Here in 2019, laptops are increasingly falling into specialized types for gamers, content creators, and other bands of buyers. But general, tried-and-true desktop replacements remain essential. The Dell XPS 15 is one of our favorites in that crowd, a jack-of-all-trades that can do everything well in lieu of a full-size desktop. The newest 7590 model starts at $1,149, but the twist on our $2,649 tester is a new 4K OLED display that, while costly, looks fantastic. Also part of the price premium are an Intel Core i9 CPU, a gaming-capable Nvidia GTX 1650 GPU, 32GB of memory, and a 1TB SSD. Not everyone needs high-end parts like these, but Dell offers less expensive configurations, too. We’d like to see the design updated a bit, but this remains one of our top desktop-replacement recommendations for Windows, to rival the Microsoft Surface Book 2 and, on the Apple side, the 2019 MacBook Pro.
Both the 13-inch and 15-inch XPS laptops have been running favorites of ours, some of the best in their respective categories for their build quality and features. The 15-inch model, though, hasn’t changed its design much in recent years. Despite its overall strength, it’s starting to show its age. For better or worse, this 2019 OLED version doesn’t change the look much, with very similar design and dimensions to the XPS 15 9570 model we reviewed last year.
Largely, that design is still solid. The silver aluminum lid and black carbon-fiber keyboard deck have a premium feel, which is what this line is all about as a MacBook competitor. I’ve used nicer touchpads on Windows laptops—to my fingers, no manufacturer has matched the Razer Blade 15’s touchpad, for example—but it’s plenty smooth. The keys feel looser and more plasticky than I’d like at the price, but again, they’re functional. One positive change is the webcam location. As on the XPS 13, the webcam finally moved back to the top bezel where it belongs—no more below-display nostrilcam.
As for those dimensions, the XPS 15 measures 0.66 by 14.1 by 9.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.5 pounds. The shape tapers off toward the front, so it’s 0.66 inch thick at the back and 0.45 inch nearer the leading edge. It’s ever so slightly trimmer than the previous model overall, but the differences are negligible, and the weight is the same. On the whole, the XPS 15 is still slick and premium-feeling, but some updates to the design wouldn’t hurt. The XPS 13 has only gotten progressively sleeker, while the XPS 15’s 4.5 pounds is nothing like an ultraportable.
While the display isn’t the only new aspect of this model (more on the component changes below), it is the most significant new feature. Along with entries from Razer and HP, it’s among the initial wave of flagship OLED laptops we’ve reviewed.
Our unit is equipped with the most expensive panel option, the 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) OLED. A step down from it is a 4K LCD option, as well as more-standard full HD (1080p) screens, but the addition of OLED is the most exciting choice. As with the OLED-based versions of the Razer Blade 15 and the HP Spectre x360 15 we tested, all of the panels going into this new wave of OLED laptops hitting the market are the same Samsung-developed screens.
And what a screen it is. The colors are incredibly vibrant, and it’s very bright and clear. Modern LCD screens look good, yet the upgrade with OLED (particularly the boldness of the colors) is easily visible in person. Thanks to OLED pixels, which can individually turn completely off when needed, it achieves “true” deep blacks. The result is a panel with great contrasts between color and dark spaces, unmatched by LCD screens.
The screen offers a wide range of color coverage as well, which should appeal to creative professionals. Dell claims 100 percent coverage of the Adobe RGB color space, and a screen brightness of 500 nits. I put these claims to the test using the same Klein K10-A meter and CalMAN Ultimate software we use for testing monitors. Here are the results for the Adobe RGB spectrum…
94 percent coverage of this wide color gamut is a strong result. Even if shy of their claimed 100 percent, which is difficult to do, it should be a legitimately plausible display for creatives. As for brightness, it measured 488 nits, which is nearly right on the money for their claims. Given the margin of error and variation in samples, I’ll give that one to the panel. I also tested the DCI-P3 color coverage (97.6 percent) and sRGB (99 percent). The screen is, by and large, as useful as it is nice to look at.
Rounding out the physical build are the ports, which are admittedly more humdrum than the display. The XPS 15 includes one USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support, two USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI port, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack.
You can, as is a given for Dell, configure this laptop in a variety of ways. In addition to the previously mentioned HD and 4K non-OLED screen options, you can choose among a Core i5, Core i7, or Core i9 CPU, pick from 8GB through 64GB of memory, choose an SSD size ranging from 256GB to 2TB, and decide between integrated graphics or the discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU. Obviously, those different configurations scale quite a range of costs: Our 4K OLED unit with a Core i9-9980HK processor, 32GB of memory, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, and a 1TB M.2 PCIe SSD will run you $2,649.
Performance Testing: Desktop-Grade Speed
In order to get a sense of the XPS 15’s performance capabilities, I lined up a group of competing 15-inch laptops that are priced in the same ballpark, include similar components, or both. Below, I’ll compare test results across a series of benchmarks, but first, take a look at this table to get an idea of how each system is built out…
The Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch is, of course, the gold standard for non-Windows laptops and an obvious point of comparison for the XPS 15. The two are equipped pretty similarly, though keep in mind the MacBook configuration we reviewed cost a whopping $6,549 (largely due to its massive SSD, which is quite optional and the lion’s share of the configuration cost). Dell’s other inclusion here, the Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 Black Edition, is a $1,499 convertible that shows what a less-expensive machine in a different form factor can do. Finally, the HP Spectre x360 15 and Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model cited here are two other flagship OLED laptops we’ve reviewed, though note the latter is a true gaming system. I withheld the Surface Book 2 from this testing group since its components have become dated at this point, even if it’s still a physically premium top-end laptop. We’re crossing our fingers for a refresh soon.
Productivity, Storage & Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the boot drive. The result is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better. Note that the Apple MacBook Pro is excluded from these Windows-based tests.
While PCMark 10 doesn’t fully push all of a CPU’s cores like the following media tests, it’s still a good measure of general processing aptitude for more everyday tasks. In that regard, the XPS 15 excelled, posting the highest score of any system (though the Blade 15 wasn’t far behind despite an older CPU). As expected, this result means the XPS 15 is very capable of handling any daily jobs you throw its way, including plenty of multitasking. Its storage is also up to snuff in terms of speed, though all of these quick SSDs fell within a very close range of results.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
These tests show what the XPS 15’s CPU is capable of, and as you can see, it’s a step above the rest. It handled the more demanding multithreaded tasks with aplomb, scoring markedly higher in Cinebench and finishing the Photoshop test noticeably faster than the rest. It’s especially worth noting that the XPS 15 and MacBook Pro use the same CPU (and the same amount of RAM), yet Dell’s machine was much quicker. The margins are even larger versus the older chips, so if you know you’ll be doing some professional media work or running other demanding programs, this is one of the best mobile bets short of a workstation.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s done in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
If you need reminding, only the Razer Blade 15 is a real gaming laptop among this bunch, which showed on these tests. The XPS 15’s GTX 1650 is a discrete GPU—a superior one to the Inspiron 15’s MX250 and the Spectre x360 15’s GTX 1050 Ti—but clearly short of a powerful gaming GPU. The XPS 15 isn’t meant to be a gaming system, though; rather, this level of juice is legitimately useful for 3D tasks and graphics hardware-accelerated programs. That said, I couldn’t resist seeing how it handled games…
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern AAA titles with built-in benchmark schemes. These tests are run at 1080p on both the moderate and maximum graphics-quality presets (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5; Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) to judge performance for a given laptop. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for that benchmark. Note that I excluded most of the other laptops since they weren’t tested for gaming, given their hardware.
Again, the difference between the GTX 1650 and the RTX 2080 is stark, but these really are not bad results for the XPS 15. It may not be intended as a gaming system, but there’s enough juice that you can absolutely play even AAA games at 1080p resolution. The frame rates at maximum settings are definitively below 60 frames per second (fps), so you’ll want to dial down some visuals if you are set on 60fps rather than 30fps, and you can see that medium settings get you much better frame rates. Less-demanding games (Fortnite, MOBAs, slower-paced strategy titles) will fare even better. If you’d like to do some gaming in addition to your usual everyday tasks, it’s more than possible on this system at 1080p.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
More than 14 hours of battery is a genuinely useful amount for extended time off the charger, especially for a laptop with a 4K screen. The lower power consumption of OLED helps here, in more than a few ways. In addition to the overall reduced power draw, when an OLED screen is displaying black on some or all of the screen, the pixels on those portions of the display are actually unpowered, turned completely off. Because of that, the screen should use less power when showing black-dominant images, or videos with more black segments. (With a conventional LCD screen, black is represented by the liquid crystal cells actively blocking an always-shining screen backlight.)
This also holds true even if the scene or image is not completely black, just dark, because the pixels are still using less power. To leverage this OLED trait, Dell (like Razer) even ships the system with Windows 10’s Dark mode turned on, so no more juice than necessary is spent displaying your windows, folders, and taskbar. Note that our particular video file has numerous dark scenes (in addition to cinematic black bars along the top and bottom), but to my eye, no more than most. These should simply add up to greater power savings through the course of any average movie or video.
Battery Rundown Test, Part Two: Some Further Experiments
I ran a series of extra battery tests this with the Blade 15 OLED to experiment with the effects of that phenomenon, and just to confirm the results, I did so again with the XPS 15. It told roughly the same story. Changing the fullscreen video to full brightness from 50 percent drops the battery life some, but not too dramatically. (It ran for 12:35.) When I split the screen in half, with the video playing on one side and My Documents pulled up in the other, and Dark mode engaged, battery life dipped further (10:45).
Next, it dropped dramatically (in this case, to 9:27) when switching from Dark mode to Light mode with the same 50/50 split. With My Documents showing half the screen as bright white light instead of a dull grey, the screen chewed through the battery life much quicker. And when I upped the brightness to 100 percent on this test, it fell to 6:50. At that point, we’re at less than half of the original battery runtime, and half of the fullscreen test at 100 percent brightness.
The exact reduced-time proportions between these runs are different than the Blade 15’s results, but the takeaway is the same. What’s showing on the screen clearly makes an impact, and black or dark images use up way less juice than displaying white. Keeping the system in Dark mode makes a measurable difference to how long your battery can last. It may feel a little stressful to think you need to monitor how much black or dark space is being displayed on your screen at any one time, but I wouldn’t obsess over it. Generally, keeping Dark mode on (or switching to it when you’re going to be using your system off the charger) should make enough of a difference.
A Strong All-Rounder With a Super Screen
The newest version of the Dell XPS 15, complete with OLED, is a winning combination. As we’ve come to expect, the XPS build is quality, and it comes with most modern features you could ask for. Sure, the design could be updated, but the laptop still feels solidly made and premium. The gorgeous screen offers high color coverage for professionals and is a joy to look at for everyone else. The discrete GPU adds some 3D power and genuine gaming capability, even if it’s not at the highest settings.
If you want a reliable laptop with a long battery life, plenty of storage, and a head-turning display, this one is for you. Of course, this all comes at a lofty price, so this machine isn’t quite the OLED-mainstreaming breakthrough that we’re still waiting for. But the cost for our tester is fair, given the deluxe component loadout backing the OLED panel. If you need to save a bit of money but this model intrigues you, you can always configure it down to a lower price.