[Review] First couple days with new Dell XPS 9700
EDIT 1: For full transparency, Dell has offered to replace my motherboard for the coil whine issue. Ive heard from others that this does not help so Im not sure if it is worth the extra downtime and possible issues that may arrise from the replacement. As for audio latency, it appears to be caused by realtek drivers. Uninstalling both the audio and USB LAN drivers and installing non-dell, older versions seems to significantly reduce system latency, as reported by latencymon. Not sure if this fixes pops or not but it seems to help with latency.
After a month of waiting, I finally got my new Dell XPS 9700 to replace my broken Razer Blade 14 (PCH decided to die on it, and I didn't have good access to a reballer). Not gonna get into a lot of detail about my credentials and experience since this is a thread about the laptop, but I would be considered "extremely competent" in the realm of computer engineering.
Something to keep in mind: This is NOT a gaming laptop. It is a prosumer workstation type laptop, and I will be reviewing it as such. This means, Im looking at things like keyboard, trackpad, screen and build quality more than I am looking at things like 100 cinebench points or firestrike score. This laptop will be my main computer moving forward (since I am frequently "on the go", and I will only be using my dekstop for the few things this laptop simply is not capable of)
So far, here is my "review". This will be updated at bottom as time goes on. Pros:
- The system is fast enough for anything I need to do "on the go". I will still use my desktop for projects that require more than this laptop offers. I will say though, for the vast majority of people, this system is plenty fast for a desktop replacement. Specs are: i7-10875H (No need to go for the i9 unless your config already has it, power and thermal limits will kick in before you get a significant benefit IMO. Couple hundred dollar upgrade for the i7 to i9 and really only a couple percent difference at best.) 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD (I received a KIOXIA KXG60ZNV1T02), RTX 2060, FHD Screen (Didn't need/want a touch screen and prioritized battery life over resolution. The FHD screen is honestly better than I thought it would be for a "only FHD" screen.)
- CPU Performance: Cinebench R20 consistently hits higher than 3970, which is great. This is with Dell's "Ultra Performance Mode" which sets/allows you to set the PL1 to 75W or so. I find it bursts higher than 100W for about 10 seconds and goes down to 90W. Clocks around 4.2-4.3 GHz on all cores for those 10 seconds and normalizes to around 3.7-3.8 GHz for the remainder of the test. Yes, it runs HOT. Reaching 90-100C pretty much the whole test. I would be alarmed by this if the system wasn't performing, but it performs very well and keeps clocks pretty high throughout. I have the 4 year extended warranty, so I am fine with Dell prioritizing performance over thermals this time around. I will note, performance drops off quite a bit when on battery. While disappointing, results are still acceptable and the CPU does run near its rated TDP / clock speeds while on battery. Besides, if total system power is running at 130w, the battery would drain in like 40 minutes. From these observations: Dell has done a great job with both the cooling system and the power target tuning. The system is able to cool the processor *enough* to maintain 80-90w sustained on the CPU, even though it is right at the edge of 90-100C. Clock speeds remain high, boosting all cores above 4 GHz for "burst" tasks. If you want this desktop level performance, plan to have the system plugged in to the wall, as performance drops down to "laptop" levels when on battery. Overall, VERY pleased by what this system can do when plugged in and PL1 is raised to 75W. Would have LOVED to see the new AMD chips in here, more for the efficiency than the "raw" performance, since these Intel chips are almost just as fast, but take massive amounts of power to do it. But then again, THUNDERBOLT and Intel does have plenty of professional workloads optimized for their architecture.
- GPU performance: Yeah, I know lots of people are interested in GPU performance and mixed GPU/CPU performance. I will update when I have comments on these metrics. But for now, I am very happy with the RTX 2060 in this system. Would have loved to see a 2070 or even a Quadro 3000/5000, but I guess thermals, power and price would be sacrificed to do so. Besides, this is NOT a gaming laptop, it is a kind of in that prosumer workstation market so a 2060 is sufficient here. I immediately switched to the setting in the BIOS (can't remember what it is called. I also think this is XPS 17 and Precision specific, but not sure) where ALL external displays are directly routed to the 2060 instead of the iGPU. More control over the displays this way and does unlock support for more than two displays. I have not yet gamed on this system, but again, it's not a gaming system, shipping with studio drivers.
- RAM/SSD: Both are fine and sufficiently fast. Not much to say here
- Battery Life: So far, battery has been great. I have not yet had a chance to run from 100-0% but from what it's looking like so far, I will be able to get around 10 hours out of this laptop during web browsing, meetings, Microsoft office, etc. The system is excellent at shutting off the dGPU and downclocking the CPU when not needed. Total system draw averages around 8w during these tasks. In "Express Charge" mode, it will charge at up to around 80-85w. Impressive, though I would be interested to know exactly how much this effects battery lifespan.
- I/O: While some may not enjoy only having thunderbolt ports and an SD card slot, this is one of my favorite features, BUT I really think you need to have the right accessories to make this worth it. When sitting at my desk, I have a Dell WD19TB docking station which handles charging, high speed USB, multiple displays, gigabit ethernet, audio, and has a thunderbolt passthrough. I have a USB hub plugged into one of the dock's USB ports to put all my "lower speed" peripherals on. This setup is excellent. I can keep my laptop closed in sleep, plug it in and get a "desktop" experience all over one cable. Dell's dock is perfectly designed for this use case, and is significantly more stable than my cheap USB C dongle, plus the dock is the only one capable of charging at the full 130w. I keep my standard charger and a USB C/displayport/PD dongle in my bag for on the go use of these ports. I have not yet benched the speeds on these ports for PCIE speeds and such, but I can transfer at 1GiB / sec onto my Samsung T7 while running two displays and other peripherals all over one port. The SD card slot is a nice touch as well, something I wish more manufacturers would add to their laptops. While yes, lack of traditional ports is annoying, I do think thunderbolt / USB4 is the future. Being able to do all of these functions with one cable is totally awesome and for sure makes this feel much more like a desktop replacement / workstation. The Dell WD19TB dock is an excellent solution and I highly recommend it for those who want a desktop experience with this system. It is stable and very easy/quick to use. No unplugging and replugging has been needed yet and the high speed IO is impressive. One really important note here: The XPS is excellent at changing its power profile when docked / undocked. It goes from idling at 30w (using RTX GPU and Turbo Boost) while docked to total system power of 8w unplugged in the course of 30 seconds.
- Display: While some need/want the 4k display, I really like the FHD display on here. I do not need 100% Adobe RGB, Touch, or 4k. To me, the increased battery life was more important. The screen is plenty color accurate (way more than my razer blade's), and the FHD resolution looks fine from regular sitting distance, even at 100% scaling. When I want more resolution / color accuracy, I plug it into my dock where I have better monitors.
- Keyboard / Trackpad: I know there are huge topics here, since so many have received trackpads with defects. Both are wonderful and arrived with no defects. The system was built on 10/8/2020 as noted in the BIOS. The keyboard is great, though a little more spaced out than I am used to. Very satisfying key travel and it is a softer feeling than my mechanical keyboard. I still prefer my mechanical, but for on the go, the keyboard is stellar. I like the key presses better than pretty much any other laptop, but I prefer the layout of something more like a Macbook Pro (closer together). Trackpad is great. Very large and pretty accurate. It will also take some time to get used to, but the buttons give a satisfying click. I prefer the Macbook Pro trackpad still, force touch is awesome. But for a windows laptop? This is nearly perfect. Fingerprint and Infrared scanner are both accurate and fast.
- Build Quality: Damn. These are solid machines. The carbon fiber and all aluminum body are really nice touches. I LOVE that the vents are place so that the system can blow air even with the screen closed. The system looks wonderful with screen open and closed. No keyboard flex and the computer really feels rigid.
- Size/Weight: It's a 17 inch laptop. Yes, it is "heavy" compared to a 13 inch. I think Dell did an amazing job packing this good of a laptop into a small frame. The weight isn't too bad and I can comfortably carry it around. To me, the larger display and high performance is totally worth the extra weight.
- Fan Noise/Thermals: Thermals are acceptable considering the performance (still hits 100C) and the fans are not too loud. They do not come on at all unless you are doing something that takes more than 40ish watts of system power.
- Audio: The speakers are meh without the Waves Audio. Apple obviously wins here, particularly the 16 inch that my sister has. The problem with latency does rear its head sometimes on my headphones plugged in through the dock, but it's not too terrible. All drivers/BIOS/software are updated.
- Coil Whine: This right here is my least favorite part. My unit has a TERRIBLE coil whine when plugged in (both the dock and the included power adapter). It is loud enough to disrupt what I am doing. After looking into it, the solution that works is to disable turbo boost. So I am forced to choose between losing 50+% of performance or being able to concentrate. Not cool. The sound is emitted through both my dock and laptop. Right now, I have throttlestop handling turboboost and leave it turned off unless I need it to avoid the whine. Not acceptable for a almost $3000 "professional" laptop. Will update as needed.
- Price: This laptop is expensive. You can get similarly spec'd machines for much lower. You can get faster machines. But what makes this laptop special, is that it is good at a lot of different things, whereas most laptops are designed for a single purpose. For the price, it should be perfect. But for the most part, I would say, yes, it worth the price if I can figure out the coil whine issue.
Yeah, I know it's a lot. I just wanted to give as much information as I could to help everyone make an informed decision when buying. I will continue to update as needed and am happy to answer any questions anyone might have. Feel free to ask super technical or just general questions.
submitted by TaboshkasC