Dell XPS 15 (9520) review: Still the best, only faster
The best 15-inch laptop available is Dell’s XPS 15 (9510), according to our rankings. It provided the finest synthesis of a stunning, well-constructed small and light chassis, reliable performance, and a stunning 3.5K OLED display.
The XPS 15 was the best laptop of its size you could purchase, unless you required workstation or gaming capability. Dell has already unveiled the XPS 15 (9520), which updates to Intel’s 12th-gen processor while keeping all the fantastic features of the prior model.
I examined the XPS 15 in its intermediate version, which included the 3.5K OLED display and an Intel Core i7-12700H processor.
It costs $2,253, firmly putting it in the premium laptop category. The laptop is exactly as wonderful as before, simply quicker, I can tell after putting it through its paces.
Given the little difference in screen size, I’ll place 16-inch laptops in the same class as 15-inch laptops even if it isn’t the fastest 15-inch laptop you can purchase.
However, you get a sizable laptop with enough horsepower to satisfy all but the most discerning users and a casing that makes it seem much smaller than it is. The XPS 15 continues to reign supreme among 15-inch laptops.
Years of design tweaks have resulted in a simplified and consistent appearance for the XPS 15. My evaluation unit’s silver chassis and black carbon fibre keyboard deck are attractive without being flashy, and the angles are perfect.
Another option is a frost chassis with a stunning white woven fibre keyboard deck. In all scenarios, the keyboard deck feels cosier and warmer than bare metal.
The overall level of detail is apparent, which contributes to the laptop’s premium price.
The side edges of every model are the same: they are double-anodized and diamond-cut for aesthetic and practical reasons.
This scratch resistance keeps the metal looking beautiful even when peripherals are plugged in and out. The XPS 15 has the slimmest display bezels of any 15-inch laptop and a 92.9% screen-to-body ratio, giving it an ultra-modern appearance and a screen that seems to float in the air.
Only HP’s Spectre x360 16, which is considerably more opulent, comes close to offering such a beautiful design.
Not only is the design flawless visually. There is no bending, flexing, or twisting in the lid, keyboard deck, or chassis bottom, which speaks volumes about how well made it is.
Few other laptops can rival the XPS 15, even if Apple’s MacBook Pros, Lenovo’s ThinkPads, and HP’s Spectres are all as well-built.
Even the hinge is carefully thought out, with a dual-clutch mechanism that makes opening with one hand easy and secures the display. The overall level of detail is apparent, which contributes to the laptop’s premium price.
The XPS 15 has the smallest bezels of any laptop with a 15.6-inch 16:10 display that is currently available. The 15-inch 3:2 and wider bezels of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 make it almost as broad while making it deeper, but it isn’t quite as powerful.
The Surface Laptop 4 is slimmer and lighter than the XPS 15, measuring 0.58 inches and 3.4 pounds compared to 0.71 inches and 4.31 pounds for the XPS 15.
There are now more 16-inch laptops available with somewhat bigger screens. One such laptop is the HP Spectre x360 16, which is larger and deeper than the XPS 15 while also being thicker (0.78 inches) and heavier (4.45 pounds) than the latter.
Three Thunderbolt 4 compatible USB-C ports, a 3.5mm audio connector, and a full-size SD card reader serve as the only available connections.
The absence of legacy connectors on the device is regrettable and one of the disadvantages of having a tiny chassis, although Dell does offer a USB-C to USB-A and HDMI converter.
Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2 provide strong wireless connection.
The 12th-generation Intel Core i7-12700H, a 45-watt CPU with 14 cores (six Performance and eight Efficiency), 20 threads, and 45 watts of power, was installed in my evaluation machine.
In other laptops we’ve examined, the majority of which were bigger and/or thicker devices, it’s been a reliable performer.
With the XPS 15, Dell devoted close attention to the thermal design, using two fans, heat pipes, covert exhaust vents, and a little slope to improve airflow.
Even yet, because of how tiny it is and how little air it can move, I was interested in how well the Intel 12th-gen processor would perform.
Just a little word about performance modes. I’ve begun giving both “balanced” and “performance” mode test results due to the prominence of manufacturer tools that let the user choose between modes that modify the fans and CPU speed to operate cooler, more quietly, or quicker.
In the table’s reflection, you can see them. As you can see from the results for the XPS 15 9520, using its performance mode significantly improved its single-core performance in the majority of our testing.
Contrast that with the XPS 15 9510, which showed no appreciable performance mode change in all but one test.
Given the size of the laptop, the thermal performance of the XPS 15 was expected.
Overall, the XPS 15 9520’s 45-watt, 4-core/8-thread Core i7-11800H significantly outperformed the XPS 15 9510 in terms of performance.
In our Handbrake test, which encodes a 420MB movie as H.265, it was 29% quicker in Geekbench 5, 24% faster in performance mode, and 16% faster in Cinebench R23.
It’s interesting that it performed worse on the PCMark 10 Complete benchmark, which evaluates a range of creative, multimedia, and productivity activities.
The XPS 15 9520 lagged behind notebooks with the same CPU but bigger chassis and more reliable cooling solutions.
This was especially true when doing single-core testing and balanced mode. In Geekbench 5, Handbrake, and Cinebench multi-core tests, the XPS 15 9520 competed well with the Asus ZenBook Pro 14 Duo.
When compared to the MSI Creator Z17 and the Lenovo Legion 5i Pro gaming laptop in performance mode, the XPS 15 9520 was able to catch up in single-core performance but fell behind in multi-core.
However, the Handbrake performance mode result was competitive.
I also used the Pugetbench Premiere Pro benchmark, which utilises discrete GPUs to speed up different operations while running in a live instance of Adobe Premiere Pro.
We can’t directly compare results with the XPS 15 9520 since we utilised an earlier version with the XPS 15 9510. The XPS 15 9520 with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti scored 760 in balanced mode and 729 in performance mode in the updated edition.
That’s probably because of throttling (see below). These results contrast with the MSI Creator Z17’s 897 and 984 scores for the identical CPU and RTX 3070 Ti GPU, respectively. The XPS 15 9520’s performance is in line with expectations, despite the fact that we do not have a laptop in our Pugetbench database with the same CPU and GPU.
Given the laptop’s small design, the thermal performance of the XPS 15 9520 was expected. In our most demanding benchmarks, Handbrake, Cinebench, and Pugetbench, I saw some throttling, particularly in performance mode.
Periodically, the CPU would throttle after reaching its maximum temperature of 100 degrees Celsius, with temperatures dipping into the 70s and lower CPU rates.
Each test used the same repetitive procedure, which most likely set a performance cap. Despite this, performance mode worked well on all benchmarks but Pugetbench. Although the fans were totally spinning up in performance mode, they were amazingly quiet and inconspicuous, and neither the keyboard deck nor the chassis ever became hot.
The XPS 15 9520 didn’t provide the quickest performance I had hoped for. Instead, I purchased a laptop that, while being so little and light, is surprisingly fast. The XPS 15 9520 is pretty quick while doing creative work while being more than fast enough for the most demanding productivity users.
Anyone else will find the XPS 15 9520 to be an appealing blend of size and performance, but professional creators will want something thicker and with a better GPU.
The RTX 3050 Ti in the XPS 15 9520 consumes 45 watts of power (the chip’s maximum is 80 watts) and has a slower clock speed than the GPU in the XPS 15 9510.
Therefore, the slower GPU clock speed cancels out the faster DDR5 RAM of the XPS 15 9520. Unsurprisingly, the 3DMark Time Spy test results for the newer computer were lower than those on the older model in balanced mode and about equal in performance mode.
Surprisingly well, it performed in our benchmark titles. In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, for instance, it achieved 50 frames per second (fps), which is fairly playable and just 10 fps slower than the MSI Creator Z17 with an RTX 3070 Ti.
Additionally, it just slightly decreased from 46 fps at 1600p and extreme graphics. This benchmark was not performed on the XPS 15 9510.
More than 20 frames per second quicker than the XPS 15 9510, the XPS 15 9520 achieved 82 frames per second at 1080p with extreme graphics and 72 frames per second at 1440p and ultra graphics in Civilization VI.
Lastly, the XPS 15 9520 achieved 57 fps at 1200p with spectacular visuals in Fortnite. It achieved 46 fps at 1600p and spectacular visuals.
The XPS 15 9520 wasn’t designed to be a gaming laptop, and the RTX 3050 Ti is an entry-level GPU in and of itself.
Nevertheless, the laptop was able to playable at 1440p/1600p and run our test games at 1080p/1200p with good visuals and respectable framerates.
Display and audio
For the XPS 15 9520, Dell offers three 15.6-inch panels with the practical 16:10 aspect ratio. UHD+ (3840 x 2400) touch-enabled IPS, 3.5K (3456 x 2160) touch-enabled OLED, and Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) non-touch IPS are available options.
The latter was included in my evaluation device, and it was immediately vibrant and vivid with the characteristic deep blacks of OLED displays.
My colorimeter indicated that the OLED display was in excellent condition. The display is visible in everything except direct sunlight since it was quite bright—391 nits, considerably beyond our threshold of 300 nits.
A white backdrop and inky black letters were produced using the extreme contrast ratio. The colours were vivid and remarkably accurate, with a DeltaE of 0.42, and they covered 100% of sRGB and 96% of AdobeRGB (1.0 or less is considered excellent).
Although they offered somewhat broader AdobeRGB gamuts, the Asus Vivobook 15 OLED and ZenBook Pro 14 Duo weren’t as precise.
This is an incredibly attractive demonstration of productivity and creative work that will delight everyone.
I should point out that my SpyderX colorimeter is more recent than the SpyderX colorimeter used on the other OLED panels in our comparison group.
In comparison to earlier versions, it calculates OLED contrast differently and provides lower results. Despite the numerical discrepancy in testing methodologies, the contrast ratio is still excellent.
I checked with my vintage Spyder4 colorimeter to confirm, and it indicated a contrast ratio of 392,140:1.
The main issue with the display is that its resolution isn’t nearly 4K+, which mostly affects streaming video. On a 15.6-inch monitor, it doesn’t really matter since Netflix and other streaming programmes are quite entertaining and have excellent high dynamic range (HDR) compatibility.
This is an incredibly attractive demonstration of productivity and creative work that will delight everyone.
If you want 4K+ resolution, you may choose the high-res IPS option, which has previously been offered on XPS 15 models and has also delivered broad and accurate colour ranges, loads of brightness, and plenty of contrast (for an IPS display).
Similar to the previous generation, the XPS 15 9520 sports a quad-speaker arrangement with two speakers shooting vertically adjacent to the keyboard and two speakers firing at an angle beneath the keyboard deck.
Waves NX 3D technology is used in the audio system, and Grammy Award winner Jack Joseph Puig adjusted the speakers.
Does the sound quality truly change much as a result of all that? Absolutely. The only laptop that obviously outperforms the XPS 15 9520 in terms of audio quality is the MacBook Pro.
There is a tonne of volume, fine detail in the mids and highs, and some substantial bass. When watching a movie trailer, the broader sound stage and 3D effect are audible.
You won’t feel the need to get out a set of headphones since you’ll enjoy the audio whether you’re gaming, binge-watching Netflix, or listening to music.
touchpad, keyboard, and webcam
Although the big keyboard of the XPS 15 doesn’t have the longest travel, its keys benefit from light switches that are quick and accurate and have a rapid bottoming action.
The two together make up the greatest keyboards available for Windows laptops, along with HP’s Spectre range. The amazing Magic Keyboard on Apple’s most current MacBooks is the only one that is superior.
By Windows laptop standards, the touchpad is sizable, with a pleasant surface and quiet, reliable button clicks. Naturally, as it is a Microsoft Precision touchpad, Windows 11 multitouch motions are accurate and dependable.
The one improvement Dell could make is to switch out the mechanical touchpad with a haptic one, which would provide more customization options, features, and more constant clicking over the whole surface.
Perhaps the next generation will bring about that.
There is a non-touch panel option in addition to the touch-enabled OLED display that came with my evaluation device. During my testing, the touch screen was dependable and responsive.
Splitting the webcam and infrared camera into two halves is one of the few modifications made to the XPS 15 9520 that are not related to the processor.
The webcam’s picture quality is much better, but it still has the same 720p resolution as the previous model, which is outdated given how many laptops now come with Full HD cameras.
An infrared camera, face recognition software, and a fingerprint reader are all built right into the power button to offer Windows Hello passwordless login. Both approaches were flawless.
The XPS 15 9520 has the same 86 watt-hour battery capacity as the model from the previous generation, which powers high-end components and an OLED display with a high resolution.
I was curious to see how well the XPS 9510 performed with the same battery capacity and display as certain 15-inch laptops since some 15-inch laptops have bigger batteries.
Direct comparisons are challenging since there aren’t many Core i7-12700H laptops that are equivalent in our database currently.
However, it is clear that the XPS 15 9520 outperformed the XPS 15 9510 in terms of efficiency, notably in the PCMark 10 Applications battery test, which provides the most accurate representation of a regular workday’s battery life.
The XPS 15 9520 performed well, lasting 9.5 hours, on our web surfing test, which cycles through a number of well-known and complicated websites.
It also performed admirably, lasting 12.75 hours, in our video test, which repeats a local Full HD Avengers trailer. In our whole database, its 11.25 hours in the PCMark 10 Applications test were above average.
For a laptop with a big, power-hungry OLED display and quick components, battery life was good. If you don’t overtax the CPU and GPU, you’ll have enough work for a whole day with some extra time.
Additionally, you will get far more use out of a charge than most laptops with this level of power even if your workflow is demanding.
It’s reasonable to assume that Intel’s newest is at least somewhat more efficient given that the XPS 15 9520 only varies from the previous model in having a 12th-gen chipset.
Cost and specifications
The Core i7-12700H, 16GB of DDR5 RAM, 512GB PCIe 4 SSD, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti, and 3.5K OLED display in my evaluation setup cost $2,253 on Dell’s website. For $1,420, you can upgrade to a Core i5-12500H with a 12-core configuration (four performance and eight efficient), 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, Intel UHD graphics, and a Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) IPS non-touch display.
The XPS 15 9520 costs a whopping $3,037 when equipped with the Core i9-12900HK, 32GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD, the RTX 3050 Ti, and the OLED display. No matter what option you select, you’ll be firmly in the domain of luxury laptops.
You may mix and match using Dell’s configurator to design a machine that matches your demands and minimises the cost.
The Dell XPS 15 9520 continues where its predecessor stopped, maintaining and improving upon its greatest features.
It’s a laptop that understands precisely what it wants to be; it’s not the quickest or thinnest 15-inch laptop, but it is the greatest size and performance compromise you can find.
You’ll admire the design, the display, and the build quality. Yes, compared to some competitors, you will pay a little more money, but the investment is well worthwhile.
Dell built not just the finest 15-inch laptop but also one of the best laptops ever thanks to meticulous engineering.
Exist any substitutes?
No other laptop that offers a 45-watt CPU with a discrete GPU is as compact, thin, and light as the XPS 15 9520, as far as I’m aware.
Additionally, it seems that 16-inch laptops are now more in demand than 15-inch ones, and that 14-inch laptops are also appearing more often than 13-inch laptops recently.
Therefore, it is challenging to find a good substitute for the XPS 15 9520 in the 15-inch class.
A 16-inch laptop, like the new HP Envy 16, is a decent choice if you don’t mind increasing the screen size by 0.6 inches.
It costs a few hundred dollars less and has a similar configuration, but an IPS 120Hz display with inferior resolution.
The HP Envy 15 was one of our favourite laptops when we evaluated it a few years back, and the most recent model looks to maintain the same standards even if it isn’t as small or light.
You could take into account the Apple MacBook 16-inch if your budget permits. With its Apple M1 Pro or M1 Max, it’s exceptionally speedy and has the greatest battery life of any bigger laptop.
It’s similarly solidly constructed. The MacBook Pro 16 is a good option if Windows 11 isn’t your only operating system.
How much time will it take?
With attention to the smallest details and a solidity that few laptops can equal, the XPS 15 9520 is as well-built as a laptop can be.
It can be upgraded by the user, so you may increase the RAM up to 64GB and add a second SSD for RAID performance or more storage.
It will provide years of dependable service. Of course, we’d like to see a guarantee that lasted for more than a year, but even with expensive laptops, this is the standard.