Dell XPS 17 review: The big screen returns in a slim, stylish shell – CNET

The new Dell XPS 17 makes a big first impression, and that’s not only because it’s the first 17-inch XPS laptop in almost a decade. Compared to the last XPS 17 we reviewed long ago, or even most modern 17-inch laptops, it’s (relatively) small, with a slim, top-of-the-line design and a tiny-bezeled 4K-plus calibrated display.

Like

  • Big, bright display with well-implemented color management support
  • Fast for its components
  • Sleek design
  • Comfortable keyboard

Don’t Like

  • Would love some higher end graphics options and a better webcam

It’s one of the smallest 17-inch laptops for creative use I’ve seen — barely larger than its middle sibling, the XPS 15 9500 and only a bit more substantial than a MacBook Pro 16. And in many ways, it’s one of my favorite big boys to date. Pretty, but powerful enough for general use that I’m not yelling at it all the time, sufficiently small and light enough to make it lap friendly and with a decent balance between speed and battery life and no sacrifices on the keyboard.

dell-xps-17-9700-5

Lori Grunin/CNET

The design is essentially the same as the XPS 15, and even uses the same keyboard, but pads the sides with bigger speakers and adds an extra USB-C port; it also has beefed up cooling over the 15-inch model to accommodate the higher-powered GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q graphics processor. And while the XPS 15 is great for photo editing, the 17-inch is even better if you don’t have external monitors, thanks to the larger 17.2-inch screen. 

As much as I like it, though, my initial impression holds: I’d gladly sacrifice a little thinness for more power. To shave off the few millimeters that make it smaller than the Razer Blade Pro 17, the Gigabyte Aero 17 HDR and other models with i7-10875H processors (or the equivalent) and the 4K-ish, 100% Adobe RGB display, the XPS 17 sacrifices on the GPU front and maxes out with an RTX 2060 Max-Q. It would have been more compelling with even an RTX 2070 Super Max-Q. There will be a model coming up with the likely faster Core i9-10885H, though.

And being skinny means losing the convenience of any ports, save USB-C. The XPS 17 does have four of those, two of which are Thunderbolt 3, and Dell ships it with a dongle that adds a USB-A and HDMI connection, but I really miss having more USB-A ports; even with the dongle and a CalDigit TS3 Plus hub, I’ve still got to do some connection juggling to handle all my devices. And one of the ports is for power, so you’re down to three right out of the gate. Still, four is better than the three on the XPS 15.

dell-xps-17-9700-and-xps-15-9500-4dell-xps-17-9700-and-xps-15-9500-4

The Dell XPS 15 9500 and XPS 17 9700

Finally, when a manufacturer starts heralding all the work it put in to squeeze a webcam into a tiny bezel or how much work it took to overhaul the cooling system to support the components in the thinner design, my brain always goes to “you mean, I might have had a better webcam and higher-end graphics if you’d just left it a little thicker?” A system like this deserves better than the middling 720p webcam and barely RTX graphics.

Obviously for creators

Our “Creator Edition” test configuration does deliver a nice balance of size, power and price for basic 3D work, gaming or video editing; the RTX 2060 Max-Q holds it back in some cases, especially for working in 4K or in professional graphics applications. For photo editing, though, you can save a few hundred bucks by dropping down to the GTX 1650 Ti. 

I really don’t recommend the $1,400 entry configuration with 8GB memory and no discrete graphics. If you need to opt for a system so underpowered for budgetary reasons, then consider going even further down to something with a lesser display and less glamorous look, such as the sub-$1,000 Inspiron 17 3000. It’s not that the entry-level config is a bad value — it’s actually a pretty good price given the components — but paying that much for only 8GB and integrated graphics just feels… wrong. But it would give you something pretty to look at as it limps along.

Our exact configuration isn’t available in other regions, specifically in the UK and Australia. You can get it with 16GB memory in the UK for £2,899 or with a 2TB SSD and GTX 1650 Ti for £3,099. In Australia, there are no RTX options and instead Dell badges anything with an i7 as a Creator Edition; there, the options max out with an i7-10750H, GTX 1650 Ti, 1 TB SSD and 32GB memory for AU$5,499. 

dell-xps-17-vs-xps-15dsc06988dell-xps-17-vs-xps-15dsc06988

The size of the XPS 17 9700 (bottom) relative to the XPS 15 9500 (top).


Lori Grunin/CNET

Dell XPS 17 9700

Price as reviewed $2,999
Display size/resolution 17.3-inch 3, 3,840 x 2,400
PC CPU Intel Core i7-10875H
PC Memory 32GB 3,233MHz DDR4
Graphics 6GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q
Storage 1TB SSD, SD card slot
Ports 4 x USB-C (2 x Thunderbolt 3, 1 x PD), 1 x audio
Networking Killer AX1650s WiFi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.0
Operating system Microsoft Windows Home (2004)
Weight 5.5 lbs. (2.5 kg)

Color coding 

The 16:10 3,840×2,400 display isn’t quite as accurate as the one on the XPS 15 9500 out of the box — it’s a little bluer and less accurate — but it covers 100% of Adobe RGB and 94% P3, is sufficiently accurate for general color work (Delta E less than 3) and is still better overall than a lot of the IPS touchscreen displays. Plus, it’s brighter than the 15 at about 530 nits with higher contrast (about 1700:1), and meets DisplayHDR 400 standards, for whatever that’s worth. (We test screens using Portrait Displays’ Calman 5 Ultimate and an X-Rite i1Display Pro Plus.) 

It also supports Dell’s PremierColor color management, which means you can tweak it to a better level of accuracy. As with the XPS 15, Dell’s factory calibrated profiles actually clip the gamut boundaries to the color space; in other words, even though the display can produce colors well outside sRGB, it won’t if you’ve opted to use the sRGB color profile. That’s really helpful if you need to check out-of-gamut colors. You can create custom profiles with a calibrator using PremierColor as well, but only with the popular X-Rite i1Display Pro; it doesn’t even support the Plus yet, so I couldn’t test it. (If you want to calibrate it using your own software and a different calibrator, remember to turn PremierColor off.)

dell-xps-17-9700-dsc06971dell-xps-17-9700-dsc06971

This is a really, really big touchpad, though still a tiny bit smaller than the MacBook Pro 16’s.


Lori Grunin/CNET

As an Nvidia Max-Q Optimus-supporting system, which uses the discrete graphics for processing but doesn’t have any displays connected to it, if you want to force it to use the graphics processor all the time you’ve got to flip a switch in the BIOS. Though it’s normal to have to reboot to change it in older-generation Optimus systems — newer Advanced Optimus doesn’t require it — Dell goes the extra mile to hide it in the BIOS. Most other companies have a software or physical switch. 

Though performance isn’t always better using the discrete GPU, it can make a significant difference in gaming or professional graphics applications. And, for instance, you can’t run a monitor at more than 144Hz refresh, like the 165Hz HP Omen 27i I’m testing, unless you’re in discrete GPU mode.

dell-xps-17-vs-razer-blade-pro-17-1dell-xps-17-vs-razer-blade-pro-17-1

Is it worth giving up all that power and connectors for 8 ounces (227g) and 0.4mm? (Dell XPS 17 9700 top, Razer Blade Pro 17 bottom)


Lori Grunin/CNET

Of course, that eats up the battery, which is why many manufacturers default to Optimus, like Dell. That earns it reasonable, but not stellar, marks on battery life: It lasted a little over nine hours on our battery tests. In my everyday use (mostly just writing and heavy Google Apps), it was closer to four hours. But that’s not too bad for me.

The Razer Blade Pro 17 (review still in progress) goes the other way, shipping with the more power-hungry discrete GPU mode enabled. That can result in some misleading performance comparisons; in Optimus mode, more power is allocated to the CPU, which means it’s faster on CPU-intensive activities, such as generating thumbnails. So the performance gap between the Dell and the Razer, which use the same processor, gets narrower if you compare them that way rather than on the default settings as we do. 

Still, the Dell generally outperforms it by quite a bit on processor speed. But the XPS 15 still races past its big sister with the same CPU — not necessarily enough to outweigh the benefits of the XPS 17’s bigger screen for tasks like photo editing, but something to consider. The real appeal may be to those of us old enough to be nostalgic for the long-gone, but not forgotten, 17-inch MacBook Pro

Geekbench 5 (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Razer Blade Pro 17 (early 2020)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 5 (single-core)

Razer Blade Pro 17 (early 2020)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 5 (Vulkan)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Razer Blade Pro 17 (early 2020)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R20 CPU (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Razer Blade Pro 17 (early 2020)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Razer Blade Pro 17 (early 2020)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Shadow of the Tomb Raider gaming test

Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

Razer Blade Pro 17 (early 2020)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

3DMark Port Royal (RTX)

Razer Blade Pro 17 (early 2020)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (streaming)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System configurations

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch) Apple MacOS Catalina 10.15.1; 2.4GHz Intel Core i9-9980HK; 32GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Radeon Pro 5500M/1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 630; 2TB SSD
Dell XPS 15 9500 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-10875H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,933MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti; 512GB SSD
Dell XPS 17 9700 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (2004); 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-10875H; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,233MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q; 1TB SSD
Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 with Max-Q Design; 512GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 1.3GHz Intel Core i7-1065G7; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 4,267MHz; Intel Iris Plus Graphics and 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti with Max-Q design; 512GB SSD
Razer Blade Pro 17 (early 2020) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (1909); 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-10875H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 3,233MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q; 1TB SSD