Dell XPS 15 L502x: Tweaking the Formula

Late last year, we finally got a laptop with very few compromises that we could look to as the king of the mainstream market. That laptop was Dell’s XPS 15 L501x; it took a balanced approach to performance, battery life, and portability, with a great display upgrade as a bonus offering. Perhaps more important was you could get all of the important features and still pay less than $1000. It was only natural—nay, inevitable—that Dell would update the XPS line with Sandy Bridge processors, and that’s what we have for review today with the XPS 15 L502x. The graphics have also received a minor update to NVIDIA’s 500M line, though the 400M and 500M are basically fraternal twins.

We won’t spend a lot of time discussing the nuances of the build, as very little has changed relative to the original XPS 15. If you want more information on build quality, the keyboard, etc. we refer you back to our earlier write up. The short summary is that the build quality is still good, but it’s not at the level of something like a Dell Latitude. Dell uses a magnesium alloy frame in the XPS, but the top and bottom are still plastic. Perhaps the bigger issue some will have is with the curves; love it or hate it, the curves are here to stay for the time being. We’ll have a bit more to discuss in a minute, but first let’s start with our usual spec table. The following table lists the available options for the XPS 15, 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 i5-2520M (dual-core 2.50-3.20GHz, 35W)
Intel Core i7-2630QM (quad-core 2.00-2.90GHz, 45W)
Intel Core i7-2620M (dual-core 2.70-3.40GHz, 35W)
Intel Core i7-2720QM (quad-core 2.20-3.30GHz, 45W)
Intel Core i7-2820QM (quad-core 2.30-3.40GHz, 45W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1333
1x4GB + 1x2GB DDR3-1333
2x4GB DDR-1333 (CL9)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M 1GB DDR3
96 SPs, 600/1200/1800MHz Core/Shader/RAM clocks

NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M 2GB DDR3
96 SPs, 672/1344/1800MHz Core/Shader/RAM clocks
Display 15.6” WLED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)

15.6" B+GR LED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(AU Optronics B156HW1)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200RPM HDD
640GB 7200RPM HDD

750GB 7200RPM HDD
(Western Digital Scorpio Black WD7500BPKT-75PK4T0)

256GB SSD
Optical Drive 8X Tray-Load DVDRW
Blu-ray Reader/DVDRW Combo (HL-DT-ST CT30N)
Blu-ray Writer/DVDRW
Networking Gigabit Ethernet(Realtek RTL8168/8111)
802.11n WiFi (Intel Wireless-N 1000)
802.11n WiFi (Intel Advanced-N 6150)
802.11n WiFi + Bluetooth 3.0 (Intel Wireless-N 1030)
802.11n WiFi + Bluetooth 3.0 (Intel Advanced-N 6230)
Audio 2.1 JBL Speakers + Waves Audio
(Stereo speakers and subwoofer)
Microphone and two headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1 digital output (HDMI/SPDIF)
Battery 6-cell, 11.1V, ~5.0Ah, 56Wh
9-cell, 11.1V, ~8.1Ah, 90Wh
Front Side Memory Card Reader
Left Side Exhaust vent
1 x USB 3.0
Right Side Optical Drive
2 x Headphone Jack
Microphone Jack
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0 Combo
Back Side Mini DisplayPort
HDMI 1.4
Gigabit Ethernet
TV Input (Optional)
AC Power Connection
1 x USB 3.0
Kensington Lock
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 15.0" x 10.4" x 1.3-1.5" (WxDxH, 6-cell)
15.0" x 10.4" x 1.3-2.2" (WxDxH, 9-cell)
Weight 6.33 lbs (6-cell)
6.68 lbs (9-cell)
Extras Waves Maxx Audio 3
2MP Skype HD Certified Webcam (H.264)
86-Key backlit keyboard (Upgrade)
Flash reader (SD/IO/XC/HC, MS/Pro/XC, MMC, xD)
Warranty 1-year standard warranty (depending on variant)
2-, 3-, and 4-year warranties available
Pricing Starting Price: $800
Price as configured: $1425

We received a moderately upgraded version of the L502x this time around. The base model starts at $800 and you can still add the nice 1080p LCD for $150, so you’re still able to get a nice display for under $1000, but outside of Quick Sync the Core i5-2410M isn’t a major upgrade from the older i5-460M and the same can be said of the GT 525M vs. GT 420M. Basically, it’s better, and it’s about the same price, but if you already have the L501x there’s no need to upgrade to dual-core Sandy Bridge. Quad-core Sandy Bridge is a different story, as we’ll see in the benchmarks; Dell shipped the cheapest of the quad-core options, the i7-2630QM.

Along with the CPU upgrade, we’ve got the GT 540M, which is a faster clocked version of the 420M/425M/435M/525M/etc. The old XPS 15 came with a GT 420M by default, which clocks in at 500/1000MHz core/shaders and 1600MHz on the RAM, so the GT 540M has 34% more theoretical computational power and 12.5% more memory bandwidth, plus twice the RAM for good measure. The base model L502x comes with the GT 525M, which is clocked at 600/1200MHz core/shaders, so the 540M is only about 12% faster on the core but has the same memory bandwidth. Depending on the bottleneck, then, the new system should be 10-35% faster than the L501x in games, and potentially more than twice as fast in CPU calculations.

Other upgrades on the test system include 8GB RAM, a 9-cell battery (we still have the smaller 6-cell around as well), and this is the first time we’ve seen a 750GB 7200RPM 2.5” hard drive. Western Digital’s Scorpio Black is king of the 2.5” HDD hill, but unfortunately it’s also a far cry from matching even moderate SSDs. What it lacks in raw performance it makes up for with capacity, and with the increase in areal density the 750GB drive should outperform older 500GB 2.5” drives. Finally, besides the backlit keyboard, Dell also included the 1080p LCD, a TV tuner, and Bluetooth 3.0. The final tally for our test configuration is a much heftier $1425 at the time of writing. Is it worth it? As with so many other things in life, the answer is a nebulous “it depends”. Let’s discuss things a bit more before we get to the benchmarks.

Design and Other Considerations
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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Nope; no one has put USB3 into the chipset yet. AMD probably will with their next update I'm guessing, but Intel will likely be pushing Thunderbolt instead. Reply
  • jcannon1018 - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Even ivy bridge? Reply
  • BioTurboNick - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Ivy Bridge isn't out yet, so it doesn't count. But it will be getting USB3 http://www.tomshardware.com/news/ivy-bridge-usb-su... Reply
  • Neoarun - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Well i have got this laptop and i can see that it indeed has a USB 3.0 .... Reply
  • aneuwahl - Sunday, April 24, 2011 - link

    This was proven to have no effect at all on the issue we are talking about. In the forum I linked this was widely tested... Reply
  • aneuwahl - Thursday, April 21, 2011 - link

    It is not necessary to have a USB3 device attached to the ports for the problem to come out. It occours to me with a wireless mouse receiver, or a USB keyboard... Reply
  • FlyBri - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    ...because Dell just sucks as a company. I really don't care how good their computers are, because if you have a problem with something from them, don't be surprised if they don't really care at all about you. I've never seen so many comments that say "Dell doesn't care", and that even customer support has said that directly to customers as well.

    Dell doesn't care about doing right by its customers, they don't care about BBB complaints, they commit certain acts of fraud, and they don't care to follow consumer protection laws (this is from my own personal experience). In addition, I just heard from a person who worked at Dell for 11 years and said even for him as an employee it went from a great place to work to being unbearable.

    So just a warning to people out there -- some of their products may be decent and come at a good price, but if you EVER have any issues, watch out, because you could be in for a heap of trouble.
    Reply
  • jabber - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Service I've had from Dell has been superb over the past 18 months.

    Had a power issue with my laptop (turns out the laptop/battery just got 'confused' somehow and a boot without the battery fixed it) called it into Dell and two days later TWO new laptop power supplies turn up. Not needed in the end but really handy. So no complaints there.

    A month before the warranty ran out on my laptop I noticed a small piece of one of the key legends had worn off. I took a gamble and called it in at 1pm, no trouble I was told. 11am the next morning a nice chap turned up at my home and swapped out my keyboard. 10 minutes and he was gone. Perfect.

    That was just the standard thrown in cover too. Couldnt be happier.
    Reply
  • TypeS - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Ah rabid posters... you need relax a little bit there buddie. Dell cares about it's customers as much as any of the other top electronic manufacturers do; that you buy their stuff and continue to do so.

    Having worked at a computer store for the last 2 years, I've dealt with Dell, IBM/Lenovo, HP and ASUS, and they all provided acceptable service for in warranty products.

    Has Dell been dishonest about it's business practices? Well who hasn't? Intel recently settled with AMD and NVIDIA for it's strong arm tactics and memory and lcd manufacturers have been caught on in price fixing schemes.

    I can tell by your post that you probably had a horrible experience with Dell and I won't challenge you on it but one experience out of millions doesn't carry much merit.
    Reply
  • SeanPT - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Protip: Buy from Dell Business instead of home. I've been working exclusively with Dells since 2002 for all of my clients that have basic office needs. I've sold thousands of Dell laptops and PCs and I rarely have a problem. When I do I can do a quick chat and have someone out the next day. Reply

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