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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  • SeanPT - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    They really need to bring back the design of the XPS M1330. That was one heck of a laptop and I still have a handful of them in service. There were a few nagging design flaws but the later revisions didn't suffer from the same problems. I ordered one the day it was launched with that nice LED display that was just oh so thin. Reply
  • XZerg - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    I own a L501x that I bought in December 2010 after reading the review at AnandTech and the awesome deal I was able to get. However upon receiving it I was in for some disappointments:

    1) No Port Replicator ports
    2) Changing the HDD was pretty much rip the whole damn system apart
    3) Keys arrangement - they could have easily put the arrow keys a bit south or something to give a hint as you are more likely to press wrong key many times when trying to use Shift, Right-click key, End.
    4) The touchpad is annoying - if you have a finger/hand close to the touchpad it treats it pressing the touchpad - so either no response to the actual action with the other hand or tries to zoom or scroll instead.
    5) The screen only tilts to something like 120degrees or so which is annoying sometimes when you want have better viewing angle due to too much reflection due to the glossy screen.
    6) Finally I would have much rather had the multimedia buttons standalone instead of FN based.
    Reply
  • Pessimism - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Snap together plastic clip construction=FAIL. No serviceability whatsoever. That stuff NEVER comes apart without something breaking. Reply
  • XZerg - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    yea and even if it does come apart it does not go back in perfectly either. I have the l501x and i know that for sure.

    I have to say though I like the l501x over the l502x simply because of the keyboard on the newer one feels cheap quality.
    Reply
  • Arbie - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Whether the goal is to show what the machine can do, or to show what it can't do, this game matters. First, there's a huge amount of comparative info available. Second, Crysis / Warhead scaled really well so you probably can get a playable experience at the lower settings a box like this works with. Third it's the best single-player FPS ever made (IMHO) and won't be surpassed anytime soon - unfortunately. So it deserves a continued place on your list. Stalker...? C'mon. Reply
  • NCM - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    JW writes: "Finally, Quick Sync with the “Quality” profile took 34 seconds (156.56 FPS), while the “Fast” profile results in the quickest transcoding time, requiring just 25 seconds—or a very impressive speed of 212.92 FPS."

    So test results apparently timed to the nearest second acquire 5 significant digit precision when translated into FPS? My old math teacher wouldn't buy that one...
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Perhaps I used a stopwatch and rounded to the nearest second? :-p

    Anyway, you'll be thrilled to know that I have now rounded to the nearest FPS, which completely changes the results. Oh, wait... it doesn't, other than to show there's potentially a larger margin of error. Maybe I should round to two significant digits, because then we could say that it was 58FPS vs. 77FPS vs. 160FPS vs. 210FPS -- and by further rounding increase the margin of error another 1-5%.

    I've actually considered this before. All of the gaming benchmarks are slightly variable, so while they can measure very specifically the result of one test run, depending on the game you might see up to a 10% change between runs. It's why I end up running multiple times and taking the best result, so we're comparing best-case on all systems. But should we stop including any decimal points in our game benchmarks, just because they're variable? Some readers will complain if a bunch of systems tie at, e.g. 73FPS, but at the same time I hope everyone here realizes that anything less than a 5% difference is close enough that you're not going to notice.
    Reply
  • BioTurboNick - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    As a scientist, I'd say average +/- standard deviation would be perfect. :-D Reply
  • seapeople - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Three sig figs is fine. It's just distracting and annoying to look at "155.36 fps". Whatever you do, do NOT start doing crap like "46 +/- 3 fps" like someone suggested. This is a tech forum, not a statistics orgy; the average audience here wouldn't care. Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Is it so hard to design a laptop with a 9 cell that doesn't stick out like a sore thumb? Reply

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