Dell XPS 15 9510 in assessment: come for the display screen, keep for the whole lot else
Dell’s XPS 15 9510.
As with the XPS 13, the design of the laptop is sleek and modern.
A USB-C port, an SD card reader and a headphone jack.
Two Thunderbolt 4 ports and a slot for a security lock.
Most people who buy a laptop these days can get along well with a 13- or 14-inch thin-and-light PC like the Dell XPS 13 or Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon. These laptops have relatively powerful processors and built-in graphics that are good enough for an external monitor or two, but they prioritize thin profile and light weight over performance.
Even so, sometimes you need something bigger and more powerful, be it because you need a bigger screen to use away from your desk, or you need additional processing cores or graphics power for editing videos or games. And if you want those things in a laptop that doesn’t completely ignore size and weight – and if you prefer or need Windows over macOS – then buy something like the XPS 15.
The latest XPS 15 (officially model number 9510) is another iterative improvement for a laptop that always looked and felt like a bloated version of the XPS 13. But Intel Tiger Lake processors with six or eight cores and a new Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU with ray tracing capabilities make this version of the XPS 15 particularly attractive for professionals and light gamers, even if updated competitors like Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 (and, when it is finally released, an updated version of the 16-inch MacBook Pro with Apple Silicon) try it for its money.
Look, feel, screen and connections
|Technical data at a glance: Dell XPS 15 9510|
|screen||15.6 inch 1920 × 1200 IPS without touch||15.6 inch 3840 × 2400 IPS touch screen||15.6 inch 3456 × 2160 OLED touch screen|
|SHE||Windows 10 Home, 64-bit|
|Central processor||Intel Core i5-11400H||Intel Core i9-11900H||Intel Core i7-11800H|
|R.A.M.||8 GB DDR4 (2 DIMMs)||64GG DDR4 (2 DIMMs)||16 GB DDR4 (2 DIMMs)|
|HDD||256 NVMe SSD||8TB (2x 4TB) NVMe SSDs||512 GB NVMe SSD|
|GPU||Intel UHD graphics||Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti (4GB, 45W)|
|Networking||WLAN 6 (2×2), Bluetooth 5.1|
|Ports||2x Thunderbolt 4, 1x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, SD card reader|
|size||13.57 x 9.06 x 0.17 in (344.7 x 230.1 x 18.0 mm)|
|weight||3.99 pounds (1.81 kg)||4.42 pounds (2.01 kg)||4.31 pounds (1.96 kg)|
|Price (RRP)||$ 1,300||$ 4,800||$ 2,450|
|Other perks||Fingerprint sensor, white or black finish|
(Ars Technica may receive compensation for sales from links in this post through affiliate programs.) The design of the XPS 15 hasn’t changed much since 2016 when Dell took the then new slim design of the XPS 13 and blew it up. And as with the XPS 13, the changes over the years since then have been gradual but significant. The webcam below the screen has moved to the correct position above the screen. The laptop has become a bit thinner and lighter, the trackpad has become even bigger and (with the exception of an SD card reader and a headphone jack) the laptop now uses only Thunderbolt and USB-C ports like the MacBook Pro. The two ports on the left side of the laptop are Thunderbolt 4, while the one on the right is USB-C. Any of the three can be used to connect an external display or charge the laptop, using Thunderbolt accessories with the faster ports.
The biggest difference in recent years is the introduction of a new 16:10 aspect ratio for the screen, which cuts the lower “chin” bezel and instead fills this area with the screen. It’s not quite as big as the 3: 2 screens Microsoft uses across the Surface lineup, but if you’re using an older laptop, the jump from 16: 9 to 16:10 is a deceptively large upgrade in usable screen space . More symmetrical bezels just look better. No impression of wasted space.
We tested the “3.5K” OLED version of the screen, which sits between the 1920 x 1200 IPS panel at the bottom and a 3840 x 2400 IPS display at the top. The difference between “real” 4K and this screen’s strange 3456 x 2160 resolution is unlikely to be seen with the naked eye – what you’ll notice is the OLED panel, which has the tech’s typical advantages and pitfalls. The screen’s ability to completely turn off individual pixels makes for beautiful, deep blacks and an essentially infinite contrast ratio.
But out-of-the-box the color looks a bit too vivid and oversaturated, and the peak brightness drops from the 500 nits of both IPS panels to 400 nits. (I measured a peak brightness of 385 nits on our test unit with an i1 DisplayStudio colorimeter.) If you look at the monitor up close, you may notice some “graininess” on the screen, especially when looking at solid colors. This is a side effect of the sub-pixel layout of some OLED displays. It’s not a deal breaker for most uses, but it’s something you might want to avoid for high-end photo editing or graphic design, even though the display is 100% of the sRGB color space and 98.7% of the DCI-P3 color space (again) covered, measured with the i1 DisplayStudio colorimeter).
The white XPS 15’s keyboard usually looks best when the backlight is off.
In all rooms except the darkest, the white backlit-on-white keys just make the text appear muddy and hard to read.
I tested the white XPS 15, which apart from the color differs in a few small functional points from the black and silver model. The palm rest of the laptop, which is covered with a soft-touch texture in the black version, feels harder and more plastic under my wrists. And a white backlight with white keys will look muddy and indistinct in anything but a pitch black room now and forever. The keys are perfectly legible in a dimly lit room with the keyboard light turned off, so I turned them off most of the time.
The white version of the XPS 15 limits your component selection – both the cheapest and the most expensive configuration options are only available in black. On the Dell website, choosing the white version of the laptop will automatically switch you to a Core i7 processor, 16GB or more of RAM, a 512GB or larger SSD, and dedicated graphics instead of built-in (although these are mostly upgrades that are the we would recommend for it) somehow a laptop).
Aside from the backlight issues on the white version, the XPS 15’s keyboard feels good. As with Apple’s Post-Butterfly MacBook keyboards, the keys feel firm but offer reasonably comfortable travel, and I have no complaints about the key spacing or layout. I still have a slight preference for ThinkPad keyboards, which are a bit softer to the touch and have slightly better travel, but most people will be comfortable with both. Dell has also followed Apple’s lead and built an almost comically large one-piece glass trackpad into the XPS 15. I was nervous about putting my wrists right on it, but I didn’t notice any major issues with palm rejection. Like all trackpads that conform to Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad specifications, finger tracking and multi-touch gestures are reliable and accurate. There isn’t much to say about Windows Hello’s fingerprint sensor attached to the power button either: It’s there and it works (Dell doesn’t offer an IR face-scan camera like the ones used in most Microsoft Surface models and some other PCs will, but this is not a deal breaker).
The XPS 15’s webcam and speakers are both usable, but nothing special. The webcam does a good job with white balance and exposure, but details appear blurred and out of focus. The speakers have good stereo separation and voice calls will come through loud and clear, but the bass is as overwhelming as laptop speakers are usually not overwhelming. This was true regardless of how much I optimized the “MaxxBass” setting in the laptop’s audio control panel. On the contrary, instead of improving the bass, I found that turning up the bass too much made everything else sound worse.