Design and Other Considerations

Before we get to the benchmarks, let’s take a minute more to look at the design and aesthetics on offer. We’ve covered most of this already—the XPS 15 L501x had a decent keyboard with only slight flex, there are lots of matte surfaces to go around, and you get some of the best sounding speakers you’ll ever hear in a laptop. Except, this isn't exactly the same keyboard as the previous model, and the chassis feels slightly less sturdy as a result. More on this in a moment.

One upgrade that we didn't get to test previously is the 9-cell battery, and this is one of those hit-or-miss upgrades. On the one hand, you increase battery capacity and battery life (by about 55% in our testing). Unfortunately, the 9-cell battery really ruins the profile of the XPS 15, raising the back of the notebook almost a full inch and giving the bottom an uncomfortable bump that makes using it on your lap a dubious proposition. It's great for battery life, and if your laptop sits on a desk or table it's not a big deal; however, Dell should be able to put this much capacity into a better form factor with a few modifications to the chassis.

In the above gallery, we’ve included some comparison pictures of the 6-cell and 9-cell Dell batteries with ASUS’ 8-cell battery from their U-series. The ASUS battery is nearly as thin as the 6-cell but it’s substantially longer; it shows that it would be possible for Dell to fit such a battery into a 14” chassis if they were willing to rework the chassis and internal layout. Personally, I think Dell needs to reevaluate the battery design. While I really like the idea of a 90Wh battery, I don’t like the battery wart on the bottom of my laptop. Another option would be to go for a higher quality (and higher cost) Lithium polymer battery that could pack the same 90Wh into a smaller shell, which is the approach Apple tends to take.

Another tidbit worth mentioning is that upgrading your hard drive requires a bit of extra work. You can get at the memory, WiFi card, and the remaining mini-PCIe slot (occupied by an AverMedia TV Tuner in our test unit) through the single large bottom panel. The hard drive on the other hand is accessed through the top of the chassis. Interestingly enough, the top cover around the keyboard isn’t even secured by any screws; remove the battery and you can access a couple of the plastic clips that hold the cover in place. There are about twenty plastic clips around the top cover, and you’ll have to get them all to release before you can get at the hard drive; you’ll also need to detach the touchpad and media/power button ribbon connectors. While you won’t need to remove any screws, the end result is something of a pain compared to the simple bottom-hatch access most laptops use, and if you happen to remove the cover several times there’s a reasonable chance you’re going to start breaking the plastic clips.

The reason I get into the above is two-fold: first, it illustrates a design flaw and the difficulty of upgrading the hard drive/SSD. The other item to note is that the entire top cover is made of somewhat flimsy plastic, which feels more like Inspiron quality than XPS quality. The frame on the XPS line may be solid, but the actual shell around the frame is plastic and definitely not as sturdy as Dell’s Latitude line. I’d really prefer to see the XPS line go slightly more upscale—bump the price up $50 to $100 and give us a consumer chassis that feels like it will last. Or there’s the new Alienware M11x/M14x that might fill that niche, but aesthetics are still a matter of opinion and plenty of people dislike the bling that’s present on Alienware’s offerings.

Finally, let's discuss the keyboard. I actually liked the old L501x keyboard, and I sort of figured the L502x would be the same design. Well, it's not. The new keyboard is the chiclet style that has become so prevalent among consumer notebooks. I don't really mind typing on chiclet keyboards, and this one works well enough, but I felt there was more flex and less ruggedness to the overall design compared to the previous model. Some of that may just be my perception—I don't have the L501x handy to check—but as noted above the build quality feels more like a tweaked Inspiron rather than giving you the quality of a Latitude.

With that out of the way, let’s hit the benchmarks and graphs and see how the new XPS 15 compares to the old model, along with a selection of other recent laptops. Pricing for the reviewed configuration puts the L502x into direct competition with laptops sporting significantly faster GPUs—i.e. MSI’s GT680R can be found for just $50 more. What you get with the Dell is a more aesthetically pleasing design, a higher quality LCD, significantly better battery life (thanks to Optimus), better speakers, and a backlit keyboard. On the other hand, the GTX 460M walks all over the GT 540M in games, so if you’re looking for gaming laptops as opposed to Jack-of-All-Trades offerings, there are better options.

Dell XPS 15 L502x: Tweaking the Formula No Surprises: Quad-Core Sandy Bridge Is Still Fast
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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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