Dell XPS 15z: Imitation with a Twist

Dell relaunched their XPS brand (which was languishing under the Studio XPS name for a couple years) last year with their XPS 15 L501x. Combining reasonable performance, battery life, and portability with a great display upgrade at an impressive price tickled my fancy in just the right way, and we awarded that laptop our Gold Editors’ Choice award. The XPS 15 L502x brought along Sandy Bridge processor support with a minor upgrade to NVIDIA’s 500M graphics, but outside of a few component changes the two laptops looked the same. We still liked the L502x, but the build quality and keyboard actually took a step backwards in our book, and a few of the design elements of the XPS 15 didn’t hold up as well over the long term (e.g. the hinge-forward design).

Dell has now launched a completely reworked laptop with the XPS 15z, which shrinks the chassis, modifies the layout, and changes the component options. In many ways the XPS 15z is a better laptop than the XPS 15, but compromise is still present and accounted for. Let’s hit the spec sheet to see just where things are changing. The table lists the available options for the XPS 15z, with our review configuration components bolded where applicable.

Dell XPS 15 L502x Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-2410M (dual-core 2.30-2.90GHz, 35W)
Intel Core i7-2620M (dual-core 2.70-3.40GHz, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 6GB (1x4GB + 1x2GB DDR3-1333)
8GB (2x4GB DDR-1333 CL9)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M 1GB DDR3 or
NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M 2GB DDR3
96 SPs, 600/1200/1800MHz Core/Shader/RAM clocks
Display 15.6” WLED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)

15.6" WLED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(AU Optronics B156HW3)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200RPM HDD
750GB 7200RPM HDD
(Seagate ST9750429AS)

256GB SSD (Samsung?)
Optical Drive 8X Slot-Load DVDRW (HL-DT-ST GS30N)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet(Realtek RTL8168/8111)
802.11n WiFi + Bluetooth 3.0 (Intel Advanced-N 6230)
WiDi 2.0 Ready
Audio Stereo Speakers + Waves MaxxAudio
(Stereo speakers and subwoofer)
Microphone and two headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1 digital output (HDMI/SPDIF)
Battery 8-cell, 14.8V, ~4.2Ah, 64Wh
Front Side N/A
Left Side Battery Life Indicator
Memory Card Reader
2 x USB 3.0
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0 Combo
Mini DisplayPort
HDMI 1.4a
Right Side Headphone Jack
Microphone Jack
Optical Drive
Back Side AC Power Connection
Exhaust vent
Gigabit Ethernet
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 15.15" x 10.25" x 0.97" (WxDxH)
(384.8mm x 260.4mm x 24.6mm)
Weight 5.54 lbs (8-cell)
Extras Waves MaxxAudio 3
1.3MP HD Webcam
80-Key backlit keyboard
Flash reader (SD, MS, MMC)
MS Office 2010 Starter or Home/Student
90W Power Adapter
Warranty 1- or 2-year standard warranty
3-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting Price: $999
Reviewed Configuration: $1499
 

As you can see in the above table, Dell shipped us the fully upgraded version of the XPS 15z, which is good and bad. On the good side, there’s a nice 1080p display, CPU performance will be better, and the GPU gets twice the memory; there’s also 8GB of system RAM and a very large 750GB 7200RPM hard drive. Also note that all the available configurations other than the base model comes standard with a 2-year warranty and include Office 2010 Home/Student; the base model gets you Office 2010 Starter and a 1-year warranty. So what’s the bad news? The price is 50% higher than the base model, and performance definitely won’t be anywhere near 50% higher. Most of the performance gains will come from the CPU upgrade, which amounts to a 17% average increase in CPU-limited applications.

When you look at the actual pricing breakdown, the fully equipped model actually isn’t necessarily a bad deal. The $1200 system gives you a 2-year warranty, Office Home/Student, 8GB RAM, a 750GB HDD. If you figure around $150 for the warranty alone and $100 for Office Home/Student, that’s a fair bargain. The $1300 adds the 1080p display and the 2GB GT 525M, and since the 1080p LCD is a $100 upgrade on its own you get the GPU upgrade “gratis”. The $1500 configurations is the same as the $1300 unit, other than the CPU, so you’re basically paying $200 extra (15% more) for the 17% performance increase. Taken individually, we can easily justify every one of the upgrades, but $1500 is a big step up from $1000. Personally, if I were buying the 15z, I’d go with the base model but upgrade to the 1080p LCD, and if you like the longer warranty and Office software you can bump up to the $1300 model. I’d also drop the at-home service, since I’ve almost never had any laptop fail in the first year of use, which gives a final price of just $1043 for a very nice laptop.

Dell XPS 15z: A Good Copy or a Cheap Clone?
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  • Gazziza - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Agreed here. 16:9 is the worst thing to happen to laptops in the past 2 years and I'm not sure why all the Windows laptops makers have jumped shipped over to the "HD" resolution. The #1 reason I bought the new MBA was because of the 1440x900 resolution. Reply
  • lihtness - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    The keyboard layout of dell laptops sucks. With so much real estate available they can do a much better job. Reply
  • bji - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    I agree, that is the worst keyboard I have ever seen on a laptop. It doesn't even have dedicated page up/page down/home/end keys. Instead you get 2 inches of speaker grill on either side of the keyboard.

    Absolute, complete, and total design fail.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    And lifted directly from the Apple MBP keyboard that so many people apparently love. Funny, isn't it? Reply
  • bji - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    You know, I had never paid close attention to the Mac laptop keyboards, but now that you mention it, I have taken a closer look and I am really disappointed. I had been thinking about getting a 15 inch Macbook Air when they come out (and assuming that they have Ivy Bridge and are cooler/quieter than the current generation) but suddenly I am given pause. Reply
  • Spivonious - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Why the comment about wanting >400 nits? That seems like it would be way too bright unless you were using it in direct sunlight. I'd rather have lower black levels - 0.5 is pretty bad. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Turn the brightness down to 100 nits and the black level is .20. I want 400 nits on the top for when I'm using the laptop outside, on the road, etc. You can always turn a bright display down, but if a display maxes out at 200 or 300 nits there's no way to get 400+ nits out of it. Reply
  • tipoo - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    http://www.engadget.com/2011/09/02/dell-teases-xps...

    Anyone thinking of buying, there is a 14 inch one coming out before 2012.
    Reply
  • ptuttle - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Do not buy this thing. I had bought one when it came out and had nothing but issues. The biggest issue is the touchpad. When you try to type anything it jumps the cursor to different locations on the screen and you have to move the cursor and reclick where you were typing. It may not sound that bad, but it does it almost every other word when typing. I was on the phone will Dell Tech Support many times and at first they tried to tell me it was a driver issue so they remotely took over my system and installed a different driver. When that didn't work they finally offered to replace the touchpad because they had a large amount of defective touchpads. I said ok, then they responded by saying they were out of the touchpads and i would have to wait over a month. At this point in time i had the laptop for about 3 months so i coulnd't get a normal refund. I demanded to speak to a supervisor and i explained my issues with them. After 3 weeks of dealing with them they finally let me return the laptop for a full refund, and i ordered a HP Envy 17, which ended up having a lot more in it for less money. (there is a 30% off coupon floating around) So buyer Beware.... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    In the words of Jobs: you're holding it wrong! ;-)

    Actually, I've played around with the touchpad sensitivity, and I don't find it much worse than other touchpads I've used. It's a bit larger than most laptops, and if you brush it you can accidentally "click". Options you might consider are turning off "tap to click", decreasing the sensitivity, or just plugging in an external mouse if you have to and turn off the touchpad.
    Reply

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