Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dell XPS 15-L502X (Intel Core i7-2630, 2011)

The good: Dell's new XPS 15 offers a high-resolution screen and excellent JBL speakers. Intel's new Core i-series CPUs and Nvidia graphics are standard, but there are also plenty of configuration options.
The bad: The extremely bulky, uninspired design of the XPS 15 doesn't suit its price, and though the battery life is very good, it's not as great as Apple's MacBook Pro. Some configuration options feel like they should have been included for free.
The bottom line: Equipped with second-gen Intel Core i-series CPUs and improved Nvidia graphics, the new Dell XPS 15 performs even better than its predecessor, although it's still just as bulky. Also, keep in mind that the XPS 15 ranges greatly in price, from $799 up to $1,500.
One of last year's most impressively priced high-end multimedia laptops was the Dell XPS 15. Though it was certainly not svelte, the $849 entry-level model we reviewed had an excellent set of specs and some of the best-sounding speakers we've ever heard on a portable.
The new XPS 15 looks a lot like the old one--which isn't that old, really: we reviewed it back in November 2010. Still, there are a few key differences with the 2011 update. First and foremost, all XPS models now have new second-gen Intel Core i-series CPUs. The GPUs have also been revamped, incorporating newer Nvidia GeForce GT 500-series graphics. The keyboard has also been given some tweaking, which we'll go into in more detail. Finally, the built-in Intel Wireless Display is now WiDi 2.0, incorporating HD streaming up to 1080p.
The base model of the new XPS 15 is actually even cheaper than last year's, at $799. It comes with a 2.3GHz Core i5-2410M CPU, an Nvidia GeForce GT525 GPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive.
That's not the one we reviewed, though. Unlike last time, Dell sent us a top-of-the-line fully rigged model, the XPS15-L502X, running around $1,488 on Dell's Web site: a quad-core 2GHz Core i7-2630QM CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB 7,200rpm hard drive, Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics, a Blu-ray drive, and a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution screen, along with a chunky but longer-life nine-cell battery.
It's a heavy beast, and expensive, too, but if you're looking for a media laptop that can blast movies, play games, and show them off on a great screen, the new XPS 15 could be just what you're looking for. But don't feel like you have to spring for all the upgrades; the base model should be more than enough for most--unless you're looking for Blu-ray and a full 1080p display.
Price as reviewed / starting price $1,488 / $799
Processor 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM (quad-core)
Memory 8GB, 667MHz DDR3 RAM
Hard drive 750GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Intel HM67
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GT540M + Intel GMA HD (Optimus)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 15 x 10.4 inches
Height 1.3-1.5 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 6.7 / 8.0 pounds
Category Mainstream
The size and shape of the Dell XPS 15 is best described as beefy and bulky, with a flat, wide silver profile that looks like plastic but is actually metal. A thick, slightly tapered base and wide, flat, brushed-aluminum lid look, at first glance, like they belong on a budget laptop. Especially with the extra riser added by the nine-cell battery option, the overall effect is one of the thickest laptops we've seen on the market. The XPS has undeniably throwback looks, and not in a good way.
The hinge-forward design on the XPS mirrors other recent Dell laptops, such as the Inspiron R and Mini 10, pushing the screen forward a little in relation to the keyboard but giving the rear end significant chunk. The XPS uses that back lip for a handful of rear-facing ports, including HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, Ethernet, the power jack, and one of its two USB 3.0 ports. It nearly acts like a dock, giving this XPS a very desktop-friendly feel for keeping wires out of the way, but making access a little tough for lap use.
The thick chassis has some noticeable flex on the sides, giving an impression of being not quite as solidly built as other high-end laptops such as the MacBook Pro and HP Envy. However, this is a laptop that gets a lot better once you actually start using it. A wide, generous palm rest and keyboard deck is covered in more brushed metal, with a raised chiclet-style keyboard centered right in the middle between two speaker grilles.
The keyboard is new, a shift from the flat keyboard with raised key surfaces seen on many of last year's Dell laptops. It's a nicer look, but it doesn't add up to anything significantly more ergonomic than the previous XPS. Typing feels very comfortable, although there could have been room for a number pad in the wide chassis.
We do have a few gripes: the backlit keyboard is now a $40 upgrade instead of an included feature on the entry-level model. And, though last year's XPS had function-reversed volume and media control keys, they've flipped back to requiring pressing the function key in this year's model. It's a bit of a drag. We're not huge fans of the column of page up/down buttons lining the right side of the keyboard, relegating the Enter/Shift keys to inner positions that aren't instantly touch-intuitive, but it's a trend that's growing for laptop keyboards everywhere.
A few backlit touch controls lie on the upper-right side above the keyboard, to the left of a slightly off-from-center power button. A settings button launches a pop-up of useful controls, ranging from Bluetooth to battery mode; we wish more laptops had such a hot key. Another button can be customized to instantly launch any program, and a third brings up fine-tuning controls for the Waves MaxxAudio system that runs through the JBL speakers.
Dell's onscreen dock, much like the icon dock in Mac OS X, provides an instant-access strip for commonly used programs, augmenting Windows 7 nicely. It's not new or unique, but we appreciated it once again on the XPS 15.
A large multitouch touch pad is nearly the size of the MacBook Pro's, and it controls better than many touch pads we've seen. Simple wide buttons beneath do their job without fanfare, but reliably.
Like last year's XPS, the included 5.1-speaker/subwoofer array is one of the best we've ever heard in a laptop. Music and movies play with crisp pop, punch, and separation, and gaming shows off the surround-simulating effects. They're so good, they're going to be one of primary features you'll show off to friends and family, and they'll probably make you skip using headphones--to the chagrin of neighbors or roommates.
The 15.6-inch LED-backlit glossy 16:9 display in our high-end XPS 15 configuration has a 1,920x1,080-pixel full-HD display, which costs an extra $150 on Dell's Web site to customize. Based on our experience, it's worth the upgrade: colors popped, images were extremely vivid, and movies and games looked spectacular. Combined with the XPS' powerful sound, it adds up to one of the best portable home-theater offerings in any recent laptop we've seen. The Blu-ray drive--an extra $100, or $175/$275 for two different speeds of BD-write capable drives--makes sense in a laptop with media features this strong.
An HD Webcam records video at resolutions up to 1,600x1,200 pixels, or at 1,280x720 pixels in HD H.264 format. Though frame rates are choppy using normal settings, the HD recording mode produces smooth, very watchable clips. The Webcam is also compatible with SkypeHD for HD streaming, a pleasant bonus. A noise-canceling microphone adds to the chat package, pushing its chat capabilities closer to that of a business laptop.
Dell XPS 15-L502X (Core i7, Sandy Bridge) Average for category [Mainstream]
Video HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, TV tuner VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo 2.1 speaker/subwoofer, 2 headphone jacks (one S/P DIF), 1 microphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0/eSATA combo, SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, optional mobile broadband/WiMAX Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive Blu-ray drive DVD burner
The new Dell XPS has the same set of ports we saw in the XPS back in November, and that's OK, since those ports already were pretty up-to-date. Though the XPS lacks an ExpressCard slot, it comes with two USB 3.0 ports, an optional TV tuner (included on our config), and HDMI 1.4 with Nvidia 3DTV Play, allowing playback of 3D games or Blu-ray content onto a 3D HDTV via an HMDI cable. You'll need a 3D TV to even take advantage of this feature, of course, and we doubt many people will.
Configurations for the Dell XPS 15 vary across a tremendous spectrum, starting at $799 and climbing into the $1,500 range. Like many Dell laptops, the number of customizable extras can seem daunting: nearly every feature has an upgrade. That HD Webcam, confusingly, has two options, one of which adds facial recognition for $20, a feature most would assume comes as a standard software feature; there are WiMax and Bluetooth options; the keyboard comes in standard or backlit (an extra $40); and the JBL speaker system has a completely confusing and unnecessary $20 upgrade option on Dell's Web site. You get the picture.
The important basics to note: the starting CPU is a 2.3GHz Core i5-2410M; the top CPU, a 2.3GHz Core i7-2820QM, costs an extra $500. RAM can be upgraded to 8GB from the base 4GB for $120. A 256GB SSD drive option is available for $600. GPU options are limited: either the Nvidia GeForce GT 525M, or the GT 540M, with twice the memory, for an extra $100. A TV tuner will cost you $50.
Our configuration came with a quad-core 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM CPU, which costs $175 over the base CPU. This is one of Intel's new Sandy Bridge 2011 processors. In our benchmarks, performance was excellent and clear improvement over last year's dual-core Core i5--not surprising, since that was a last-gen processor and a lower-end CPU option. However, even against other 2011 laptops with Intel Sandy Bridge next-gen CPUs, it more than held its own, making a considerable speed leap over last year's Intel CPUs. We ran multiple windows of processor-intensive tasks and experienced practically no slowdown, although the side vents blasted some very hot air from time to time.
Graphically, this XPS is another step up from an already solidly performing 2010 version we reviewed. The Nvidia GeForce GT 525M Optimus automatic-switching GPU has 2GB of video memory; Unreal Tournament III ran at 53.1 frames per second at full 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, and 81.5fps at 1,440x900 pixels with medium settings. Our benchmark of Street Fighter IV at full-screen and full-HD resolution played perfectly, at a buttery 59.8fps. As you'd expect from a laptop priced this high, it's more than capable of playing cutting-edge games on its HD screen.
Juice box
Dell XPS 15 Mainstream
Off (60%) 0.37
Sleep (10%) 1.06
Idle (25%) 10.39
Load (05%) 72.16
Raw kWh number 57.23
Annual power consumption cost $6.50
Annual power consumption cost
Apple MacBook Pro - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 15.4-inch - 2.2GHz
Acer Aspire 5742G-7200
Dell XPS 15
Dell XPS L502X
Alienware m15x
The nine-cell battery that came with our XPS 15 (an extra $40 option) made a difference, lasting 4 hours and 2 minutes using our video-playback battery-drain test. That's a solid number for a laptop this powerful, but it's still hours short of the similarly-equipped 15-inch MacBook Pro. On the other hand, it's a big improvement from the 2 hours and 26 minutes we got on the XPS 15 last year with a standard six-cell battery. Without having tested the XPS using a standard six-cell, it's hard to tell what part of the advantage comes from the larger battery and what's the result of a more efficient Intel CPU.
Dell includes a one-year in-home service warranty with the XPS 15, expandable up to four years for an extra $290 on Dell's Web site, or four years with accidental damage protection for $410. Dell's Web site offers 24-7 toll-free phone service and Web support, including software drivers and documentation that are easy to find.
Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 15.4-inch - 2.2GHz
Alienware m15x
Dell XPS L502X
Acer Aspire 5742G-7200
Dell XPS 15
Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 15.4-inch - 2.2GHz
Alienware m15x
Dell XPS L502X
Dell XPS 15
Acer Aspire 5742G-7200
Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 15.4-inch - 2.2GHz
Dell XPS L502X
Alienware m15x
Acer Aspire 5742G-7200
Dell XPS 15
Unreal Tournament III (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

1,280x800, 0X AA, 0X AF

1,440x900, 4X AA, 8X AF*
Alienware m15x
Dell XPS L502X
Acer Aspire 5742G-7200
Dell XPS 15
Video playback battery drain test (in seconds)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 15.4-inch - 2.2GHz
Dell XPS L502X
Acer Aspire 5742G-7200
Dell XPS 15
Alienware m15x
Find out more about how we test laptops.
System configurations:
Dell XPS L502X
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM; 8192MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce 540M + 64MB(Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 750GB Western Digital 7,200rpm
Alienware m15x
Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core i7-920XM; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 260M; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm
Apple MacBook Pro - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 15.4 inch - 2.2GHz
OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard; Intel Core i7 2.2GHz; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6750M / 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 750GB Toshiba 5,400rpm
Dell XPS 15
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.53GHz Intel Core i5 M460; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce 420M + 64MB(Dedicated) Intel GMA HD; 500GB Seagate 7,200rpm
Acer Aspire 5742G-7200
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.53GHz Intel Core i5 M460; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 420M; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm


bose said...

The Dell's XPS 15 laptop is awesome, i have been using it from 6 months without any issue. Thanks for the specifications.
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Brandon Hudson said...

Very dashing and attractive woody vases. Creativity is clearly showing. Nice work.

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