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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  • Penti - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    Every product just has a different downside. So have Apple's products too. It's not like a 15" MBP with high-res anti-glare screen and 6750M GPU is in (anywhere normal) consumer price range. It adds up to about 2500 USD. Especially gaming is hard on most pre-built machines. Gaming on laptops is mostly horrible. It's one of the downsides that never really nails it and compromises that has to be made.

    If you take 2000 - 2500 USD to other manufacturers you can get decent chassis and GPU performance though. Although aimed at slightly different customers. All depends on ones needs and prioritizes. Consumer stuff won't be easily serviceable on the Win PC front, but the business side should. And XPS isn't up to business quality. At 1000 USD gaming laptop you get a complete different product with a worthless screen though. But they are not premium products.
  • MobiusStrip - Monday, September 5, 2011 - link

    Another moronic glossy screen, without even the option for matte.

    Glossy screens are the biggest regression in computing ever. Unbelievable.
  • akula57 - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - link

    If the same price, it's no contest. The 15 inch MBP feels very high quality and although I don't love glossy screens it has a good screen (better than the 1600 x 900 matte on the Samsung 7 due to low contrast on the latter and most laptops).

    Moreover, the new MBPs have the 6750 in the lower end model now. So the price difference is somewhat less.

    Finally, customer service/ownership experience. Just walk into an Apple store for support or visit an Apple forum.

    Individual choice and my opinion but using a MBP 15 is a nice experience. (Yes, I do wish it were cheaper, but at least reslae is good.)

    P.S. I do own and like my Dell 8300 desktop. That's a different story for me. And desktops seem more durable (as well as cooler and quieter).
  • tarunactivity - Friday, November 11, 2011 - link

    Anyone here using the XPS 15z / XPS 15 with the full HD display?

    I got my 15z recently, and noticed that Win 7 /apps are quite bad at handling the higher DPI settings . As a result, text is either too small , too big, or grainy (clear type does not work always!)

    Also, are individual pixels/pixel boundaries supposed to be visible ? I seem to be able to see the pixel boundaries when viewing text/images , and this is quite a setback. Not something to be expected from a Full HD screen . (Were there any of these issues in the test system, or is it a problem with all 15" high DPI displays? )
  • jhl1989 - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - link

    Hi! I'm planning to buy a better graphics card for the Dell XPS 15z. However I'm not sure whether there are any other graphic cards that fit inside the Dell XPS 15z. So basically is there any other graphic card that is better than the NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M 2GB that will fit indside the Dell XPS 15z???
  • tipoo - Saturday, February 25, 2012 - link

    Doesn't look like its on a replacable module.

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