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My experience with the Dell XPS 15 in 2023

My take on the design, performance, thermals, usability, and value of the Dell XPS 15 (2023).
Freud Menzel



November 14, 2023


I’ve been working (and gaming) on the Dell XPS 15 for a while now (the 2023 version). It has a sleek design and the performance is pretty good. Below I’ll go further in-depth and share some of my impressions.



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Design and Aesthetics: Stagnation or Timelessness

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In the realm of tech, where rapid evolution is the norm, it’s refreshing to encounter the Dell XPS 15—a device that has confidently eschewed the incessant design churn in favor of a timeless aesthetic. I’ve watched this space for years, and when critiquing the visual progression (or lack thereof) of laptops, I take a philosophical approach: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The XPS 15 embodies this ethos to a T.

One might argue that the XPS 15 has remained visually unchanged since 2020, making it ripe for a design refresh. Yet, I think there’s a distinct charm to its consistency. The sleek aluminum chassis, paired with the black carbon fiber palm rest, provides a professional and high-end feel that few competitors have matched. The nearly borderless InfinityEdge display, a defining feature of the XPS line, still manages to captivate, fostering an immersive experience that rivals cinemas. It’s a testament to Dell’s design philosophy—a focus on minimalism and understated elegance.

The enduring design of the XPS 15 also signals a commitment to quality materials. The use of aluminum not only gives it a sturdy feel but also lends itself to better heat dissipation, a non-trivial concern when packing powerful internals into slim profiles. Moreover, the choice of carbon fiber for the palm rest is not only aesthetically pleasing but practically genius, as it remains cool to the touch and provides a comfortable typing experience for extended periods.

When considering the aesthetic appeal of OLED, the XPS 15’s display is nothing short of stunning. The deep blacks and vibrant colors make visual work a pleasure, whether it’s photo editing or enjoying 4K content. As someone who values display quality immensely, I’m elated that Dell offers this level of visual fidelity.

Given the market’s shift toward larger screens, Dell’s insistence on a 15-inch form factor is equally commendable. It’s a sweet spot of portability and screen real estate, striking a balance most users will appreciate. The added benefit of an optional OLED screen elevates the appeal for creative professionals and discerning media consumers who desire nothing less than the crispest visuals.

Moreover, the decision to maintain the form factor ensures a level of accessory compatibility and familiarity that users transitioning from older models will appreciate. There’s comfort in knowing that your trusted, battle-tested Dell docking station or sleeve will still serve your new machine well.

From a practical standpoint, the keyboard and touchpad continue to deliver a satisfying, no-nonsense typing and navigation experience. The large touchpad effectively uses the generous space allotted by the wide chassis, and the tactile feedback of the keys makes for a keyboard that rivals the best in the business—comfortable for long coding sessions and responsive enough for rapid-fire emails.

In the tech community, a thoughtful build that lasts is frequently worth more than a cosmetic upgrade. The XPS 15 stands as a paragon of this ideology, and I share the sentiment. It’s a gadget that matures with its audience rather than pandering with novelty—a machine where design meets longevity.

So, in a sea of manufacturers scrambling to appear fresh with each annual release, the Dell XPS 15 (2023) stands as a bastion of stability. It reminds us of an important truth: sometimes, the best way forward is standing still, especially when you’re already at the forefront.

Performance and Power: Beyond the Specs

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In my hands-on experience with the Dell XPS 15 (2023), performance and power transcend mere technical specifications; it’s about the tangible, day-to-day experience that embeds itself into your workflow. Under the hood, the XPS 15 boasts configurations with Intel’s 13th-gen CPUs and Nvidia’s RTX 40-series GPUs, a promise of power that, on paper, could make any tech enthusiast’s heart beat faster. As someone who juggles between photo editing, video production, and software development, the leap in efficiency from previous generations is palpable.

The XPS 15 isn’t just about the Intel Core i7-13700H or the RTX 4070 flexing their muscles on demanding tasks; it’s the seamless way in which they integrate with the creative process. I’ve pushed this machine through hours of Adobe Premiere edits, Lightroom catalogs, and Visual Studio code compilations, and it’s consistently shown me that it’s not just a workhorse – it’s a partner in creation. The synergy between hardware and the Windows 11 operating system means less time staring at loading screens and more time bringing ideas to life.

When I first heard about the inclusion of DDR5 memory options up to 64GB, I knew Dell was gearing this up to be a creator’s dream. The impact is not a mere incremental tick; it’s the satisfaction of multiple Chrome tabs, design tools, and debugging sessions running concurrently without the slightest hiccup.

One thing I find particularly impressive is the OLED display option. When diving into color grading or simply enjoying some media to unwind, the display’s vivid colors and deep contrasts are a visual treat. The narrow bezels and immersive screen experience make it hard to revert to a laptop with more traditional, thicker framing.

The laptop’s 86Whr battery and Intel’s latest CPUs strike an impressive balance, offering endurance without severely compromising the device’s slim form factor. I consistently find myself surprised at how such a powerful setup can pull off a full workday on a single charge, provided tasks aren’t too strenuous. Moreover, the presence of Thunderbolt 4 ports opens up an ecosystem of connectivity options, including high-speed external storage and even eGPUs for an added performance boost when docked at a workstation.

Undoubtedly, the XPS 15 isn’t void of its quirks, such as the 720p webcam lagging behind the current 1080p standard. However, with an external webcam, this becomes a non-issue for most desk setups. I also appreciate the inclusion of a full-size SD card reader, which is a godsend for photographers and videographers who have had to grapple with the ever-present dongle life.

The Dell XPS 15 (2023) encapsulates more than its specifications. It embodies a thoughtful assembly of features that cater to professionals craving efficient performance wrapped in elegant portability. It’s the little details — the balance of power consumption with productivity, the careful placement of ports for an optimal workstation setup, and the stunning OLED panel — that affirm my belief in the XPS 15 being an outstanding companion in my daily computing endeavors.

Thermal Management: Challenges and Solutions

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Thermal management in a high-performance laptop like the Dell XPS 15 has always been a topic that piques my interest. The intricate dance of keeping powerful CPUs and GPUs cool in a slim form factor is nothing short of engineering marvel. My recent foray into the 2023 model of XPS 15 has once again brought these considerations to the forefront.

From my experience, Dell seems to have made some strides in this area. Though it’s common knowledge that these sleek machines lean towards the hotter side under load, the situation isn’t as dire as it sounds. Let’s talk about the solutions that I’ve discovered — which I must say, have transformed my user experience.

Firstly, the cooling system design inherently tries to balance acoustics with cooling efficiency, which can lead to throttling under heavy loads such as video editing or gaming. Creative users looking for a workaround can resort to something I stumbled upon — a brilliant utility DellFanManagement over on GitHub. This ingenious app allows for manual control of the cooling fans, overriding the default BIOS settings to keep the thermals significantly lower, hence boosting performance without the usual thermal throttling.

It’s important to approach these third-party solutions with caution, though, as overclocking and overrunning fans can affect the system’s longevity. However, when used wisely, these tweaks can be a game-changer. Of course, you’ll want to combine this with good computing hygiene — keeping vents clear, using the laptop on a hard surface, and considering a quality cooling pad for those truly intense sessions.

With the fans running at full tilt (be warned, it’s going to be louder), I’ve been able to maintain temperatures between 55c to 65c on average, peaking at around 75c only when really pushing the limits. The compromise in noise is worth it for the performance gains, especially for a slim chassis packing this much power.

On top of hardware tweaks, I’ve found the software management aspect fascinating as well. While Windows offers power plans that can significantly impact performance and heat generation, using the “Ultimate Power Plan” has given me the best results without compromising on the workload.

The thermal paste application — a less talked about but vital aspect of thermal management — is another area where you can coax better thermal performance out of your XPS 15. A reapplication with high-quality thermal paste can be the difference between a system choking under pressure and one breezing through tasks. It’s a bit technical and might void warranties, so this is a move for the brave and the experienced.

What I appreciate about this laptop is its potential for optimization. It’s not just a product; it’s a project, open to tinkering and personalization that emphasizes the user’s understanding and technical prowess. Sure, it would be great if these machines came optimally configured out of the box, but there’s something rewarding about tailoring a system to your specific needs.

In essence, the thermal performance of the Dell XPS 15 (2023) requires a proactive approach for users who push their systems hard. It can handle the heat with a little help from its friends — us, the users, equipped with cooling pads, smart software profiles, and an adventurous spirit. It’s a joy to see this machine’s potential unlocked, and when you flick on that self-optimized fan speed, it feels like setting the sails on a ship; you’re ready to conquer whatever digital seas lie ahead.

Usability in Everyday Tasks: Compromises and Workarounds

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In my day-to-day use of the Dell XPS 15 (2023), I’ve found that the intersection of performance and usability largely defines my experience. While I dive deep into resource-intensive tasks like video editing and 3D modeling, which could greatly benefit from insights in the article Building your own deep learning machine in 2023: some reflections, most of my computer time is actually spent in more mundane activities: browsing, writing, and multimedia consumption.

I appreciate the fact that the XPS 15 blends into these roles almost seamlessly. There’s a sense of satisfaction in knowing that your workhorse can shift gears without a hiccup. In terms of productivity, the spacious and responsive touchpad along with the comfortable keyboard have made long writing sessions much less tiresome. I’ll admit, the carbon fiber palm rest isn’t just aesthetically pleasing—it’s also comfortable for extended use.

For the occasions when I indulge in entertainment, the OLED display with vivid colors and deep blacks is a visual treat. Coupled with the quad-speaker design delivering crisp and clear sound, streaming Netflix feels more like an experience than a pastime. This is one area where the XPS 15 truly shines, making any compromise seem trivial in the face of such immersive media.

Another aspect is the Wi-Fi 6 support. It’s made apparent not by what it does, but by what it could’ve done had it supported the newer Wi-Fi 6E. Yet, in real-world usage, I’ve rarely felt crippled by connectivity speeds, especially when the majority of routers and public networks are still catching up to these advances.

I do want to note that, despite some criticism regarding thermal management, I’ve personally managed to sidestep significant trouble through a mix of proactive measures. I’m talking about undervolting, using laptop cooling pads, and tweaking power settings. There’s a blend of satisfaction and empowerment in finetuning your machine to hit that sweet spot of performance and longevity.

And indeed, I’ll give credit to the ingenious community that provides tools and advice to tackle such nuances—like the fan control app that’s facilitated managing the thermals on my XPS 15, which you can find on GitHub. It’s worth highlighting that these third-party solutions often derive from individuals who are passionate about optimizing their hardware.

From a hardware durability standpoint, I admire how well the machine holds up. Whether it’s the rigid aluminum chassis or the Gorilla Glass protected display, the XPS 15 feels ready to take on the commutes, the coffee shop visits, and the occasional accidents that are part of every laptop’s life.

Lastly, I appreciate the full-sized SD card reader—a port that has disappeared from many laptops but remains essential for photographers like myself. It’s small details like this that remind me that the XPS 15 isn’t just about raw power, but also about understanding and catering to the multifaceted needs of professionals.

In sum, the Dell XPS 15 remains a substantial partner for those whose computer needs span across a spectrum of tasks. It carries the promise of performance and indulges in the luxury of a premium user experience, all while providing room for the user to apply personal tweaks and improvements. It’s not a device without its flaws, but an effective tool that responds well to a user willing to make the most out of it.

Value and Verdict: Is the XPS 15 Worth Your Money

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Navigating through the multitude of laptops on the market, the Dell XPS 15 stands out to me as a significant contender for those who seek a powerful yet portable machine. In my personal experience, from the moment I laid eyes on it, there was a sense of finesse and quality that wasn’t lost on me, despite its familiar design.

The latest iteration, which I’ve been using, builds upon its predecessors’ strengths, offering modest updates in performance while maintaining the sleek form factor. As a professional often on the move, I appreciate the subtle balance of power and portability the XPS 15 offers. The inclusion of Intel’s 13th-generation CPUs and Nvidia’s latest RTX 40-series graphics cards means I can tackle video editing tasks without feeling like I’m chained to a clunky desktop.

Having a machine that is light to carry around, yet capable of handling my creative workload, was a non-negotiable for me. I can attest to the 3.5K OLED display being every bit as good as Dell claims, balancing color accuracy with an immersive experience that’s easy on the eyes during those long editing sessions.

I must point out that storage options on the XPS 15 are generous. I opted for the 1TB SSD which provided ample space for my projects, and I also appreciate the expandability that Dell considers for its users. The presence of DDR5 memory is a boon too, allowing the laptop to breeze through multitasking with no signs of slowing down.

Sure, there’s the lingering concern of the 720p webcam, which feels a bit behind the times, and the Wi-Fi 6 – not 6E. But when I reflect on how often I actually use the webcam for critical work or find Wi-Fi 6 lacking in speed, these seem like minor niggles against the larger backdrop of performance gains.

Battery life, all things considered, was another point of triumph. This laptop doesn’t just promise endurance; it delivers it, giving me hours of uninterrupted work time away from the socket. It’s impressive, especially associated with the high-performance internals.

In the grand scheme of tech purchases, price is always a delicate subject. The XPS 15 isn’t shy in asserting its value, and while it does command a premium, I’m of the mind that the investment is justified. This isn’t just about hardware specs; it’s about the user experience, the build quality, the screen, the community, and the longevity of the device.

In conclusion, the Dell XPS 15 nails the basics and excels in adding value where it counts. It hits the right notes for a professional-grade laptop that doubles up as a creative powerhouse. It’s a machine made to last, to perform, and to impress. Value is subjective, but for those who demand the blend of beauty, brains, and brawn, the XPS 15 is worth every penny.