It’s been nine months since I started living a nomadic life and doing travel and photography full time. To stay productive on the road, I had to trade in my trusty old desktop PC for a portable solution. I am a Windows user and decided to go with the Dell XPS 9510. In this article, I explain why and share how it has held up over the past few months.
You might think this review is a bit outdated. After all, I am reviewing a laptop released over a year ago. But I believe it is necessary to put the equipment to the test before a proper overhaul.
With the Dell XPS, I did just that. I brought it with me on my travels through Portugal, Madeira, Costa Rica, Italy, Greece and France, and used it to edit my photos and videos in very different climates. The hot and humid climate of Costa Rica was particularly difficult. I would go so far as to say that editing videos in Costa Rica is the ultimate test for any laptop.
You’ll also find that the new version of the Dell XPS isn’t all that different from the unit I’m reviewing here. The design is essentially the same, the screen hasn’t been updated as far as I can tell, and the ports haven’t changed either. The only significant changes have been made to the processor and RAM: 12th generation Intel processors are now used with DDR5 RAM.
The benchmarks I’ve looked at suggest that, compared to my device, you can expect slightly better single-core performance and significantly more multi-core performance from the latest version. It’s hard to say how that translates to real-world use, but I’m sure the new Dell XPS will perform faster than my version in a typical creative workflow.
Why I bought the Dell XPS 9510
Before buying this laptop, I looked at the typical benchmark-centric reviews on YouTube and studied Notebookcheck with other sites, trying to figure out if this laptop would meet my creative needs. While it’s definitely not the fastest laptop around, it’s better than my previous setup, which I was already using to edit 4K video in Davinci Resolve.
Besides sufficient performance to easily edit photos and videos, I had additional requirements: my new laptop had to be compact and portable, weighing no more than 2 kg. Due to my upcoming travels, I also wanted a device with a sturdy chassis. I talk more about it in the presentation video, which I recorded after purchasing the XPS.
This requirement has significantly narrowed the selection of eligible laptops. Wobbly hinges, too much flex on the screen, and a squeaky case are all things I’ve read about in reviews of various laptops.
Eventually, I narrowed down my selection to the Dell XPS, HP ZBook Studio, and Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Extreme. I’ve used laptops from all three brands in the past, both personally and at work, and they’ve held up pretty well. The deciding factor was the price. Although the Dell XPS was one of the most expensive Windows laptops money could buy, compared to the other two, it was the only one I could afford. I opted for the 11th Gen i7 version with 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD hard drive and the Full-HD matte display option.
What I like
First and foremost, the products I buy must work; appearance is secondary. But I must admit that I love the design of the Dell XPS. It’s nice, flat, and the bezels on its 16:10 screen are so thin that I hardly notice them.
But apart from its looks, how does it work? First of all, the manufacturing quality is there. The screen doesn’t wobble or flex, the huge touchpad works well without the ghost clicks of the previous version, and the keyboard and interior feel solid. I write a lot and enjoy typing on this laptop.
It’s also slim enough to fit in my camera bag and weighs less than 2kg. By using a 16:10 aspect ratio with thin bezels for display, its footprint is further reduced. Compared to other 15” laptops, it is very compact.
I also appreciate the port selection and placement. On the right side is an SD card slot with a USB-C port, which can be used to charge the device. On the left are two Thunderbolt 4 ports, which I can use to connect Thunderbolt and USB devices. They also work to charge the laptop.
Having a charging option on both sides is important because when I’m on the go, I never know where the power outlets are. Being able to plug in the charger on both sides allows for more flexibility.
And the monitor? For me, as a creative, a good display is essential. Since I can’t control my editing environment on the go, I opted for the Full-HD version, which uses a matte screen. It reduces glare when I have to work in a bright environment.
Although the Full-HD display cannot display the Adobe RGB color space like the 4K and OLED versions, it can display most of the sRGB color space. With a colorimeter it can also be properly calibrated. One thing I noticed is that the colors are much less consistent than with my EIZO monitor. Recalibration is required every four to eight weeks to keep the colors correct.
Everything I’ve mentioned so far provides a solid foundation for a good laptop. But what about performance? How do all those Geekbench, Cinebench, and 3DMark numbers translate to the real world?
As I mentioned before, I use Davinci Resolve to edit my videos. I can work with 4K clips from my Canon R5 without stuttering as long as I don’t add too many gradients and effects. Typically, if I bring a 4K clip into the timeline and apply basic color grading with one to three nodes, I can still run through the video smoothly. Rendering a 10 minute Youtube video to 4K takes about 20 minutes.
Now, if you’re working with Log or Raw footage and performing more complex edits that require intense color grading and effects, you’ll likely encounter the limitations of the Dell XPS architecture. Not only will fans be constantly buzzing, but you will also have to use proxies to be able to edit your videos. For this, I recommend getting more than 16 GB of RAM.
Lightroom and Photoshop aren’t much of a problem for this laptop. Importing photos into Lightroom and converting them to DNG will create a load on the system and fans will become active. The same can happen with certain filters in Photoshop and with programs that require a fast GPU and CPU, like Topaz Gigapixel AI, for example.
This brings me to the subject of fan noise. For 80% of my work, I don’t notice the fans. This changes when importing photos into Lightroom and while working in Davinci Resolve. However, the sound is not very annoying to my ears. With headphones, I can do my video editing without being too distracted. Exporting videos is another story. Then the Dell XPS runs under maximum load and the fans get very noisy. This is usually when I leave the room and grab something to eat.
I should also mention that during my travels in Costa Rica, I always had to export my videos at night when it was a bit cooler. I also did most of my video work after dark. I once froze the laptop trying to export a video in the afternoon in a room with no air conditioning – lesson learned. With Lightroom and Photoshop, I didn’t have to take such precautions, as the fans were able to keep the laptop running.
What could be improved
The Dell XPS has a problem that none of the other reviews mention. The Full-HD screen has a vignette around the edges. Six months before buying the Dell XPS 9510, I bought the 9500 version. It had the same problem. I spoke to support and got a new display, which still showed the thumbnail. So I returned it, hoping someone else would notice and Dell would fix it.
Unfortunately they didn’t, and I was this close to returning the 9510 version as well. But due to a lack of good alternatives, I kept it, and I’m glad I did. I still notice the vignette, but since it’s only visible around the outer areas of the screen, it doesn’t affect my work. Colors and brightness in the central area are consistent.
Another thing Dell should fix is the high-pitched fan noise, which occurs if the laptop isn’t resting on a flat surface. Then the grille at the bottom creates an uncomfortable noise as the air passes through. As you can see in the photo above, a simple piece of tape secures it. If applying this patch, attach it only to the outside edge of the grill. Otherwise, it may impede air circulation.
Finally, I want to touch on battery life: I typically get four to six hours out of this laptop before needing to plug it into a power outlet. During this time, I do a mix of editing in Lightroom and Photoshop, writing, watching YouTube videos and listening to music. By the way, the speakers sound fantastic. If I only use it for writing or watching videos, I can get more out of it. But editing video will drain the battery in less than three hours. Especially when I’m traveling, I’d like to squeeze a little more juice out of the Dell XPS.
What bother me
Over the past year, I have connected to at least 50 different networks. And quite often I encountered problems with the connectivity of the Dell XPS.
While I surf the Internet with my Google Pixel with no problem on any Wi-Fi, provided the signal is strong enough, the Dell XPS forces me to troubleshoot every few weeks. Sometimes playing around with the Killer Intelligence Center settings helped. Occasionally I’ve had to reset my drivers, and twice I’ve had to manually start several of the Wi-Fi related services. It’s an annoyance, and from what I understand, something thing related to the Killer Wi-Fi card that Dell uses for its laptops.
Luckily, I’ve developed a routine to stay connected. This includes not installing driver updates for the Killer card down the road, as I never know if these fix problems or cause new ones.
The Dell XPS isn’t perfect and there are certainly faster systems on the market. But it’s still a great choice for creatives on the go. The thumbnail on the screen is annoying and Wi-Fi issues can slow me down. But the more I use this laptop, the less it bothers me. You could say the positives outweigh the negatives, and I think there are tradeoffs to be made with any Windows laptop.
So, would I repurchase this laptop or its successor today? The answer is yes. But the real question is: is this laptop the right choice for you? This is a question you can only answer yourself. My review might help, but everyone has slightly different requirements. The good thing is that it’s no problem to order a laptop, test it for a few days, and return it if it doesn’t work as expected. I did this with the Dell XPS 9500 because of the display, although every review I’ve read and watched has told me how awesome it is. Ultimately, you should trust your own assessment.