Move over, 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro. There’s a new big-screen power laptop on the block: the Dell XPS 17. It improves on the MacBook Pro’s recipe by making everything slightly bigger and more powerful. The XPS 17 (starts at $1,399.99; $2,939.99 as tested) has a 17.0-inch diagonal display, available Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q graphics, and the excellent build quality and features you’d expect from a laptop at this price. It even has extraordinarily long battery life.
Together with the new Dell XPS 15, the high end of the XPS lineup has been reinvigorated in a way we haven’t seen in years, offering serious competition to the MacBook Pro and other large laptops aimed at professionals with big budgets and demanding requirements. The XPS 17 is our new top pick among high-end desktop replacement laptops.
An XPS Evolution
The evolution of the XPS lineup closely mirrors the modifications that Apple made to the MacBook Pro lineup last year. While Apple transformed the now-discontinued 15-inch MacBook Pro into the current 16-inch model, Dell was putting the finishing touches on two new laptops: the new 15-inch XPS 15, which is smaller and lighter than its predecessor, and the XPS 17 reviewed here.
The XPS 17 makes a simple, tantalizing offer to people who can afford it: a combination of seriously powerful optional components (in addition to the RTX graphics, an Intel Core i9 CPU will be available later this year) with exceptional build quality and attention to detail in a notebook PC with a 17-inch display that weighs less than 5 pounds. In a nutshell, the XPS 17 is designed for people who look at the MacBook Pro and the XPS 15 and think, “I want all of that, but with an even bigger screen.”
Dell XPS 15 (9500)
Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch
Gigabyte Aero 17 HDR XA
Razer Blade Pro 17 (2019)
LG Gram 17 (2020)
As a result, the XPS 17 is essentially a larger version of the XPS 15. It’s got the same overall aesthetic, with super-thin screen bezels and a 16:10 screen aspect ratio that helps keep its chassis size and weight down. The starting configuration of the XPS 17 measures 0.77 by 14.7 by 9.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.7 pounds. That compares well with 0.71 by 13.6 by 9.1 inches for the XPS 15, which weighs 4.5 pounds, and 0.64 by 14.1 by 9.7 inches for the 4.3-pound MacBook Pro 16-inch.
The entry-level XPS 17 comes with a Core i5 processor, a 512GB solid-state drive (SSD), and 16GB of memory, and it relies on integrated graphics. The XPS 17 (model 9700) configuration reviewed here is a significant upgrade from the base model, featuring an optional 10th Generation Intel Core i7-10875H with eight cores, 16 threads, and a maximum boost clock speed of 5.1GHz.
This test configuration also has a whopping 32GB of memory, a 1TB SSD, and a 97-watt-hour (WHr) battery instead of the standard 56WHr one. Our unit also features the upgraded GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q graphics processor, with 6GB of video memory. That’s a far cry from integrated graphics.
These components (especially the larger battery) significantly increase this laptop’s weight, to 5.53 pounds. As a result, it’s heavy to carry around, but as you’ll see when we discuss performance below, the upgrades are worth the extra heft.
Aluminum, Glass, and Carbon Fiber
From the outside, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the XPS 15 and XPS 17 apart. They’re both clad in a combination of CNC-milled aluminum, Corning Gorilla Glass, and carbon fiber. The display lid and base are silver, with a rather large Dell logo, while the interior is black. The machine is eminently sturdy, with a hinge that results in almost no bouncing when you tap your fingers on the touch-enabled display. Even without touching the XPS 17, you can tell from the regulatory logos on the bottom that this is a premium laptop—the logos are etched, not stickers.
With a 94 percent screen-to-body ratio, the XPS 17’s bezels are even thinner than those of the XPS 15. They surround this laptop’s star attraction, a 17-inch screen available in either full HD or 4K resolutions. As with the computing components, an upgrade to the 4K version is worth the extra money, since with a screen this large pixels are more annoyingly visible at full HD resolution than they are on a smaller panel.
Thanks to its 16:10 aspect ratio, the XPS 17’s panel has even more pixels than standard 4K screens—3,840 by 2,400 pixels, instead of 3,840 by 2,160. (The full HD screen is 1,920 by 1,200.) It’s also the only panel option to offer touch support, and is rated to display 100 percent of the sRGB color space and 94 percent of the DCI-P3 gamut. Both panel options are rated for 500 nits of brightness, plenty for nearly any indoor viewing situation, and both support Dolby Vision for viewing HDR content.
Besides the screen’s specs, one of the central considerations in choosing the XPS 17 over the XPS 15, a MacBook Pro, or a conventional 15.6-inch laptop is the additional inch or so of screen real estate. After using the XPS 17 for a few days, I’ve grown to appreciate the additional space, even if it’s not strictly necessary. My typical workflow involves displaying a text document on the left-hand side of the screen and a browser window on the right. That’s cramped but possible on a 15.6-inch display, and while it feels a bit more roomy on the XPS 17, it’s admittedly not a vast improvement.
On the other hand, if your workflow involves spending a lot of time in Adobe Premiere Pro or another similar app with tons of tool palettes, the additional inch could be far more useful.
Two Woofers, Two Tweeters
Even more impressive than the 94 percent screen-to-body ratio is that Dell manages to fit a camera with IR sensors into the incredibly thin bezel above the display. With 720p resolution, it doesn’t offer particularly good video quality, but it does let you log into your Windows 10 account with face recognition.
You can also log into your account using the fingerprint reader built into the power button, which is located at the upper right corner of the keyboard. The backlit keys are sturdy, offering 1.3mm of travel and satisfying thuds instead of high-pitched clicks when you’re typing. My only complaint about the XPS 17’s typing experience is that the laptop’s front edge is far too sharp, digging uncomfortably into my arms just above the wrists whenever I rest my hands on the home row. You can avoid this by holding your arms above the laptop, but I wouldn’t want to type in this unergonomic position for extended periods.
The keyboard lacks a dedicated number pad, unlike many other large laptops, but Dell has a valid excuse for this omission: two giant speaker grilles that flank the keyboard. They help conceal an impressive audio system that includes two 1.5-watt tweeters and two 2.5-watt woofers for a total output of 8 watts. The resulting audio quality rivals that of the 16-inch MacBook Pro (which also has a dedicated woofer) as among the most impressive I’ve ever experienced from a laptop.
In addition to the large speaker grilles, there’s also plenty of room near the keyboard for an oversize glass touchpad. Touchpad quality is too often an afterthought on premium Windows laptops, compared with the gargantuan, hyper-accurate trackpad on the 16-inch MacBook Pro. So it’s nice to see that Dell has paid some attention to the XPS 17’s pad.
Four USB-C, No USB-A
Large laptops typically have lots of room for ports to connect peripherals. That’s not the case with the XPS 17, which comes with four USB-C ports, a headphone jack, and a full-size SD card reader. There’s no HDMI output, Ethernet jack, or USB Type-A port, which we typically like to see on laptops of this size. Still, you can impose your will on the existing USB-C ports with adapters, and Dell does include a dongle that plugs into one of the USB-C ports and offers a USB Type-A and an HDMI port.
All four of the USB-C ports support Thunderbolt 3 speeds, and any of them can be used to charge the laptop or connect to external DisplayPort monitors using an optional adapter or a special USB-to-DisplayPort cable. This is similar to the MacBook Pro’s port selection, and more generous than the three USB-C ports on the XPS 15, only two of which feature Thunderbolt 3 support.
Wireless connections on the XPS 17 include Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.1. Wi-Fi is delivered via a Killer networking module integrated into the system’s chipset, and it can be optimized using the Killer Control Center app that comes preinstalled.
Dell offers a base hardware warranty of one year for the XPS 17, with optional hardware warranty extensions up to four years. You might want to avail yourself of the warranty upgrade if you opt for one of the upper-end configurations.
XPS 17 Spec Size-Up
If all you want is a laptop with a 17-inch screen, you can get one that is considerably cheaper and lighter than this Dell flagship. The LG Gram 17 even weighs around 3 pounds, classifying it as an ultraportable laptop. To justify the 5-plus-pound weight of the XPS 17 in this test model, you need to be able to take advantage of its powerful CPU, GPU, and the additional cooling space and hardware they require. In our hopped-up test model, the XPS 17 has a large vapor chamber that spans the entire width of the laptop, something that ordinary ultraportables don’t need.
In our test configuration, the XPS 17 is more than powerful enough for everyday computing tasks like web browsing, and it’s also perfectly capable of handling intensive tasks such as video editing. Here’s how its basic specs stack up with some comparable laptops PC Labs has tested of late, including the XPS 15, the MacBook Pro 16, the Razer Blade Pro 17, and the Gigabyte Aero 17 HDR.
While the MacBook Pro configuration we reviewed is more expensive, much of the additional cost comes down to its gargantuan 2TB SSD, and the increased storage capacity doesn’t have a significant effect on overall system performance. (See how we test laptops.)
Any score above 4,000 on the PCMark 10 test that we run indicates that a laptop offers excellent performance for document and spreadsheet editing, videoconferencing, and even some specialized tasks like casual photo retouching. The XPS 17 certainly meets this standard, even if it does come in below the Core i9-equipped Aero 17. On the PCMark 8 storage test, the XPS 17 performed roughly the same as its competitors, understandable since all of them use speedy SSDs as their main boot drives.
My own experience of using the XPS 17 as my main PC for several days corroborates the PCMark results. Everything was silky smooth—even app installations, window animations, and browsing with 10 or so tabs open. My only complaint is that I frequently heard a faint but noticeable high-pitched whine coming from the base of the XPS 17 while resizing windows and navigating through web pages. It’s almost certainly caused by harmless electromagnetic vibrations (known as “coil whine”) in the CPU or GPU and is not a defect, though it is rare to hear it from high-end laptops that have ideally gone through extensive acoustical testing.
There’s no macOS version of PCMark, so our specialized multimedia content creation benchmarks offer a better look at how the XPS 17 performs against Apple’s flagship. In CPU-intensive tasks like rendering a 3D image in Cinebench and transcoding a 4K video to 1080p in Handbrake, the XPS 17’s performance is competitive with that of the Core i9-equipped MacBook Pro.
While the Core i9 is theoretically more powerful than the Core i7, the XPS 17 uses Intel’s latest 10th Generation processor architecture, as opposed to the 9th Generation CPU in the MacBook Pro. That could help account for its better performance in the Cinebench test.
The XPS 17 performs especially well in our image editing benchmark, which involves applying a series of filters and effects to a JPG image in Adobe Photoshop. We use an early 2018 version of Photoshop CC for Windows machines, while Macs are tested using the latest Photoshop CC version, a difference that shouldn’t materially affect the results.
You Can Game, But Watch the Power Level
The XPS 17 is not a gaming laptop, but equivalent price/component configurations are frequently found in high-end gaming rigs like the Razer Blade Pro 17. So I subjected it to some 3D gaming simulations and also put it through the in-game benchmarks from Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider.
In 3DMark and Superposition, which render sequences of highly detailed gaming-style 3D graphics, the RTX 2060 helped the XPS 17 hold its own against the Aero 17 HDR and the Blade Pro 17 (both with stepped-up RTX 2070 GPUs), and keep significantly ahead of the lesser GeForce GTX 1650 Ti in the XPS 15.
In the real-world game benchmarks, however, the difference between the RTX 2060 and the RTX 2070 in the Blade Pro immediately becomes clear. The XPS 17 consistently displayed between 10 and 20 fewer frames per second in Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, although even its lowest average score of 68fps at 1080p resolution in Far Cry 5 is perfectly adequate for all but the most discerning of gamers.
If you play games like these for very long on the XPS 17, its cooling fans will spool up and become quite loud, as is common on gaming laptops. Less common is the fact that the system’s 130-watt AC adapter isn’t capable by itself of providing enough power to run the CPU and GPU at full gaming tilt. Indeed, though the laptop was plugged in, I noticed the battery discharged from 100 percent down to 93 percent during our gaming benchmarks, which take about an hour to run.
There are few situations other than extended gaming that will require both the CPU and graphics processor to run all-out for sustained periods. Other non-gaming laptops with powerful graphics also suffer from this issue: The Microsoft Surface Book 2’s 95-watt power supply also provides less than the 105 watts that its CPU and GPU require at full power. It’s why gaming laptops sometimes come with comically large power adapters.
Dell explains that although the XPS 17’s battery may discharge slightly, the system will eventually divert power away from the CPU and GPU to recharge the battery if it drops below a certain level.
All-Day Battery Life
What the XPS 17 may lack in raw AC power intake when stressed to the max, it makes up for with battery power in everyday use. Thanks in part to the upgraded 97Whr battery in our review unit, it managed an extraordinary 14 hours and 24 minutes of video playback before the battery died.
Our battery test involves a locally stored 720p video file played at 50 percent screen brightness with airplane mode turned on, so it’s a fairly forgiving test and not necessarily as harsh as a day in the life of an average laptop, depending on what you do. Still, most gaming laptops with similarly powerful components can barely achieve six hours of battery life, so the XPS 17’s endurance away from a power outlet is especially noteworthy, especially given the power parts inside and the battery-sapping 4K display.
(Very) Large and in Charge
The XPS 17 is the first new 17-inch member of the XPS family in nearly a decade. The last one, the XPS 17 L702X, was introduced in 2011 with standout feature options that now seem quaint. (Up to 4GB of memory, anyone? An optional “3D” display?)
The new XPS 17 is anything but quaint, and it bears almost no resemblance to older big-screen desktop replacements, which tend to be bulky and ugly. Instead, this is a sleek and powerful machine that includes enough power for all but the most intense 3D games, a gorgeous 17-inch 4K display, and enough battery life to get you through a full day of work or play.
The extra inch or so of screen real estate isn’t necessarily a reason to choose the XPS 17 over the XPS 15 or MacBook Pro, but for those who can make use of it, this very well might be the ultimate large-screen laptop.
Dell XPS 17 (9700)
The Bottom Line
The 2020 resurrection of Dell’s XPS 17 is a bold, sleek laptop with a gorgeous 17-inch display, long battery life, and serious computing power.
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