Dell XPS 15 (Kaby Lake 9560) review – geared up with new hardware, the new XPS 15 makes a compelling case


Dell’s XPS lineup received a lot of praise in the last two years and we mostly agree with the positive reviews out there but if you opt for the 15-inch version, you should consider a good number of cons. If you read our review of the previous generation XPS 15 with UHD screen, you’d remember that the demanding nature of the hardware (CPU and GPU) combined with extra slim profile raised some concerns about the stability and the effectiveness of the cooling system and thus, kept us from giving an excellent score. We were also disappointed by the audio quality, battery life and loud fan operations.

But even if the this year’s XPS 15 looks just about the same, you are wrong. Packing totally new hardware under the hood, we expect the cooling system to be able to support the Core i7-7700HQ CPU and GTX 1050 GPU. The former is expected to generate just as much heat but we expect some serious temperature drops in our tests from the GTX 1050. Also, we would like to review the Full HD version of the notebook this time and assess how this affects battery life compared to the UHD version from last year and see if it’s any good for multimedia and color-sensitive work.

You can find some of the available configurations here: http://amzn.to/2n4ZV1H

Contents

Retail package

The box contains all the usual user manuals, AC adapter, power cord and the laptop itself, which is in a slim, black, premium-looking box.

Design and construction

The chassis remains the same as before without any changes at all. But that’s mainly a good thing because there’s absolutely nothing to criticize when it comes to build quality and design. The XPS 15 also retains weight and dimensions by tipping the scale at just 1.8 kg for the reviewed version and going up to 2.0 kg for the UHD touch variant. The thickness of the chassis goes from 11 to 17 mm – just like before.

Let’s go over the chassis once more. We’ve got anodized aluminum lid with chamfered edges. It’s also pretty rigid and there’s no flex when pressed in the middle. Unfortunately, we didn’t like the hinge design so much because it feels way overly tightened. It requires both hands during the whole travel and our best guess is that this prevents serious wobbling on the touch version. In our opinion, the non-touch version definitely needs a looser hinge but we do have to give credit to the smooth and reliable movement. Anyway, opening the lid reveals the near borderless Full HD matte screen and a bit awkward webcam placement. In any case, the thin bezels cut off a bit from the sides making it one of the most compact 15-inchers on the market. The bottom plate is still made of anodized aluminum with the well-known grill for extra airflow.

The sides offer the same flat design with healthy port distribution. On the left, we see the DC charging port, USB 3.0 connector, HDMI, 3.5 mm audio jack and a USB-C 3.1 port supporting Thunderbolt 3 standard as well. On the right, you will see the button that lights up the battery gauge, another USB 3.0 port, and the SD card reader. Some users might consider the sides lacking some of the ports but two USB-A 3.0 connectors along with the high-bandwidth USB-C Thunderbolt should be more than enough.

There’s only one considerable drawback of the interior – it’s a fingerprint magnet. Yes, it looks really cool with the soft-touch and slightly transparent surface that lets the carbon-fiber peeking from beneath, but it also requires frequent cleaning. Everything else is just flawless. As before, we liked the keyboard with its relatively short (1.3 mm) key travel but satisfying clicky feedback. It misses the Numpad area so you can get a better, more comfortable keyboard placement in the middle of the interior. The big touchpad is also centered and offers exceptional feel – light clicks, responsive, excellent gliding surface, registers all swipes and gestures accurately and it’s just a pleasure to use.

The notebook makes no compromise when it comes to build quality and design. For the asking price, we weren’t expecting anything less and Dell delivered once again with their latest alteration of the XPS 15. Its minimalistic design, choice of materials and feel should appeal to a broader audience.

Disassembly, maintenance and upgrade options

Like last year’s model, the XPS 15 offers fairly easy access to all of the internals and requires only simple unscrewing. Make sure you’ve removed the screws under the cap as well, as shown in the pictures below.

Storage upgrades – 2.5-inch HDD/SSD, M.2 SSD

The positive change here is that the laptop uses a more conventional M.2 SSD standard. The slot supports 2280 SSDs and our unit came with a 512GB Intel 600P series supporting the latest PCIe NVMe standard. The 2.5-inch HDD slot is empty but luckily, Dell has included a bracket for the HDD but not the cable. Also, if you order the model without the HDD option, you will benefit from a much larger 97Wh battery.

RAM

You can see the RAM chips right under the heat sinks. In our case, the unit uses two 8GB DDR4-2400 chips but you can go for up to 16GB.

Other components

The Wi-Fi module can be found near the left (with the bottom facing upwards) cooling fan and it’s Killer 1535.

As we already pointed out, we got the “budget” version of the laptop that houses a 56Wh unit.

Cooling system

The system uses a fairly standard cooling design with two big heat pipes going across the heat sinks and connecting the two cooling fans on each side of the machine.

Display quality

Since we didn’t review the Full HD version of this machine last year, we did a quick research and found out that the OEM has used the same panel from the previous generation. It’s manufactured by Sharp with model number SHP1453 (LQ156M1) with 15.6-inch diagonal, with 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution, 142 ppi pixel density and 0.18 x 0.18 mm pixel pitch. It can be considered as “Retina” when viewed from a distance equal or greater than 60 cm.

We were able to record quite the maximum brightness – 393 cd/m2 in the center and 383 cd/m2 as average across the surface with just 8% deviation. The color temperature is 6900K which means that colors will appear slightly cold-ish/blue-ish compared to the optimal 6500K white point. The contrast ratio is extremely high – 1700:1 before calibration and 1450:1 after profiling.

The maximum color deviation isn’t high – just 1.9 in the lower right corner. This is an excellent result because values above 4.0 are usually unwanted.

Color reproduction

To make sure we are on the same page, we would like to give you a little introduction of the sRGB color gamut and the Adobe RGB. To start, there’s the CIE 1976 Uniform Chromaticity Diagram that represents the visible specter of colors by the human eye, giving you a better perception of the color gamut coverage and the color accuracy.

Inside the black triangle, you will see the standard color gamut (sRGB) that is being used by millions of people in HDTV and on the web. As for the Adobe RGB, this is used in professional cameras, monitors etc for printing. Basically, colors inside the black triangle are used by everyone and this is the essential part of the color quality and color accuracy of a mainstream notebook.

Still, we’ve included other color spaces like the famous DCI-P3 standard used by movie studios, as well as the digital UHD Rec.2020 standard. Rec.2020, however, is still a thing of the future and it’s difficult for today’s displays to cover that well. We’ve also included the so-called Michael Pointer gamut, or Pointer’s gamut, which represents the colors that naturally occur around us every day.

In this case, the display covers 95% of the sRGB colors, which is enough for an excellent multimedia and gaming experience.

Below you will see practically the same image but with the color circles representing the reference colors and the white circles being the result. You can see main and additional colors with 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% saturation inside the sRGB gamut pre and post calibration.

We’ve created the Office and Web Design profile at 140 cd/m2 luminance, D65(6500K) white point and 2.2 gamma.

We tested the accuracy of the display with 24 commonly used colors like light and dark human skin, blue sky, green grass, orange etc. You can check out the results at factory condition and also, with the Office & Web Design profile.

The next figure shows how well the display is able to reproduce really dark parts of an image, which is essential when watching movies or playing games in low ambient light.

The left side of the image represents the display with stock settings, while the right one is with the Gaming & Movie Nights profile activated. On the horizontal axis, you will find the grayscale and on the vertical axis – the luminance of the display. On the two graphs below you can easily check for yourself how your display handles the darkest nuances but keep in mind that this also depends on the settings of your current display, the calibration, the viewing angle and the surrounding light conditions.

Gaming capabilities (Response time)

We test the reaction time of the pixels with the usual “black-to-white” and “white-to-black” method from 10% to 90% and reverse.

We recorded Fall Time + Rise Time = 34 ms. This means that the panel isn’t fast and there will be a noticeable blur during fast-paced games. However, this isn’t a gaming laptop so it shouldn’t be an issue for most users.

PWM (Screen flickering)

Pulse Width modulation (PWM) is an easy way to control monitor brightness. When you lower the brightness, the light intensity of the backlight is not lowered, but instead turned off and on by the electronics with a frequency indistinguishable to the human eye. In these light impulses the light/no-light time ratio varies, while brightness remains unchanged, which is harmful to your eyes. You can read more about that in our dedicated article on PWM.

The panel uses PWM only below 25% screen brightness and at really high frequency so we can conclude that the panel is safe to use for long periods of time.

Blue light emissions

Installing of our Health-Guard profile not only eliminates PWM but also reduces the harmful Blue Light emissions while keeping the colors of the screen perceptually accurate. If you’re not familiar with the Blue light, the TL;DR version is – emissions that negatively affect your eyes, skin, and your whole body. You can find more information about that in our dedicated article on Blue Light.

You can see the levels of emitted blue light on the spectral power distribution (SDP) graph.

Conclusion

The new XPS 15 uses the old IPS panel from last year but that’s not a bad thing at all. Our tests show that it’s nearly perfect with extremely high maximum brightness, contrast ratio, close to optimal native color temperature, wide sRGB color gamut coverage, making it suitable even for color-sensitive work in some cases, and doesn’t use PWM from 25 to 100% luminance. Of course, if you are planning on usin the laptop for design-related work, we suggest using our custom profiles which will improve the color accuracy quite a bit.

Buy our display profiles

Since our profiles are tailored for each individual display model, this article and its respective profile package is meant for Dell XPS 15 configurations with 15.6″ Sharp SHP1453 (LQ156M1) (FHD, 1920 × 1080) IPS screen, which can be found at Amazon: http://amzn.to/2n4ZV1H

*Should you have problems with downloading the purchased file, try using a different browser to open the link you’ll receive via e-mail. If the download target is a .php file instead of an archive, change the file extension to .zip or contact us at [email protected]

In addition to receiving efficient and health-friendly profiles, by buying LaptopMedia’s products you also support the development of our labs, where we test devices in order to produce the most objective reviews possible.

Office work and web design

Office work / Web design

If your field is office work or web design, or you just want your monitor’s color set to be as accurate as possible for the Internet color space, this profile will prove to be useful.

Gaming or movie nights

Gaming or Movie nights

We developed this profile especially for occasions on which you spend a lot of time in front of your monitor with some games or watching movies – it will be easier for you to discern fine nuances in the dark.

Health protection

Health-Guard

This profile reduces the negative impact of pulsation and the blue spectrum, securing your eyes and body. You still get a pitch-perfect color image, albeit slightly warmer.

All

Sound

The previous XPS 15 we reviewed had an annoying issue – there was an annoying rattling sound when playing loud music or video. Well, the issue is no longer present with the updated version but it has noticeable distortions in high and low frequencies. There’s not enough clarity.

Specs sheet

The current specs sheet refers to this particular model – configurations may differ depending on your region.

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Software

The tested unit shipped with pre-installed Windows 10 (64-bit) but if you wish to perform a clean install of the OS without the bloatware, we suggest downloading all the latest drivers from Dell’s official support page.

Battery

We have some mixed feelings about the battery. Compared to last year’s model, the XPS 15 has the same 56Wh battery but if you opt for the UHD touch version of the laptop, you will see a significant increase from 84Wh to 97Wh. But that increase will most probably compensate for the power-hungry UHD IPS panel and will not score much higher than the current version configuration. Anyway, the version we tested features a Full HD IPS panel relying on a 56Wh battery leading to slightly below average battery runtimes, considering the price point of the product, of course. The Core i7-7700HQ with Intel’s HD Graphics 630 sure draws a lot of power.

We tested the notebook using the usual settings – Wi-Fi turned on, Windows battery saving feature switched on and screen brightness set to 120 cd/m2.

Web browsing

In order to simulate real-life conditions, we used our own script to automatically browse through over 70 websites.

Somehow unsatisfactory result given the price point of the XPS 15 – 338 minutes (5 hours and 38 minutes).

Video playback

For every test of this kind we use the same video in HD.

Similar but somehow higher result – 347 minutes (5 hours and 47 minutes).

Gaming

We recently started using the built-in F1 2015 benchmark on loop for accurate real-life gaming representation.

It’s quite unlikely that you will start a gaming session without being close to a power source, but it’s good to know that you can play a little less than two hours away from the plug – 111 minutes.

CPU – Intel Core i7-7700HQ

dell-xps-15-model-for-2015-e1433347103186-1940x1091The Core i7-7700HQ is Kaby Lake’s top-shelf direct successor of the Skylake Core i7-6700HQ offering slightly higher clock speeds on the almost identical architecture and TDP. While Intel markets Kaby Lake’s architecture as “14nm+”, the Core i7-7700HQ is still on the same 14nm node with the only significant update being in the iGPU department. That’s why the slightly altered clock speeds (2.8 – 3.8 GHz vs 2.6 – 3.5 GHz) bring not more than 10% increase in performance compared to the Core i7-6700HQ. We still have the supported Hyper-Threading technology with 4/8 – core/thread design, the same 45W TDP and 6MB cache.

However, the Kaby Lake generation boasts an updated video engine for the iGPU, although, its performance is just about the same. Branded as Intel HD Graphics 630, the GPU offers slightly higher clock speeds (350 – 1100 MHz vs 350 – 1050 MHz) compared to the Intel HD Graphics 530 and support for H265/HEVC Main10 profile at 10-bit color depth and the VP9 codec for full hardware acceleration. In addition, the HDCP 2.2 is also supported allowing Netflix’s 4K video streaming.

You can browse through our top CPUs ranking: http://gordigecr.it/top-laptop-cpu-ranking/

Here you will find other useful information and every notebook we’ve tested with this processor: http://gordigecr.it/processor/intel-core-i7-7700hq/

Results are from the Cinebench 20 CPU test (the higher the score, the better)
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Results are from the Fritz chess benchmark (the higher the score, the better)
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Results are from our Photoshop benchmark test (the lower the score, the better)
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Fritz

Fritz is a chess benchmark that tests the computing capabilities of the CPU with various chess moves. The Intel Core i7-7700HQ managed to get 12.478 million moves per second. In comparison, one of the most powerful chess computers, Deep(er) Blue, was able to squeeze out 200 million moves per second. In 1997 Deep(er) Blue even beat the famous Garry Kasparov with 3.5 to 2.5.

GPU – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 (4GB GDDR5)

dell-xps-15-model-for-2015-e1433347103186-1940x1091The GeForce GTX 1050 GPU for laptops is part of the latest NVIDIA Pascal lineup of GPUs featuring a brand new architecture design but on contrary to the rest of the GPUs from NVIDIA’s lineup, the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti feature a Samsung-made FinFET 14nm chip instead of the TSMC 16nm found in the GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080. The graphics card is based on the GP107 chip paired with 4GB of GDDR5 memory via 128-bit interface.

Since the GTX 1050 is quite dependent on the cooling design, its performance may vary but if the laptop handles the GPU well and shouldn’t be much different from its desktop counterpart. Anyway, the GPU operates at relatively high frequencies (1354 – 1493 MHz) but incorporates the same amount of CUDA cores (640) while the memory is clocked at 7000 MHz (effective). These specs ensure a huge performance boost over the previous generation of Maxwell GPUs. For instance, the GTX 1050 performs better than the GTX 960M and can be compared to the GTX 965M’s capabilities while running at similar to the GTX 960M’s TDP of around 40-50W.

However, along with all the power consumption and performance improvements, the GPU now supports essential features like DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0b, HDR, improved H.265 encoding, and decoding.

You can browse through our top GPUs ranking: http://gordigecr.it/top-laptop-graphics-ranking/

Here you will find other useful information and every notebook we’ve tested with this GPU: http://gordigecr.it/video-card/nvidia-geforce-gtx-1050-4gb-gddr5/

Results are from the 3DMark: Fire Strike (Graphics) benchmark (higher the score, the better)
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Results are from the Unigine Heaven 3.0 benchmark (higher the score, the better)
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Results are from the Unigine Heaven 4.0 benchmark (higher the score, the better)
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Results are from the Unigine Superposition benchmark (higher the score, the better)
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Gaming tests

Temperatures

The notebook isn’t designed for long and heavy workloads like this and it’s quite unlikely that the general user will reach 100% CPU and 100% GPU load so the two-staged stress test that we perform doesn’t really represent real-life usage. However, it’s still the best way to determine the overall stability and effectiveness of the cooling system.

As usual, we start with 100% CPU load for an hour. During the first hour, the Core i7-7700HQ was able to sustain its maximum operating frequency for four active cores at 3.4 GHz while the temperatures were relatively normal considering the TDP of the CPU and the nature of the test.

Unfortunately, after we turned on the GPU stress test, we witnessed small throttling in the CPU department with clocks going down to 2.5 GHz but still maintaining frequencies between 2.8 and 3.0 GHz most of the time. However, to keep the CPU running at high frequency, the GPU started throttling immediately after we turned on the GPU torture test, even though temperatures didn’t go above 71 °C. Of course, during normal use, gaming or other types of heavy workloads, you won’t experience any thermal throttling but it’s good to keep these results in mind in the long run.

Despite the heat generated inside this thin chassis, the interior didn’t get too hot at all. The palm rests remained cool while the upper part of the keyboard was slightly warm, considering the nature of the test.

Verdict

There’s nothing bad to say about the design – it suits the premium price tag of the laptop with an excellent choice of materials and robust construction. The touchpad and keyboard design is just outstanding while the nearly borderless screen makes the laptop one of the most portable, yet powerful 15-inch laptops on the market.

Speaking of power, the latest generation Core i7-7700HQ and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 put the laptop into the same ballpark as Apple’s MacBook Pro 15 and probably even outperforms it. It really depends on your type of needs and OS preferences. In any case, there is something to be considered with the XPS 15. Our temperature tests hint of thermal throttling of the GPU and the culprit should be the incredibly thin chassis and not the cooling design itself. The latter seems solid. This issue was present in the previous generation of XPS 15 as well but now it’s far less prominent due to the lower thermals the GTX 1050 runs on. And still, the GTX 1050 is considerably more powerful than the GTX 960M, which is a welcomed improvement by itself. Then again, it’s quite unlikely that you will push the notebook so hard that the GPU will start to throttle.

And now some final words on the display and battery. The latter is a bit of a letdown on the model with HDD but if endurance is of high priority to you, we suggest opting for the “only M.2 SSD version” because it sports a larger 97Wh battery. The same goes for the UHD version, although it defeats the purpose of getting a bigger battery capacity. As far as the display goes, it’s one of the best Full HD IPS screens we’ve tested so far. It can even be used for color-sensitive work as long as you pair it with our Office and Web Design Work profile. Last, but not least, it’s harmless to your eyes and can be used for long hours of work as long as you keep the brightness above 25%.

Does the XPS 15 offer a good value? Hell, no. But does the price tag justify the quality of the product? It sure does. IF you demand the best possible user experience out of a business notebook without sacrificing performance, the new XPS 15 (9560) is the way to go.

You can find some of the available configurations here: http://amzn.to/2n4ZV1H

Pros

Cons