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
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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  • ptuttle - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    The problem was even when i was using a mouse with it, it would still do the same thing while i was typing. I don't beleive it was from brushing up against the touchpad either. When i would be typing the cursor would move around almost like it was from the vibration. Dell finally admitted that it was a defect in the system so they know what the problem is, they just haven't fixed it.
  • ptuttle - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    I will admit that performance wise the system was very nice, my main complaint was the touchpad. I mainly used it for business and while on a business trip i would play some games on it while stuck in a hotel room. I played some league of legends on it and got 60fps in medium settings. Rift would play in Medium/High settings at 30-40fps. So performance is nice they just need to fix some of the issues such as the touchpad.
  • tipoo - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    Its nice that you included the decibel reading for this laptop, I've wanted to know that in a few laptop reviews, thanks. It would be nice to have some reference points though, for instance you said the MBP gets louder at load but how loud is that? Did you test it with the decibel meter? And which is quieter during basic tasks like web browsing?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    I don't have dB results from the MBP, at least not for the same environment and equipment. I've heard the MPB15 in person under load, though, and it's pretty darn loud subjectively. At low loads, I think I hear the spinning HDD as much as the fan. 31dB is pretty close to the limit of my SPL meter, as well as my environment.
  • tipoo - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    What about sound during mainstream tasks like web browsing, youtube, etc? My Dell is two years old and the fan becomes audible just with those tasks. In my experience with modern MBP's, during those things they are barely audible. I'd like to know how a more modern Dell system competes.
  • darwinosx - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    I don't know why you are so obsessed with comparing this to a MacBook Pro but the fact is many of us want nothing to do with Windows.
    You also say nothing about service and support and Apple blows Dell away here.
  • araczynski - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    but personally i find the speaker grill/mess by itself just completely making the thing look ugly. the rounded keys don't help, nor does the smaller keyboard. but hey, at least they got the body looking decent.
  • bji - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    I guess you're the editor so you can choose what you want to give an award to, but I didn't see a single thing about this laptop that definitively puts it above any of the other similarly spec'd laptops you have reviewed recently. And the keyboard on this Dell is the most laughable one I have seen on any computer in quite a long time. That alone would send this laptop to the bottom of the pile in my book.

    Also the styling is butt ugly. There is no creativity or, well, style. Just a generic looking shell and some ugly rectangular speaker grills and fan grills placed in conspicuous locations.

    Others in this forum have mentioned poor Dell support; I can't speak to that, but I don't think that a laptop with a history of poor support should get an editor's choice award.

    Glossy screen, with only one resolution upgrade option? How is this better than other laptops with a much better choice of screen resolutions + matte options? Answer, it is not.

    Can you please explain why you decided to pull out the editor's choice award for this model as opposed to the other laptops you have reviewed lately? It looks very arbitrary, and with so much going against this crappy Dell laptop, really leaves one wondering what is going on.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    Because ultimately, out of the dozens of laptops I've looked at in the past six months, I really enjoyed using the XPS 15z more than a lot of the others. Clevo? No thanks! Toshiba, Acer, MSI, ASUS... they all have areas I'm not happy about. Even if the design is similar to the MBP, that doesn't make it bad. It's a "poor man's MBP", and that's exactly what a lot of people would like to get. Good screen, good battery life, comfortable to use for every day tasks, and fast enough for anything beyond high quality gaming and serious number crunching. This is a laptop I'd like to hold onto and use as my "work laptop" if I could -- and I wouldn't say that about 90% of the laptops I test.
  • bji - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    Sorry to have to hound on this topic, but can you give some more specifics?

    The charts show that the Dell is middle-of-the-pack in performance; so that's not an advantage to the Dell. The Dell screen does seem to be good but the Clevo screen you reviewed recently was as good. In the article you lamented the thinness and flexiness of some of the enclosure and that would seem to be contrary to the position that the laptop is more pleasurable to use than others.

    Honestly, reading between the lines it really feels like you really just like the Macbook styling and design and are giving the Dell an editor's choice because it's "kind of like a Macbook".

    I believe you when you say that you like using the laptop more than 90% of others you have tested, and having myself bought a Clevo recently purely because of the specs and price, and then selling it at a loss two months later because it was just so unpleasant to use, I absolutely understand the value of that intangible quality of a laptop that makes it pleasurable to use. No matter how great a laptop performs or how good its specs are, if it's unenjoyable to use, it will sit on the shelf with other options taking preference wherever possible (I found myself constantly pulling out my 6 year old Panasonic Toughbook Y2 because I just couldn't stand to use the Clevo, and that convinced me that I needed to get rid of that Clevo ASAP, which I did).

    It feels like you've given the Dell an editor's choice based on personal preference, not a more objective conclusion based on the merits of the laptop itself. If someone was not enamored with Macbook design above all else, would they still prefer the Dell over another offering? Is there something about the Dell that makes it better than other PC laptops? If you had never seen a Macbook before and you were comparing this Dell to other PC laptops, would you still conclude that the Dell is better?

    I have nothing against Apple, or against PC laptops either; I'm not saying these things because I think that there is something inherently inferior (or superior) about a laptop that takes its styling cues from Apple. I just wonder what exactly there is about this Dell that earns it an editor's choice when I can't see anything in pictures or in the review that makes it obviously better than other PC laptops.

    BTW, the Samsung 7 series posted about recently really looks like a *much* better effort at imitating the Apple look and feel. I hope you get an opportunity to review one of those soon.

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