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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  • softdrinkviking - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    seem to accentuate any flaws or slight color vairiances to me.

    i definately prefer matte so that i don't have to deal with the glare, but i noticed that anti-glare fliters, or matte finishes tend to exaserbate light bleeding in spots and so on.

    i noticed this most on TN screens that have been used for a couple of years and are starting to get a little worn out; the glossy finish seems to hide the deterioration to me.

    has anyone else noticed this, or do i have a unique situation/i am going crazy?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    The one issue I have with matte is that if you happen to brush against it with an object you can leave a "scar" -- not a scratch, but just a mark in the matte finish. If you have a poorly built laptop where the keyboard or palm rest happens to press against the LCD, that can also cause marking -- on glossy as well, but it's more noticeable on matte. Heck, I have a "scar" on my 30" 3007WFP that happened when I was packing for a move. Yeah, ouch! The old Dell Studio XPS 16 had the other issue, with keyboard marks showing up on the edge-to-edge display cover.

    Anyway, having seen both the Clevo P150HM/151HM and the XPS 15 panels side by side, I'd definitely take the matte and run that risk.
    Reply
  • JNo - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    Jarred,

    I have a Dell 2405 FPW with matte finish. Spent around £800 on it back in the day but don't regret it a bit as it's still a contender - rare even now to find 24" with matte IPS that can go portrait and has a USB hub and card readers built in. Anyhoo, I digress... I also got scars on it once or twice and I couldn't for the life of me 'wipe' them away but if you google around you can find solutions...

    Amazingly, I found using a clean (try new) white or colourless rubber on the screen and rubbing gently in the direction of the scar worked. Wipe before and after with a lint free micro-fibre cloth and just a teensy bit of water. It literally made the scar disappear and the monitor looks as new again. I sh1t you not - worth a try.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    posts like this too. Reply
  • Flunk - Sunday, April 24, 2011 - link

    I've found quite the opposite. My matte displays seem to hold up much better than the glossy. The glossy ones seem to pick up scratches, marks and smudges very easily and they show horribly. The matte finish tends to disguise the little things. Reply
  • AmdInside - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    I bought the L502x and love it. One great thing about Optimus is that since the Intel graphics is still used for 2D, Intel Quick Sync is possible with this laptop. It is amazing how fast it can convert video for a laptop.

    I guess my main complaint is that I preferred the previous generation keys better over the newer smaller softer keys. Dell has regular sales on XPS laptops which really brings down the cost of this laptop. I got a fully loaded Dell XPS 15 L502x for around $1300 after taxes. Just love love love the 1080p screen.

    Oh, and I personally am not a big fan of super thin laptops. They just don't feel right when they are on my lap. I like my keyboard to be raised a little so the thicker body of the l502x suits me just fine. I wish Dell hadn't dropped the 14" model as I would have bought that if it was still available with Sandy Bridge for portability but the 15" is fine.
    Reply
  • therealnickdanger - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    I had a 17" Dell years ago with a 1080p screen and a 7900GT Go. It did OK, but ultimately, I don't think I would ever buy another 1080p laptop without a high end GPU. If the L502X had a higher GPU option, it would be perfect! I would probably order this laptop with the 768p screen and upgrade to the 540 and play games with max settings at native resolution. Reply
  • aneuwahl - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Hello,
    there is a puzzling thread on Dell's support forum here
    http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/laptop...
    about an unsolved problem regarding the USB3.0 ports. They seem to fail randomly becoming completely inactive till next reboot.

    I'm curious if during the test anything like that was noticed.
    I've just bought a L702x and I have the same problem. Dell replaced my motherboard (not the USB3.0 daughterboard), but the issue - with reduced occurency - is still there.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Is it possible they're going into a power saving state and not coming out of it? I actually don't have any USB3 devices on hand, so I didn't encounter this, but I should be getting something soon. Let me get back to you.... Reply
  • jcannon1018 - Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - link

    Supposedly, under all programs there is a folder for the usb 3.0 controller and clicking on it will bring up a settings panel for the controller. On that panel there is a disable power management function, checking apparently resolves the issue of the ports becoming unresponsive. I thought that sandy bridge had native support though? Reply

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