Dell XPS 17 review: A mobile workstation in disguise
“The Dell XPS 17 is unrivaled in extra large, powerful laptops.”
- Bright, beautiful screen
- Fantastic build quality and design
- Performance is impressive
- Ultra-thin bezels
- Comfortable keyboard and touchpad
- Mediocre battery life
- Poor webcam
If you work primarily from home, the idea of a large, 17-inch laptop might sound attractive. The screens on these laptops are only a few inches smaller than some external PC monitors, packed into a single package that can be taken on the go.
But the Dell XPS 17 is more than just that. It’s a powerhouse in terms of performance, hoping to replicate not only the large-screen format of a desktop setup, but also the power. The latest model comes with an Nvidia RTX 3060, an Intel Core i7-11800H, and a 4K resolution touchscreen. That particular configuration comes at a mighty fee of $2,800, but if you need the size and performance, the XPS 17 remains one of the very best laptops you can buy.
The Dell XPS 17 is a very large laptop. I start there, as it’s the most defining feature of this laptop from the rest of the XPS lineup.
The size of the XPS 17 is even unique apart from the XPS lineup. Other 17-inch laptops such as the LG Gram 17 or HP Envy 17 are much smaller than the XPS 17, but that’s hardly a fair comparison to make. These laptops run on lower wattage processors and can’t be configured with high-end discrete graphics cards.
The XPS 17 shares more in common with modern workstation laptops, such as the Asus ProArt Studiobooks or the HP ZBook Fury 17. But even there, many of the options you’ll find haven’t been updated in a while and aren’t nearly as slick as the XPS 17.
In terms of size (and performance), the Razer Blade 17 is the closest rival to the XPS 17. The XPS 17 is slightly smaller in most dimensions other than thickness, where the two laptops are almost equivalent.
It feels premium and looks sleek, just like other XPS laptops.
Chances are, if you’re in the market for a larger creative-focused laptop, you’ll also be looking at 16-inch laptops. Following in the footsteps of the MacBook Pro 16-inch, laptops that fit in this category include the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro, ROG Zephyrus M16, and the Dell Inspiron 16 Plus. The XPS 17 is wider, thicker, and heavier than most of these laptops, despite everything Dell has done to trim down the chassis, weighing 5.3 pounds and measuring 0.77 inches thick.
But Dell has stuck to its guns with the XPS 17, making it a fairly unique offering in 2021. The taller 16:10 aspect ratio screen makes the laptop feel even more expansive — even with the insanely thin bezels wrapping around the display.
The XPS 17 is heavier, wider, and thicker than the MacBook Pro 16-inch, and is larger in almost every way compared to the LG Gram 17. But making size comparisons against laptops like these is hardly fair, especially considering how much more power you can pack into the XPS 17.
The XPS 17 otherwise looks nearly identical to the XPS 15. While much of the internal structure is unique, the aluminum shell, ultra-thin bezels, and black carbon-fiber palm rests will look very familiar. It feels premium and looks sleek, just like the smaller versions of this same laptop.
It’s one of my very favorite designs. I wish Dell offered the white variant (as seen in the XPS 13), but I’m not about to complain about the aesthetic. Ever since its initial launch, it has been one of the best-looking laptops you can buy.
The Dell XPS 17 keeps its ports simple: Four Thunderbolt 4 ports and a full-sized SD card slot. Those ports tell you a lot about where the XPS 17 gets its inspiration and who it primarily is for. If you’re annoyed by the limited ports in the MacBook Pro, the XPS 17 won’t offer you much help. Notably, there’s no HDMI port or USB-A.
Fortunately, Dell tosses in a USB-C adapter with both USB-A and HDMI for free, which makes me happy. Hard to complain when Dell does the dirty work for you.
The full-size SD card slot, of course, is there for photographers and videographers. Being able to go straight from a camera to a computer is hugely convenient, even for hobbyists and dabblers. Having one will make your friends and colleagues with MacBook Pros jealous.
Keyboard and touchpad
No surprises here — the XPS 17 has an excellent keyboard and touchpad. The keypresses are springy and don’t feature any tomfoolery around low-travel nonsense. Typing is quiet and comfortable.
The keycaps are the highlight of the keyboard though. They feel sturdy under your fingers, instead of wobbly. I also love how large the keycaps are, leaving very little empty space in between keys, and nice wide keys on the sides. You find wider Shift keys on another laptop.
The touchpad is similarly wide. Rather than just use the same-sized touchpad on the smaller XPS laptops (as other manufacturers do), this touchpad is designed specifically to make use of the 17-inch form factor. Tracking is precise and the click is nice and quiet.
Display and speakers
The Dell XPS 17 is all about its screen. The 17-inch screen is in the 16:10 aspect ratio, which is perfect for this size of laptop. It makes for a large workspace to expand windows on and multitask across. The resolution is 3840 x 2400, which is even more pixels than a standard 4K screen. The result is a superbly crisp display with touch capabilities.
The base model is a 1920 x 1200 model, and it doesn’t come with a touchscreen. It’s a $400 difference in price, so you’ll want to choose wisely. I don’t recommend prefer a 1080p resolution on a display this large, as you’ll start to pick out the pixels.
Like the port selection, this high-resolution screen is made with creatives in mind. It’s a bright and colorful screen with nearly perfect color saturation, hitting 100% in both sRGB and AdobeRGB color spaces. Color accuracy is on point too. It’s a gorgeous screen through and through.
The temperature of the screen is rather warm, though. In many circumstances, the warmer tint is welcomed. But while watching videos or movies, I noticed some skin tones with an oddly orange glow. Dell includes just a single color mode in the Windows settings.
The 720p webcam, which is situated in the bezel above the display, is awful.
Speaking of entertainment, the speakers are decent. For a laptop of this size, I was hoping to hear more bass, but the XPS 17 does feature a nice stereo image and can get quite loud without crackles. If you’re wanting to listen to some background music or podcasts while working, these speakers should do the trick without too many complaints.
I have plenty of complaints, however, about the webcam. The 720p webcam, which is situated in the bezel above the display, is awful. It’s part of the trade-off with having such a narrow top bezel. It’ll get you by on the occasional video call, but if you need to be on camera all day, this isn’t the laptop for you.
The Dell XPS 17 starts at $1,550. What you get in that base model is the Intel Core i5-11400H, integrated Intel UHD graphics, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. That model is a bit more affordable, but it doesn’t lean on the strengths of the XPS 17.
Upping to eight cores (and adding in a discrete graphics card), the Dell XPS 17 becomes a much more capable performer. My unit came with the Core i7-11800H, 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia RTX 3060, and a 1TB SSD. But in exchange for your $2,800, you’ll get a laptop that excels in heavy tasks such as creative application performance and gaming.
|Laptop||3DMark Time Spy||Cinebench R23||Geekbench 5||PCMark 10||Fortnite (1080p Epic)||Civilization VI (1080p Ultra)|
|Dell XPS 17 (Core i7-11800H)||7039||1525/ 10145||1568 / 8801||6209||78 fps||104 fps|
|Dell XPS 17 (Core i7-10875H)||5801||13876||1315 / 7959||n/a||82 fps||90 fps|
|LG Gram 17 (Core i7-1165G7)||1408||1312 / 3912||1503 / 4606||4880||13 fps||n/a|
|Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (Ryzen 7 5800H)||9175||1430 / 11195||1460 / 7227||n/a||101 fps||114 fps|
The XPS 17 was already a powerful laptop, but the bump to RTX 30-series graphics crank up the performance. It’s easy to see the benefits when comparing 3DMark scores, where the newer model is 18% faster in the same test. You might write off the RTX 3060 compared to the 3070 or 3080 featured in gaming laptops, but names can be deceptive. The system can deliver 70 watts of power to the graphics card, which is more than what many non-gaming laptops can do. To put things in perspective, though, the Razer Blade laptops can push up to 100 watts of power to the graphics.
That results in faster frame rates in the games I tested. Outside of the heaviest games, the XPS 17 can hit over 60 fps (frames per second) in games at 1920 x 1200. Outside of a lighter, more processor-heavy game like Civilization VI, you won’t want to attempt to play games at native resolution, of course. The 60Hz refresh rate is also a limitation on how enjoyable the gaming experience will be. For that reason, it’s not a laptop that should be purchased primarily for the purpose of gaming. But it’s one heck of a perk, that’s for sure.
The improved graphics as well as better performance in creative applications. I tested the laptop’s video editing capabilities in PugetBench’s Premiere Pro benchmark, which tests everything from 4K video playback to timeline exports. It outperformed the last Intel-based 27-inch iMac that I tested, which featured a desktop Core i9-10910. It’s the highest scoring laptop I’ve tested in this benchmark, and you’ll likely see comparable performance in many other content creation applications.
Of course, processor performance is also extremely important in these tests, and the 11th-gen Intel Core i7-11800H at the heart of the XPS 17 performs admirably. The CPU hummed along at around 3.2GHz, occasionally boosting up to 4.19GHz. Its PCMark 10 scores were fantastic, which tests daily tasks like web browsing, video conferencing, and spreadsheets. It should be noted, though, that laptops running on AMD’s Ryzen 5000 platform are every bit as strong in this benchmark, even on smaller 13-inch laptops like the Asus ROG Flow X13.
Much of the impressive performance of the XPS 17 comes from its good thermals. Surface temperatures never get too hot, and internal temperatures stay fairly cool. I noticed occasional jumps up to the max of 100 degrees Celsius (for both the GPU and CPU), but temperatures primarily stayed under 70 degrees during the majority of my testing.
The battery life on the Dell XPS 17 isn’t great. Dell packed in a 97 watt-hour battery inside — you can’t safely pack in a battery much larger. Still, you shouldn’t expect all-day battery life. The combination of the large, high-resolution screen, 45-watt CPU, and RTX graphics are all power-suckers, and it shows through how long the battery lasts.
In our light web browsing test, the laptop lasted just over five hours. It fared much better during video playback, where it lasted almost 10 and a half hours in while looping a 1080p movie trailer until the battery died. It’s unusual to see such a big discrepancy between these two tests, but regardless of what you’re doing, you can’t expect the XPS 17 to last a full day on a single charge.
The 1080p model without RTX graphics will likely last longer, of course. The XPS 15 will also net you a couple more hours of battery life.
The Dell XPS 17 is in a class of its own. If a large screen is all you want, the price and size of the XPS 17 might be overkill. But if you need a bigger screen and extra performance, the XPS 17 is hard to beat.
Are there any alternatives?
The closest real alternative to the Dell XPS 17 is the Razer Blade 17. These are the only two 17-inch laptops that can be configured with powerful graphics, 4K screens, and powerful 45-watt processors. The Razer Blade 17, though, is more expensive.
The LG Gram 17 or HP Envy 17 are both cheaper and more portable options, but they can’t be configured as high as the XPS 17.
Lastly, if you like the design and performance of the XPS 17, you should also consider the smaller XPS 15. It’s a bit cheaper, gets better battery life, and is easier to carry around.
How long will it last?
The Dell XPS 17 should last you four or five years, assuming you take care of it. Unfortunately, all of the components are soldered on, so updating or repairing the system yourself isn’t possible. Fortunately, Dell allows you to add tons of RAM or storage while configuring it — you’ll just have to pay for that all upfront. The XPS 17 can handle up to 64GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD.
Should you buy it?
Yes, especially if you can make use of the extra performance and brilliant screen.