A few years back, a lot of major laptop makers began quietly paring down the number of 17-inch laptops they made (aside from monstrously large gaming rigs), with Apple and Dell dropping the 17-inch MacBook Pro and XPS 17 respectively. However, thanks to improvements like smaller bezels and improved energy efficiency, thin and light laptops with plus-sized screens and big performance are making a comeback.
After Apple re-envisioned its big-format laptop as the 16-inch MacBook Pro in 2019, Dell made a similar move by bringing back the XPS 17 this year. While the circumstances are different this time around (especially considering 2020 is a tire fire of a year), the revival of Dell’s flagship 17-inch laptop couldn’t have come at a better time. Big-screen laptops are back, baby, and they’re even better than before.
For the big reintroduction of the XPS 17, Dell didn’t deviate too much from the classic XPS design. The XPS 17 has a tapered wedge-shaped body with a silver aluminium lid, a big carbon fibre deck in the middle, and another aluminium tub on bottom. Despite its overall size (14.74 x 9.76 x 0.77 inches) and weight (3 kg), the XPS 17 still manages to feel quite sleek and surprisingly portable — until you stack an XPS 15 on top and see how big the difference really is. In some ways, the size and design of the XPS 17 feels like a mirage, because when you open it up, you can’t help but appreciate how much display you get from a system that seems smaller than it is, especially when you consider the last time we saw the XPS 17 was back in 2012, when it weighed more than eight pounds instead of five.
Along its sides, the XPS 17 comes with an ample assortment of ports, including four USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 (all support charging, too), a headphone jack, and a full-size SD card reader. The only ports you might be missing are HDMI and USB-A, though Dell has that covered too with an included dongle.
Inside, Dell maximizes the XPS 17’s display (which comes in a multitude of options, from a 1900 x 1200 non-touch panel to a 4K UHD+ screen), with razor-thin bezels. Dell’s super tiny webcam and IR camera module, which sits above the screen, are exactly where you want them. The built-in IR camera offers support for Windows Hello face login, while the 720p HD webcam is meant to handle all your video-calling needs, though I must say that the XPS 17’s webcam image quality and resolution aren’t quite as high as I’d like.
Below on its deck, Dell flanks the keyboard with large stereo speakers that feature a 2.5-watt woofer and 1.5-watt tweeter on each side capable of delivering rich, room-filling sound. And as for the keyboard itself, Dell wisely hasn’t messed with the feel of the XPS 17’s keys, which are crisp and bouncy. I’m not gonna call them perfect, but the XPS 17’s keyboard is pretty much my platonic ideal of how keys on a laptop should feel. And finally, there’s that huge 6 x 3.5-inch matte touchpad, which leaves just enough room for your wrists on either side while providing accurate gesture recognition and more mousing room than most people probably need.
The one potential oddity about the XPS 17’s deck is Dell’s decision not to include a dedicated numpad like you sometimes see on 17-inch gaming systems. Some might bemoan that call, but on a well-rounded system like this, I think sacrificing the numpad for bigger speakers and an overall cleaner design was ultimately the right choice.
And then there’s that screen. Our review unit features the upgraded 4K 3840 x 2400 touchscreen, and I just can’t get enough. It puts out over 450 nits of brightness and has some of the richest and most vivid colours you can get from a laptop LCD panel today. If you’re intending to buy an XPS 17 to edit photos or videos, I would highly recommend upgrading to the 4K screen instead of the base FHD+ panel. Furthermore, with its 16:10 aspect ratio, the XPS 17 also provides a bit more vertical screen real estate, which is exactly what you want from a big all-purpose laptop.
The XPS 17 ain’t no slouch when it comes to performance, either. The base config comes with a 10th-gen Intel Core i5-10300H CPU, but our more expensive review unit came upgraded with a Core i7-10875H CPU, and it absolutely flies. In our CPU rendering test in Blender, the XPS 17 took almost four minutes less to render the same image (4:40) as MSI’s Creator 15 (8:33), despite the smaller Creator 15 having the same CPU.
And when it comes to graphics performance, it’s a similar story, with the XPS 17 (6:26) beating the MSI Creator 15 (8:36) by more than two minutes in our Blender GPU rendering test, once again with both systems featuring an RTX 2060 GPU. This kind of performance makes the XPS 17 a great choice for content creators, and while it’s not intended to be a competitive gaming machine, the XPS 17 is able to pump out more than 80 fps in Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 1080p with all the graphics bells and whistles turned on, so it’s not a bad fragging machine either. Thermal headroom also seems quite respectable, because while the XPS 17 will throttle itself a bit when maxed out, I didn’t notice any major lag or dips in performance during more normal loads.
Even the XPS 17’s battery life is pretty solid for a system this big, with it lasting just shy of 9 hours (8:58) on our video rundown test, nearly two hours longer than the MSI Creator 15 and an hour longer than HP’s ZBook Create G7.
After using the XPS 17 for several weeks, I only really have one complaint: its price. Because even though it starts at just $US1,350 ($1,795) for a 17-inch FHD+ screen, Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, and integrated graphics, when you start upgrading components, the cost balloons quite quickly. So in comparison, our review unit, which features a 4K touchscreen, Core i7 10875H CPU, 32GB of RAM, 1TB SSD, and RTX 2060 GPU, costs more than double the price at around $US2,750 ($3,657). And annoyingly, if you want to cut back on a few components like RAM or storage to save money, currently the cheapest model with an RTX 2060 card starts at $US2,450 ($3,258). Thankfully, if you’re less concerned with graphics, you can split the difference for a system with a GTX 1650 Ti GPU, which starts at around $US1,800 ($2,393), and if you’re looking for the best balance between price and performance, that’s where I’d start.
But for me the biggest takeaway about the XPS 17 is the way it fits into 2020. While a lot of people wait for the world to get back to normal, I feel like it’s also important to think about what normal even means. Right now there are millions of people who have to work or learn from home, and even when things start opening up again, a lot of people won’t be returning to the same buildings or positions they were in before. This makes it even more important to consider what you need from a personal computer.
For years, 15-inch systems have been the most popular laptop size, as they generally offered the best balance between price, power, and portability. However, if you’re the kind of person who is only going to travel with their laptop a handful of times every year (or less considering the ongoing pandemic), a bigger system like the XPS 17 suddenly becomes a very intriguing option. Not only does its bigger screen translate into more productivity (or better movie-watching) when you’re stuck at home, you also get more ports and a wider range of upgradable components.
Meanwhile, the XPS 17 doesn’t suffer from being tied to a desk or table like a normal desktop or all-in-one. And all of this comes in a package that’s not that much larger (or much more expensive) than an XPS 15. (Though you will want to make sure you have something to carry it in, because the XPS 17 definitely doesn’t fit in my normal messenger bag.) So in a strange way, 2020 was sort of the perfect time for Dell to bring back the XPS 17. You get a bigger, more powerful system from one of the best laptop lines on the market, but in a body that’s way less of a burden than its predecessors from the not-too-distant past. So even if a 17-inch laptop might not be in your immediate future, the XPS 17 has demonstrated why they’re making a comeback, and it’s done so with power and style.
- The XPS 17 has gone full USB-C for its onboard ports, but it does come with an included dongle with HDMI and USB-A.
- While the XPS 17 wasn’t designed to be a primary gaming PC, it would have been nice to see Dell offer support for an RTX 2070 (or equivalent) graphics option.
- A base XPS 17 is relatively affordable starting at between $US1,300 ($1,729) and $US1,400 ($1,862), but if you want discrete graphics, a nicer screen, or beefier components, its price can shoot up fast.
- While its tiny 720p webcam takes up almost no space, its image quality is just OK.
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