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Dell XPS 15 vs. XPS 17: High-performance siblings duke it out

You’d be forgiven for mistaking the Dell XPS 17 for only a slightly bigger XPS 15. Both are large laptops that boast some ambitious performance claims. However, there’s more going on between the two than meets the eye.

Just how big of a difference is there between the XPS 15 and the XPS 17? Here’s everything you need to know about these two great laptops, and which you should buy.

Design and size

There aren’t any significant design features that distinguish the Dell XPS 17 from its smaller sibling. The XPS 15 was redesigned in 2020, and launched alongside the XPS 17, which is the first of its kind. The XPS 17 uses the exact same keyboard and large touchpad, and it also borrows the same materials for both the palm rests and lid.

The size, though, is where these two laptops depart. There are 1.4 inches of diagonal difference in screen size between the two, which means the XPS 17 is the larger and heavier option.

Most noticeably, the XPS 15 weighs 4.5 pounds, which is a full pound lighter than the XPS 17. You can feel the difference, especially when lugging it around in your backpack, or even resting it on your lap. That applies to the dimensions of these devices, as well. The XPS 15 is 8% thinner at 0.71 inches thick. The overall footprint is also 8% larger.

If you opt for the non-touch models, both XPS laptops are lighter (starting at 4.0 or 4.7 pounds, respectively), though it’s the same percentage difference.

Ports

There are two important differences between the XPS 15 and XPS 17. First, the XPS 15 offers just three USB ports, where the XPS 17 has four. More than that, all four of the XPS 17’s four USB-C ports also support Thunderbolt 3.

Thunderbolt 3 means faster data transfer speeds, 4K display output at 60Hz, charging, and the ability to power external graphics cards. Four Thunderbolt 3 ports matches what Apple offers in its MacBook Pro 16-inch.

Both devices also include a headphone jack and a full-size SD card slot.

Display

The display options between the XPS 15 and XPS 17 are identical. They both use a 16:10 aspect ratio and have two resolution options: 1,920 x 1,200 and 3,840 x 2,400. The lower resolution is used in all the base models, while the higher resolution panel is an option.

They are different panels, though, with slightly tweaked calibration. In my testing of both high-resolution models, I found the XPS 17’s screen to be about 50 nits brighter, as well as 43% more color accurate, with slightly higher contrast. Both of these high-resolution screens feature some of the widest color gamuts I’ve ever tested, along with extreme sharpness of the pixel density.

I didn’t test the lower resolution models, but Dell tends to use a lower-quality screen on its base models.

Performance

Ultimately, the reason for the existence of the XPS 17 is extra performance. It’s more than just a slightly larger version of the XPS 15, largely thanks to its more powerful GPU options. You can configure the XPS 17 up to an Nvidia RTX 2060, whereas the XPS 15 is stuck at an Nvidia GTX 1650 Ti.

It’s 35% faster in 3DMark’s Time Spy benchmark, which results in significantly higher frame rates in modern 3D games. The XPS 17 could play games like Fortnite at 82 frames per second at Epic settings (in 1080p), 27% faster than the XPS 15. Even a tough game like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was playable at 41 frames per second with settings at Ultra High. It a choppy experience at those settings on the XPS 15, rendering at under 30 frames per second.

It also makes a huge difference in content creation. For example, rendering video in an application like Adobe Premiere Pro can tax the GPU more heavily. The XPS 17 was 34% faster at rendering the exact same test project, which makes a significant difference when working on large video projects.

Both laptops offer processor options that range from the Intel Core i5-10500H up to the eight-core Core i7-10875H. A Core i9 model is also in the works, but it isn’t yet available for purchase.

The memory and storage options are also different. Currently, the XPS 17 supports up to 64GB of RAM, while the XPS 15 is capped at 32GB. Similarly, the XPS 17 can be configured with up to a 2TB SSD, and the XPS 15 is stuck at 1TB.

Battery life

The larger screen and improved performance of the XPS 17 does come with one compromise: Battery life. Both devices have the same size battery options (86 watt-hour battery). Neither high-resolution devices will last a full workday on a single charge, but the XPS 15 lasts around 45 minutes longer in most circumstances.

This is, of course, for the high-resolution models that I tested. The 1,920 x 1,200 models should last at least an extra hour or two on a single charge, though I haven’t tested them yet to confirm those numbers. Either way, the smaller screen helps the XPS 15 get more juice out of its battery.

Conclusion

For most people, the XPS 15 will offer more than enough performance. That’s especially true if you’ll primarily be working with more CPU-dependent applications.

If you aren’t gunning for the top-level XPS 17 with the Nvidia RTX 2060, it’s a better value to go with the XPS 15. Depending on the configuration, the XPS 17 sells for $200 to $300 more than the XPS 15 with comparable hardware, and in our tests, the larger XPS 17’s chassis doesn’t offer a performance lift.

The XPS 17 is suitable if you need improved GPU power. If you’re able to drop $3,000 on the RTX 2060-powered model, you’ll see a substantial performance increase that makes the 17-incher ideal for professional video editing or 3D modeling.

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