Dell XPS 15 9550 Review: Dat Display, doe

Last year, we reviewed the XPS 13 from Dell. At the time, it was getting a lot of praise for its clean design, great performance, and its Infinity Edge display. That refers to the super thin bezel that allowed Dell to create the world’s smallest 13 inch laptop. Well, 13 inches just isn’t enough for some people, so they’ve taken the design from the 13 and pumped it up to 15.6 inches. So, with a 4K display, a core i7 and GTX 960M, is the XPS 15 Windows notebook to rule them all? Let’s find out. Come on!

Now, the XPS 13 is sort of geared towards business professional types – it’s super compact, it’s light, it’s got a long lasting battery. The XPS 15, depending on which configuration you’ve got, will be much more attractive to content creators. It’s smaller compared to other laptops in its class, but still manages to fit a 15.6 inch, 4K, touch-enabled display. There’s plenty of I/O ports incorporated in the very clean design, and overall, it was a joy to do this review, except for some mildly irritating technical issues that I’ll get into later on. For now, let’s take a tour, shall we?

The overall aesthetic remains largely unchanged from the XPS 13, with blasted aluminum on the top and bottom, lending an attractive tapering look when viewed from the side. The device’s height ranges from 11 to 17mm, width is 357mm, depth is 235mm, and this model weighs 4.4 pounds, although that will vary depending on which configuration you get. The underside has two long raised rubber feet that slightly elevate the bottom of the machine, so air can reach the intake and exhaust vents. A small plate sits in the center, which can be flipped back to see the serial number and things of that nature. Also on the bottom, we see the two sort of front-facing speakers, which I found to have a pretty impressively full sound for a laptop. My wife preferred them to her Macbook, and she’s an Apple fanatic, so.

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Opening the lid is a bit too difficult, in my opinion. You pretty much need two hands to do it. However the plus side of that is that the hinge is super sturdy, with no wobble at all as you type. We see that beautiful display I was talking about, so here are the full specs: it’s a 3840 by 2160, IGZO IPS, touch-enabled, 60 hertz, with 350 nit brightness and 100% Adobe RGB accuracy, and covered by Gorilla Glass NBT. Dell has included a pretty handy color managing program that allows you to switch between color profiles and customize your own as well. At 4K, everything looks amazingly sharp, but it also means you’re going to have to fiddle with the resolution in some other programs. More on that later. Underneath the display, you have a decent quality 720p webcam with dual mics, since there’s no room at the top thanks to the nearly-nonexistent bezel.

The palmrest area is again made with very pretty carbon fiber, and covered with a softtouch finish that I must say is pleasing to rest my hands upon. The keyboard is… nothing special, but it’s more than adequate for typing for extended periods – I wrote this whole review on it. There’s a pleasantly distinct actuation point, but a somewhat unpleasantly mushy bottom. It’s got three levels of backlight, although one of those is off, so actually 2. Now the touchpad was very pleasant to use, it’s glass, and tracking the cursor around is super smooth. I wouldn’t say it’s quite as good as the trackpads on Macbooks, but probably the best one I’ve used on a Windows laptop, THAT’S for sure.

On to the ports! On the right side, we’ve got a full size SD card slot, USB 3.0, a push-button light-up battery indicator, and a Kensington lock. On the other side, you’ve got your charging port, another full size USB 3, HDMI, USB Type C with Thunderbolt 3 and all the goodness that entails, and an audio jack. Dell also sent us this super handy USB 3 adapter that sports another USB, HDMI, VGA, and ethernet port, but if you want one of those you’re going to have to pick one up for around 70 bucks, last I checked.

Now, on the inside, this is where it gets interesting. Configurations range from a Core i3 to i7, 8 to 32GB of memory, 1080p to 4K, touch or non-touch, 500GB hard drive all the way up to a 1TB PCIe SSD, so there’s a big range there. The one we have, however, is sort of in the middle. We’ve got an Intel Core i7 6700HQ, 16GB DDR4 memory, a 512GB Samsung 951 NVMe PCIe SSD – although we ended up with 467 gigs of useable space – an Nvidia Geforce GTX 960M w/ 2GB VRAM, an 84 Watt Hour battery, and of course the 4K, touch enabled display, we’ve already talked about that okay.

Well, Keys, you might say, that sounds like some pretty ballin’ specs, and you would be right, mystery viewer! The i7 and 16GB of RAM ensured super smooth performance in normal applications like web browsing and playing videos, and the GTX 960M meant playing games was very much possible, although… the XPS 15 has a 4K screen, which means I obviously had to turn the resolution down to get playable framerates in Rocket League, Star Wars Battlefront and Rainbow Six Siege. I did load up Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, and Audition, and they seemed to perform very admirably, with no real slowdowns. If you’re editing 4K content, the screen will definitely be a plus. Ok, on to the benchmarks!

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First off, in Cinebench, we got a pretty pleasing 70.95 in OpenGL and 627 cb for the CPU test, not bad, not bad. Skylake processors focused more on efficiency improvements than raw power, so while this won’t have crazy performance boosts over previous gen i7s, you should see overall battery life improve. For GPU tests, we got 3707 in Firestrike and 11248 in Sky Diver, showing the XPS 15 performing slightly above the average score for a gaming laptop, buuut not quite enough to get the VR-ready recommendation. Ok, on to the actual games.

First, though, a note about resolutions. The display is a 3840 by 2160 panel, but you can set it to various resolutions below that – including 1920 by 1080p, but there’s no option for 2560 by 1440, a 16 by 9 resolution that’s sort of halfway between 1080p and 4K. There’s only 2048 by 1152, which is also 16 by 9, but only slightly higher than 1080p. If you want to run in 1440p, you’ll have to go through the Nvidia Control panel and set a custom resolution, but I didn’t fiddle around with that, because, I mean 1080p looks fine to me for gaming on a 15 inch panel. So I tested these three games at 1080p, 20148 by 1152, and 4K.

Now, I played Rocket League on this thing constantly, and it didn’t let me down. It wasn’t as buttery smooth as playing on desktop with a higher-refresh rate monitor, but it the XPS 15 definitely wasn’t hurting for performance. At 1080p and high settings, it averaged 62 frames per second, 50 fps at 1152p, and 22 at 4K, so that’s unplayable. On medium settings, Battlefront got an average of 80 fps at 1080, 65 at 1152, and just 18 at 4K, a much wider range. And Rainbow Six Siege at medium settings got 60 at 1080, 54 at 1152, and 16 at 4K. All that to state the obvious, Just because you’ve got a 4K panel doesn’t mean you should game at 4K. But, the XPS 15, despite not really being positioned as a gaming laptop, performed quite admirably. It didn’t get super hot, either – the fan system seems to do it’s job quite well, especially when it’s placed on a hard surface.

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Now there are a couple gripes I have with this laptop, one of which is that there seem to be some issues with the device recognizing some of its own hardware at times. Occasionally, when I restart it, WiFi just won’t be there. Not even an option to enable or disable. Windows device manager doesn’t even detect that there is a wireless adapter. This is solved by shutting the system down and starting up again, not “restarting” – the problem will keep showing up until you specifically shutdown, and startup. Other times the trackpad wouldn’t register, which was also solved by shutting down. I talked to Dell during my review, and they were very helpful, they suggested I update the BIOS, and drivers for the network adapter, but that didn’t actually solve the problem. Looking online, I can see other users encountering the same problem, so hopefully Dell figures out the situation soon. Once you restart, the thing runs like a dream, it’s just disappointing to use a brand new, fancy carbon fiber lookin thing and have it crap out like that.

Other than that though, I’d say the XPS 15 is a very compelling product. Where everyone is going for 2 in 1s and hybrids, Dell has created what is most likely the best Windows laptop on the market that also doesn’t look like a macbook clone. Windows notebooks have come a long way, and if we continue to see devices like this, I think we’re gonna do JUUUUuuust fine. They could maybe bring the price down a bit though. Always helps.

If you want more information on the Dell XPS 15, go ahead and click THIS link or the one in the description, and also, what do you guys think of this laptop? Is the infinity edge display fancy enough to make you consider it? Leave a comment below.