Review: Dell's XPS 17 Makes a Long-Awaited Return

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While 2020 has been pretty terrible, at least this year has provided something for XPS fans to be excited about. After a several-year hiatus, the Dell XPS 17 is finally back, and the timing is perfect. Why? Because the screens in the latest line of XPS laptops have been utterly stunning, so it stands to reason that you’d want to get the biggest version possible.
Peeling open the XPS 17 is an event. The now distinctive XPS carbon fiber finish is beautiful, but that gorgeous 16:10 ratio display totally steals the show. And even if you’re someone who avoids 17-inch laptops in fear of their usual heft, Dell says this is the smallest 17-inch laptop in existence – and it certainly shows.
The XPS 17 is powerful too, with 10th-gen Intel CPUs and NVIDIA’s RTX 2060 Max-Q serving as the premium graphics option. This will certainly please the creators that this laptop is aimed at. But all this beauty and power comes at a cost, and if you want one of the nicer models, you’re going to need deep pockets.
Let’s get re-acquainted with the all-new XPS 17 through my experience of living and working with this laptop.

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Dell XPS 17 Technical Specifications

  • 10th-Gen Intel Core i7-10875H (2.3GHz)
  • NVIDIA RTX 2060 Max-Q Design
  • 32GB RAM at 2933MHz
  • 17-inch 4K Touch screen display (3840 x 2400; 16:10 ratio)
  • 500 nits peak brightness (HDR400 certified)
  • IPS, 100% Adobe RGB, 94% DCI-P3
  • 1TB M.2 SSD
  • 97Whr battery
  • 4x Thunderbolt USB-C with Power Delivery
  • Included dongle for USB Type-A and HDMI 2.0 port expansion
  • Full size SD card slot

New Dimensions, New Benefits

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Dell’s atypical 16:10 screen ratio is the perfect example of something you don’t know you need in your life until you have it. The interesting screen dimensions defines the entire design of the laptop, and brings with it several benefits.
The obvious perk is the extra vertical screen real estate. It’s especially nice for web page browsing and productivity because of what feels like an extended vertical view. And unlike other alternative screen ratios, the black borders that show up when viewing more typical 16:9 video content are small and unobtrusive.
Less obvious is the effect that this screen ratio has on the XPS 17’s chassis design. The more square ratio means Dell achieves a 17-inch diagonal screen size with less horizontal width than a normal 16:9 laptop, meaning the entire chassis can be narrower as a result (and fit more nicely into a smaller laptop bag).
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The extended vertical dimension gives Dell more space on the lower half of the chassis for that massive touch pad. It may have even made it easier for the technical engineers to cram in the improved bass-y speakers (including a quad-speaker array of two primary drivers and two tweeters) and large 97Whr battery.
This, along with near bezel-less design, results in a 17-inch laptop that feels like a 15-inch laptop in the hand, and is remarkably thin and light for such a powerful machine.

A Versatile Choice for Creators

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All areas of the modern XPS design point to Dell’s intention to target creators and productivity professionals, including photographers and video editors. Convenience features like the inclusion of a full size SD card slot and auxiliary port – legacy technologies often left out of modern laptops – are a clear nod to the needs of the visual artist. An included dongle also adds HDMI 2.0 and USB Type-A to that array of thoughtful support.
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The tech specs are also clearly tailored to this crowd. The gorgeous display on our test unit is a pin-sharp 4K IPS-type panel that delivers stunningly bright and vivid colors. The claimed 500 nits of peak brightness really pops and makes the screen usable even out in bright sunlight.
Color delivery and accuracy is top-notch (100% Adobe RGB and 94% DCI-P30), and with HDR support, both productivity and media playback is a joy on this laptop.
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Our unit also includes touch-screen support, which is yet another user-friendly feature for the creative type. These users will enjoy the convenience of being able to swipe through images, pinch to zoom and rotate, scrub through video timelines or just drag and drop files easily.
Of course, rendering and editing is made faster and easier thanks to the 10th-gen Intel Core i7 packed into our test unit (Core i9 versions are also available), with 8 cores (16 threads) and up to a massive 5.1Ghz clock speed.
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The Inclusion of Nvidia’s RTX 2060 Max-Q graphics card is another major draw of the 2020 XPS 17. This level of graphics is more typical of gaming laptops, but here it aids in making this laptop a rendering powerhouse. Of course, gaming is also possible, with most modern games happily running on high settings at 1080p resolution on the RTX 2060. But with a relatively slow response 60Hz screen and the inability to run games sensibly at the 4K native resolution on this hardware, the XPS 17 is certainly not an ideal gaming laptop. (See the excellent Alienware m17 if you’re a more serious gamer.)

Maximum Performance for Right Now and in the Future

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The 17-inch chassis brings about some additional benefits to the overall performance of the XPS 17. Dell made use of the additional internal space to pack in a beefier cooling system with two large fans forcing air through a large central vapor chamber. This, along with new more efficient power delivery components, helps the XPS keep temperatures down in the 70s (Celsius) during all but the most intense of use cases.
Pushing the microchips hard for extended periods (like gaming or rendering a long 4K video) can send temps rising into the high 80s and even low 90s, but these are considered normal operating temps with Intel chips these days. And the coolers manage to fend off any serious thermal throttling.
Battery life is also respectable for a laptop with this high level of performance. This is thanks to the massive 97Whr battery in our test unit. Dell doesn’t make a battery life claim, but I was able to use the XPS 17 (word processing, web browsing and YouTube with low screen brightness) for almost an entire work day – around six to seven hours – before reaching for the power cord.
More intense use obviously affects the battery significantly. It’s also worth noting that the surprisingly small 130Watt power supply, while nice to carry, can be overwhelmed by extreme use cases like gaming, and battery levels can fall slightly even while plugged in.
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Elsewhere, the aforementioned quad-array speakers sound great for a laptop so thin. These up-firing drivers flank a full-size keyboard that is very comfortable for extended typing sessions, and includes a fingerprint reader in the power button.
The huge multi-point touch pad is a standout feature of the XPS range. In fact, it makes it hard to use other laptops once you get used to the precision and convenience it provides. Office users will also appreciate the 720p front-facing webcam, with Windows Hello facial recognition and dual mics for crisp voice audio.
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And there’s space inside the chassis for even more expansion. Two RAM slots can accommodate up to 64GB of RAM (32GBs was included in our review unit), while storage hogs will also make use of the two M.2 SSD slots for fast expandable memory.

Should You Buy the Dell XPS 17?

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The as-tested price of our XPS 17 is $2,939.99 – a significant amount of money for sure. But with that investment, you know you’re getting an ultra-premium, highly refined machine.
Admittedly, the XPS 17 isn’t for everyone. The RTX 2060 may attract a glance from intrigued gamers searching for a more mature-looking rig, but you’d be better off with a gaming laptop regardless. (And hey, the new Alienware laptops actually look really nice). Additionally, those on a tight budget can likely hunt down similar specs in a lower price range from Dell’s other XPS offerings or from another brand altogether.
But at this point, the build quality and performance of Dell’s modern XPS design is well established, and it’s what sets this laptop apart from the competition. That soft-touch carbon fiber finish is wonderful. The keyboard and touchpad are great, and the super-bright 4K screen is a sight to behold. Clearly targeting photo and video productivity, this is a creator’s dream machine, with enough power and convenience features to satisfy the pickiest of users, while also making for an excellent media device.
And the long-awaited 17-inch model is arguably the best version, benefiting from the added screen real estate, while being slim and light enough to feel like a conventional 15-inch laptop in transit.

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