GPU Performance

Other than the base model Core i3 powered XPS 15, all of the other models feature a 2 GB NVIDIA GTX 960M graphics card. The outgoing XPS 15 that we last reviewed featured a GT 750M, so the move to a Maxwell card should offer a better overall experience and with a more efficient design, which may come into play with the smaller chassis on the new XPS 15 9550.

The laptop was run through our standard gaming workloads. Of note is the Lenovo Y700 which has the same CPU but a 4 GB version of the GTX 960M, compared to the 2 GB one offered by Dell. We’ll see if that comes into play in the games we have here. The higher memory capacity should help as the resolution increases, but the GTX 960M is not going to be sufficient to game at UHD resolutions unless the game is not very demanding.

As always, you can compare the XPS 15 to any other laptop we’ve tested using our Notebook Bench.

3DMark

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark (2013)

Futuremark 3DMark 11

Our first synthetic test is FutureMark’s 3DMark. The latest 3DMark has several subtests, which start with the most demanding, Fire Strike, and decrease in demand going to Sky Diver, Cloud Gate, and Ice Storm Unlimited. The GTX 960M in the XPS 15 is fairly close to the Y700, which isn’t a shock, and the performance is a good step up from the GT 750M in the older XPS 15.

GFXBench

GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan Offscreen 1080p

GFXBench 3.0 T-Rex Offscreen 1080p

On our second synthetic test, we see the XPS 15 slotting right in around the same performance level as the Y700. Pretty much any PC with a discrete GPU can handle this benchmark at well over 60 FPS.

Dota 2

Dota 2 Reborn - Enthusiast

This Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game was recently revamped with a new game engine, which offers better visuals, but one that can still be played on low end hardware. The XPS 15 can handle this game very well at our enthusiast settings.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider - Value

Tomb Raider - Mainstream

Tomb Raider - Enthusiast

The latest version of this franchise has recently been released, but the original version can still be punishing on laptop graphics, especially with TressFX enabled. The XPS 15 can handle this game fairly well until you enable TressFX at 1920x1080, and then it struggles. It’s still a big jump over the older GT 750M equipped XPS 15.

Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite - Value

Bioshock Infinite - Mainstream

Bioshock Infinite - Enthusiast

The XPS 15 can handle this game fairly well, but at the highest settings we test it will struggle. The performance is once again a big jump over the outgoing GT 750M, and the GTX 960M gives us over double the performance of the Surface Book’s GT 940M as well.

Dragon Age Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition - Value

Dragon Age: Inquisition - Mainstream

Dragon Age: Inquisition - Enthusiast

Bioware crafted a great game with Dragon Age Inquisition, and with maximum settings it can be punishing to lower end GPUs. The draw distances are quite impressive. The XPS 15 struggles at 1920x1080 Ultra, and some tweaking using the GeForce Experience would be needed to get an acceptable frame rate on this game. You can see that the XPS 15 pretty much mirrors the Y700 here, despite the Lenovo GPU having double the RAM on the GPU.

Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor - Value

Shadow of Mordor - Mainstream

Shadow of Mordor - Enthusiast

The well received action-adventure game from Warner Brothers and Monolith Productions uses the LithTech game engine, and with everything set to maximum at 1080p, the GTX 960M barely keeps an average over 30 frames per second, so once again this test is a bit too demanding for this laptop, but again the limited VRAM on the GPU does not seem to be affecting it at the resolutions and frame rates that the lower powered GTX 960M can achieve.

GRID Autosport

GRID Autosport - Value

GRID Autosport - Mainstream

GRID Autosport - Enthusiast

The EGO 3.0 engine can be tweaked quite a bit to allow this game to play on a large range of hardware. Even on maximum settings, the XPS 15 does very well.

GPU Conclusion

It’s great that we just reviewed another GTX 960M powered laptop, but it had the 4 GB version of the graphics card rather than the 2 GB version that Dell is shipping in the XPS 15. Despite half the memory, the graphics performance is pretty much even. It doesn’t seem to be a huge disadvantage with the games that we tested in any case. With higher resolutions, such as gaming at UHD resolutions, it would likely make a bigger difference, but the GTX 960M is already showing its performance limits at 1920x1080 gaming, so asking it to draw four times the pixels is likely a bit much.

System Performance Compute and Storage Performance
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  • comomolo - Friday, March 4, 2016 - link

    I agree with you. It takes little time to make things right. Especially wrong is the picture comparing the size of the XPS 15 to a "regular" 15 incher. They haven't even taken care of a proper shooting point so the comparison is useless. Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Friday, March 4, 2016 - link

    Comparing AnandTech to The Verge is not really fair. The Verge has millions of VC funds behind it, which is why they can have professional photographers and editors taking care of the visual side. They can also have a dedicated office, making it easy to pass devices to photographers and others.

    AT editors are practically freelancers as everyone works from their home. That means no fancy photo studio with +$10k of gear. Everyone takes their own photos and frankly the quality depends a lot on the equipment one has at hand and how experienced one is. I can speak from experience because I had major struggles with photos during my time at AT. Here's a few examples of the worst and best shots I took:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/7947/micron-m500-dc-...
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/7594/samsung-ssd-840...
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/9023/the-samsung-ssd...
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/8979/samsung-sm951-5...

    If you aren't really interested in photography, I can tell you that taking photos is not easy. It's not something you learn overnight. Frankly, taking photos of electronics is even harder because a ton of light is needed, and without proper professional lighting you'll get all sorts of reflections and tints (most house lights are not pure white in my experience, there's a yellow tint to make it "warmer").

    All in all, I'm not saying that the photos can't be improve and I'm sure Brett will appreciate any and all tips. I just wanted to explain how AT operates as it's majorly different from The Verge for instance.
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Friday, March 4, 2016 - link

    No disrespect to The Verge (and no attempt to brown nose AT), but their reviews are nowhere near the level of AT. It's such a massive divide as to be comical.

    If we're going to get picky about photography skills and not discuss the actual product, many of those linked Verge photos appear to be out of focus and the lightboxes used aren't exactly top of the line, so between the two reviews, I would say AT wins hands down.

    To each his own, then?
    Reply
  • pikatung - Friday, March 4, 2016 - link

    Probably the best photography I've seen on a tech review site, done on a budget, is from TechReport. They even made a (couple) of blog posts detailing how they do it:

    http://techreport.com/blog/16645/let-there-be-ligh...
    http://techreport.com/blog/22825/how-tr-gets-some-...

    (Loyal Reader of AnandTech and TechReport for years)
    Reply
  • pikatung - Friday, March 4, 2016 - link

    And just to show how good shots can be done on a budget:
    http://techreport.com/blog/15857/who-needs-a-prope...

    And I apologize, I don't mean to be whiny. I really do appreciate the in-depth reviews that you all do. Just hopefully some of these links will be helpful and encouraging.
    Reply
  • Brett Howse - Monday, March 7, 2016 - link

    Always appreciate tips and feedback. Thanks a lot! I'll check this out. Reply
  • Refuge - Friday, March 4, 2016 - link

    I don't come here for the photos, I come here for the raw, cold, hard data.

    If I want glam shots before I put it in my office, then i'll google around. If I want an in depth, and educational review, I come to Anand.
    Reply
  • Solandri - Friday, March 4, 2016 - link

    And hopefully that raw, cold, hard data has been transcribed correctly? The photos aren't merely glamour shots. They can give you detailed information about layouts, colors, fonts, etc. A lot of times it's easier to just look at the pictures to see what ports a laptop has, rather than read a list of ports and *hope* they got it right. Other qualities like keyboard layout, trackpad size position relative to keyboard, size of Fn and arrow keys, etc. are much better conveyed via (undistorted) photos rather than a written description.

    Yeah you can waste time searching for pictures elsewhere. That doesn't mean the site can't be improved by including decent pictures here. (And the problems I see aren't only distortion. Several of the photos are just plain blurry. If you can afford a $800 camera, you can afford a $100 tripod.)
    Reply
  • Zap - Friday, March 4, 2016 - link

    One possible workaround for objects closer to 2D such as those SSDs are to just put them on a flatbed scanner. No distortion and super clear images. Reply
  • euskalzabe - Friday, March 4, 2016 - link

    Here's a couple dead easy tips that improve electronics photography: 1) click the distortion correction checkbox on Photoshop or activate it in-camera. 2) Use bounce flash: if they can't spend lots of money on a decent flash, just use the regular one from camera, take business card, wrap it in tinfoil and place it in front of the flash at 45 degrees. That will bounce the forward light up at 90 degrees, effectively giving you a DIY bounce flash (there's tons of tutorials online).

    No need for professional photographers or tons of money. Just attention to detail and being a bit handy with DIY techniques. It's really not hard/costly, at all. I still appreciate the great analysis in AT... but I hold them to a higher standard, which shouldn't be regarded as a bad thing. I want them to be better at everything and succeed further in the future.
    Reply

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