Updated for 2021 with Intel’s 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” processors and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 30 Series GPUs, the Dell XPS 17 is the best big-screen content-creator laptop you can buy if money is no object. The $1,549 starting price is palatable, but a decently powerful configuration like the one reviewed here is $2,949.99. If you don’t need the extra horsepower that its Core i7-11800H CPU and GeForce RTX 3060 graphics chip offer, the less expensive but still excellent LG Gram 17 might be a better choice. Otherwise, it’s hard to go wrong with the ultra-modern chassis and gorgeous 4K display that the XPS 17 offers.
The XPS Lineup Explained
Introduced last year and sharing a chassis design, the sleek XPS 17 and its slightly smaller XPS 15 sibling jolt new life into the niche category of large-screen laptops known as desktop replacements. While there are plenty of gaming rigs that offer Intel’s most powerful H-series processors and GeForce RTX graphics, very few of them look nearly as sleek and modern as the XPS duo. Dell also offers a 13.4-inch ultraportable XPS 13, which is a perennial recommendation of ours. All feature nearly borderless screens with a slightly taller 16:10 aspect ratio instead of the more common 16:9 profile.
Aimed squarely at people who might otherwise choose the 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro, both the XPS 15 and XPS 17 are best suited for CPU- and GPU-intensive workflows that also require tons of screen real estate. These are tasks like rendering video, working on massive spreadsheets, or compiling large amounts of code. All three notebooks have power and style to spare, and all have sky-high prices in their best-equipped configurations. While the MacBook Pro is the obvious choice if you prefer macOS to Windows, choosing between the XPS 15 and XPS 17 largely comes down to which screen size you prefer, since the specs are otherwise similar. Our XPS 17 review unit measures 0.77 by 14.7 by 9.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.34 pounds, which is exceptionally compact for a laptop with a 17-inch display. Gaming laptops in this size class are typically larger and sometimes downright enormous. The 17.3-inch Asus ROG Zephyrus S17, which is quite trim for a giant gaming rig, measures 0.78 by 15.5 by 10.4 inches. On the other hand, the XPS 17 isn’t the trimmest machine in its category—the Gram 17, currently our top pick for general-purpose desktop replacements, is a bit thinner at 0.7 inch and much lighter at 2.98 pounds. You can get the Dell’s weight down to 4.87 pounds if you choose the entry-level configuration, which has a non-touch full HD screen instead of the touch-enabled 4K one.
But go ahead and splurge on the 4K screen if you can. It’s worth the extra weight and the $400 it adds to the XPS 17’s price. Thanks to its 16:10 aspect ratio, the 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 offers 1,920-by-1,200-pixel resolution, which we don’t recommend at this screen size since pixels are more annoyingly visible than they are on a smaller panel. Both screens have 1,600:1 contrast ratios, are rated for a sunny 500 nits of maximum brightness, and support Dolby Vision for viewing HDR content.
Dell XPS 15 (9500)
Razer Blade 15 Advanced Edition (2021)
Alienware m17 R4
Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch
Asus ROG Zephyrus S17 (2021)
LG Gram 17 (2021)
Sleek XPS Design Language
Since both the XPS 15 and the XPS 17 share the same design language, you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart other than by size. (The XPS 15 is 0.71 by 13.6 by 9.1 inches.) 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 prominent Dell logo, while the interior is black. The machines are eminently sturdy, with screen hinges that yield almost no wobble when you tap the touch screen.
If you’re on the fence as to whether you need the 1.4 additional diagonal inches of screen real estate that the XPS 17 affords over the XPS 15, know that it’s a luxury rather than a necessity. Every time I use the XPS 17, I appreciate the additional space that lets me display a text document on the left 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.
Part of why the XPS 17—and its smaller stablemates—look so modern is that their display bezels are exceptionally thin. The XPS 17 has a 94% screen-to-body ratio, which means the black borders surrounding the display are hardly noticeable. Still, Dell managed to find room in the top bezel for a Windows Hello-compatible webcam. Using IR sensors, it lets you log in to your Windows account using face recognition. The 720p webcam doesn’t shoot great video, however, with noticeable noise and artifacts even in bright indoor lighting. Here in still-pandemic 2021, laptop OEMs really need to step up their webcam game.
As an alternative to face recognition, you can log in to your account using the fingerprint reader built into the power button in the top right corner of the keyboard. The keyboard itself is plenty comfortable for brief document editing. The backlit keys are sturdy, and I find the soft-touch key switches similar to the ones on the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 and far preferable to the shallow, stiff magnetic switches of the XPS 13. That said, long typing sessions can still get uncomfortable because the XPS 17’s front edge is razor-sharp, digging into your arms just above the wrists whenever you rest your hands on the home row.
Stunning Speakers, Woofers Included
The compact keyboard lacks a dedicated number pad. Spreadsheet jockeys might bemoan this omission, but audiophiles have cause for celebration, since it results in plenty of room for giant speaker grilles bracketing the keyboard. They’re part of an impressive audio system that comprises two 1.5-watt tweeters and two 2.5-watt woofers for a total output of 8 watts. The setup helps the Dell’s audio quality rival that of the 16-inch MacBook Pro (which also has a dedicated woofer), placing them among the best-sounding laptops on the market.
The XPS 17’s large size and compact keyboard also leave enough space for a giant glass touchpad. A haptic sensor like that of the MacBook Pro’s trackpad, rather than a traditional clicking mechanism, is preferable on pads of this size. The XPS 17 uses a physical hinge for clicking, and while there’s a bit of flex in the corners, clicks are generally stiff and satisfying.
In a further similarity with the MacBook Pro, the XPS 17 has USB-C ports and a headphone jack as its sole port options. There are no USB Type-A ports, but there are a generous total of four USB-C connectors, two on each side of the laptop. All of them support Thunderbolt 4 speeds, and any can be used to charge the laptop or, with an optional adapter, connect an external DisplayPort monitor. Dell includes a USB-C to USB-A and HDMI adapter in the box, which is a nice touch.
In addition to the USB and audio ports, there’s an SD card reader on the right edge. Wireless connections include Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.1.
Dell offers a base warranty of one year for the XPS 17, with optional warranty extensions up to four years. The company also offers accidental damage protection for insurance against power surges, drops, and spills with no deductible.
Our test unit’s Core i7-11800H is one of three CPU options for the XPS 17. It’s the sweet-spot chip, with eight cores and a maximum boost clock speed of 4.6GHz. Your other processor choices are Intel’s Core i5-11400H and Core i9-11900H. If you opt for either the Core i7 or Core i9, you’ll have your choice of two GeForce RTX 30 Series GPUs, our system’s RTX 3060 with 70 watts of power or an RTX 3050 with 60 watts. Core i5 models rely on Intel integrated graphics.
You can also configure an XPS 17 with 8GB, 16GB, or our review unit’s 32GB of memory. Storage options include 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB solid-state drives. We consider our machine’s 1TB SSD the sweet spot, though most users should be able to get by with 16GB of RAM.
How the XPS 17’s Performance Compares
Other than the XPS 15 and the MacBook Pro, the XPS 17’s main alternatives are big-screen gaming laptops like the ROG Zephyrus S17. To compare the big Dell’s performance against its peers, I matched its benchmark results against those of the Zephyrus, the MacBook Pro, and two more gaming rigs, the Alienware m17 R4 and Razer Blade 15. Admittedly, the XPS 17 is not meant as a gaming laptop, first and foremost, so take the gaming machines’ relative numbers in context.
From a qualitative standpoint, the XPS 17’s performance is superb. Not once did I experience lags or sluggishness with any task I threw at it, although that’s only to be expected at this price. One of our two minor performance complaints with last year’s model was related to noise—a high-pitched whine from the base—but that wasn’t a problem with this unit. Nor did the battery discharge while running on AC power, our other complaint when we pushed last year’s XPS 17 to the limit. Some non-gaming laptops have AC power adapters that aren’t sufficient to deliver the peak requirements of the CPU and GPU simultaneously. (See more about how we test laptops.)
The XPS 17 and all of its Windows competitors aced our comprehensive PCMark 10 benchmark, which we use to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. Any score over 5,000 points indicates outstanding productivity.
The same goes for PCMark 8’s storage subtest, which we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Today’s speedy SSDs all excel at this exercise.
While superb everyday performance is nice, you’re really buying the XPS 17 for its suitability for demanding workflows like content creation and gaming, so evaluating how well it transcodes video, edits photos, and renders 3D images is crucial. In our Cinebench CPU test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads, the XPS 17 finished second, close behind the Core i9-powered Zephyrus S17.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of results in our video rendering test, which uses Handbrake to convert a 12-minute clip of 4K video to 1080p resolution. The XPS 17 handled this workload easily, though so did most of its competitors.
Image editing performance was also excellent as measured by our Adobe Photoshop test. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image, timing each operation and adding up the total. Once again, the XPS 17 scored the silver medal behind the Zephyrus S17.
The XPS 17’s graphics performance also proved excellent, considering it’s not intended primarily for gaming. Many gaming laptops in its price range are equipped with more capable GeForce RTX 3080 GPUs, including the Asus, Razer, and Alienware shown here. As a result, the Dell trailed in demanding gaming simulations like the 3DMark Fire Strike test or the Superposition 1080p High benchmark, though it breezed through the more forgiving 3DMark Sky Diver and Superposition 720p exercises.
As for playing actual games, you can expect between 80 and 100 frames per second in demanding titles like Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. This is significantly lower than what you’ll get from an RTX 3080, but still plenty playable if you’re planning on using the XPS 17 as an occasional gaming rig after your work is done.
The XPS 17 uses a massive 97-watt-hour battery to meet the demands of its power-hungry CPU, GPU, and 4K screen. Last year’s model lasted for more than 14 hours in our unplugged video playback test; the new system managed only 11 hours, which is mildly disappointing but still considerably more stamina than you’ll see from most big-screen gaming laptops.
The Ultimate Large-Screen Laptop
The refreshed Dell XPS 17 is a sleek, powerful notebook with enough graphics capability for all but the most intense 3D games, together with a gorgeous 17-inch 4K display. If you’re a fan of the biggest screen you can get, it’s a refreshing alternative to bulky 17-inch gaming rigs and also a better buy than Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro, which still uses older-generation Intel processors.
If you just want a large-screen desktop replacement and can live without GeForce RTX graphics, the LG Gram 17 is considerably lighter and less expensive, and Dell’s smaller XPS 15 is another excellent choice if you crave power and style but can make do with slightly less screen real estate. Otherwise, the XPS 17 is the ultimate jumbo laptop.
Dell XPS 17 (9710)
The Bottom Line
Well-equipped (as it should be for nearly $3,000), the Dell XPS 17 is the standard-bearer for non-gaming 17-inch laptops.
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