MacBook Pro 16 vs Dell XPS 15: Battle of the powerfully compact laptops

When you’re looking for a powerful laptop that can handle things like video editing and content creation, there are a few options that you’re likely to come across. The Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 16 inch are both very powerful laptops that can handle this kind of workload just fine. But which one should you choose? We’ve compared the two to help you decide, though if you want one right now, you’d probably want the Dell XPS 15.

That’s because the MacBook Pro 16 inch hasn’t been refreshed in almost two years, so its specs are a bit outdated by now. However, that could change soon as Apple transitions more of its Mac lineup to Apple Silicon. But let’s compare what we have right now.

Dell XPS 15 vs MacBook Pro 16: Specs

Let’s start by comparing the technical specs for each of these laptops. Both the Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 16 inch are high-performance machines, but there are some big differences, as mentioned above.

Windows or macOS?

The first, and probably the biggest, factor in deciding between the Dell XPS 15 and the MacBook Pro is the operating system. Odds are, if you’re used to either Windows or macOS, that’s what you’re going to want to stick with. If you’re not leaning towards either side, then both operating systems can accomplish many of the same goals, but there are some big differences across the board.

macOS is sometimes considered more easily accessible and easier to understand in general. If you’re not well-versed with computers, it may be the best place to start. macOS is also popular with many creative professionals, particularly video creators. That’s in big part thanks to Final Cut Pro, an Apple-developed video editing tool that’s exclusive to macOS.

Windows, on the other hand, gives users a bit more freedom with how to use their computers, with more in-depth settings being relatively easy to get to. That can be daunting for inexperienced users, but it makes it more customizable, too. And being the most popular desktop operating system by far, Windows also gets a lot of apps developed for it. Almost any program or app you might want will have a Windows version, and that’s not necessarily true for Mac. And while Apple has Final Cut Pro, there are still many video editors on Windows, like Adobe Premiere Pro or DaVinci Resolve.

However, as we mentioned, you’ve most likely made this choice already. It’s only natural to want to stick with what’s familiar, and that’s totally fine. At the end of the day, what matters is that the laptop does what you need it to do.

Performance: The Dell XPS 15 has much newer hardware

Looking at the specs table, there are a few things that stick out tremendously with these two laptops. The latest model of the MacBook Pro was released in late 2019, and it only got a new GPU in mid 2020. That means the CPU is a couple of generations old by now, and the GPUs are also not the most recent anymore. Looking at the results on GeekBench, the Intel Core i9-9980HK in the MacBook Pro is far behind the Core i7-11800H of the Dell XPS 17. And that’s not including the Core i9-11900H option.

The GPUs aren’t as far apart though, especially if you consider the extra memory in some MacBook Pro configurations. The GPUs inside the Dell XPS 15 only have 4GB of VRAM, while you can get up to 8GB with the MacBook Pro. Plus, the Radeon Pro 5600M has HBM2 memory instead of GDDR6. Still, the processing power inside the Dell XPS 15 is going to be much higher, simply because of how much newer it is. It’s worth noting the MacBook Pro 16 inch will probably receive a refresh sometime soon. Apple has been updating many of its devices to run on Apple Silicon, and the MacBook Pro should be one of the next ones in line.

The rest of the specs are comparable. Both laptops can be configured with up to a whopping 64GB of RAM, and Apple actually lets you get even more storage than Dell — up to 8TB. The 4TB configuration available on the Dell XPS 15 is already fantastic, but if you somehow need even more, the MacBook Pro gives you double. However, it’s worth noting that you can upgrade the RAM and storage yourself on the Dell XPS 17, and that’s not possible on the MacBook Pro as everything is soldered onto the motherboard.

Dell XPS 15 Arctic White Right Angle View

One area where the MacBook Pro wins is the battery size. With a 99.9Whr unit, it’s right up against the limit of what you can carry on a plane, but that means you get pretty long battery life, with Apple promising up to 11 hours on a charge. The Dell XPS 15, with the 86Whr batter, promises up to 13 hours and 20 minutes, but only if you choose the Full HD+ panel. If you go for the OLED model, you get up to 9 hours and 13 minutes, or 8 hours and 42 minutes with the Ultra HD+ panel.

Display and sound: The Dell XPS 15 has an OLED display

Both the Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 16 inch can deliver fantastic display and sound experiences, even if they’re not exactly on the same level. The MacBook Pro is straightforward — you get a 16 inch Retina display with a resolution of 3072 x 1920 and a 16:10 aspect ratio. Apple claims “Wide Color (P3)” support, so it’s also a color-accurate panel. This is far from a bad display.

(…)what the Dell XPS 15 also has is the option to upgrade to a 3.5K OLED display, and it looks stunning.

Comparatively, the Dell XPS 15 has three options to choose from, starting with a 15.6 inch Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) display. This model isn’t all that interesting, but what the Dell XPS 15 also has is the option to upgrade to a 3.5K (3456 x 2160) OLED display, and it looks stunning. Not only is this even sharper than Apple’s display, being an OLED panel gives it an incredible 100,000:1 contrast ratio, pure blacks, and vivid colors. It covers 100% of DCI-P3 so it’s also color accurate, plus it’s a touchscreen, which Apple has consistently refused to add to its MacBooks. Dell also gives you the option for an Ultra HD+ (3840 x 2400) IPS touchscreen with 100% of Adobe RGB coverage. It’s clear that Dell offers superior display options, even if the base model isn’t fantastic.

Moving on to sound, both of these laptops are great, although the MacBook Pro 16 inch will probably deliver a better experience. It has a six-speaker stereo setup, which you can’t really find on most other laptops. The Dell XPS 15 has a quad-speaker setup, which is still very impressive, but not quite on the same level.

And if we’re talking about things where the XPS 15 isn’t on the same level, we have to mention the webcam. The reason this laptop is so compact is because Dell squeezed the bezels to be as small as possible, and that includes designing a tiny 2.25mm camera. That’s impressive sure, but it doesn’t mean the webcam is any good. It’s a 720p camera, and notoriously low quality compared to other premium laptops. Meanwhile, Apple offers a Full HD (1080p) webcam, and MacBooks, in general, have some of the best webcams out of any laptop. If you value video calls, the MacBook Pro is the way to go.

Design and extras: The Dell XPS 15 is smaller and has more ports

As you’d probably expect, the Dell XPS 15 is the smaller of the two laptops — after all, it has a slightly smaller screen too. It’s lighter, less wide, and less tall, but it’s thicker than the MacBook Pro. And while it does make some sacrifices in regards to the webcam, the Dell XPS 15 still has a solid number of ports. It comes with two Thunderbolt 4 ports, one USB 3.2 Gen Type-C port, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack. It also includes a USB Type-C adapter for USB Type-A and HDMI 2.0, so out of the box, it’s more versatile than the MacBook Pro.

One extra the MacBook Pro has is the Touch Bar, which gives you tailored shortcuts where the function row would usually be.

The MacBook Pro 16 inch only includes four Thunderbolt 3 ports with a 40Gbps data rate (so they’re essentially the same as Thunderbolt 4), and a headphone jack. Thunderbolt lets you connect a lot of peripherals using a Thunderbolt dock, but out of the box, you are a bit more limited with the MacBook Pro.

The Dell XPS 15 also includes both a fingerprint reader and an IR webcam for Windows Hello, making it easier to unlock your PC quickly. The MacBook Pro only has Touch ID. One extra the MacBook Pro has is the Touch Bar, which gives you tailored shortcuts where the function row would usually be. Apps can leverage this feature for all kinds of things, like controlling music or video playback or providing quick shortcuts.

Finally, there’s the matter of looks. The MacBook Pro is available in Silver and Space Gray options, with the latter being essentially a darker shade of silver. The Dell XPS 15 also comes in two options, but it stands out a bit more. One model has a “Platinum silver” exterior — similar to Space Gray — but uses a black carbon fiber design for the keyboard deck. The other model has a “frost” exterior — which is more like regular silver — and an “arctic white” keyboard deck made of woven fiber glass composite. If you want something that stands out a bit more, the Dell XPS 15 is probably the way to go.

Bottom line

After going through all that, it’s apparent that the Dell XPS 15 is a superior laptop in most ways, but that’s not really a surprise. Like we mentioned from the start, it’s been almost two years since the MacBook Pro 16 inch was refreshed, so comparing the performance could really only end one way. Of course, the Dell XPS 15 has advantages that aren’t just related to age, too. The options for an OLED display or an Ultra HD+ panel make it significantly sharper, and Apple doesn’t usually offer such high resolutions on its laptops. It also offers more varied ports out of the box.

(…)it’s apparent that the Dell XPS 15 is a superior laptop in most ways(…)

That’s not to say the MacBook Pro 16 inch is a bad laptop by any means, but it’s starting to show its age. It does have its advantages, like longer battery life, a much better webcam, and macOS, if you prefer it to Windows. But even if you do prefer a macOS device, you might want to hold on a while longer to see if Apple comes out with a refresh soon. We’re expecting quite a few changes with the 2021 MacBook Pro models.

Regardless of your choice, you can buy either of the laptops using the links below. If you want to look at other options, we have lists for the best Dell laptops as well as the best Macs — and many of those Macs are already running Apple Silicon, too.

XDA » News Brief » MacBook Pro 16 vs Dell XPS 15: Battle of the powerfully compact laptops

About author

Writer at XDA Computing. I’ve been covering the world of technology since 2018, but I’ve loved the field for a lot longer. And I have a weird affinity for Nintendo videogames, which I’m always happy to talk about.