This new Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is the first convertible in the XPS 15 line, but that’s not the most interesting thing about it.
Since 2010, Dell’s XPS 15 has been a reliable, 15-inch performance workhorse and a light gaming option for users who aren’t impressed by the over-the-top designs of dedicated gaming laptops. Last year’s 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, they’ve 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 that’s where we get to what’s most interesting about the product we’re reviewing today: Kaby Lake-G, which combines an Intel CPU with an AMD graphics chip in an unlikely collaboration. It’s 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, it’s 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).
As with other Dell laptops, there are numerous possible configurations for this XPS 15. We’ll start with the specific configuration we’re reviewing, then go over the other options.
|Specs at a glance: Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 laptop|
|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)|
|Other perks||IR front-facing camera, fingerprint sensor on power button, four mics, stylus pen (included in box)|
The CPU and GPU
Let’s 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.
That’s 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. We’re also looking at 20 compute units and a memory bandwidth of 179.2GB/s. Both GPUs are always active, so it’s 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 we’ll get into exactly what works—and doesn’t work—about it shortly. First, though: the other key specs.
Thanks to that new chip, the 2-in-1 is a little slimmer and lighter than what we’ve 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, it’s a little smaller in some places, but it’s 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. It’s not significantly different from what we’ve seen in other XPS 15 machines, but it’s still one of the best displays available on a mainstream laptop.
Color is good with 100-percent Adobe RGB, but it’s 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. It’s no OLED TV, of course, but it’s 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. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microSD card reader, and a Noble lock slot.
Yes, that’s right, there’s no USB Type A port to be found. It’s 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 aren’t 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 you’re 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