Dell XPS 15
The Dell XPS 15 ($1,115 direct), a desktop replacement laptop, is a wonderland of lavish features, cutting-edge components, and ,overall, one of the best laptops I've tested. Even more impressive is that most of its parts are customizable before finalizing your purchase: The XPS 15 can be completely over the top or priced to meet a certain budget. It's one of the few 15-inch laptops that has support for a full 1080p screen resolution, a Skype-certified HD webcam, floor-thumping speakers, and every wireless technology imaginable. If the Intel Core i5 processor and Nvidia GeForce GT 420M (with Optimus technology) aren't groundbreaking enough for you, there are options for quad-core processors and a more powerful graphics card. The only thing left to do now is hand the XPS 15 the Editors' Choice in the desktop replacement laptop category.
These days, the material of choice for a luxury laptop is metal, specifically aluminum. The XPS 15 is covered in it, though some might find the overall design a little plain. Its aluminum skin is a darker shade than that of the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Core i5) ($1,799 direct, 4 stars). It's void of any decorative patterns, like those found in the HP Pavilion dv7-4183cl ($999.99 list, 4 stars) and Samsung R580-JBB2 ($729.99 list, 4 stars). The forward-hinge design, however, is a nice touch, a page taken from its Inspiron line. But, overall, the design comes off more corporate than consumer. At 1.3 by 14.7 by 10.6 inches (HWD) and 6.3 pounds, it's thicker than its peers and noticeably heavier than the Samsung R580-JBB2 (5.4 pounds) and Acer Aspire AS5820T-5951 ($723 street, 4 stars) (5.2 pounds). Then again, the other two don't have the XPS 15's impressive list of parts.
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The 15.6-inch widescreen will absolutely blow you away. Granted, you can have bigger screens with the 17-inch HP dv7-4183cl and Dell Inspiron 17R-2950MRB ($949.99 list, 4 stars), but their resolutions are capped at 720p. The XPS 15 will not only let you scale the resolution up to 1,920 by 1,080 (1080p), but the screen itself can take images into another color space, as it's based on RGB LED technology, providing a wider color gamut (Update: Dell has removed the option for a 1,920-by-1,080 resolution and RGB LEDs for reasons it can't comment on at the moment. We suspect it's rolling this option into newer models coming out next year). Suffice it to say, photos and videos looked absolutely stunning. As for its keyboard, touchpad, and mouse buttons, I'll say this again: Dell engineers make great ones for laptops. This particular set can be configured with backlights, an invaluable tool in a dark setting. You'll be smitten by the typing and navigating experience, as I am.
TypeGaming, General Purpose, Media, Desktop ReplacementProcessor NameIntel Core i5-460MOperating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 UltimateProcessor Speed2.53 GHzRAM4 GBWeight6.3 lbScreen Size15.6 inchesScreen Size TypewidescreenGraphics CardIntel GMA HD2nd Graphics CardnVidia GeForce GT 420MStorage Capacity (as Tested)500 GBNetworking Options802.11nPrimary Optical DriveDVD+R DL More
It would take another review to fully explain the XPS 15's list of impressive features, but I'll try to summarize them. It comes with 3 USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0, the other an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port), DisplayPort, HDMI, and an HD Webcam. The Webcam, which allows you to shoot video in 720p, is a first for a laptop. It's also Skype-certified, which means you can video chat in high definition and not have to worry about distortions. A Blu-ray drive wasn't included in this configuration, but you can add one for another $100. The HP dv7-4183cl and R580-JBB2, on other hand, are sold with Blu-ray drives. Like HP, Dell is only offering the fastest hard drives with the XPS 15. This one ships with a 500GB, 7200-rpm drive. Alternatively, you can swap it out for a 256GB solid-state drive, albeit for an obscene amount of money ($550).
There's no shortage of wireless features either, including 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, WiMAX (4G), and mobile broadband (CDMA and GSM 3G technologies). If you're the type who likes to hook a laptop up to an HDTV (via an HDMI cable), Intel's Wireless Display (WiDi) does the same thing—minus the cable. The transmitter is built into the laptop, so there's no dongle hanging off of a USB port. However, you will need to buy a Netgear Push2TV ($100 option), a receiver box that tethers to your HDTV. A pair of JBL speakers and a subwoofer is included, because regular ones just won't cut it. Volume levels and bass response, as you would expect, are beyond what you can achieve with the Samsung R580-JBB2 and Acer AS5820T-5951. In addition to studio-quality sound, there are microphone enhancements such as echo cancellation and noise reduction.
Top-of-the-line components are the pieces that complement many of these high-end features. The XPS 15 runs a dual-core 2.53-GHz Intel Core i5-460M processor and 4GB of DDR3 memory, which are the perfect combination for this laptop. But faster parts dissipate more heat, particularly in the base of the system. Systems like the HP dv7-4183cl and Dell 17R run the same processor, but up their memory to 6GB. Even then, the XPS 15 emerged the victor in tests like Handbrake (2:45) and Cinebench R11.5 (2.3). If you're a hard-core performance enthusiast, you can ramp the processor to a quad-core variant and max the memory to 8GB. The XPS 15 also earned top marks in PCMark Vantage (6,426), an overall performance test that takes advantage of yet another component—graphics.
A good 3D graphics chip can deliver more than just excellent frame rates in hardcore games like Crysis (40.6 fps) and Lost Planet 2 (30.4 fps); it can also optimize high-definition playback, given the 1080p resolution; and it provides the necessary hardware decoding that enables the HD webcam to effortlessly stream 720p video. The XPS 15 is one of the first systems out of the gate with the Nvidia GeForce GT 420M graphics chip (the GeForce GT 435M is also available). Not only were 3DMark06 scores (7,404) best in class, but the Nvidia chip can turn itself off when it's not in use and automatically switch to an Intel integrated graphics chipset, a technology Nvidia calls Optimus. It's the reason why battery life turned out better than expected.
In MobileMark 2007 tests, the XPS 15 lasted 3 hours 48 minutes, not nearly as stellar as the 6 hours amassed by the HP dv7-4183cl. The 56WH (6-cell) battery would have fared a lot worse had it not been for Nvidia's Optimus technology. Good news is that Dell sells a 92WH extended battery (9-cell), which is well worth the $40 upgrade and similar to the 9-cell battery that comes standard with the HP dv7-4183cl. With the bigger battery, the XPS 15's battery scores should be comparable to the HP dv7-4183cl. The 9-cell battery, however, creates a bulge from the bottom, elevating the laptop about an inch from the back.
Calling the Dell XPS 15 the preeminent desktop replacement laptop is a no-brainer, since there's nothing else like it right now. It has a long list of features that you can't get with any other laptop—at least not all of them at the same time. The 1080p resolution, HD webcam, studio-quality sound, and the Nvidia GeForce GT 400M series graphics card are among the list of must-haves. And more importantly, you're not paying a ridiculous amount for them. The only upgrade I would adamantly recommend is spending the extra $40 on the 9-cell battery. Otherwise, this is as impressive as desktop replacements laptop gets