|Thanks to its color-accurate display, sleek design, and solid photo editing performance, the Dell XPS 17 is one of the most popular “creator” laptops for Windows users on the market.|
Dell’s XPS laptops have become a top choice for creators over the past several years. Ever since the XPS 15 and XPS 17 moved to the new, sleeker design with a beautiful “infinity edge” display, they’ve become favorite Mac alternatives for PC users who care more about screen quality and portability than gaming performance.
The XPS 17 in particular – with its more powerful graphics options, ultra-large 16:10 display, and the (optional) power of a top-performing 11th Gen Intel Core i9-11980HK CPU – is an interesting option if you’re looking for a laptop that can do double duty as a desktop replacement.
So for the past month, I’ve done just that: when I’ve not been testing the new Apple M1 Max MacBook Pro, I’ve used the Dell XPS 17 9710 as my daily driver. And while it can’t quite match the specs of the most powerful PC laptops on the market, it offers a combination of performance and portability that’s rare for a 17-inch machine.
To Dell’s credit, they did not send me the most expensive variant of the XPS 17 for testing. For obvious reasons, most brands choose to send the spec that’s going to generate the best benchmarks, but Dell chose a variant that makes a bit more sense for the photographers and video editors in the room who aren’t trust fund kids.
There XPS 17 offers a combination of power and portability that’s rare for a 17-inch laptop.
You can spend up to $5,200 on this laptop if you max out every single option, but our variant with its Core i7-11800H, an RTX 3060, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage comes in at a much more reasonable $2,800. Below are the full specs of our machine, compared to a more powerful variant that professional creators may prefer, and the maxed-out-to-the-max version:
|As Tested||More Powerful||Maxed Out|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-11800H||Intel Core i9-11900H||Intel Core i9-11980HK|
NVIDIA RTX 3060
NVIDIA RTX 3060
NVIDIA RTX 3060
|RAM||32GB RAM||64GB RAM||64GB RAM|
|Storage||1TB M.2 PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD||2TB M.2 PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD||8TB M.2 PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD|
17-inch 4K UHD+
17-inch 4K UHD+
17-inch 4K UHD+
If I had to choose, I would probably upgrade to the “More Powerful” model above, mainly for the 64GB of RAM. It’s an option that we don’t see very often in the PC space since most $3,000+ laptops top out at 32GB of RAM out-of-the-box, opting for a more powerful GPU instead. (Side Note: the laptops I’m referring to can support up to 64GB of RAM, but we’re talking about configurations available from the manufacturer).
If you’re feeling adventurous, you could pick up the Core i9-11900H variant with only 16GB of RAM and a 512GB M.2 SSD for $2,500, and then upgrade both the RAM and storage yourself. Two DIMM slots and two PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots are easily accessible by simply unscrewing eight T5 Torx screws that hold the base cover in place.
Note, however, that the 512GB variant seems to come with a slightly different heat spreader on the M.2 slots, because the base model uses a smaller M.2 2230 drive (see Page 21 of the service manual) instead of the standard 80mm long 2280 sticks you may be used to. I spoke to Dell about this and they’re confident that you can still upgrade to a full-sized M.2 drive no problem – it’s the same motherboard, just a slightly different heat spreader with an indentation in the middle – but if you want to be safe, get the 1TB model for $150 more and you’ll get the full sized heat spreaders as seen below:
|Two RAM slots and two M.2 slots are easily accessible by removing the base cover of the laptop. My hand is covering the other M.2 slot, which is positioned above the second fan.|
Regardless of how you configure or upgrade the Dell XPS 17, you’ll get a reasonably powerful machine that can put up impressive benchmarks in photo and video editing applications. But the thing I’ve appreciated most about the XPS 17 isn’t the performance or even the upgradability, it’s the design, the build quality, and especially the display.
Let’s dive into all of the above.
Design, build and usability
In the marketing materials, Dell really leans into the idea that the XPS 17 delivers “colossal power.” But if I were on their PR team I’d encourage Dell to spend more time touting the design and less time on performance. The performance, which we’ll get into shortly, is good. Maybe even great. But the design is what makes the XPS 17 stand out from other 17-inch laptops on the market.
It starts with the build quality. Unlike all-metal laptops like the Razer Blade 17, MSI Creator 17, or Apple’s MacBook Pro 16, Dell paired an aluminum chassis and screen enclosure with a soft-touch carbon fiber on the keyboard deck. This is probably a little more prone to breakage, and it’s a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but feels downright luxurious and is far more comfortable than the competition. It’s also lighter, contributing to the laptop’s portability.
The thing I’ve appreciated most about the XPS 17 isn’t the performance or even the upgradability, it’s the design, the build quality, and especially the display.
This plastic surrounds one of the best keyboards I’ve used, right up there with the low-profile keys on the latest Macs and Razer devices, and the largest trackpad I’ve seen on a non-Apple laptop. Speaking of the trackpad, I didn’t experience any of the infamous “trackpad wobble” that apparently plagued the previous version of the XPS 17 (model 9700), although it did glitch out on me a few times when my fingers were particularly dry.
I realize that’s an odd description, but if there was very little moisture in the air and my hands became very dry, it seemed like the trackpad couldn’t register enough conductance to properly track my finger movement. Maybe this is a Windows issue, or maybe it’s the coating Dell chose for the glass trackpad, but since it only happened two or three times in as many months I wrote it off as a non-issue. Otherwise, having so much trackpad real estate was a bonus for me since I’m constantly switching between Mac and Windows.
|The XPS 17 has an excellent keyboard and a huge glass-topped trackpad, both set inside a soft-touch carbon fiber keyboard deck.|
Moving on to ports, the Dell XPS 17 comes equipped with four full-featured Thunderbolt 4 ports with Power Delivery and DisplayPort – again, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen outside of an Apple device – a 3.5mm headphone jack, and an SD card slot.
Any of the four TB4 ports can charge the device, although the relatively small 130W power brick that comes in the box struggled to keep the battery fully charged during heavy workloads. A few hours of heavy benchmarks would often leave me with 85% – 90% battery despite the computer being plugged in the entire time. I asked Dell about this and they confirmed that this is expected behavior: at full bore the power-hungry CPU and GPU by themselves pull 115W, leaving only 15W for … everything else. Most gaming laptops come with 180W or even 230W AC adapters and dedicated barrel ports for this exact reason, but Dell wanted to keep the laptop as thin, light, and portable as possible, so they opted for USB Power Delivery instead.
It shouldn’t affect performance, and the I don’t think that it slowed anything down for me, but it’s something to note if you were considering the XPS 17 for day-long rendering sessions and 3D CAD design. This isn’t the laptop for you.
Notably missing from the port selection are any USB Type-A ports or other display inputs, which means no HDMI port. Dell does ship a little USB-C dongle that gets you one USB-A 3.0 port and an HDMI 2.0 port, but it’s small and dinky and it’s already disappeared into the bowels of my desk drawer… I think.
|On the left side of the laptop you’ll find a lock port and two Thunderbolt 4 ports that can be used for data transfer, power delivery, and DisplayPort.|
|On the right side you’ll find two more full-featured Thunderbolt 4 ports, an SD card slot, and a headphone jack.|
Ultimately, I can’t fault the Dell’s design aesthetic. Especially the thinness, which was made possible at least in part by leaving bigger and bulkier ports like HDMI out of the equation.
Notably missing from the port selection are any USB Type-A ports or other display inputs, which means no HDMI port.
This is definitely the thinnest and sleekest laptop on the market that can still sport Intel’s flagship 11th Gen H-series CPU, and its sharp edges, clean-cut exterior, and nearly bezel-free display are an engineering marvel. At 17 inches on the diagonal, it’s still a large laptop, but Dell has done everything in its power to make it as portable as possible without compromising on upgradability by soldering the RAM or storage to the motherboard. As a result, the company’s engineers have just about nailed the balance between desktop replacement and portable powerhouse.
|The XPS 17 can be configured with a 4K UHD+ 16:10 display that’s big, bright, and color-accurate.|
The Dell XPS 17 can be configured with one of two displays. You can either equip it with a Full HD 1920 x 1200 screen with a max brightness of 500 nits and a guaranteed minimum 100% sRGB coverage, or you can upgrade to the 4K UHD+ 3840 x 2400 display with the same max brightness, 100% AdobeRGB minimum, and 94% DCI-P3 “typical” coverage.
In our testing, the display more than lived up to its marketing, hitting 100% AdobeRGB and overshooting the advertised DCI-P3 spec to the tune of 95.9% coverage. All of this at a maximum Delta E 2000 of just 0.75.
The display’s native white point is a tiny bit further from the daylight locus than I’d like – Delta E of 2.1 – but this is typical in my experience with Dell displays in general, they tend to skew slightly green. The measured vs display profile white point is well within spec at a Delta E of 0.05, so you know the colors are properly calibrated in reference to the display’s actual white point.
|In our testing, the Dell XPS 17’s display covers 100% of AdobeRGB and 95.9% of DCI-P3 at a Delta E of 0.75.|
For many laptops, especially 13- and 14-inch models, you can get away with a Full HD display without noticing a difference at average working distance. But on a laptop of this size, it is definitely worth the extra $200 to upgrade to the 4K display, especially given the extra color gamut and excellent color accuracy we measured in our review unit.
The display more than lived up to its marketing, hitting 100% AdobeRGB and 95.9% DCI-P3 coverage at a maximum Delta E of just 0.75.
With so many displays favoring the DCI-P3 color gamut in order to woo the video crowd, it’s nice to see Dell prioritizing AdobeRGB while still managing nearly 96% coverage of the preferred cinema color space. This is a larger native panel gamut than Apple’s MacBook Pros, and it only barely falls short of the latest 4K OLED displays that can cover 100% of both AdobeRGB and DCI-P3.
It’s still a laptop, so you can’t do a proper hardware calibration or adjust your RGB gains to dial in that white point as you would on a good-quality photo- or video-editing display, but with this kind of performance out of the box, I have no problem recommending the XPS 17 for color-critical work.
|We tested the XPS 17’s performance in Photoshop, Lightroom Classic, Premiere Pro, and Capture One to see how it fared against a couple of comparable PCs with similar specs.|
If you’ve been following high-end PC laptop reviews for any length of time, the performance of the Dell XPS 17 shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you recall, our review unit sports an 11th Gen Intel Core-i7-11800H CPU, and NVIDIA RTX 3060 GPU (70W), and 32GB of DDR4-3200 MHz RAM arranged in a dual-channel configuration. Cooling is handled by dual fans that pull in cold air from the bottom of the device, push it through a vapor chamber that encloses the CPU and GPU, and exhaust it out the back.
For our comparisons today, we’re pitting the Dell against the Intel-powered MSI Creator 17 and the AMD-powered ASUS Zephyrus G14 to get you a sense of the performance you can expect from laptops that are both above and below this price point. Full specs of our test machines below:
|Dell XPS 17||MSI Creator 17||ASUS Zephyrus G14|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-11800H||Intel Core i9-11900H||AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS|
NVIDIA RTX 3060
NVIDIA RTX 3080
NVIDIA RTX 3060
|RAM||32GB DDR4-3200MHz||32GB DDR4-3200MHz||32GB DDR4-3200MHz|
|Storage||1TB PCIe 4.0 M.2 NVMe SSD||2TB PCIe 4.0 M.2 NVMe SSD||1TB PCIe 3.0 M.2 NVMe SSD|
17-inch 4K UHD+ LCD
17-inch 4K UHD miniLED
14-inch 2K QHD LCD
Given the specs above, we expected the Dell to perform slightly worse than the MSI Creator 17 and slightly better than the ASUS Zephyrus G14. This is pretty much what we saw across the board.
Adobe Lightroom Classic
Our Lightroom Classic benchmarks are run using 100 copies of the studio scene test image from four different cameras: the 20MP Canon EOS R6, the 47MP Nikon Z7 II, the 61MP Sony a7R IV, and the 100MP Fujifilm GFX 100. First, we time how long it takes Lightroom to import and generate 1:1 previews for each batch of 100 Raw files; then we apply a custom preset that includes heavy global edits and export those same files as full-resolution JPEGs at 100% quality.
Lightroom doesn’t really take advantage of GPU acceleration for import or export, so this test gives us a good gauge of raw CPU and RAM performance, respectively.
Import performance was surprisingly strong, coming within a few seconds of the more expensive MSI Creator 17. Since this is a CPU-bound task that doesn’t really have to lean on any other hardware, it’s a good indication that the more expensive Intel Core i9-11900H inside the MSI may not be worth the extra cash over the Core i7-11800H in the Dell. It’s one test where the ASUS G14’s more efficient AMD Ryzen processor is a liability, since it can’t reach the same single-core clock speeds as the Intel chips inside the other two computers.
|Canon EOS R6 Import||Nikon Z7 II Import||Sony a7R IV Import||Fujifilm GFX 100 Import|
|Dell XPS 17||1:26||2:25||2:39||5:51|
|ASUS Zephyrus G14||1:38||2:59||3:30||7:35|
|MSI Creator 17||1:23||2:24||2:37||5:44|
Exports played out similarly, with the Dell showing strong performance across the board. All three of these machines sport 32GB of DDR4-3200MHz dual-channel RAM so the difference in performance here could be down to the actual RAM being used or some combination of CPU optimization and cooling.
The huge GFX 100 files are always a bit of a wild card in this test, and this is one test where the Dell consistently scored lower than expected during export. If this were part of a larger pattern, I’d blame that power delivery issue mentioned above, but I think this may have more to do with heat management in such a thin chassis.
Whatever the case, the Dell made a very strong showing in Lightroom, clocking in much closer to the MSI Creator 17 than the ASUS G14 in the majority of our tests.
|Canon EOS R6 Export||Nikon Z7 II Export||Sony a7R IV Export||Fuji GFX 100 Export|
|Dell XPS 17||3:42||8:03||10:19||25:45|
|ASUS Zephyrus G14||3:58||8:55||11:41||23:40|
|MSI Creator 17||3:34||7:55||10:08||22:50|
Capture One Pro
We run the same exact import and exports tests in Capture One Pro, with only one exception: since Capture One doesn’t have a 1:1 option, previews are generated at the default resolution of 2560px. Unlike Lightroom, Capture One Pro does take advantage of GPU acceleration for both import and export, so the results can be very different from Lightroom depending on the kind of discrete or iGPU being used.
Unfortunately, the tables turn against the Dell on this particular benchmark. We’re not talking about big differences here – only 10-30 seconds at the most – but the Dell falls behind the more powerful MSI and the AMD-powered ASUS once we get into a hardware accelerated app like Capture One.
The Canon import is honestly within the margin of error on these three computers, but once we get to bigger files, the MSI’s beefier RTX 3080 GPU can really flex its muscle and speed things up and the AMD-powered ASUS G14 is able to maintain a solid 10 – 20 second lead
|Canon EOS R6 Import||Nikon Z7 II Import||Sony a7R IV Import||Fuji GFX 100 Import|
|Dell XPS 17||00:43||1:08||1:29||2:03|
|ASUS Zephyrus G14||00:40||00:59||1:12||1:50|
|MSI Creator 17||00:41||00:52||00:59||1:26|
This same pattern plays out on export, where the gap between the Dell and the MSI gets larger as file sizes get bigger. The ASUS, meanwhile, very nearly matches the MSI despite its much smaller size and more efficient processor.
|Canon EOS R6 Export||Nikon Z7 II Export||Sony a7R IV Export||Fuji GFX 100 Export|
|Dell XPS 17||1:40||3:33||4:14||6:54|
|ASUS Zephyrus G14||1:35||3:12||3:50||6:53|
|MSI Creator 17||1:30||3:08||3:48||6:10|
To test Photoshop performance, we use Puget Systems’ Puget Bench benchmark. However, unlike most other reviews you’ll see online, we use an older version (v0.8) because it was the last version of this benchmark to include the PhotoMerge test. Being a photography site, testing how quickly a system can merge large multi-Raw-file panoramas seems like a relevant data point.
The benchmark runs through a full suite of tests three times in a row for every run, and we run the benchmark a minimum of three consecutive times to compute the average scores below. Each category score is assigned based on how quickly the computer can complete certain tasks, and the Overall score is computed based on the results of each individual category.
There is no maximum score (that we know of) but bigger is better, and anything over 900 is excellent for a laptop. In fact, only a couple of PCs have ever broken 1000 Overall on this test in our benchmarks so far:
|Dell XPS 17||959.9||104.7||102.4||80.0||110.4|
|ASUS Zephyrus G14||973.6||99.0||97.3||86.9||115.0|
|MSI Creator 17||1019.6||111.4||113.8||84.5||117.9|
No complaints here. Performance in Photoshop is about on par with the ASUS, trading blows across the category scores and losing the Overall score by less than 15 points.
Adobe Premiere Pro
Finally, our Premiere Pro benchmark is based on rendering and exporting a 4K project based on 8K Sony a1 source footage. This is the video in question, and we’ve been using it to test Premiere Pro since we did our Premiere vs Final Cut comparison back in June.
Again, performance here is excellent, nearly matching the more expensive and much more powerful MSI Creator 17 across the board. Despite its weaker CPU and GPU, and a much thinner and lighter frame that must be harder to cool, the Dell XPS 17 never fell more than 22 seconds behind the Creator 17.
The ASUS, meanwhile, simply can’t keep up. We intend to test this assumption further, but in this particular case, Premiere seems to favor an Intel/NVIDIA combo over the AMD/NVIDIA combo inside the ASUS G14. Hardware-wise, that’s the biggest difference between the Dell and the ASUS, which both sport the same NVIDIA GPU and the same amount of RAM.
|Render All||Export Master File||Export H.264||Export HEVC/H.265||Warp Stabilize|
|Dell XPS 17||4:01||00:08||3:56||3:52||2:48|
|ASUS Zephyrus G14||6:40||00:15||6:06||5:59||2:33|
|MSI Creator 17||3:45||00:06||3:35||3:30||2:32|
It’s really very impressive that Dell is able to get this kind of performance out of a chassis that’s this thin and light. The laptops I’ve been comparing it against are substantially thicker and use beefier AC adapters that must be plugged into dedicated barrel plugs if you want to get the full boost performance out of your hardware.
It’s really very impressive that Dell is able to get this kind of performance out of a chassis that’s this thin and light.
That’s not to say there aren’t consequences to Dell’s dogged pursuit of thinness. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another 17-inch laptop that maxes out at a 70W NVIDIA RTX 3060 GPU despite being able to house Intel’s flagship CPU and up to 64GB of RAM. I also wonder how well this chassis can cool that flagship Intel chip: the Core i9-11980HK. Chances are good that it won’t perform on a par with the same chip in a better-cooled option like the Alienware X17 or Lenovo Legion 7i, but I can only speculate since I haven’t been able to test that particular configuration.
Ultimately, the performance of the Dell XPS 17 is good, if not quite mind-blowing. It’s exactly where you’d expect it to be given the hardware inside, and the biggest compliment we can pay Dell is to say that it has managed to deliver all of that performance despite putting such a strong emphasis on keeping the laptop portable.
Trading performance for portability
|The Dell XPS 17 is solid performer with a fantastic display. It’s a great option for creative work, just as long as you don’t mind carrying around such a large laptop.|
|What We Like||What We Don’t Like|
The Dell XPS 17 is a great laptop with plenty of performance on board, solid build quality, and a design language that has made the XPS series one of the most popular options on the market. It delivers performance that can just about match the other 17-inch laptops on the market and that is frankly astonishing given how much thicker and heavier most of those computers are.
It’ll probably come as a surprise, then, when I say that the biggest thing working against the XPS 17 is its size.
Any 17-inch laptop, even the most compact and well-designed, has to aggressively justify its existence by providing substantially more… something… than the many excellent 15-inch laptops on the market. That “something” is usually performance and connectivity. Thanks to the larger chassis, most 17-inch laptops pack the most powerful CPUs and GPUs available, a ton of extra ports, better cooling solutions, and some RGB lighting to boot. The MSI Creator 17, for example, comes with an RTX 3080, two USB-A ports, an HDMI port, and 2.5 Gigabit ethernet in addition to Thunderbolt 4, USB-C and an SD card slot.
Ironically, the biggest thing working against the surprisingly portable Dell XPS 17 is its size.
Given the fact that you can configure the smaller XPS 15 with similar specs to the XPS 17, I find myself wondering if Dell has done enough to convince people to buy the bigger laptop.
My personal take is that the Dell XPS 17 makes sense if and only if you will take advantage of the bigger screen – if you intend to use it as both desktop replacement and on-location workhorse. It walks that particular line better than any other laptop I’ve tested, especially for creators who don’t want or need high-refresh rate displays or RGB lighting or any of the other stuff you’ll find on many of the other laptops in this class.
But if you primarily work from an external monitor at home or you rely on a desktop computer for the heavy-duty stuff, then take a close look at the XPS 15 and ask yourself if the slight differences in available hardware and performance are worth buying the larger laptop.