Dell XPS 15z: Imitation with a Twist

Dell relaunched their XPS brand (which was languishing under the Studio XPS name for a couple years) last year with their XPS 15 L501x. Combining reasonable performance, battery life, and portability with a great display upgrade at an impressive price tickled my fancy in just the right way, and we awarded that laptop our Gold Editors’ Choice award. The XPS 15 L502x brought along Sandy Bridge processor support with a minor upgrade to NVIDIA’s 500M graphics, but outside of a few component changes the two laptops looked the same. We still liked the L502x, but the build quality and keyboard actually took a step backwards in our book, and a few of the design elements of the XPS 15 didn’t hold up as well over the long term (e.g. the hinge-forward design).

Dell has now launched a completely reworked laptop with the XPS 15z, which shrinks the chassis, modifies the layout, and changes the component options. In many ways the XPS 15z is a better laptop than the XPS 15, but compromise is still present and accounted for. Let’s hit the spec sheet to see just where things are changing. The table lists the available options for the XPS 15z, 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 i7-2620M (dual-core 2.70-3.40GHz, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 6GB (1x4GB + 1x2GB DDR3-1333)
8GB (2x4GB DDR-1333 CL9)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M 1GB DDR3 or
NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M 2GB DDR3
96 SPs, 600/1200/1800MHz Core/Shader/RAM clocks
Display 15.6” WLED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)

15.6" WLED Glossy 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(AU Optronics B156HW3)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200RPM HDD
750GB 7200RPM HDD
(Seagate ST9750429AS)

256GB SSD (Samsung?)
Optical Drive 8X Slot-Load DVDRW (HL-DT-ST GS30N)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet(Realtek RTL8168/8111)
802.11n WiFi + Bluetooth 3.0 (Intel Advanced-N 6230)
WiDi 2.0 Ready
Audio Stereo Speakers + Waves MaxxAudio
(Stereo speakers and subwoofer)
Microphone and two headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1 digital output (HDMI/SPDIF)
Battery 8-cell, 14.8V, ~4.2Ah, 64Wh
Front Side N/A
Left Side Battery Life Indicator
Memory Card Reader
2 x USB 3.0
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0 Combo
Mini DisplayPort
HDMI 1.4a
Right Side Headphone Jack
Microphone Jack
Optical Drive
Back Side AC Power Connection
Exhaust vent
Gigabit Ethernet
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 15.15" x 10.25" x 0.97" (WxDxH)
(384.8mm x 260.4mm x 24.6mm)
Weight 5.54 lbs (8-cell)
Extras Waves MaxxAudio 3
1.3MP HD Webcam
80-Key backlit keyboard
Flash reader (SD, MS, MMC)
MS Office 2010 Starter or Home/Student
90W Power Adapter
Warranty 1- or 2-year standard warranty
3-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting Price: $999
Reviewed Configuration: $1499
 

As you can see in the above table, Dell shipped us the fully upgraded version of the XPS 15z, which is good and bad. On the good side, there’s a nice 1080p display, CPU performance will be better, and the GPU gets twice the memory; there’s also 8GB of system RAM and a very large 750GB 7200RPM hard drive. Also note that all the available configurations other than the base model comes standard with a 2-year warranty and include Office 2010 Home/Student; the base model gets you Office 2010 Starter and a 1-year warranty. So what’s the bad news? The price is 50% higher than the base model, and performance definitely won’t be anywhere near 50% higher. Most of the performance gains will come from the CPU upgrade, which amounts to a 17% average increase in CPU-limited applications.

When you look at the actual pricing breakdown, the fully equipped model actually isn’t necessarily a bad deal. The $1200 system gives you a 2-year warranty, Office Home/Student, 8GB RAM, a 750GB HDD. If you figure around $150 for the warranty alone and $100 for Office Home/Student, that’s a fair bargain. The $1300 adds the 1080p display and the 2GB GT 525M, and since the 1080p LCD is a $100 upgrade on its own you get the GPU upgrade “gratis”. The $1500 configurations is the same as the $1300 unit, other than the CPU, so you’re basically paying $200 extra (15% more) for the 17% performance increase. Taken individually, we can easily justify every one of the upgrades, but $1500 is a big step up from $1000. Personally, if I were buying the 15z, I’d go with the base model but upgrade to the 1080p LCD, and if you like the longer warranty and Office software you can bump up to the $1300 model. I’d also drop the at-home service, since I’ve almost never had any laptop fail in the first year of use, which gives a final price of just $1043 for a very nice laptop.

Dell XPS 15z: A Good Copy or a Cheap Clone?
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  • lukarak - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    "In many ways the XPS 15z is a better laptop than the 15z,...." I might not be into Dell stuff, and there could be a Dell 15z as a separate model from XPS 15z, but i think you wanted to drop the Z the second time?

    Also, on topic, what's with the keyboard? If you copy the island design, don't mess with the shape of the keys, please.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Oops! Fixed, thanks. I actually call the MBP keyboard style "chiclet" and the Acer/Gateway stuff "floating island". Maybe others define "chiclet" differently? Anyway, typing on the 15z is actually quite nice, but like I mention I still prefer the XPS 15 keyboard layout. Reply
  • tbutler - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    For those of us who remember the original 'chiclet' keyboards - the original PCjr, the TRS-80 CoCo, ZX Spectrum, etc. - the current keyboards aren't even CLOSE. :)

    The origin of 'chiclet' as a keyboard description was a derogatory term for those early keyboards - where the keys not only looked like chiclets, but were nearly impossible to touch-type on, because of both layout and the keyswitch design. Aside from the superficial look, the current keyboards have nothing in common; the layouts are 'normal', as are the keyswitches, and key travel is well within normal boundaries. Touch-typing is eminently possible, and in fact some of my favorite keyboards of the last couple of years have been in this style.

    So yeah, I define 'chiclet' quite differently, and resist attempts to tar current keyboards with the same brush. :)

    On another note: "The quality of the MBP15 display is better, but it’s hard to argue with a higher resolution and the 15z panel at least has a decent contrast ratio and brightness." On the contrary; I find it trivially easy to argue against a higher resolution. The 1440x900 MBP15 panel already causes me some eyestrain issues from the size of text and other interface elements, even at the admitted better display quality. The 1680x1050 panel was unlivable for extended use, and I can't even begin to describe the hurt a 15" 1080p display would cause me - especially if the overall display quality is lower.
    Reply
  • iamezza - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    this is what 'dpi' is for

    Windows 7 handles increasing the dpi very well, it can work with ALL programs. It can also be disabled on a per program basis if required.
    Reply
  • Proph3T08 - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    DPI is Dots per Inch usually when talking about monitors people use PPI (Pixels per Inch). A screen cannot change its PPI so anything Windows 7 would be doing would be software based to fake it. Reply
  • seapeople - Saturday, September 03, 2011 - link

    You basically just agreed with him in a very strange way. DPI is how many pixels per inch the Windows interface renders certain UI elements such as window bars and text in. If you increase DPI, then Windows increases the resolution it uses to render text and other features, thereby making things bigger and easier to read without altering the actual pixel count being sent to your LCD screen, thereby preventing the blurriness you would otherwise get. Reply
  • neothe0ne - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    "Dell gives you a GT 525M, which should be at least comparable to the HD 6750M in performance"

    I'm sorry but this can't possibly be true. The Radeon HD 5650M is a faster card than the GeForce GT 525M. How the hell could the GT 525M hope to compete with the 6750M?
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Agreed, the 6750M is more on par with the GT 540M if anything. Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Actually, I'm incorrect. But either way, OP's point stands.

    I'm honestly really not impressed by the XPS 15z. 95C on the CPU cores is inexcusable, that keyboard sucks out loud, and the 1080p screen is among the worst we've tested in that class.

    Also, anyone who deliberately spends up on the 2GB GT 525M upgrade deserves what they get. ;)
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    I got my first Apple, which happened to be the 15" Macbook Pro. Worth the price? Not really. Apple OS freezes more than anything. It's only got a 2.0GHz QC, but I put a OWC SSD, 8GB of RAM, and upgraded to the anti-glare HD screen.

    So why do I like it? For the OS? no. For the keyboard? definitely no. For the trackpad gestures? kind of. For the quality screen? most definitely. The experience difference is in the screen alone. Viewing www.steampowered.com's opening page is an oddly different experience than viewing it on my desktop (better graphics card and more expensive monitors) and that's just for a static page. HD videos make it better too. I just wish it had better speakers - oh well.

    XPS doesn't look bad, but the screen is where the user can really have that overwhelming sensation.
    Reply

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