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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  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    The thinness of the casing is in comparison to the MBP. The MBP feels very solid and doesn't flex, but the covers on the 15z will. However, the covers on the vast majority of covers on notebooks flex -- some more, and some less. The 15z may not be MBP build quality, but it's actually better than a lot of laptops, including the XPS 15. Heck, just the fact that it *has* aluminum covers makes it a big step up from 95% of consumer laptops.

    Would I prefer the Clevo LCD (B156HW01 v4)? Yes, most definitely. If given the choice between this lesser LCD and its glossy finish but with the 15z chassis, or a Clevo chassis with the better screen and worse keyboard, I'll take the 15z.

    Unfortunately, I really can't compare a laptop with everything else out there, especially stuff I haven't had a chance to test in person. There are a LOT of upcoming Ultrabooks that look particularly interesting. Of course, if they ship with crappy LCDs like so many other laptops, I'd be back to the 15z as a good middle ground.

    That's pretty much it: the XPS 15z is a good middle-of-the-road laptop in every way. It's not the best built, it's not the fastest, it doesn't have the longest battery life, it's not the coolest running, and it's not the best display. However, it does rank better than average and even good/great in every one of those areas. The whole is often more than the sum of the individual parts, and when I use a laptop, I'm mostly interested in portability. I want something with a decent screen, a keyboard I can type on--and backlighting is a plus--it needs decent battery life (at least five hours for light use), and I don't want it to run loud and/or hot for general use. There are plenty of laptops that provide most of those things, but so many skimp on the display in particular.
    Reply
  • Iketh - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    never will i purchase a 15" laptop with a keyboard like that... even bottom-line acers have great keyboards nowadays... what the hell is that mess??? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    A MacBook Pro keyboard layout with slightly different key shape? I actually find typing on it quite comfortable to be honest. The missing dedicated Home/End/PgUp/PgDn is unfortunate, but that's my biggest gripe. Reply
  • robco - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    This thing is a definite rip-off of the MBP, but not the current one. It's more like the original MBP (which in turn looked a lot like the Al PowerBook) that Apple introduced about five years ago. Not quite as thin, but only available with dual-core chips and slower graphics. Guess Dell can copy the exterior, but the actual design and engineering are beyond them. But I suppose that's the point here and why it gets an award - it looks just enough like an Apple product but it's cheaper. It may not perform as well or be as durable, but for most people it's probably close enough.

    As for the OS, that's a personal preference. I'd be the first to say that OS X is far from a great gaming OS. Then again, if you're looking for a gaming machine, a laptop really isn't a good idea either...
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    2nd page, 4th paragraph:
    "The 15z also comes with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM without fleecing you, something Apple is wont to do."
    I'm not a native speaker, but last part is just plain weird. Typo? Copy and paste gone wrong? :D

    Otherwise, good review. I'm personally not going to bother with 15" anymore. Had a Samsung R560 (Core2Duo, 4GB RAM, 768p resolution, ~4 hours of surfing) which my wife now uses as a couch laptop for Facebook. But I need a laptop that's mobile, I don't need much computing power on the go. I currently have a 11.6" Acer Travelmate which works just fine, especially for its price.
    If that gets replaced in the future, it'll likely be either a low-power AMD (E-350 style) or a mid-power IB/Haswell, depending on price and other accessories. I'd also be willing to upgrade to 13" if the resolution is at least 1600x900 | 1680x1050.
    Reply
  • bji - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    "is wont to do" is a seldom-used and I agree, somewhat awkward English phrase.

    It has nothing to do with the word "won't" which is a contraction of "will not".

    "wont to do" means "has a tendency to do", and further has the connotation that the thing that they have a tendency to do, they do on purpose, and not by accident.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    Thanks for that lesson :D and mea culpa for assuming a typo before taking a look at the online dictionary. But that word probably won't make it into my active vocabulary. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    And one last thing: Thanks for including international measurement units in the table on the first page. I have noticed that I complain when they aren't there, but I never say thanks when they are. So here's my thanks! Reply
  • colonelclaw - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    Why does Apple seem to be the only company remotely interested in actually designing computers? Of course, they do a great job, but the world's a large place and there just has to be other talented designers, so why does everyone else give up and copy everything Apple does. God, it pisses me off, the laziness in the computer industry is just incredibly frustrating. Reply
  • heinsj24 - Friday, September 2, 2011 - link

    It seems that every business class laptop has the same design (portable brick), except for Lenovo (portable wedge).

    A business notebook is a business notebook is a business notebook. Not much room for change/innovation. The only market where a notebook manufacturer can show off it's creativity is in the consumer market.

    There are some good designs from everyone. They just tend to fail in execution; either with build materials, attention to build quality, or choice of components - things Apple is known for succeeding at. Even Dell, once had the XPS 1210, which was a design unlike any other of their machines at the time.
    Reply

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