Many of you are familiar with the Dell XPS line of laptops, the XPS 13, 15 and 17, where the company typically debuts its latest, greatest technologies. This year was no different, with a few twists—Dell introduced refreshed designs of both the XPS 13 and 15 (which traditionally leap-frog years) and reintroduced the XPS 17 after a 10-year hiatus. For all of the new features and updates, you can read my blog about this year’s entire XPS line. For the sake of this review, however, we will focus on the XPS 17—frankly, the best non-gaming laptop I have ever used.
For context, I am a power user’s power user. I like to work on multiple things simultaneously, from penning blogs to editing photos to editing video (for the Moor Insights & Strategy G2 on 5G podcast that I do with my colleague Will Townsend). I am also mostly a desktop user when I’m not traveling, with a 49” Curved 5K Samsung Odyssey G9 gaming monitor as my primary display and a 27” as my secondary side monitor (because 49” is not enough for my multitasking). As you can imagine, I hook this up to a pretty powerful desktop PC with an AMD Ryzen 5950X and an RTX 3080 GPU. I’m telling you all of this to emphasize how essential performance and screen size are to me as a metric when it comes to laptops.
The configuration as tested
The XPS 17 is a powerhouse on paper. The model that Dell sent me features a 10th Gen Intel Core i7-10875H processor, 32GB of RAM (impressive for any laptop, but expected for something that is intended for photo and video editing) and 1TB of SSD (which I would recommend for any Windows-based system today, especially for content creation). That said, the XPS 17 comes in models featuring up to a Core i9-10885H processor, 64GB of RAM and 2TB of SSD. The real performance kicker on this laptop is its 6GB NVIDIA RTX 2060—inside of a notebook that weighs 4.65 lbs and measures only 0.77” thick. While these specs probably aren’t a surprise to many 15” notebook users, it took a considerable amount of engineering for Dell to fit such a powerful CPU and GPU in such a thin notebook.
With NVIDIA’s RTX 2060 inside of it, there is absolutely no reason to get the XPS 17 with anything less than a 4K display—especially considering that a 17” 1080P display is not a particularly great experience. The less expensive $1,399 configuration comes with integrated graphics, while the $1,899 model comes with a 4GB NVIDIA GTX 1650 Ti. As configured, my laptop sells for $2,999 on Dell.com, which is more than double the price of the $1,399 configuration. If you are looking to spend that kind of money on a laptop, I would recommend something smaller like an XPS 13 or 15. I would recommend aiming for the $2,999 configuration, if you’re buying the XPS 17—this is the configuration that allows it to shine. An NVIDIA RTX 2060 allows for significant GPU-acceleration in applications like Photoshop and Premiere Pro, two popular Adobe apps for content creation.
My day-to-day experience
When it comes to a laptop, I want the performance and experience to be as close to a desktop as possible. I recently reviewed the Alienware Area-51m gaming laptop—the first laptop I had ever used that didn’t feel like a compromise coming from my desktop. That said, even with its 144 Hz G-Sync display, it was still a 17” notebook with a 1080P screen. The XPS 17’s 4K display is gorgeous and it the first 17” laptop I’ve seen that has an edge-to-edge ‘infinity’ display. This narrow bezel display enables Dell to put the XPS 17 in the same form factor of many 15.6” laptops. This allows the XPS 17 to easily fit in most laptop backpacks and bags, which typically designed for 15” notebooks. My XPS 17 easily fits into my Wandrd PRVKE 31L camera bag, sized for MacBook 15” laptops.
I loved using the XPS 17 as my daily laptop while traveling, especially for offloading photos from my camera and quickly editing them. I also used the Dell Mobile Adapter Speakerphone for conference calls, and for attaching a keyboard and mouse when I wanted or needed to since the Mobile Adapter Speakerphone uses one USB Type-C connector with Thunderbolt and doubles as a hub with two USB Type-C connectors, an HDMI connector and another Type-C. While the speakerphone was much louder than the built-in speakers on the XPS 17, the microphone is not as good. The built-in speakers on the XPS 17 are quite good but pop at times (mostly at boot). The keyboard is a good size and the keys are acceptable, but I would prefer a more tactile feel and more key travel. However, I usually type on mechanical keyboards and prefer to have clicky keys with much more travel than any laptop could possibly deliver.
One thing to know about the XPS 17 before you buy is that it has four USB Type-C connectors for power delivery, DisplayPort video and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. While this may be a deal-breaker for some users, this is arguably the best setup for users that need maximum connectivity and expandability. With the industry moving towards Type-C becoming the standard USB connector, I think Dell made the right choice to include these ports. Not only do they future-proof the laptop somewhat, but they make the laptop’s thin form factor possible and enable it to support virtually unlimited expandability. That said, having other port types is still important. Dell sent me a new Mobile Adapter Speakerphone for conference calls along with this laptop, which adds two USB Type-A ports, an HDMI port and one more Type-C port to the XPS 17’s setup. The speakerphone itself has quite good audio quality, but I believe that the laptop’s built-in mics are probably better. Still, I believe the Mobile Adapter Speakerphone is a workable option for those who balk at being restricted to the XPS’s four built-in USB Type-C ports.
The XPS 17 features a killer Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 with Bluetooth 5.1 modem, giving it the latest and greatest Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth capabilities. I found the Wi-Fi signal and speeds to be very good—I never had any signal strength or connection stability issues. This is the same chipset in my Area-51m gaming laptop, so I was already familiar with its excellent latency and overall throughput. For that matter, it’s hard to tell the difference between Wi-Fi 6 and wired performance. While this isn’t a gaming setup, a decent Wi-Fi connection that can upload and download quickly is still essential for work. I recently had to downgrade my Wi-Fi from a top-of-the-line AX router to an Intel-based AC router, and I still get 2ms ping, 500 Mbps download and 200 Mbps upload on Speedtest.net—impeccable performance for a laptop.
Going into my review, I was very curious to see how the memory card performed. I have always found this to be a pain point for laptops, and I do not enjoy carrying around memory card adapters (never mind the risks of forgetting or losing them). Many laptops don’t have memory card readers, while others have insufficient memory card readers that are much slower than USB-based memory card adapters. I do a lot of photography and usually take anywhere from 500 to 1,000 photos at a time. I shoot with a Sony A7iii and usually run a Sony 128GB SDXC-II card with peak read speeds of 260 MB/s. Much to my surprise, I was able to hit the peak speeds of 260 MB/s. Using Sony’s fastest SDXC-II card, the 300 MB/s Tough Series G Master, I maxed out at 265 MB/s. These transfer speeds are much faster than anything I have ever seen in a laptop and effectively negates the need for an external card reader. However, I do worry that the memory card reader in the laptop could wear too quickly and become problematic in the long term. That would be impossible to know without thousands of insertions, but I assume Dell has already stress tested the laptop and knows it will pass muster. Usually, the memory cards’ pins will wear down before the reader’s ability to read the cards does, and in my experience, memory card readers fail less often than the cables do.
Display and touch
The touch display on the XPS 17 is very good—so good that I don’t think I’ll be able to live without it on a laptop again. While the touchpad on the XPS 17 is quite large, I have had some mixed experiences with it working as intended every time. While this only happens rarely, when it does, the experience is somewhat frustrating. I prefer using a mouse and mechanical keyboard anyways, so this is not such a big deal for me. The touchscreen, on the other hand, has worked flawlessly.
The display itself is incredible, with incredibly accurate 100% Adobe RGB colors. Additionally, the XPS 17 features 94% DCI-P3 panel with 16:10 aspect, which translates to a 3840 x 2400 resolution (as opposed to the 3840 x 2160 resolution with 16:9). The additional vertical pixels give the display more workspace and vertical rows when working on spreadsheets or on webpages or even reading documents. I personally enjoy the return to 16:10, 4:3 and 3:2 aspect ratios as they lend more to productivity use cases and still support 16:9 when needed with minimal black bars. The display on the XPS 17 is also DisplayHDR 500 certified, which means that it has a 500-nit brightness and supports HDR. This display is not only gorgeous, but its four-sided narrow bezels give the laptop a footprint smaller than 34% of 15” notebooks, according to Dell. I believe this claim that Dell makes if you account for the the many older 15” laptops in market with considerable bezels and larger footprints. There is very little backlight bleed—I found one spot on the whole display, but its very hard to notice unless you have a fully black screen at maximum brightness.
Performance and thermals
Because the XPS 17 is really a creator’s laptop there’s no reason to test games on this system (though it does have an RTX 2060 GPU onboard). I ran 3DMark and Cinebench for my standard performance benchmarks, because there is an ample body of results available for comparison. I chose 3DMark for raw GPU performance and Cinebench for CPU rendering capability. I also ran UL Benchmarks’ new Procyon benchmark, which tests both the photography and video editing workflows.
The XPS 17 scored 5655 in 3DMark’s Time Spy DX12 test, which is about in line with other notebooks with the same RTX 2060 GPU. With Cinebench, the Intel Core-i7 10875H scored 7598 on Multi-Core. This is quite good but does not tell the whole story. It’s important to run multiple benchmarks like UL’s Procyon which uses real applications and workflows (Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Premiere). The Photography score of 5970 takes into account both image retouching and batch processing tasks which represent real world application usage. Since this benchmark is so new, there aren’t many results to compare against. That said, my 16-Core Ryzen 5950X system with an NVIDIA RTX 3080 is only about 50% faster than this laptop. It should arguably be way faster than this laptop, given that it has a combined CPU and GPU TDP of 400W—more than quadruple the laptop’s combined CPU and GPU performance of 92W. This is an impressive feat when you consider the fact that the desktop has a liquid-cooled CPU.
Thermals during benchmarks did get into the 90s at times on the CPU, but only for a moment. For the most part, they hovered around the 70s under load. The fan was audible but not deafening like some laptop fans. Under normal day-to-day usage, the laptop usually idles in the 50s and makes no noise whatsoever. That said, if you are performing heavier workloads, I would consider giving it more airflow by putting it up on a stand.
All of the laptop’s materials have held up in the months of daily use. The edges on the laptop are all smooth and well-chamfered[WP7] without exposing the edges to scratches. The hinge on the XPS 17 is solid and does not rattle when typing on the keyboard. Additionally, the hinge has a very good range of motion and takes an appropriate amount of force to move. That said, I would still prefer the ability to open the laptop with a single finger. I enjoyed the feel of the carbon fiber material that the wrist rest is made of. That said, the material and touchpad can and do collect oils easily. They might need periodic cleaning if you’ve got sweaty hands like mine.
The Dell XPS 17 is the pinnacle of Dell’s engineering and design ability. While it is not the most powerful, thinnest or lightest laptop, it is the best balance of performance, display and design I can imagine. I often find myself feeling constrained by 13” notebooks and their less powerful CPUs, smaller and lower resolution displays and less RAM. The XPS 17, on the other hand, balances the needs of a mobile power user without making too many compromises in one direction or the other. As the numbers indicate, this laptop actually comes close to desktops in performance. Additionally, it’s impressive that Dell fit a 4K display, an eight-core CPU and 32GB of RAM inside of a 4.6 lbs., one-inch thick form factor. The XPS 17 is really a marvel of engineering—a 17” notebook that is able to masquerade as a thin 15” notebook without compromising on performance.