Dell XPS 15 (9530) review

With its brilliant screen and serious components, the luxury-minded Dell XPS 15 (9530) is Dell's showcase PC meant to go up against high-end laptop offerings.
Photo of Dell XPS 15 (9530)

The Dell XPS 15 (9530) is a high-end desktop replacement laptop, and that’s a funny place to be. While, yes, you could buy a less expensive laptop to do many of the same tasks, systems like the XPS 15 (9530) are simultaneously PC tools and showcases for previewing high-end technology. In this case, it’s the system’s 3,200-by-1,800-resolution screen, which on a pixel count basis trumps even the mighty Retina Display from Apple. It’s certainly a system that throws a halo over Dell’s XPS range by being a showcase for what the company can do now and in the future. But can it unseat our current champ? Read on, dear reader.

Design and Features
The XPS 15 (9530) follows last year’s model, the Dell XPS 15 (Summer 2012) ($1,699) with very similar look. The XPS 15 sports a dark colored, expansive keyboard deck and comfortable matching keyboard with sculpted keys. The built in trackpad is responsive, and has a vertical line bisecting the click area to help with right clicks. The keyboard is backlit, and we have no complaints typing on it.

The system’s QHD+ screen has 10-point touch, and responds well to standard Windows 8 swipes and commands. Edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass NBT covers the screen. If there’s any potential downfall to this setup, it’s that the glass screen is highly reflective, which is a problem when you’re viewing something with a dark background, like on films or even the default wallpaper installed on our test system.

The top lid has a matte silver metal finish, and the bottom lid is made of carbon fiber, which lends the XPS 15 (9530) the pedigree of premium materials. There’s one of Dell’s XPS hallmarks on the bottom: A hinged metal lid covers the required regulatory label, even though the lid has an Intel logo embossed and the Windows 8 sticker on it. All in all, it sets the system in the same league as premium laptops like the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013), Asus Zenbook VX51VZ-XB71, and the Toshiba KIRABook. Coincidentally, all three of these competitors also have larger than 1080p resolution (1,920 by 1,080) screens.

The system came in at 4.53 pounds, which is imperceptibly heavier than the MacBook Pro (4.46 pounds) about the same as the Asus VX51VZ-XB71 (4.56 pounds). The XPS 15 (9530) trumps all three on pure pixel count, since its 3,200 by 1,800 resolution is the highest in this esteemed group. With this many pixels, it’s easy to edit 1080p videos or raw images from your D-SLR without having to zoom in on detail. It has a 235 PPI (pixels per inch) screen, while the MacBook Pro screen is at 220 PPI. More isn’t necessarily better in all cases, but the XPS 15′s screen let us pick out insane levels of detail in images. We tested the display by looking at 4K videos online, and you’d almost swear you’re looking out of a window when watching outdoor videos. Viewing angles were good, though the screen reflectivity was a problem when viewing night scenes.

Aside from the reflectivity problem, the 3,200-by-1,800 resolution presents problems when using older programs and UI elements that were designed when 1,366 by 768 resolution was more prevalent. Running our Photoshop tests were more challenging than usual, since the menus didn’t scale like the rest of windows and we were trying to read action lists in what seemed to be four-point fonts. Also, 1,366 by 768 gaming was comical: It either shrank the playable area down to the size of a pack of chewing gum at the center of the screen, or was blown up to full screen and blocky. Windows 8-optimized programs and games we tested were fine, however.

Our review unit came with a 512GB mSATA solid-state drive (SSD), which is positively capacious for a SSD these days. Even with all our test files installed, the system had almost 400GB free. That much space should suffice these days, when cloud storage, online streaming, and home NAS appliances make multi-TB hard drives less relevant than before. If you find yourself wanting for more storage, it’s easy to hook up a 2TB USB 3.0 portable drive to one of the system’s three USB 3.0 ports. There is also a USB 2.0 port, for older peripherals like mice.

Both USB ports on the right side of the system are charging ports for your smartphone or tablet, but note that you’ll have to pay attention to the label to figure which one is USB 2.0 or USB 3.0. Dell is one of the manufacturers that don’t differentiate USB 3.0 ports by coloring them blue. The system doesn’t have built-in Ethernet, but it does have HDMI, mini-DisplayPort, a SD card reader, Bluetooth 4.0, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Bloatware is kept to a minimum: You’ll find McAfee LiveSafe with a 12-month subscription included, Amazon app, Kindle app, Dell Shop, and Microsoft Office (trial) all on the Start screen.

Performance

The XPS 15 (9530)’s Intel Core i7-4702HQ processor, 16GB of memory, Nvidia GeForce GT 750 graphics, and 512GB SSD all combine to give you a system that’s as powerful as an all-in-one desktop. As a plus, the fourth-generation Intel Core architecture in the i7-4702HQ improves battery life to where you’re going to get almost all-day performance out of the system. This is a marked improvement over systems with third-generation Intel Core processors like the Asus VX51VZ-XB71.

Both are nominally clocked at 2.2GHz, but the XPS 15 (9530) is faster on both multimedia benchmark tests; notably, the XPS 15 (9530) scored 3 minutes 14 seconds on Photoshop CS6 (compared with the 3:57 for the Asus VX51VZ-XB71), and scored 5,817 points in PCMark 7 (vs. 5,365 points for the Asus VX51VZ-XB71). More importantly, the XPS 15 (9530) scroed 6 hours 49 minutes on our battery rundown test, while the Asus VX51VZ-XB71 scored 3:10.

The XPS 15 (9530) is a bit more even-keeled on the 3D tests, it wins some and loses some compared to the Asus VX51VZ-XB71, not surprising, since the Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics in the XPS 15 (9530) is only a generation more advanced than the Nvidia GT 650M in the Asus VX51VZ-XB71, and both are aimed at high-end multimedia/moderate gaming. If you absolutely need 3D gaming, a system like the Razer Blade (2013) ($1,999), iBuypower Battalion Ultra-Thin M1771 ($1,859), or Digital Storm Veloce ($1,596) may be more your style. All three have the more powerful GeForce GTX 765M graphics, but much lower screen resolution (which oddly enough will help gameplay and frame rates). In short, the Dell XPS 15 is one of the better consumer-grade choices for the fledgling Michael Bay, looking to push the envelope with retina-searing visual spectacles.

There’s no denying it, the Dell XPS 15 (9530) is a halo PC for Dell, much as the Mercedes Benz S-class generates interest for people shopping for more sedate Mercedes CLA sedans. It’s a showcase for new technologies like QHD+ displays, touchscreens, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Like the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch, the XPS 15 is one of those drool-worthy systems that gets you interested in similarly styled systems in Dell’s stable.

The XPS 15 (9530) certainly trumps its Windows-based competition like the Asus Zenbook VX51VZ-XB71 in battery life, price, and features. But how does it stack up to the Apple MacBook Pro, our current Editors’ Choice for desktop replacement laptops? It matches the MacBook Pro in performance (multimedia and 3D), has more RAM, higher resolution touch screen, and twice the storage. However, it also has a higher price by almost $300, problems with glass reflectivity, and two hours less battery life. The MacBook Pro comes with iWork and iLife apps, which arguably make the MacBook more useful without additional purchases for the XPS 15. In terms of bragging rights, premium construction materials, and wow factor, both are even. It is very close, but those two hours of battery life and $300 price difference tips the scales in favor of the current champ. The XPS 15 (9530) comes highly recommended, but at the end of the day if we were in the market for such a system and if it were our money, we’d buy the MacBook Pro.

Specifications
Touchscreen Yes
Processor Name Intel Core i7-4702HQ
Operating System Windows 8.1
Weight 4.53 lb
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce GT 750M
Screen Type Widescreen
Type Media, Desktop Replacement, Ultrabook
RAM 16 GB
Networking Options 802.11n (2.4+5 GHz Dualband)
Processor Speed 2.2 MHz
Screen Size 15.6 inches
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 512 GB
Storage Type SSD

Verdict
With its brilliant screen and serious components, the luxury-minded Dell XPS 15 (9530) is Dell's showcase PC meant to go up against high-end laptop offerings. Unfortunately, its price and battery life keep it from taking the top spot.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc