Timing is everything in the PC business, and the Dell XPS 15 9500, an overdue refresh to the company’s high-end workhorse, arrives just in time for it to be truly considered the “MacBook Pro killer” it’s always aspired to be.
Yes, we know “MacBook Pro killer” is overused Internet clickbait. But with Apple’s decision to throw in the towel on x86-based laptops, anyone buying a Mac today is basically volunteering to stand on the deck of the Titanic and wave as the last lifeboats pull away (go.pcworld.com/lfbt).
Some laptop refreshes can be fairly minor. For the XPS 15 9500 ($2,254 at Dell. com;go.pcworld.com/22dl), it’s a complete redesign of a laptop that’s changed little since 2015, when it first adopted its “InfinityEdge” bezels.
On this model, gone is the 16:9 display aspect ratio that was prevalent for some years—fine for watching YouTube, not so great for productivity. In its place is a 16:10 aspect ratio, 15.6-inch panel running 4K+ with HDR400 and Dolby Vision support. The result is a stunning all-screen look that is likely to set the style for other laptop makers to emulate.
The left side of the XPS 15 9500 features (from left to right) a Noble lock port and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.
The right side of the XPS 15 9500 gives you (left to right) a USB-C port with DisplayPort and USB Power Delivery charging, as well as a UHS-III card reader and headset jack.
The Dell XPS 15 9500 wouldn’t be a Dell XPS 15 without top-shelf parts. As you can see from the spec list that follows, it’s first-class all the way. Note that the eval unit we tested has a Core i7 CPU, which we think is a better choice overall than the 9th-gen Core i9 in the Dell XPS 15 7590 (go.pcworld.com/dl75) we tested last fall. The Core i9 chip seemed to push that Laptop’s thermals over the edge.
CPU: Intel 10th-gen 8-core Core i7-10875H
GPU: GeForce GTX 1650 Ti
RAM: 16GB DDR4/3200 in dual-channel mode and SO-DIMM slots.
Display: 4K UHD+ 3840x2400 Sharp IPS panel with touch
Storage: 512GB SK Hynix PC611 NVMe SSD
Networking: Killer WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5
Dimensions: 13.6 x 9 x 0.7 inches
Weight: 4.5 pounds, plus 1.5 pounds for the 130-watt power brick Battery: Rated at 85 Watt-hours
Ports: For ports, pictures tell the story best. On the left side of the laptop you get a wedge-shaped lock port and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.
The right side of the XPS 15 9500 gives you a SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps Type-C port that can hit 10Gbps transfers and support USB Power Delivery charging and DisplayPort (with an adapter). You also get a UHS-III SD card reader and an analog audio jack.
Yes, there’s no square USB-A port on the XPS 15 9500, which is sure to chap some hides. We’ve complained about this since Dell jettisoned the USB-A on the XPS 13, but to no avail. Dell’s official reason has been to reduce the thickness of the laptop without adding dropdown jaws or port bulges. The unofficial reason, we suspect, is that if Apple gets away with it, why not Dell? When we mean “get away with it” we mean, people still buy Apple and Dell laptops by the truckloads, so maybe it’s just us.
Beyond the loss of the USB-A though, is an overall trend to lose concurrent port use. The previous XPS 15 7590 (go.pcworld.com/ dl75) featured two USB-A, one Thunderbolt 3, a full-size HDMI port, headset jack, SD Card slot, lock port and dedicated charging port. That meant you could charge the older model with an HDMI monitor plugged in as well as a USB keyboard and USB mouse. With the XPS 15 9500, one USB-C port will always be occupied by the charger. A monitor (with an adapter) would take another port. Suddenly you’re down to a single USB-C port for everything else.
What’s the difference between Dell and Apple? You get an HDMI and USB-A dongle in the box with the XPS 15 9500. All Apple gives you with the MacBook Pro 16 is the power supply and a smug look.
Fortunately, Dell mitigates this a little by including a USB-C dongle with a USB-A and HDMI adapter in the box. Dongles are yet another accessory to juggle, but a free dongle is better than none at all. You can guess what Apple does.
CARD READER PERFORMANCE
Because the XPS 15 9500 is aimed at content creators, Dell spends valuable real estate to integrate an SD card reader into the laptop. Dell specs it as a UHS-III-capable slot, which means in theory, it can hit 600MBps if you have a fast-enough card. Actual UHS-III SD cards are still nearly impossible to find, though, so for our test we used a 128GB SanDisk Extreme Pro card rated for 300MBps reads and 260MBps writes. We ran CrystalDiskMark 7.0’s standard test on the XPS 15 9500 and compared it to the results of a SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-II USB reader.
The XPS 15 9500’s SD card slot outperformed a fast USB reader by 21 percent in reads and 18 percent in write speeds. If you’re copying over 100GB of video files you just shot, that’s a significant difference.
Webcams are no longer the throwaway feature they were last year. In the XPS 15 9500, it’s a 720p-resolution unit (as are the vast majority) that’s integrated into the top bezel. The module also supports infrared and works with Windows 10’s biometric Windows Hello feature. If you don’t want to use your face to log in, there’s also a fingerprint reader built into the power button.
Overall, the webcam delivered image quality similar to that of most current laptops in normal lighting. Unless you’re doing a video conference in a cave with Colonel Kurtz, it’s just fine.
Laptop speakers generally run the gamut from medicore to worse. Sometimes, like in the case of the MSI GS66 Stealth (go.pcworld. com/gs66), you almost wonder if there are speakers inside--or the world’s smallest Kazoo band.
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