Recently, we've seen the release of a gaggle of powerful, but not blindingly expensive, laptops. Dell wants in on the action with its 15.6-inch XPS 15, which sports a meaty Intel Core i5 CPU.
The base configuration will set you back around £530, but you can end up spending around £1,000 if you make plenty of tweaks. Our review sample would set you back around £940.
The XPS 15 isn't the slimmest laptop we've ever seen, measuring 381 by 38 by 265mm. It weighs about 2.8kg, so it's pretty hefty too. It's not exactly the most portable machine in the world then.
The XPS 15's appearance won't blow you away. The silver lid is very dull, and the hinge isn't set at the edge of laptop. Consequently, the lower half of the laptop protrudes at the back. We thought this feature looked quirky and interesting on the Dell Mini 1012 netbook, but it looks quite ugly on the XPS 15.
Nevertheless, the interior of the laptop looks pretty stylish. The grey wrist rest sports a brushed-aluminium effect, and there's a huge, chrome-edged trackpad. The set of reflective, touch-sensitive buttons set just above the keyboard looks pretty classy.
The XPS 15's 15.6-inch LCD panel is eye-meltingly gorgeous. The base model has a standard resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. Our review model, however, had a 1,920x1,080-pixel display, an upgrade that will cost you an extra £170. If you can afford it, we'd strongly recommend shelling out. The hi-res display is very sharp, and will make even the Windows cursor look appealing.
This panel is also very bright and vivid. The limpid blue of the Windows start-up screen looks so enticing that we wanted to dip a pint glass through the screen and glug the whole thing down. Hi-res images look stunning, especially if they're colourful.
The display doesn't produce the most natural of images, though -- colours are really saturated. If you'd like a display whose images are as close to real life as possible, the XPS 15 probably isn't for you. Nevertheless, this vividness does set the XPS 15 apart from other laptops and, in tandem with the high resolution, we think it makes for a rather special display.
The XPS 15's trackpad is massive, reaching almost MacBook Pro levels of vastness. That makes moving the cursor around dead easy. The click buttons are also responsive, and they won't cause thumb cramp.
The keyboard is less impressive. There's no gap between each key, so you might find yourself hitting the wrong button by accident every now and again. Moreover, the whole keyboard feels rather cheap and plasticky. It also rattled audibly when we were typing on it -- something that's sure to annoy your fellow quiet-carriage commuters.
Around the sides, you'll spot a mini-DisplayPort connection, two USB 3.0 slots, a USB/eSATA port, an HDMI out, an Ethernet jack, two headphone sockets, a microphone jack, a multi-format card reader, and a Blu-ray drive. If you fancy saving £90, you can go for a standard DVD rewritable drive.
In terms of connectivity, the XPS 15 puts in a pretty reasonable show, then, apart from the obvious exclusion of a VGA output. Make sure your monitor or projector supports the video outputs on offer if you plan on porting your laptop's image to a bigger screen. Also, bear in mind that most of the ports are on the back of the laptop, which makes them fiddly to reach.
On the inside, our review model contained a dual-core, 2.53GHz Intel Core i5-460M CPU. That no longer seems to be stocked by Dell, but the newer, dual-core, 2.66GHz Core i5-480M is available. They're very similar chips (you can compare them here), so they should offer roughly the same level of performance.
Our laptop also came with 4GB of RAM. You can ramp up both the processor and the memory, but it'll cost you dearly -- an upgrade to 8GB of RAM will set you back an extra £300, for instance. Our XPS 15 also sported an Nvidia GeForce GT 420M graphics card.
With all that hardware, we expected pretty decent performance, and we weren't disappointed. In the PCMark05 benchmark test, the XPS 15 scored a very respectable 6,368. In 3DMark06, which tests a laptop's graphics capabilities, it scored 6,144 when we ran the test at a 1,280x1,024-pixel resolution, and a still impressive 4,997 when running at the maximum 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution.
With such scores, you can expect gaming to be very much on the cards, so long as you're not playing cutting-edge titles at their maximum settings. High-definition video plays very smoothly indeed, and the laptop generally feels very quick. With different processor options performance will differ, however.
We should say that those scores aren't particularly impressive for a machine at this price point, but note that the cost of our review unit was driven up by options not expressly related to the machine's performance, such as a high-res display and Blu-ray drive. It's possible to get a machine that performs just as well as our review sample for significantly less cash if you strip away some extras.
Our review model came with JBL speakers. They sounded rather impressive, thanks to a subwoofer on the laptop's underside that delivers a pleasingly bassy thump. They're still not really any substitute for proper laptop speakers or a pair of half-decent headphones, but they're impressive nonetheless.
Our XPS 15 shipped with a 500GB hard drive (upgradeable to 640GB for an extra £35) and the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium (upgradeable to Windows 7 Ultimate for £120).
As for battery life, when we ran the XPS 15's CPU at a constant 100 per cent using the Battery Eater Classic test, it lasted 1 hour and 48 minutes. That's not great, although you will get longer battery life with less punishing use.
The Dell XPS 15 is a decent laptop. If you can reign in the temptation to buy all the extra goodies, it's possible to get a capable machine at a reasonable price. But we can't imagine anyone preferring this laptop over either the marvellous Samsung Q430, which offers similar performance in a featherweight shell, or the Medion Erazer X6811, which is fairly expensive but offers truly stonking performance.
Edited by Charles Kloet