Dell XPS 15 (early 2015) review

This is a top-tier Windows machine that rivals the MacBook Pro

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Our Verdict

The XPS 15 has a stunning 4K screen, high-quality design, well-balanced components and a great keyboard – and all of this makes it a worthy rival to the MacBook Pro.

For

  • Fantastic 4K screen
  • Well-rounded specification
  • Stunning exterior design
  • High-quality keyboard

Against

  • Battery life is only middling
  • Some fan noise

The Dell XPS 15 is the latest addition to the firm's range of high-class laptops designed to bring some sheen to both work and play thanks to a powerful specification and a 4K screen.

It's certainly got the design credentials nailed down – the lid is coated with a slab of machined aluminium, the same metal used to build the frame, and the keyboard wrist-rest and base are coated with carbon-fibre. Its weave is still visible across the base, and it's finished with a matte, soft-touch coating on the wrist-rest.

The slick, smart design gets the XPS 15 off to a good start, and the build quality is top-notch. The carbon-fibre bottom half of the machine didn't budge under ample pressure, and the centre of the screen's rear flexed a little – but that's the only area where this machine differs from the rock-solid Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina display.

The XPS ticks the right boxes in a practical sense, too. There are three USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 connector, plus HDMI and mini-DisplayPort outputs, and a headphone jack and card reader. That's more than the MacBook Pro, which offers pairs of USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports, an HDMI output, a single headphone jack and a card reader.

All of this is inside a machine that weighs 4.1 pounds (1.88kg) and is 0.74-inches (19mm) thick – figures that compare well to rivals. It's only a millimetre thicker than the MacBook Pro, a little lighter, and far better than the Toshiba Satellite P50t B-11D, which weighs 5.07 pounds (2.3kg) and is 1.1-inches (28mm) thick.

The Dell can be opened up, but it's tricky to get inside – the base panel is held in place by ten tiny Torx screws and, even then, it's tough to get the panel off. Once inside, though, the memory slots, battery, M.2 SSD and wireless chip are all accessible, and the cooling gear can be cleaned.

Dell XPS 15 keyboard

You get a quality keyboard here, but no numberpad

Ergonomics

The keyboard doesn't have a numberpad or any extra buttons, which is a little disappointing on a machine of this size – the chiclet unit feels a little marooned amid so much matte material.

It's backlit, though, and we've got no qualms about its typing quality: The keys are light enough to encourage fast typing but with enough weight that they feel substantial and satisfying. The base is solid, and the action is consistent – and it's easily the match of the superb MacBook Pro.

The trackpad is large, accurate and responsive, with support for gestures and two snappy buttons. Its movement matches the MacBook, but it doesn't have the Force Touch technology that's recently been introduced to Apple's machine.

Dell XPS 15 rear

And this laptop definitely has a top-notch finish and build quality

On the inside

The latest incarnation of the XPS 15 comes with a Core i7-4712HQ. It's similar to the 4700HQ in the Toshiba, but its clock speed of 2.3GHz is a tad lower, which means Intel can reduce its power consumption by 10 Watts – which should, in turn, make for better battery life.

Graphical grunt comes from the GeForce GT 750M, which sits right in the middle of Nvidia's older mobile range of GPUs. It's got 384 stream processors, 2GB of dedicated memory and a stock speed of 967MHz, so it should deliver respectable pace.

Elsewhere there's 16GB of memory and a 512GB Samsung SSD, but there's no room in this slim machine for an optical drive. Wireless connectivity is good, with dual-band 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 on board, but there's no Gigabit Ethernet.

You're out of luck if you want to change that specification, though – no alternative models are available on the Dell website. As for the cost, this machine weighs in at £1,499 (around $2340, or AU$3170).

Here is the spec sheet for the Dell XPS 15 as provided to TechRadar:

  • CPU: 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-4712HQ processor (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.3GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GT 750M (2GB GDDR5 RAM), Intel HD Graphics 4600
  • RAM: 16GB DDR3 (1,600MHz)
  • Screen: 15.6-inch 3,840 x 2,160 IPS touchscreen
  • Storage: 512GB Samsung SSD
  • Ports: 3 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x mini-DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, SDXC card reader, 1 x audio
  • Connectivity: Dual-band 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Camera: HD webcam
  • Weight: 4.1 pounds (1.88kg)
  • Size: 14.6 (372) x 10 (254) x 0.74-inches (19mm)