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My Dell XPS 15 Review

My review of Dell XPS 15 9550 (2016) FHD 1080p

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Photo of Dell XPS 15 laptop

I treated myself to a Dell XPS 15 9550.

I got it when my previous laptop had an issue with the screen after 2.5 years of use.

This is my experience with Dell XPS 15 after one month of daily use.

Specs


You can also pay a bit extra and get a model with 32 GB RAM and 1 TB SSD.

Requirements


I am a software developer and use virtual machines extensively. This is why I wanted an i7, that extra RAM and an SSD was a must.

I don't play games but I've gotten into video editing and this is the reason I needed a dedicated graphics card. I also like to train some neural networks for educational purposes, so I was looking for NVIDIA graphics cards with CUDA support.

Paying extra and getting a laptop with a 1080p three years ago was a very good decision. I still believe having a good screen with a high resolution is even more important than the choice of the CPU.

None of my laptops have ever lasted more than 3 hours on battery power, so I finally wanted one with a good battery life.

Finally, my last laptop had a good design and that's what I wanted this time as well. It had to look somewhat professional in a business setting and hopefully not like a gaming laptop.

Design & build

Dell XPS Infinity Edge looks very, very good. No complaints there.

It is also lightweight about 2 kg. It's amazing how much power you can squeeze into such a small form factor. Imagine describing this laptop and what it can do to someone 30 years ago.

This laptop has a 15.6" display but thanks to the very thin bezels, its size is more like that of a 14" laptop.

The laptop is also quiet (fans are not spinning) most of the time when I'm surfing the web, watching videos and doing web programming or even light compiling.

One thing that I did not expect and am very annoyed about is coil whine. It's there and I can hear it when the fans are not spinning and it's quiet in the room. Disabling Intel Skylake power saving states in BIOS seemed to reduce it somewhat but it was still there.

This laptop attracts your oily fingerprints like crazy. The lid is acceptable but the carbon fiber palm rest and the touchpad can look ridiculous in day light. The screen also attracts dust but not much more than other laptops that I've had.

I've gotten small, barely noticeable scratches on the sides of the laptop (mostly near the USB ports) during one month of daily use. When I shake the laptop lightly with care, I can hear something move inside the laptop. Coupled with the problems I've noticed and the fact that many other people have sent their units to be replaced, this laptop does not feel reliable to me.

Display

Dell XPS 15 offers a choice between a 1080p and 4k display.

I got a model with a 1080p display for two primary & one less important reason:

While the 4k screen seems to be fantastic (excellent color accuracy, touch screen, 4k resolution), I am very happy with my choice.

While the better color accuracy would have been useful, it is not that important to me yet. The touch screen is nice but I can live without it. I also don't have a use for the 4k resolution and am happy to avoid problems that come with scaling in Windows.

The biggest win for me, however, was the increased battery life over 4k (reportedly extra 2-3 hours) and the anti-glare screen which I am used to.

There are a few problems with the screen, however.

First, the screen will noticeably flicker on white background when the brightness is less than 30%. I guess this was expected (I saw it mentioned in an online review when I noticed it).

What was not expected was electric buzzing sounds caused by Intel Graphics drivers when the screen is redrawn e.g. when scrolling websites. Apparently, when you uninstall the drivers the buzzing goes away. Intel has released a new version of their drivers which makes the buzzing slightly less noticeable but it is still there. If you are in a room all alone and there is no noise and the fans are not spinning, you can hear this buzzing, other than that it is not too obvious but it's still there.

I changed the color profile to the one provided by notebookcheck.net because there seemed to be something wrong with the default profile.

Battery

It feels great not having to take a charger with me when I go out to work (10 AM - 6 PM with a lunch break inbetween) and still having some juice left (unless I'm doing something very CPU heavy).

I would say that I get about 6-8 hours of battery life. It'd be 8 hours if I just surf the web, some light document processing and not much more.

Charging is fast and you can even configure it in the BIOS to have faster charging (it gets to something like 60% quick and then it's slower) but sacrifice battery longevity or just have a sensible tradeoff which is the default.

The charger is very slim. It's got a nice design and it is also light. There's a light on the power cable when it's plugged in which is kind of nice which saves time when looking for it. One downside is that I'd say the light is a little too bright so I sometimes put a small napkin over it if I'm charging it at night in the same room I'm sleeping.

Another minor quirk is that if you are charging the laptop while it's on, the fans will not be quiet even if there's no load on the computer.

What I don't like about this laptop is that there is no indicator light that it's turned on when the lid is closed. Normally you would never need such a light, but the problem is that this laptop can wake up randomly and if it's in your bag it can overheat. And there is no way to tell if it's on.

At one point I could not suspend it, it would resume automatically in 5 seconds or immediately restart when I tried to shut it down. What helped me was to hold the power button for 10 seconds and that seemed to help. It hasn't occurred again since then.

As for preventing it in the future, I configured Windows 10 to never wake up automatically (disabled updates, scheduler tasks, modified battery saver plans, etc.).

When the laptop is turned on, plugged in and charging three white lights are on (power button, charger cable and on the side of the laptop in front of the touch pad).

Keyboard & touchpad

The keyboard is not good. It's not bad but it's not good. Lots of people in their reviews have said that they would not write a book on this keyboard.

Even though there is space, there are no Home/End keys and the arrow keys are tiny. I have remapped the PrtScr key to Home and the Insert key to Delete. But these keys are very far from the arrow keys which is not good for writing and editing code.

One month in and I, like many others, have a squeaky spacebar key. Very annoying since I press it all the time. I've gotten some dirty looks because of it in the silent room at the library.

The touch pad is very nice. Apparently, it's one of the nicest other people have used but to me it seems good just like many other track pads.

Summary

There were many problems that I noticed with this laptop initially, problems that should not exist when you pay this much for a laptop.

As a result, while the laptop is fantastic, it does not feel reliable at all.

I am worried it will not last long. I do hope I am wrong though.

What I like

What I don't like

Alternatives

These are the alternatives that I considered.

Dell XPS 15 won because it looked so damn nice.

Conclusion

I can't in my good conscience recommend this laptop because of the coil whine, buzzing and spacebar squeak. The laptop also does not feel reliable. If you do decide to get one, I suggest having a backup laptop ready just in case.

When these kinks are fixed and they use the next generation NVIDIA graphics card, then I would recommend it with no hesitation.

Other than that, it's a good laptop and ignoring these quirks and if you get a good unit it is a good looking and powerful laptop to have.

Dell XPS 15 9560

The next version (Dell XPS 15 9560) of this laptop is out.

No reviews in yet but you can already order Dell XPS 9560 on Amazon.