 1 HDMI
- 1 SD card reader
- 1 Headphone and microphone combo jack
The Thunderbolt 3 port which doubles up as a USB 3 Type-C port.
The SD card slot, USB3 and Thunderbolt ports are all very fast at transferring files.
XPS gives you the option of the i5-6300HQ (quad 2.3Ghz to turbo 3.2Ghz) and i7-6700HQ (quad 2.6Ghz to turbo 3.5Ghz). If you're doing processor intensive work like video editing or 3D rendering, it might be worth the money to get the faster processor, especially if you do these sort of work regularly.
The Xeon advantage?
This cityscape in occlusion style above was rendered in 2K resolution with Maya 2016.
While rendering, I checked the Windows Task Manager and found that the i7-6700HQ has overclocked from 2.6Ghz to 3Ghz. Fans started to turn loudly as soon as the render start.
Here are the rendering times compared to other systems:
- Dell XPS i7 Quad 2.6Ghz:3min 8s
- Dell 5510 Xeon Quad 2.8Ghz: 2min 20s
- Mac Pro 2013 Quad 3.5Ghz: 2m
- Office computer Quad 2.93Ghz with Maya 8.5: 13+ min
Disclaimer: I did this render test with the Precision 15 5000 series 5510 and used the same file on the Mac Pro. The file on the XPS is not the same even though I used the same method to generate the cityscape. This is not a controlled test.
The Xeon processor from the Precision is more than 20% faster. I'm not sure if the Xeon overclocked but that's quite a significant edge over XPS' i7-6700HQ Quad 2.6Ghz. The Precision's fastest i7 processor is the i7-6820HQ (Quad Core 2.70GHz), but to get the Xeon processor, you just have to add USD $70. That upgrade to me is worth the money. But you can't get the Xeon processor on the XPS.
Anyway, in short, I've very satisfied with the i7-6700HQ Quad 2.6Ghz on the XPS. When exporting videos, without effects, it takes about 1.5 times the time to render the footage. For a 7 minute 1080P footage, it probably takes around 10 minutes. Often when I'm creating 15 minute videos, the laptop takes less than 25 minutes to complete the export. That to me is quite fast. When you create daily videos, every minute counts because you want the export to finish so that you can upload it and go to sleep. If I had worked on the 15 minute with a dual core machine, it would have taken me 40-50 minutes of exporting time!
Unfortunately, I did not use the Dell Precision for much video editing so I won't know if it's also significantly faster just like it was for 3D rendering.
The only graphics intensive game I tried is Tomb Raider. The moment you start running the game, the fan starts spewing out hot air. Playing games at 4K resolution is definitely taxing. When I'm playing Tomb Raider at 4K 60FPS, everything still feels rather smooth with no jerkiness. Of course performance depends on the game you play. Anyway, I'm not a gamer so I have nothing more to add.
So who is the Dell XPS 15 for?
The Dell XPS 15 is definitely a powerful laptop so I would recommend it to people who want to use it for work purposes that require processing power. It's great for graphic design, photo and video editing. In particular, you'll see better results if you use it for video editing because this sort of work requires more processing power and the more processor cores there are, the better.
The XPS 15 is also good for gaming, although I don't think it's the best compared to other more gaming-specific laptops. But it's definitely decent enough to handle games at 1080P.
The Dell Precision 5510 for people who need more speed and those with more specific needs. This is the first time I've used their laptops and I'm pleasantly surprised that they have good options for the high-end and middle-to-high end laptops.
Pros and Cons at a glance
+ Good build quality
+ Looks good
+ Carbon fiber palm rest feels good
+ USB 3, SD card reader, Thunderbolt 3 ports are extremely fast
+ IGZO 4K screen is sharp and colour reproduction is wonderful, vibrant
+ Thin bezel makes the screen look expansive
+ Keyboard good for typing
+ Good stereo speakers, but needs to bounce off surface
+ Decent weight considering the specifications
- You can only choose from the pre-configured models
- Average battery life of 5-6 hours with the 6-cell (81Wh) battery
- Apps not optimized for 4K screens will have tiny frustrating user interface
- 4K screen probably use up a lot of battery power
- IGZO screen is thick
You get more options on Dell's website. However, if you do purchase through the Amazon links above, I do get some commission (from Amazon, not Dell) that helps me fund this blog.
I hope this review has been helpful to you.