Thin, powerful and with much better thermals

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Earlier this year, Dell at Computex unveiled the new XPS 15 with Intel’s 9e generation of processors, but more importantly, it offered a 4K OLED display option. The webcam was now also in the right place, but otherwise there’s very little that shows you the difference between this year’s XPS 15 and last year’s. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they say, so Dell left the outside as it was, but did change a few things on the inside. We took the Intel Core i9-9980HK powered XPS 15 for review and we put it to work to see if it’s worth all that money.

Display: welcome to an OLED world

Every year Dell updates the XPS 15, the machine has one hero feature. Last year it was the introduction of the Intel Core i9 and this year it is the inclusion of the OLED panel. Last year’s XPS 15 we tested also had an HDR-enabled display with 4K resolution, and when we measured performance with our internal colorimeter, it didn’t disappoint.

Gaming on a 4K OLED screen is definitely a party!

The perfect blacks on the Dell XPS 15’s OLED display match the edges perfectly

This year’s OLED panel has an even higher peak brightness than last year’s, with 610 nits of brightness in the center of the display and somewhere between 660-680 nits of brightness in the corners. Using the Netflix app to watch content brought the panel into HDR mode and it’s a sight to behold. However, in normal use, the screen appears to have a red bias. This means that when the color red appears on the screen, it is oversaturated.

The Dell XPS 15 has an incredibly bright display that surpasses the 600 nit mark

0 nits, a characteristic of OLED panels

Last year we addressed this issue by using Dell’s proprietary PremiereColour app to set the display to sRGB (under normal use) and then calibrate it using our colorimeter. Unfortunately, this time the XPS15 lacks a tool that allows you to choose the right color space. This will no doubt be problematic for content creators, who don’t know what color space the screen is currently set to. Hopefully, in a future update, Dell will bring back the ability to manually set the display’s color space.

Performance: first-class

The Dell XPS 15 we tested this year is powered by a 9e generation Intel Core i9-9980HK processor. Our unit also came with 32GB of DDR4 memory, a 1TB NVMe drive, and an Nvidia GTX 1650 with 4GB of video memory. In terms of specs, this is as high as the XPS 15 goes, but powerful hardware was never the XPS’s problem. This also applies in our benchmark tests, the numbers of which are below.

Dell XPS 15 (2018 – i9 7590) vs Dell XPS 15 (2019 – i9 9570)

3DMark Firestrike Result for Dell XPS 15 2019 vs XPS 15 2018

Gaming on the new XPS 15

Unsurprisingly, the benchmark numbers for this year’s XPS 15 are higher than its predecessor. The new i9-9980HK and the GTX 1650 deliver better performance for both CPU and GPU metrics, as we see from the benchmark numbers above. But the real area where the new XPS 15 excels is in real world performance.

We put the Dell XPS through our Lightroom Render test, where we saw last year’s Core i9-8950 throttle a little too much, a little too fast. We even saw the chip drop below its stock clock at times, which was quite worrying. This year, Dell told us that one of the biggest changes to the new XPS 15 was the thermal design, which was to include the new Core i9 chip and the GTX 1650 GPU. When exporting 500 RAW files to JPG with Adobe Lightroom, we notice that the new Core i9-9980HK manages to hit the boost clock of 5GHz for a few seconds, but then starts to slow down. However, it never goes below 2.8GHz at any point. We also energized the CPU at -125mV and retested it with Lightroom and found that this resulted in lower thermals, leading to better sustained higher clock speeds. We don’t recommend tweaking with voltages being pushed to your CPU unless you’re very sure of what you’re doing.

Render times in Lightroom

Render times for fractals with Apophysis

When you think about gaming, the Dell XPS 15 isn’t going to give you the highest refresh rate display or the most powerful mobile GPU on the market. The Nvidia GTX 1650 is a decent GPU, but it’s not exactly the kind that will aim for stellar frame rates. In fact, the 4K OLED and GPU feel a bit mismatched (when considering gaming) because the GTX 1650 just can’t push most modern gaming titles to playable frame rates at 4K. Set the resolution to 1080p and you should be able to run Doom at 60 fps and Metro: Exodus at 31 fps, when both games are set to the highest graphics settings.

Finally, let’s talk about video editing. Last year we saw the XPS 15 take on the task with ease, and this year it just gets better. We loaded our test project, consisting of 4K images captured with a RED camera. When loaded in a proper timeline, scrubbing through the project will run smoothly as long as the quality is set to 1/2. Exporting the project takes different amounts of time depending on whether you’re using the CPU or GPU acceleration, but either way, after underloading the CPU, there’s again a notable improvement in sustained performance.

Keyboard, trackpad and I/O

Surprisingly, Dell has left the keyboard, trackpad and I/O almost identical to last year’s model, but we’re not complaining, at least not about anything new. The keyboard still offers 2-stage white backlighting which, when set to its brightest, provides a very comfortable view of the keys. The typing experience is top notch, given the decent size of the keys and spacing. Dell continues to use a precision touchpad on the XPS 15, which is quite roomy, feels great and is extremely responsive. When it comes to I/O, the XPS 15 offers an HDMI 2.0 port on the left, along with a Thunderbolt 3.0 port and a standard USB 3.0 port. On the other side, there is another USB 3.0 port along with an SD card reader. The 4-LED battery indicator is still there, much to our relief. A visual indication of the remaining battery charge is great for those on the go.

The carbon fiber woven keyboard island remains the same as previous years, as does the reliable typing experience

What we’re still unhappy about is that Dell is using a regular pin-type charger for the XPS 15, rather than switching to a Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 based charging system. This would have meant an extra usable port and a more universal charging method, which would have been especially helpful for travelers.

The Dell XPS 15 offers a very generous I/O selection, including a Thunderbolt 3.0 port

battery life

The Dell XPS 15 is a very powerful laptop with components that definitely consume a lot of energy. We still have a 96 Wh battery, which is close to the 100 Wh limit for airlines. We ran the XPS 15 on battery life for a few days and walked away impressed. With the OLED panel set to 4K resolution and usually between 50-75 percent battery, the laptop lasted just under 5 hours. Uses included more than 25 tabs open in Firefox, typing multiple stories, including this review, and light photo editing in both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

With light to moderate use one should be able to squeeze closer to 6, maybe 6.5 hours of juice from this machine, but it is unlikely to last longer. Regardless, for a laptop with a 4K OLED display and a dedicated GPU, the battery life is still commendable.

bottom line

The Dell XPS 15 (7590) remains physically unchanged from the 2018 XPS 15. The only thing that has literally changed is the placement of the webcam, but otherwise the physical dimensions and even the placement of the ports remain the same. We don’t mind. What has improved significantly is the thermal performance, giving the Intel Core i9 powered machine a little more muscle before reaching thermal throttling. Undervolt the CPU and you’ll get even more sustained performance, albeit at the expense of turbo speeds, but that’s okay. The new XPS 15 manages to be a great computer for travelers thanks to its slim form factor, for business people thanks to its good looks and even content creators thanks to the powerful hardware inside.

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