Technology

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review: Meet the child of Intel and AMDs unholy union

  • The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1. It's pretty thin for a 2-in-1. Samuel Axon
  • The side of the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 with the lid open. Samuel Axon
  • The laptop from behind. Samuel Axon
  • The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 with the lid closed. Samuel Axon
  • The bottom of the machine, with a large fan vent. Samuel Axon
  • The back with the lid closed. This is the laptop's thickest point. Samuel Axon
  • One side, so you can see the tapered design. Samuel Axon
  • This is the other side. Samuel Axon
  • The left side has two Thunderbolt 3 ports with four PCIe lanes. Samuel Axon
  • The other side just has USB-C. Samuel Axon
  • It's difficult to determine thickness from a photo with the device on its own, so here's a 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar stacked on top of the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1. Samuel Axon
  • This is another angle on the two machines for comparison. Samuel Axon

This new Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is the first convertible in the XPS 15 line, but thats not the most interesting thing about it.

Since 2010, Dells XPS 15 has been a reliable, 15-inch performance workhorse and a light gaming option for users who arent impressed by the over-the-top designs of dedicated gaming laptops. Last years model, for example, impressed with strong performance from the discrete GeForce GTX 1050 GPU. But discrete GPUs have many downsides. They take up space, use lots of energy, and generate a lot of heat, which impacts both portability and battery life.

Intel has tried to provide an alternative with its integrated GPUs. For most use cases, theyve been a runaway success. But gamers, certain creative professionals, and others who need strong video performance are often still willing to go with the discrete GPU.

And thats where we get to whats most interesting about the product were reviewing today: Kaby Lake-G, which combines an Intel CPU with an AMD graphics chip in an unlikely collaboration. Its still essentially a discrete GPU, but lumping those parts together this way has advantages.

Kaby Lake-G promises graphics performance on par with that of mid-range or better discrete GPUs while using significantly less space and generating less heat. Plus, its just interesting to see AMD and Intel producing a product like this together. And since many aspects of this machine are identical to the standard Dell XPS 15 laptop, our testing largely focused on Kaby Lake-G (as well as the new, slightly slimmer, 2-in-1 form factor).

Specifications

As with other Dell laptops, there are numerous possible configurations for this XPS 15. Well start with the specific configuration were reviewing, then go over the other options.

Specs at a glance: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 laptop
Worst Best As reviewed
Screen 15.6-inch FHD (1920×1080) InfinityEdge touchscreen 15.6-inch 4K UHD (3840×2160) Infinity Edge touchscreen 15.6-inch 4K UHD (3840×2160) Infinity Edge touchscreen
OS Windows 10 Home, 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i5-8305G Intel Core i7-8705G Intel Core i7-8705G
RAM 8GB DDR4-2400MHz 8GB DDR4-2400MHz 16GB DDR4-2400MHz
HDD 128GB M.2 2280 SATA SSD 256GB M.2 2280 SATA SSD 256GB M.2 2280 SATA SSD
GPU Radeon RX Vega M GL 4GB HMB2 and Intel UHD 630
Networking Killer 1435 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Ports Two Thunderbolt 3 with PowerShare, DC-In & DisplayPort (four lanes of PCI Express Gen 3);
Two USB-C 3.1 with PowerShare, DC-In & DisplayPort;
3.5mm headphone jack
Size 113.9×9.2×0.63 in (354×235×16mm)
Weight 4.36 pounds
Battery 6-cell 75WHr
Warranty 1 year
Price $1,299 $2,199 $2,199
Other perks IR front-facing camera, fingerprint sensor on power button, four mics, stylus pen (included in box)

The CPU and GPU

Lets start with that Kaby Lake-G processor. The top configuration of this Dell laptop ships with the 14nm Intel Core i7-8705G, a quad-core, eight-thread processor derived from the Kaby Lake architecture. Critical specs include a 65W TDP and an 8MB L3 cache. Cores operate at a base frequency of 3.1Ghz (4.1Ghz max). The same chip can be found in the Kaby Lake-G version of the HP Spectre x360 15, a direct competitor.

Thats all well and good, but the differentiator is graphics. Like similar Intel chips, it has an integrated GPU—the Intel UHD Graphics 630, to be specific. But this is positioned as a “hybrid” chip, which means that it also comes with a Radeon RX Vega M GL GPU right there next to it, with 4GB HBM video memory to boot.

The AMD GPU has a base frequency of 931MHz and a maximum dynamic frequency of 1011MHz. Were also looking at 20 compute units and a memory bandwidth of 179.2GB/s. Both GPUs are always active, so its not exactly a standard switching situation, but each is used for different kinds of tasks in some situations. Software that's pre-installed on the machine lets you define which apps use which GPU at any given time.

This is a fascinating experiment, and well get into exactly what works—and doesnt work—about it shortly. First, though: the other key specs.

Everything else

Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

Starts at: $1,299.99 at Dell

Ars Technica may earn a commission on this sale.

Buy

Thanks to that new chip, the 2-in-1 is a little slimmer and lighter than what weve seen on previous XPS 15 models. Our unit measures at 13.9×9.2×0.63 inches (354×235×16mm). Weight for the top spec starts at 4.36 pounds. In other words, its a little smaller in some places, but its in the same general ballpark as its sibling.

This machine ships with either a 1080p (1920×1080) or a 4K (3840×2160) display, both 15.6 inches and touch-sensitive. Its not significantly different from what weve seen in other XPS 15 machines, but its still one of the best displays available on a mainstream laptop.

Color accuracy is good with 100-percent Adobe RGB, but its no match for the MacBook Pro in that regard. Only creative professionals in certain fields like video and photo editing would notice the difference, for the most part. On the other hand, the contrast ratio is 1500:1, which beats out most competitors. Its no OLED TV, of course, but its hard not to be impressed in the context of other laptops.

Dell promises 400 nits of maximum brightness, and our tests found that to be accurate. Situated below the display is a 720p webcam, which is also Windows Hello-compliant with infrared. There are four built-in microphones, and Dell claims that you can speak to the device from up to 14 feet away.

Our review unit included 16GB of DDR4-2400MHz RAM, 256GB of storage in the form of a M.2 2280 PCIe SSD, stereo speakers, a Killer 1435 802.11ac 2×2 network adapter for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and a 75WHr battery.

Ports include two Thunderbolt 3 ports with four lanes of PCI Express Gen 3 as well as DisplayPort, DC-In, and Powershare, plus two USB-C 3.1 ports. Theres also a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microSD card reader, and a Noble lock slot.

Yes, thats right, theres no USB Type A port to be found. Its looking like we need to get used to that in these sorts of laptops, but that would be a lot easier if peripheral companies would actually make peripherals that use USB-C. There still arent enough out there, so dongles, hubs, or adapters are going to be part of your day to day with this machine.

Other available configurations

All default configurations ship with Windows 10 Home 64-bit. The machine starts at $1,299.99. For that, you get the Intel Core i5 i5-8305G with a 6M cache instead of the faster i7-8705G with 8M cache found in our test unit, just 8GB of RAM instead of 16GB, and a 128GB SSD instead of 256GB. It also ships with the 1080p display instead of 4K.

Going up $200 to $1,499.99 takes you up to 256 GB of flash storage, but the other specs remain the same. Add another $200 to reach $1,699.99 and you get the i7-8705G, but youre still at FullHD and 8GB of RAM.

The top-end configuration is our test unit at $2,199.99, with all of the above but with the 4K panel and 16GB of RAM. The top-end configuration can also ship in black as well as silver, while all the other configurations just ship in silver.

Listing image by Samuel Axon

Original Article

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