Earlier this year at Computex, Dell unveiled the new XPS 15 with Intel’s 9th generation processors, but more importantly, it offered a 4K OLED display option. The webcam too was now in its proper place but other than this, there’s very little that lets you tell 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 outsides just as is, but did change a few things on the inside. We have the Intel Core i9-9980HK powered XPS 15 in for review and we put it through the works to see if it’s worth all that money.
Every year that Dell refreshes the XPS 15, there’s one hero feature to the machine. Last year, it was the introduction of the Intel Core i9 and this year, it’s the inclusion of the OLED panel. Last year’s XPS 15 that we reviewed also had an HDR-enabled display with 4K resolution and when we measured its performance using our in-house colourimeter, it did not disappoint.
This year’s OLED panel has an even higher peak brightness than last year’s, clocking 610 nits of brightness in the centre of the screen, and anywhere between 660-680 nits of brightness in the corners.
Using the Netflix app to watch content did kick the panel into HDR mode and it is quite a sight to behold. In normal usage though, the display seems to have a red-bias. What this means is that whenever the colour red is on the screen, it is oversaturated.
Last year we dealt with this problem by using Dell’s own PremiereColour app to set the display to sRGB (during normal use) and then calibrating it using our colourimeter. Sadly, this time around the XPS15 lacks a tool that lets you choose the right colour-space.
This is bound to be problematic for content creators, not knowing what colour space the display is currently set at. Hopefully, in a future update, Dell might bring back the option to adjust the display’s colour space manually.
The Dell XPS 15 we evaluated this year is powered by a 9th generation Intel Core i9-9980HK CPU. In addition, our machine had 32GB of DDR4 memory, a 1TB NVMe disc, and an Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card with 4GB of video RAM.
In terms of specs, this is the highest the XPS 15 can go, although powerful hardware has never been an issue for the XPS line of computers. This holds true in our benchmark testing as well, the results of which can be found in the table below.
Contrary to expectations, the benchmark results for this year’s XPS 15 are greater than those for its predecessor.
As we can see from the benchmark results above, the new Intel Core i9-9980HK processor and NVIDIA GTX 1650 graphics card provide improved performance for both CPU and GPU metrics. The key area in which the new XPS 15 excels, however, is in terms of overall performance.
Last year’s Core i9-8950 throttled a little too fast and too soon in our Lightroom Render test, so we decided to run the Dell XPS through the same test this time around. We saw that the chip’s clock rate occasionally dropped below its nominal value, which was a cause for worry.
Dell informed us this year that one of the most significant modifications to the new XPS 15 was the thermal design, which had to accommodate the new Core i9 processor and the GTX 1650 graphics card.
While converting 500 RAW images into JPGs in Adobe Lightroom, we noticed that the new Core i9-9980HK was able to maintain its maximum boost clock of 5GHz for a few seconds before being forced to throttle down to 3.5GHz.
However, it never goes below 2.8GHz at any moment throughout operation. Using Lightroom, we also undervolted the CPU by -125mV and discovered that this resulted in fewer thermals, which resulted in better maintained higher clock rates over the long-term.
We do not advocate tinkering with the voltages that are being sent to your CPU unless you are very confident in what you are doing.
If you’re thinking about gaming, the Dell XPS 15 won’t provide you with the fastest display refresh rates or the most powerful mobile GPU currently available on the market. The Nvidia GTX 1650 is a respectable graphics card, but it isn’t exactly the type of GPU that will strive for very high frame rates.
In fact, when it comes to gaming, the 4K OLED and the GTX 1650 appear to be a touch out of sync, because the GTX 1650 just cannot drive most recent gaming games to playable frame rates at 4K resolution.
You’ll be able to play Doom at 60 frames per second and Metro: Exodus at 31 frames per second if you set the resolution to 1080p and the graphical settings to their highest possible levels.
Last but not least, let us talk about video editing. This time last year, we witnessed the XPS 15 do the work with ease, and things are only going to get better this year. It was time to load up our test project, which consisted of 4K footage captured using a RED camera.
Scrubbing through the project is easy as long as the quality is set to half when the project is properly imported into a timeline. Exporting the project takes a different length of time depending on whether you use CPU or GPU acceleration, but in any case, undervolting the CPU results in a significant boost in sustained performance once more.
Dell has surprised us by keeping the keyboard, trackpad, and I/O nearly identical to last year’s model, but we aren’t complaining because there isn’t much new. When set to its brightest setting, the keyboard’s 2-stage white illumination provides a very pleasant view of the keyboard’s keys.
Because of the generous size of the keycaps and the spacing between them, the typing experience is excellent. With the XPS 15, Dell continues to use a precision touchpad that is fairly generously sized, feels fantastic to the touch, and is extremely responsive.
When it comes to connectivity, the XPS 15 has an HDMI 2.0 port on the left side of the laptop, as well as a Thunderbolt 3.0 port and a standard USB 3.0 port on the right side.
An SD Card reader and another USB 3.0 connector are located on the other side of the device. We are relieved to see that the 4-LED battery indication is still functional. For people who are always on the move, having a visible indicator of remaining battery life is quite useful.
What we are still dissatisfied with is Dell’s decision to use a traditional pin-type charger for the XPS 15, rather than converting to a Type-C or Thunderbolt 3-based charging method for the laptop. An additional useful port and a more universal charging technique would have resulted, which would have been particularly beneficial for travellers.
The Dell XPS 15 has a fairly extensive range of I/O ports, including a Thunderbolt 3.0 connector, which is really convenient
With components that are obviously power demanding, the Dell XPS 15 is a really powerful laptop with a lot of features. A 96Whr battery is still in our possession; nevertheless, it is dangerously near to the 100Whr restriction for carrying on flights.
We tested the XPS 15’s battery life for a few days and were really pleased with the results. Even with the OLED display set to 4K resolution and the battery typically between 50 and 75 percent charged, the laptop lasted only a few minutes short of 5 hours.
There were over 25 tabs open in Firefox during the time I was working on numerous topics, including this review, and I did some light picture editing in both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop during that time.
When used lightly to moderately, this machine should be able to provide closer to 6 or 6.5 hours of battery life, but it is unlikely to survive for much longer in that capacity. Whatever the case, the battery life is still impressive for a laptop equipped with an ultra-high-definition OLED display and a dedicated GPU.
There are no physical changes between the Dell XPS 15 (7590) and the XPS 15 from last year. The positioning of the camera is the only item that has changed, and everything else, including the physical dimensions and even the port placement, has remained the same as before. We don’t have a problem with it.
However, the thermal performance has been greatly enhanced. This enables the Intel Core i9-powered computer to run with a bit more muscle before succumbing to thermal throttling. Even more sustained performance may be obtained by undervolting the CPU, but at the expense of the turbo speeds, which is to be expected.
It manages to be a computer that is fantastic for travellers because to its tiny form factor, for business people thanks to its professional appearance, and even for content producers thanks to the strong technology on the inside of the new XPS 15.