The new Dell XPS 17

Dell XPS 17 Exclusive Hands-On Review

This morning at 9 am Central Time, Dell officially unveiled a handful of new laptops, including the long-awaited XPS 17 9700. It has been nearly 10 years since Dell last offered a 17″ version in their popular XPS line of laptops for creatives and prosumers and I couldn’t be more excited to not only see this announcement but also to have had the chance to spend the last week with the laptop to see how it works for me as a full-time photographer and videographer.

Now I should note that the version of the XPS 17 that was sent me was a pre-production version, which means that I can’t share benchmarking numbers with all of you just yet. Dell is still working on the final software changes (drivers, bios and general software tweaks) so they asked that I keep that information to myself for now. Once I get my hands on a final production-ready version of this laptop, I will update this blog post with a lot more specifics when it comes to video rendering times, SSD HD speeds, FPS for gaming, and much more. But don’t worry, I still have lots of thoughts to share!

Specs

Like all laptops, the XPS 17 will come in a variety of different options that you can further customize based on your needs and budget. While the version I played with represented the higher-end options, I can’t list the exact specs because of minor changes being made before the laptop begins shipping to customers. Regardless, here is a list of the different options you will have when it starts shipping.

CPU Options

  • 10th Generation Intel® Core™ i5 10300H (8MB Cache, up to 4.5 GHz, 4 cores)
  • 10th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 10750H (12MB Cache, up to 5.0 GHz, 6 cores)
  • 10th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 10875H (16MB Cache, up to 5.1 GHz, 8 cores)
  • 10th Generation Intel® Core™ i9 10885H (16MB Cache, up to 5.3 GHz, 8 cores) (available post-launch)

Memory Options (RAM)

  • 8GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
  • 16GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
  • 32GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
  • 64GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz

Storage Options

  • 256GB PCIe 3 x4 SSD
  • 512GB PCIe 3 x4 SSD
  • 1TB PCIe 3 x4 SSD
  • 2TB PCIe 3 x4 SSD
Graphics Options (GPU)
  • Intel UHD Graphics
  • NVIDIA ® GeForce ® GTX 1650 Ti 4GB GDDR6
  • NVIDIA® GeForce RTX™ 2060 6GB GDDR6
Display Options
  • 17 inch 4K UHD+ (3840×2400) InfinityEdge touch display; HDR 400, 500 nit, 100% Adobe RGB minimum + 94% DCI P3 typical, 1600:1 contrast ratio, anti-reflective, anti-smudge
  • 17 inch FHD+ (1920 x 1200) InfinityEdge display; 500 nits, 100% sRGB minimum, 1650:1 contrast ratio, anti-glare

* All panels Dolby Vision™, 178 wide viewing angle +/ 89 °°/ 89 °°/ 89 °°/ 89 °°, Eyesafe ® technology

Ports & Slots

  • 4x Thunderbolt™ 3 with power delivery & DisplayPort
  • 1 Full-size SD card reader v6.0
  • 1 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack
  • Wedge-shaped lock slot
  • 1 USBC to USB A v3.0 Adapter
  • 1 USBC to HDMI v2.0 adapter 

Battery

  • 56WHr or 97Whr battery (built-in)*
    *Battery is built in to the laptop and is not replaceable by the customer.

Dimensions & Weight

  • Height: 19.5mm (0.77”) x Width: 374.45mm (14.74”) x Depth: 248.05mm (9.76”)
  • Starting weight: 2.11kg (4.65lbs.) for non touch with 56Whr battery
  • 2.51kg (5.53lbs.) for 4k Touch Display with 97Whr battery

Build Quality & Design Refresh

If you have been following the XPS line for the last few years, you know that many of us, myself included, have been eagerly awaiting a proper fresh in the design of these laptops. While a laptop will always look like a laptop, it is import to break from the iterative updates every few years to give your devices a fresh face, so to speak. Luckily for all of us tech geeks, 2020 is that year for the XPS 17.

At first glance, the XPS 17 will certainly look familiar with its platinum silver look that is a staple in the XPS line up laptops. This year the laptops body was cut from a single block of aluminum in two pieces, which Dell says makes it stronger and more durable then other devices that are pieced together. From there, you start to see the changes. The sides of the laptops are now diamond cut which allows for the aluminum to wrap all the way around the laptop unlike last years XPS 15, giving the laptop as a whole a much more streamlined and polished look. The hard edges themselves have been made to be much smoother and softer to the touch, which is a welcome improvement from the harsher edge lines found in previous model. Speaking of the sides, lets talk about the ports. Gone are any USB Type-A ports along with the full dedicated HDMI port. Instead, we are giving 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports with power delivery, a full SD card slot, headphone jack and wedge-shaped lock slot. Coming with the laptop, however, will be a pair of dongles for both USB-C to USB Type-A as well as a separate one for USB-C to HDMI adapter.

Left Side Detail Shot of the Dell XPS 17
Right Side detail shot of the Dell XPS 17

Moving on to the interior, the first thing you are going to notice is that the trackpad is now MUCH bigger than before. Dell has taken a cue from the popular Macbook Pro line and has opted for a very large trackpad experience, which I am a big fan of! It feels good to the touch and the tactile feel of pressing down on it to enable a left or right mouse button click is great. From there the next big change comes from the up firing speakers found on either side of the keyboard. Dell tol me that a laser drilled 7,622 holes into these sections to make the grills for the speakers, although I didn’t count to verify that claim 😉 I can, however, verify that these are some of the best sounding speakers I have ever heard on a laptop. On the software side of things, Dell is using Waves NX 3D Audio with head-tracking to help simulate a surround sound experience with the XPS 17. The results are pretty fantastic as this was only possible in the past via high end and often expensive headphones.

The interior of the Dell XPS 17

Now, let’s talk about the keyboard itself. The power button and fingerprint reader has been moved onto the keyboard itself, located just above the backspace key. Once it was set up, I found the fingerprint reader to be a fast and secure way to unlock the laptop. The XPS 17 has opted for slightly larger keys which is great for people with large hands like myself, although the trade-off is the slight shrinking of distance found between each of the keys. In terms of a typing experience, this laptop feels great. The keys are able to travel a good amount of distance, offering a solid tactile experience when using the keyboard. As laptops continue to try to get thinner, this is often when most manufacturers end up with challenges. A quick look at the last few years of Apple’s Macbook Pro keyboard woes as evidence that it isn’t always easy to get this right.

The Display

Without a doubt, the display found on the XPS 17 is going to be one of the biggest selling points for this laptop. Yes it is a powerful device with great RAM & GPU options, but my oh my…the display is simply gorgeous! For years Dell has been championing their “Infinity Edge” display technology that has slowly but surely been removing more and more of the bezels found around the displays on their XPS laptops. With the XPS 17, they have pushed this even further, removing most of the bottom bezel of the display while slightly shrinking the sides and top. The result is a display experience like no other I have had on a laptop before. The display simply takes up the entirety of the surface area of that part of the laptop, which has kind of ruined me when it comes to using other laptops now. 

The gorgeous 4k Display of the XPS 17

In terms of color accuracy, the XPS 17 is no slouch. With the 4k touch sensitive display option, you will get 100% of the Adobe 1998 Spectrum, 100% sRGB and 94% of DCI-P3 while the the Full HD+ version (1920 x 1200) will get 100% of sRGB. The colors look fantastic right out of the box, which always a nice feeling when you first open a brand new laptop. I still do recommend you pick up a colorimeter such as the i1 Display Pro from X-Rite for long term color calibration/management, but you won’t need to use it on this laptop for a while.

Additionally, I am happy to report that the webcam, which performs like a standard laptop webcam, is located at the top of the display (unlike a few past XPS models) and has built-in Windows Hello support with depth-sensing technology. With this feature turned on, the laptop will scan your face with the IR camera built-in and make a depth profile to allow you to quickly and securely unlock the laptop. Because it uses depth, you can’t simply have a photo of someone to unlock the laptop.

Webcam for Dell XPS 17

Lastly, let’s talk about the size of this laptop. Usually, when you think of a 17″ laptop, you think it is going to be a monstrosity…after all, so many people are moving to smaller and more portable laptops, right? Well, because of the design changes and the incredible display (which we will talk about next), Dell was able to fix a 17″ screen into the body of a laptop that is smaller than most (although not all) 15 laptops. As you can see from the image below when I lay last year’s XPS 15 on top of the XPS 17, there is a difference in size, but it is pretty minimal, especially when you take into account the much larger viewing experience.

Comparing the Size of the Dell XPS 17 vs XPS 15

Performance

Now I know that this section is why many of you are reading this article in the first place. Performance of a laptop is often the most important feature when it comes to which laptops photographers and videographers look to when making a purchase…and for good reason.

Now before I share with you my experiences, just a friendly reminder that I am not allowed to share specific benchmarking info with you just yet as the software wasn’t finalized on the XPS 17 I had been using for the last week. That being said, I can still talk about how it performed!

Photo Editing

To the surprise of no one, or at least not me or my video editor, this laptop handled everything I threw at it when it came to processing images. I sent a number of high-resolution images (62pm) from my Sony a7R IV through Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One, and On1 Photo RAW and didn’t see a single hiccup or stutter. If you are thinking of using this laptop just for photo editing to take advantage of the incredible 4k display, you won’t have any problems using your photo editing application of choice with this beast!

Using Adobe Lightroom on Dell XPS 17

One thing that is hard to describe either via a blog post like this or the YouTube video I put together above is just how impressed I am with this display, especially when it comes to editing photos. Because the display itself takes up nearly all of the surface of the of the display area, you have such a massive screen to work with. Moving to a 16:10 ratio really helps allow the panels and tools in applications Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop to have more breathing room, so your user experienced isn’t so confined as you typically see on smaller laptops. With the colors on the display looking amazing right out of the box, the Dell XPS 17 is ready to help you start to process your images as soon as you get it charged.

Video Editing

When it came to processing videos, both myself and my video editor spent some time putting together a mini video project on the XPS 17 using both Davinci Resolve and Adobe Premier to see how it handled things. So how did it do? While I can’t share actual rendering times, neither of us had any issue taking multiple cuts from various 4k clips and piecing them together or rendering out the project when we wrapped up. If you go for the higher-end configuration with the 6 to 8 core i7 or i9, this laptop should work great for your video editing needs.

In terms of rendering performance, I can say that the improvements found in the higher end GPU (RTX 2060) mixed with the performance of the newer 10th Generation CPUS and more RAM options (up to 64GB), this machine did solidly outperform last years XPS 15 when cutting and rendering similar footage.

Video Editing Using Adobe Premier with the XPS 17 9700

Gaming

Now that you have the option to pick up an XSP laptop with an RTX discrete 2060 GPU, the XPS 17 is actually a fairly viable gaming laptop now. While I don’t see serious gamers opting for this laptop over something like the Alienware m15 r2 with its far superior refresh rates and response times, it will be more than enough for casual to mid-level gamers that enjoying playing games along with capturing images and shooting video projects.

Without sharing specific FPS benchmarks, I can let you know that I was able to not only play games like Fortnite but also more graphically demanding games like Control from Remedy Entertainment and Jedi- Fallen Order from EA Games with very solid FPS once I dropped down the resolution on the 4k display. While this isn’t a “Gaming Laptop”, I am happy to have the option to play a few GPU intensive games on this massive display while on the road or when moving around my house as most of us stay at home this summer.

Gaming on XPS 17 RTX 2060

Overall Initial Impressions

All in all, I came away with a very positive experience having used the XPS 17 9700 over the last week. It is hard to accurately describe just how impressive the massive display is on this laptop. The colors are accurate yet vivid, the brightness is spot on (500nit max) and the high resolution and touch screen support make it the best laptop display I have used to date, including the years I spent using Apple products.

With the 10th generation Comet Lake CPUs, Dell is able to offer great performance for all your creative needs. While you won’t see a massive jump in processing power from Intel’s 9th generation CPUs, there is certainly an improvement in the comparisons I saw between the two generations. If you are thinking about this machine, think hard about picking up a top-end i7 or i9 if you really want to have some power!

Dell XPS 17 Ultimate Creative Laptop

Lastly, let’s talk about the redesigned body and serious GPU upgrade options. The new look and feel of the XPS 17 is both familiar yet new enough to be striking. The laptop not only looks sleeker and more polished, but it feels that way as well, especially when it comes to the edges. The new trackpad is massive, the speakers are incredible and the keyboard works great, especially for a laptop this size. The fact that it is the size of most 15″ laptops is a huge bonus as well! In terms of GPU, the NVIDIA GTX 2060 is a welcome addition to the XPS line and one that I have been hoping for for years. With it, you finally have a capable gaming laptop for the casual to mid-level gamer who also happens to be creative, either by heart…or profession.

With the XPS 17, Dell has truly pulled off creating one of the best (if not the best) powerhouse laptops on the market! The only issue is that after using this laptop for a week, all other laptop screens simply pale in comparison to the XPS 17. I feel it has ruined me for smaller laptops moving forward 😉

Full Review to Come...

As I mentioned above, the fact that I was using a near-final production version of the XPS 17 meant that I couldn’t share specifics when it came to benchmarking results in the performance section of this blog post. As soon as I get my hands on a final production copy of the laptop, I will revisit this article and update the various sections with the proper benchmarks and screenshots with my findings.

Full Disclosure

Dell provided me with a loaner of the pre-production version of the XPS 17 which allowed me to write up this initial impressions video as well as create the video version of this that currently lives on Youtube and IGTV. It has since been returned to Dell. All of these thoughts are mine and mine alone.

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