Dell XPS 15 (9520) review: Still the best, only faster

Dell XPS 15 9520 front view showing display and keyboard deck.

Dell XPS 15 (9520)

MSRP $2,253.00

“The Dell XPS 15 is at the top of its game and remains the best 15-inch laptop you can buy.”

Pros

  • Streamlined and solid build
  • Aesthetically perfect
  • Strong productivity and creative performance
  • Above-average battery life
  • Excellent keyboard and touchpad
  • Superior OLED display
  • Outstanding audio

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Performance ceiling limited by thin chassis

We rated Dell’s XPS 15 (9510) as the best 15-inch laptop you could buy. It offered the best combination of an attractive, well-built thin and light chassis, solid performance, and a spectacular 3.5K OLED display. Unless you needed workstation or gaming performance, the XPS 15 was the of its size you could buy. Now, Dell has released the XPS 15 (9520), which retains everything great about the previous model while updating to Intel’s 12th-gen platform.

I reviewed a midrange configuration of the XPS 15 with an Intel Core i7-12700H and the 3.5K OLED display. It runs $2,253, placing it solidly in premium laptop territory. After putting the laptop through its paces, I can say that it’s just as good as before, only faster.

It’s not the fastest 15-inch laptop you can buy (and I’ll include 16-inch laptops in the same class given the small differential in screen size). However, you’re getting a large laptop with a chassis that makes it seem much smaller than it is and enough performance to please all but the most demanding users. The XPS 15 retains its place as the king of 15-inchers.

Design

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The XPS 15 benefits from years of design iterations that have culminated in a streamlined and cohesive aesthetic. The angles are just right, and the silver chassis with a black carbon fiber keyboard deck on my review unit is elegant without being ostentatious. You can also get a frost chassis with a white woven fiber keyboard deck that’s simply beautiful. In both cases, the keyboard deck is also warm and comfortable compared to bare metal.

The overall attention to detail is palpable and helps justify the laptop’s high price.

Each model has the same diamond-cut, double-anodized side edges that are attractive and functional, providing scratch resistance that helps keep the metal pristine despite plugging and unplugging peripherals. Thanks to the smallest display bezels you’ll find in a 15-inch laptop, which make up a 92.9% screen-to-body ratio, the XPS 15 looks ultra-modern with a screen that seems to float in the air. The only laptop that comes close to providing such an attractive design is HP’s Spectre x360 16, which is also more extravagant.

The design isn’t just aesthetically perfect. It’s also incredibly well-built, with no bending, flexing, or twisting in the lid, keyboard deck, or chassis bottom. Apple’s MacBooks Pros, Lenovo’s ThinkPads, and HP’s Spectres are as well-built, but few others can match the XPS 15. Even the hinge is well designed, with a dual-clutch mechanism that makes opening with one hand a breeze while holding the display firmly in place. The overall attention to detail is palpable and helps justify the laptop’s high price.

The XPS 15 is about as small as you can make a laptop with a 15.6-inch 16:10 display, thanks to the tiny bezels mentioned above. The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 comes close, being almost as wide while being deeper thanks to its taller 15-inch 3:2 and larger bezels, but it’s not nearly as powerful. The XPS 15 is thin at 0.71 inches and light at 4.31 pounds, but the Surface Laptop 4 is thinner and lighter at 0.58 inches and 3.4 pounds.

We’ve seen more 16-inch laptops arriving with displays that are just slightly larger. The HP Spectre x360 16 is one such laptop, and it’s wider and deeper than the XPS 15 while being thicker at 0.78 inches and heavier at 4.45 pounds.

Ports

Connectivity is limited to three USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 support, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a full-size SD card reader. Dell includes a USB-C to USB-A and HDMI adapter, but the lack of legacy ports on the machine is disappointing and one of the costs of such a thin chassis.

Wireless connectivity is robust with Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2.

Performance

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

My review unit was equipped with the 12th-gen Intel Core i7-12700H, a 45-watt CPU with 14 cores (six Performance and eight Efficiency) and 20 threads. It’s been a solid performer in other laptops we’ve tested, all of which have been larger and/or thicker machines. Dell paid a lot of attention to thermal design with the XPS 15, using two fans and heat pipes along with hidden exhaust vents and a slight angle to increase airflow. Still, it’s a thin laptop that can only move so much air, and I was looking forward to seeing its Intel 12th-gen performance.

A quick note about performance modes. Given the prevalence of manufacturer utilities that allow the user to choose between modes that tune the fans and CPU speed to run cooler, more quietly, or faster, I’ve started reporting both “balanced” and “performance” mode benchmark results. You’ll see them reflected in the table. As you can see from the XPS 15 9520’s scores, switching to its performance mode made a significant difference in most of our benchmarks, particularly in its single-core performance. That’s different than the XPS 15 9510, which didn’t demonstrate a meaningful difference in performance mode in all but one benchmark.

The XPS 15’s thermal performance was predictable given the laptop’s size.

Overall, the XPS 15 9520 provided a meaningful bump in performance over the XPS 15 9510 with a 45-watt, 4-core/8-thread Core i7-11800H. It was 29% faster in Geekbench 5, 24% faster in performance mode in our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video as H.265, and 16% faster in Cinebench R23. Interestingly, it was slower in the PCMark 10 Complete benchmark that tests a variety of productivity, multimedia, and creative tasks.

Compared to laptops with the same CPU but thicker chassis and more robust thermal solutions, the XPS 15 9520 was a step behind. This was particularly true in balanced mode and with single-core tests. When looking at multi-core results, the XPS 15 9520 held its own against the Asus ZenBook Pro 14 Duo in Geekbench 5, Handbrake, and Cinebench. Against the Lenovo Legion 5i Pro gaming laptop and the MSI Creator Z17 in performance mode, the XPS 15 9520 caught up in its single-core scores but couldn’t keep up in multi-core. Its Handbrake result in performance mode was competitive, however.

Geekbench
(single / multi)
Handbrake
(seconds)
Cinebench R23
(single / multi)
PCMark 10
Complete
Dell XPS 15 9520
(Core i7-12700H)
Bal: 1,470 / 9,952
Perf: 1,714 / 11,053
Bal: 100
Perf: 77
Bal: 1,509 / 11,578
Perf: 1,806 / 13,313
5,559
Dell XPS 15 9510
(Core i7-11800H)
Bal: 1,556 / 7,692
Perf: N/A
Bal: 103
Perf: 101
Bal: 1,513 / 9,979
Perf: N/A
6,024
Asus ZenBook Pro 14 Duo
(Core i7-12700H)
Bal: 1,829 / 10,819
Perf: N/A
Bal: 94
Perf: 82
Bal: 1,793 / 12,046
Perf: N/A
6,242
Lenovo Legion 5i Pro 
(Core i7-12700H)
Bal: 1,625 / 11,543
Perf: 1,712 / 12,882
Bal: 72
Perf: 63
Bal: 1,725 / 14,135
Perf: 1,805 / 18,417
7,430
MSI Creator Z17
(Core i7-12700H)
Bal: 1,744 / 11,750
Perf: 1,741 / 13,523
Bal: 88
Perf: 70
Bal: 1,805 / 11,266
Perf: 1,819 / 15,754
6,951
LG Gram 16 2-in-1
(Core i7-1260P)
Bal: 1,682 / 9,035
Perf: 1,686 / 9,479
Bal: 137
Perf: 113
Bal: 1,524 / 6,314
Perf: 1,663 / 8,396
5,404
Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED
(Ryzen 7 6800U)
Bal: 1,417 / 6,854
Perf: 1,404 / 7,223
Bal: 112
Perf:

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