Since its launch in October of 2015, the Dell XPS 15 9550 was hailed by many reviewers as the best 15-inch laptop around. Despite its rocky start plagued by hardware, software, and firmware issues (and some ongoing slight annoyances), the XPS 9550 maintained its crown throughout its commercial lifespan, although the competition had some decent attempts to usurp it.
In fact, I purchased the XPS 9560 somewhat begrudgingly after months of waiting and research. I thought there had to be another quad-core laptop with a slim design and Thunderbolt 3, but no—there still aren’t any, even to the day I write this.
So, to cut to the chase: Is the XPS 15 9560 worth buying if you need a laptop today? Yes—if you can tolerate a few bugs here and there and are willing to tweak things a bit. You should definitely spend on the pro-support warranty when buying, however.
The main questions I seek to answer in this review are whether or not it is worth upgrading to if you already have a 9550, and whether or not you should wait for something a bit more “perfect” instead. The XPS 15 9550 was also infamous for its bugs and quirks (something I spent a lot of time discussing in the original review and took a whole point off its rating because of), and I intend to discuss any bugs or issues encountered comprehensively. After all, these machines are not cheap (mine cost just a hair over $2000) and we should hold manufacturers accountable for their products and support.
As for the issue of VRM-throttling and thermals—how to tweak the XPS 9560 and augment its cooling system to accommodate the CPU and GPU will be the subject of a separate article.
Specs as reviewed
|Screen||15.6” 3840 x 2160 (UHD) touch screen, IGZO IPS|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-7700HQ 2.8-3.8GHz|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 (4GB GDDR5)|
|Storage||Toshiba XG4 m.2 NVMe 1TB SSD|
|Connectivity||Killer Wireless AC-1535 (802.11ac, 2×2), Bluetooth 4.1, Fingerprint Scanner|
|Ports||1x Thunderbolt 3 (x2 3.0 PCIe), 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI, 3.5 mm audio, SD card reader|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Professional|
|Size||(H) 357 x (W) 235 x (D) 17 mm|
|Weight||2 kg / 4.4 lbs – as configured|
What makes the XPS 15 9560 stand out among its peers is not just its raw specs. Though the quad-core i7-7700HQ is a solid CPU and the GTX 1050 graphics is more than adequate for casual gaming, there are many laptops that can deliver these two components for hundreds less.
The combination of the XPS 15’s solid specs, stunning UHD display and high build-quality is what makes it so enticing.
As the chassis is nearly identical to last year’s XPS 15 9550 model, we direct you to that review for a more detailed overview of the design and build quality.
The chassis in the 9560 is exactly the same sleek sandwich of anodized aluminum and carbon fiber on the 9550, and as before, it is extraordinarily stiff and resists both pressure and torsion very well. With the small exception of oil and fingerprints being more visible than average on both the carbon fiber palmrest and the aluminum lid, there is little to complain about here.
The one item area that could be improved a bit could be the fingerprint scanner. A key feature of the 9560, the fingerprint scanner has been added to the palmrest without much ceremony—in fact, it looks like they just cut out a square from the regular rest and the fitted it with the fingerprint sensor. It doesn’t look bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it does lack the high quality fit and finish of nearly every other aspect of the machine. It also blends into the dark carbon fiber finish of the palmrest, meaning that in all but the harshest lighting you’ll be searching with your finger to find it. If they didn’t want to add a border to the sensor in the palmrest, placing it in the trackpad would have been a better solution.
Other than being hard to see, the fingerprint scanner works fantastically. Once set up, it can quickly detect even a light touch of your registered finger in under half a second. Most importantly, it works reliably, unlike the finicky fingerprint scanner on my Xperia Z5.
Even if you have slightly damp fingers from washing your hands or sweat, it will still correctly match your prints and log you in. Given that this is a mere US$35 addition for so much more convenience, I highly recommend you spring for the Fingerprint scanner. If you need the Precision 5520 variant, you should know that the fingerprint scanner will not be available on it for another 1-2 months, according to my conversations with Dell reps. I would definitely recommend waiting for that option to become available before buying.
The fingerprint scanner would benefit from a border of some kind.
Keyboard and trackpad
The 9560’s keyboard is exactly the same as last year’s 9550 and the XPS 13 9350/9360—which is to say, it is still a small letdown.
Given the price and overall quality of the laptop, it’s unfortunate that Dell has done the bare minimum here. The keys bottom out somewhat harshly and are a little on the light side for actuation force, which are exacerbated by the 1.3mm of travel. I have been using a Lenovo ThinkPad x230 for writing on the go the past few months, and the first hour or so back with the XPS 15’s keyboard nearly made me recoil in horror. I was afraid that the ThinkPad’s keyboard had perhaps ruined the XPS for me, but luckily I got used to it after a few hours. Again, it is a usable keyboard, but we know that Dell can do better—Latitudes have keyboards nearly as legendary as ThinkPads—so they really do seem to be resting on their laurels here. Alas. As with last year’s model, I’m still able to type quickly and accurately on the 10fastfingers typing test (I scored 101 WPM with only one error).
The touchpad is still the same excellent Microsoft Precision Touchpad. The pad’s surface is a glass finished with a soft-touch coating, and it feels absolutely fantastic to use. Being a Microsoft Precision Touchpad, it is fully compatible with Windows gestures.
However, Windows still has very limited options for configuring Precision devices. While you can configure gestures, typing guard, scrolling, and basics like clicks and tracking speed, you cannot configure anything regarding click-zones or palm-check. The only form of palm-check you can enable is to completely disable the pad after typing for either a short, medium, or long delay. This works for typing, but it doesn’t work at all for gaming, where you obviously need to use both the mouse and keyboard at the same time. This is the fault of Windows and not Dell, however.
Note: Some people have reported stiff or unevenly installed touchpads, or sticky/unresponsive spacebars, but I have to say that my deck has been perfect. If you do have a wonky spacebar, there are both quick and permanent DIY fixes that just take a few minutes (if you’re comfortable tinkering with your machine). If you call Dell for a repair, they will simply send a technician to come and do basically the same thing as the second repair.
The 9560 is available with both a non-touch matte FHD panel (1920 x 1080) or a glossy UHD (3,840×2,160) touchscreen protected by Corning Gorilla Glass. My model is equipped with the glossy UHD variety so I cannot speak to the quality of the FHD, but it is just as gorgeous a display as the UHD on the 9550 (if not moreso, as it’s allegedly 50 nits brighter). Dell advertises 100% Adobe RGB color gamut, and while I do not have calibration hardware on-hand, it is so incredibly vibrant that you will feel a sense of awe every time you turn your computer on.
If you’re trying to figure out whether or not it’s worth it for you to spend the extra US$300 on the UHD touch display, there are a few things that might influence your decision either way.
Firstly, the UHD is obviously glossy, while the FHD option is matte. If you will be working outdoors very frequently and don’t use touch, then this is a no-brainer that you’ll want a matte screen. Secondly, the response times on the UHD are a bit better than the FHD, meaning there is less motion blur when playing games or animations. My screen requires a pixel distance of about 60 on the UFO Chase Block Test before the trails of the blocks separate; according to responses of people I’ve talked with online, the average score for the FHD display in the XPS 15 is about 90. Thirdly, if battery life is of chief importance, going with the FHD display and a 97Wh battery will get you 3-4 more hours of use than the UHD model. Lastly, if you work with photo, video or other color-important media, then the color accuracy will absolutely be worth the extra money.
The other thing to note about the screen is that, like the XPS 13 9350, 9360, and XPS 15 9550 that came before it, its webcam will point straight up your nose from the left-hand side. If teleconferencing is a regular event for you, then you might want to look into another laptop (or an external camera).
The XPS 15’s infamous camera: not recommended for job interviews.
Note: I have experienced an annoying firmware bug that has been persistent in later BIOS updates from the 9550 until now. If brightness is set below 40%, the screen will periodically flicker black. I’m not sure if this is unique to the UHD screen, but it’s been an issue with the series for at least 6 months now and has yet to be fixed— despite multiple BIOS updates that claimed to address the issue.
Hardware and performance
The XPS 15 9560 improves upon the 9550 in two key areas: the Kaby Lake processor (in my case an i7-7700HQ CPU) and Pascal Nvidia Geforce GTX 1050 graphics. Compared to the previous generation’s Skylake CPU, you’re looking at about a 10-15% and 7% increase in single core and multi-core performance, respectively. Beyond that, you’re getting hardware HEVC 10-bit and VP9 video decoding, which will help performance and battery life if watching or editing high resolution video. You also get the slightly faster integrated Intel HD 630 graphics, but since you’re also packing a GTX 1050, that is mostly a moot point.
The i7-7700HQ provides more than solid performance.
Speaking of the Nvidia Geforce GTX 1050—even as the weakest card in the mobile Pascal lineup right now, it delivers significantly more performance than the 9550’s last-gen GTX 960M, as you can see from this post.
In this case, whereas the 9550 got a Firestrike score of 3900, the 9560 hits about 5600—a 43% increase. It is nowhere near the power of a GTX 1060 chip (which would score over 10,000) to be sure, but it’s all the power that you can possibly cram into the XPS 15’s slim and tapered chassis at this point in time.
Some people are complaining about not getting a 1050 Ti if not the 1060 in this laptop, but unless they have found a way to break the laws of physics, that’s simply not going to happen. As it stands, the 9560 with an i7 will already get hot and reduce clocks under load.
The score of roughly 5600 is a major improvement over the 9550’s 3900.
Unigine Heaven Benchmark Score (Basic Settings).
As with the 9550, the 9560’s internals are all immediately accessible after removing the T5 and Phillips screws from the back. You should note that there are metal clips that help keep the back on and make it very hard to get the back off the first time. Just be sure you’ve unscrewed the Phillips-head screws beneath the hatch, and pull at each edge slowly and firmly until you get some give.
The SSD is easily upgradable with just the removal of a screw, though if yours comes with the 1TB SSD, you probably won’t need to do that. Dell is shipping the 9560 with two different SSDs at the moment: Samsung and Toshiba (and judging by the firmwares on the website, may add a third: LiteOn). However, the Toshiba XG4 drives are between ⅓ and ½ the speed of the Samsung PM961s.
The 1TB drive in my unit is the Toshiba XG4, unfortunately, meaning I have decent read speeds (1700Mb/s) and much slower write speeds (800Mb/s). It’s downright disingenuous that despite paying the same price and getting (allegedly) the same specs, users will be getting such disparate performance. Dell seems to be sending the units with the PM961 to reviewers and shipping the XG4 out mostly to consumers, and they should be called out on this. Shame.
The Toshiba drive is between 1/3 and 1/2 the speed of the Samsung.
One more aspect of performance that warrants some discussion is the 9560’s Thunderbolt 3 port. You might notice that on Dell’s website, under the Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) specification it lists “(2 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3)”. This is listed because Dell previously advertised their implementation of TB3 as “up to 40Gbps”, but because of hardware design the bandwidth is actually limited to 16Gbps for most use-cases (8Gbps of the TB3’s 40Gbps peak are reserved for Display Port).
Chief among these situations is using an external GPU: With proper implementation of Thunderbolt 3, there will be just enough bandwidth available to enable two-way data transmission; that is, if a monitor is attached to the eGPU itself, the data has to only go in one direction. If the data is displayed on the internal screen, it not only has to go from the computer to the eGPU and then to the monitor, but double-back from the eGPU and feed the data upstream to the computer concurrently. This already stretches the limits of TB3’s 40Gbps bandwidth, but on laptops like the XPS 13 or 15 with half the PCI lanes, it means that performance of external GPUs will be extremely limited on the internal screen, to the point where the internal GTX 1050 will be much faster in all but the highest resolution/detail rendering than the attached card, no matter its power.
Again, this is something that Dell could have fixed for the refresh, but elected not to—likely for financial reasons. It doesn’t affect using an eGPU much with external monitor, so it will be up to whether you need to use the internal display or not.
Emissions (noise, heat), Connectivity and speakers
The XPS 15 9560 is comfortable to use during light tasks. The machine is of course cool during idle, and during light tasks such as web browsing and word processing, the CPU hovered around 45C. After undervolting (-120mv), I was able to get those light use temperatures down to 40C. The fan is off or inaudible during casual use (35db, or equal to ambient noise), and there is no coil whine present either. Regarding coil whine, some users have reported that it is related to the model of AC adapter they received. Certain runs have coil whine, while others do not. If you do have coil whine on your unit, you might try swapping the adapter before exchanging the whole unit.
Under heavy load such as benchmarks or gaming the 9560’s fans kick up to a very audible 47db. While playing games or benchmarking, the keyboard does get warm, but never uncomfortable like my painfully hot Razer Blade did. The cooling design uses dual fans (one for CPU, one for GPU) which intake air from the bottom grill and expel it through the tucked away grille that faces the hinge. Like most other laptops, you should avoid using the laptop on any soft surfaces that can block the intake vents. Using it on my lap, however, was never a problem.
If you have the i5 model, you don’t need to worry as much about throttling. As the i5 has fewer threads and lower frequencies, it produces much less heat than the i7.
Owners of the i7 model, however, will have to do a bit of tweaking in order to get the maximum performance out of their machine under load. The VRMs (Voltage Regulator Modules) in the 9550 and 9560 series are located in an area of very limited airflow directly above the main heatsinks and will sometimes get too hot, triggering thermal throttling. On my i7 model, I’ve noticed that as the CPU and GPU work harder (Overwatch is a game that I can get this happening consistently from; just turn off Vsync), the GPU edges closer and closer to its priorize temperature of 78C (significantly lower than Maxwell GPUs’). If the GPU goes above 78C, Power Limit throttling will occur due to an imposed TDP limit (sometimes as low as 8W), tanking your framerates.
Generally, this can be helped by repasting and ensuring the heat sinks have strong pressure on the GPU, VRAM, and CPU, but why buy an i7 if you can’t use it? To get my machine to not throttle after 10 minutes of Uningine Vally on a loop, I had to repaste, undervolt, add thermal pads around the VRM (Voltage Regulator Modules) and heatsink, and more—but I will discuss these further in their own dedicated article.
Power Limit Throttling drastically reduces the available wattage for the CPU.
The heinously buggy Dell Broadcom 1830 3×3 card of the 9550 has been replaced for a slightly more functional (but theoretically slower) 2×2 Killer 1535 combination wireless ac/bluetooth card. The standing recommendation for the XPS 9550 was to throw the card in the garbage and order an Intel 8260 card to replace it, but luckily that is not completely the case this time around. While the Killer 1535 card did initially ship with buggy drivers that caused connections to drop over 2.4GHz, the most recent drivers have solved this problem. If you are looking for WiDi capability and maximum performance, however, feel free to upgrade to an Intel 8265—it’s not an expensive upgrade.
The speakers are the same diagonally-firing speakers as before, and just as before, my suggestion is still to put them facing upward by the keyboard. I’m not sure why Dell hasn’t done this, but it’s probably related to why the keyboard isn’t great and the Thunderbolt 3 has half the lanes—maybe they’re afraid of making a laptop that’s just too perfect. They sound alright, but lack the clarity and bass of some other laptops such as the MacBook Pro or Razer Blade. They’re definitely more than adequate for a thin and light laptop like the XPS 15, however.
Note: My unit displayed an issue exactly the same as the 9550 did, where the computer wouldn’t recognize any headphones plugged into the 3.5mm jack. The issue required an audio board replacement.
Dell has bumped up the capacity of the larger battery from 84Wh to 97Wh—roughly a 15% increase. That increase, plus the increased efficiency of Kaby Lake, adds up to a significantly longer runtime with the UHD screen and 97Wh battery.
Whereas I struggled to hit 6 hours on the UHD/84Wh 9550, I regularly hit 8 hours on the 9560 (Balanced power mode running Chrome with multiple tabs, youtube, Google Docs, etc.). If you use Edge and tweak your settings, I’m sure you’ll be able to get even better battery life.
As someone who moves around a lot throughout the day and needs a computer to last, this is one of the spec upgrades that I’m happiest with on the 9560 over the 9550.
Price and availability
The XPS 15 9560 is available in most western countries already and will begin rolling out to Asia soon. You can get them from Dell, Amazon (which has more shipping and warranty options), or the Microsoft Store.
Prices range from US$999 for the most basic model with an i3 and no GPU up to US$2550 for a fully decked-out i7/UHD/32GB/1TB model.
At the moment, there are no refurbished 9560 models available, but if you wait another month or so, I think we’ll start seeing lower-priced refurbs out on eBay and the like. Refurbished Dells are a great buy, because they are not only hundreds cheaper, but they tend to actually have less issues (in my experience). Plus, you get a free warranty upgrade.
The launch of the 9560 has gone a bit better than the 9550’s. Of course, saying that is like saying losing one leg is better than losing both of your legs: it’s technically an improvement, but it’s still a pretty shitty event. And so, while the 9560 has had fewer show-stopping bugs than the 9550 did on release, it’s still very much a work in progress:
- Screen flicker on lower brightness settings (no fix)
- Intel HD graphics locking up frequently (solved with latest drivers from Intel)
- Nvidia drivers BSODing (stay with stock Nvidia drivers from Dell)
- Audio jack not working with Dell drivers (fixable)
- Many units report high battery wear of around 10% right out of the box
- My TB3 port was broken, prompting a mainboard replacement.
But even with all these bugs and issues, the fact remains that, right now, there is still no laptop that offers everything the XPS 15 9560 can.
It took me a long time to figure out that the 9560 was the best Windows laptop out there for my needs. It’s beautifully designed, compact, and powerful. It packs a quad-core CPU, Pascal GPU, huge battery, and Thunderbolt 3—plus the the best 4k screen in a laptop out there. Sure, the TB3 is not full speed for eGPUs, but that won’t affect many people. Yes, it throttles due to power limits from the overheating VRMs, but that can be stopped with thermal pads and disabling turbo when gaming. While the XPS 15 9560 still has some flaws and niggles, it has no equal at the moment.
The following list is what led me to the 9560 by deduction:
- The Razer Blade 14 has inferior battery life, a worse display, large bezel, and terrible QC/support. Gets better graphics though.
- The Gigabyte Aero 14, Aorus X3 and ThinkPad T470p have no TB3.
- The Alienware 13R3 is very big and heavy (5.7lbs), has “gamery” looks and a huge bezel/footprint.
- The MSI GS43VR has an incredibly ugly design, non-premium construction and bad battery life. Again, better graphics.
- The MSI GS63VR is the same as the above, plus a bigger footprint.
So, the XPS 9560 is not perfect, but it is the best Windows laptop around, in my opinion. If you are looking for a powerful laptop that looks great while fitting in your bag and is mostly future-proof, this is it. It’s worth the upgrade if you have a 9550 as well, I think. The fingerprint scanner, GPU, and battery life are major quality-of-life upgrades that are worth the loss of selling your 9550 on eBay and moving up to the 9560.
But…. if you can wait until May, the Lenovo 720 15” looks like it will eat the 9560’s lunch. Or, of course, it could be equally (or even more) flawed as the 9560. With computers, so much is in the execution of the details, and there’s no way of knowing if waiting months more will be worth it. If you need a laptop now, the Dell XPS 15 9560 is the one to get.
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