We didn't receive the basic version but rather one with a core i5. Versions of the same machine equipped with a core i3 (less powerful but still able to handle common tasks), a 1366 x 768 pixel panel and a discreet graphics card are also available under the same name, so be sure to check the configuration before purchase.
Hardware, design & build
Although the XPS is very plasticky, it's nevertheless has a rather sober design. Note however, the finish could be improved as the shell around the keyboard does sink in when you press down on it, even very slightly. This doesn't really alter your usage but we had hoped for better.
The keyboard is in the chiclet style, with well proportioned and well positioned keys. Typing is supple and quiet. It's nice to use in spite of the ever present plastic.
The multitouch touchpad impressed us very much. The glide is smooth and the touchpad itself big enough to allow you to move the cursor across the screen in one action. Dell has managed to optimise the available space on the palm rest, which is unusual.
The webcam (720p) gives a good image when the room is well lit. The darker areas aren't blacked out and movements are well rendered. When the room is dark the webcam struggles a bit but manages to maintain the sort of detail that other models can only aspire to.
The connectivity covers all the bases and is distributed along the edges of the laptop. At the front, you'll find the SD card reader. At the back, the power supply, the video outs (Display Port and HDMI), the Ethernet port (RJ45) and the USB 3.0 port. On the left, there's a second USB 3.0 port and on the right an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo, audio connectivity and a Blu-ray player.
The XPS 15 does honourably well when it comes to keeping temperatures down to acceptable levels. Once you push it however, even slightly, it does get quite loud.
The L502X's temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
DisplayPort out, HDMI out, RJ45, digital tuner out, power socket and USB 3.0 port
USB 3.0 port
Blu-ray / DVD rewriter combo, headphones, audio out, mic and e-SATA / USB 2.0 port combo
Processor power: good performance
The XP15 that we tested was equipped with a powerful Intel Core i5-2410M processor. We have already tested laptops using this chip and it's therefore no surprise to see this 15.6-inch manage all the usual tasks without any problem (office documents, Internet browsing and so on). It's also perfectly at ease with more demanding tasks such as video encoding, 3D modelling and retouching images, which it will process in reasonable times.
You can play HD 1080p (Blu-ray equivalent) no problem on this machine so no jumpiness on its Blu-ray player and full enjoyment to be had from HD films.
Windows 7 Home Premium Edition (64-bit) takes 47 seconds to boot. You then have to wait another 5 to 10 seconds for the various pieces of software and connection to a wi-fi network to launch. It turns off in less than 30 seconds.
Gaming: limited capacity
The GT 540M graphics card allows you to play all games, old and new, on the XPS 15 in native resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels). Some extremely demanding titles will however require a few concessions when it comes to graphics options.
With FIFA 2011, Left 4 Dead or The Sims 3, you'll be able to push everything up to maximum but with games such as Metro 2033, don't expect to be able to go much above low settings. Between the two extremes come titles such as Dirt 3, which you'll be able to run at medium settings. Hardcore gamers, then, will no doubt find it somewhat limited but for those who play occasionally, the XPS 15 will be fine.
Audio: good and... not so goodThe JBL audio does wonders. The sound you get from the speakers is among the cleanest we've heard on a laptop, with plenty of power, control and no disturbing vibrations.
The E/S is however much less impressive. The line out is very poor and the ins are also very average. The headphones out is just about usable but nothing more, which is a real shame.