Over the last many years, Dell’s XPS lineup played a major role in pushing
portable laptops towards the versatile products that they are today.
I bought my
XPS 13 travel laptop many years ago and it still does alright for what I need it to do. We’ve also covered multiple XPS models in our articles over the years, and both Doug and Derek have used the full-size XPS 15 as their main computers at some point during this time.
This intro brings us to the 2021 Dell XPS 15 9510 that I’ve been using for the last few weeks and we’ll discuss in this review article.
Getting this laptop, I was looking forward to finding out how the XPS 15 design has aged over the years, how it performs in comparison to many of the other good alternatives now available out there, and how Dell managed to patch the various quirks reported by buyers over the years.
Our test configuration, which was sourced locally and not provided by Dell for this review, is the Core i7-11800H processor with 16 GB of RAM and 1 TB of storage, plus the 3050Ti dGPU and the 4K touchscreen. This is listed at $2549 MSRP on Dell’s website at the time of this article. So here are my thoughts on this series.
Update: In the meantime, our review of the most recent mid-2022 Dell XPS 15 9520 is also available here.
Specs as reviewed – Dell XPS 15 9510
Dell XPS 15 9510 mid-2021 generation
Screen 15.6 inch, 4K+ 3840 x 2400 px, 16:10 aspect ratio, 60 Hz, IPS, glossy, touch, 500-nits, Sharp SHP1516 panel
FHD IPS matte and 3.5K OLED touch variants also available
Processor Intel Tiger Lake H45 Core i7-11800H, 8C/16T
Video Intel Iris Xe + Nvidia GeForce GTX 3050Ti 4GB (35-45W)
Memory 16 GB DDR4-3200 (2x 8 GB DIMMs), up to 64 GB
Storage 1x M.2 PCIe x4 gen3 SSD (WD PC SN730), 2x M.2 2280 slots
Connectivity Wireless 6 (Killer AX1650s) 2×2, Bluetooth 5.1
Ports 2x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4 (left), 1x USB-C 3.2 with data/charging/video (right), SD card reader, audio jack, Lock
Battery 86 Wh, 130W USB-C charger with quick-charging
Size 345 mm or 13.57” (w) x 230 mm or 9.06” (d) x 18 mm or 0.71” (h)
Weight 4.38 lbs (1.99 kg)+ .44 kg (.97 lbs) for the charger+cables, EU version
Extras white backlit keyboard, glass touchpad, HD webcam with IR, quad up-firing speakers – 8W of power, finger-sensor in the power button
Dell offers this series in multiple configurations, starting at a Core i5-11300H with 8 GB of RAM, a 56 Wh battery, and a FHD+ matte screen base model, and toping at a Core i9-11900H with 64 GB of RAM, 3050Ti graphics and a 4K+ touchscreen. We’ll discuss the various options and their impact through this article.
Design and construction
The looks and overall feel of this laptop haven’t changed much at all over the years, so I’m not going to linger much on these, I’m sure you’ve seen countless videos and photos about it already.
A few aspects stand out, though, and I’d like to mention them here. For starters, there’s how compact this laptop is considering it offers a full-size 15.6-inch 16:10 display, competent hardware, and a big battery inside. The bezels around the screen are minuscule, and there’s almost no chin on the bottom either, but there’s still enough space for a camera and a light sensor at the top.
At the same time, this is not an ultra-light product by any means. The base models with the matte screen and a smaller battery weigh just shy of 4 lbs, but add in the touchscreen, the bigger battery, and extra storage and you’ll get to around 4.4 lbs, plus an extra pound for the charger to carry around. So while compact and portable for what this is, the XPS 15 might not be the ideal choice for everyone, as there are
much lighter full-size laptops to consider instead, as long as you don’t need the processing power and the full-perks of this kind of a product.
This XPS 15 also feels very high quality, very robust. It doesn’t bend or squeak or flex in any way, no matter how you put your hands on it or from where you pick it up. As far as the build quality goes, very few other products can rival this series.
Furthermore, this is also a subtle premium looker, a clean design that’s perfectly acceptable for even the stricter of office or school environments.
The choice in materials is somewhat of a mixed bag at this time, though, at least on this color version that we have here (there’s also another model with a white interior). Dell introduced this aluminum exterior and carbon-fiber interior design almost 6 years ago, and I still find it mostly alright, but perhaps a bit dated.
The carbon-fiber interior is soft and smooth to the touch and doesn’t show smudges as easily as other black surfaces; instead, smudges and finger oil do show easily on the black clickpad and the keycaps. Here’s how the laptop looks after a couple of days of use.
I can also see some scuffs from my watch buckle on the left-side armrest of my XPS 13, and I feel that the texture of the palm rest has also gotten slightly sticky with time, requiring me to clean it more often than I used to. Still, the carbon finishing on this newer XPS 15 is somewhat different, smoother and not as rubbery, so I think it will age a little better than my old 2015 XPS 13 did. I’ll also add that while the sanded metal used for the top and bottom will age very well, the shiny parts around the edges will dent and scratch easily, so make sure to put this in some sort of sleeve when carrying it in your backpack or bag.
As far as the practicality of this laptop goes, I appreciate the clean and compact design and excellent build quality, as well as the big 16:10 screen, the spacious keyboard, clickpad, and wrist-support, and the fact that punchy up-firing speakers are placed to the right and left side of the keys, making for some of the best audio available on a Windows laptop in this 15-inch segment.
On the other hand, some of the practical aspects are somewhat of a hit and miss for me. There are quite a few, and I’m surely nitpicking here, but I’d rather tell you all about them so you can decide for yourselves if they would bother you or not.
For instance, there’s no nub on the front lip to allow you to easily pick up the screen and lift it up, so I had to use both hands to do it. This has always been the case with the XPS series, but at least you can adjust the screen’s angle single-handily on this 15-inch model, once you manage to lift up the display part from the main chassis that is. The hinges are pretty sturdy and keep the display in place as set-up and prevent it from wobbling excessively when poking at it with your finger (which you’ll do, since this is a touch version).
Despite this, you might still notice that the screen and the main body don’t always keep tight when you grab and incline the laptop laterally. This has been
reported and documented for some time now, and it’s one more reason why I’d suggest throwing this inside a protective sleeve when having it in your bag, just to make sure nothing gets in between the screen and the main body. I’d also add that the magnets that keep the two parts together seem to me a little stronger than on the previous-gen XPS models that I’ve tested, which is perhaps one of the reasons why lifting up the lid is a bit more difficult on this series and still requires both hands to do it.
That aside, I’ll also add that the screen only leans back to about 140-degrees on this XPS 15, which is fine for desk use, but limiting when using the laptop on the lap or on the tighs. I much prefer a design that allows the screen to go back flat to 180-degrees, especially on portable computers.
One other small nit with this design is the sharpness of the lips around the main chassis. The same lip was a little more blunted on my older XPS 13, but is now sharper on this XPS 15 9510 model, and it can put unwanted pressure on your wrists in certain situations, such as using the laptop on a narrow desk. Again, this might not sound like much, but I prefer designs with a friendlier front lip.
Speaking of the lips, Dell still puts a bright white light on the front-lip, which lights up as long as the laptop charges, and shuts off when it’s fully charged. This is paired with an always-on light in the charger’s plug, and both make no sense to me, especially since they cannot be controlled and switched off in any way. These lights have always bothered me on my XPS 13 and I’m baffled that Dell did not get rid of them by now.
And then there’s the IO. A few years ago Dell aligned their entire XPS lineup on this trend of miniaturized USB-C ports only, so this XPS 15 series offers 2x USB-Cs with Thunderbolt 4 on the left side, and an extra USB-C on the left, without Thunderbolt 4, but with data, charging and video, so almost as useful. There’s also a full-size card-reader that can almost entirely swallow an SD card, an audio jack, and a Lock, spread around the sides, and a finger-sensor baked into the laptop’s power button. Speaking of, older XPS designs included an always-on light in the power button as well, but at least that has been ditched with this newer finger-sensor button.
In all fairness, Dell throws in a small USB-C to USB-A/HDMI dongle in the pack, which you can use when you need those ports. Not ideal, but at least they give you something.
As for the bottom of the laptop, it’s simple, with grippy rubber feet and some speaker cuts on the sides. The profile of those feet is very limited, though, which means the bottom of the laptop only raises a few mm of the desk.
One final aspect to touch on here is the thermal design. This draws in most of the fresh air through the bottom of the laptop, through the open intakes over the fans and heatpipes, and then pushes it out through vents placed under the hinge and under the screen. Some of the hot air blows into the panel as a result, but the screen never reaches dangerous temperatures, as we’ll discuss further down in the Emissions section.
All in all, this XPS 15 still ticks many of the right boxes for a premium mid-sized performance laptop, but I sure wish Dell would have addressed some of my nits mentioned above. I’d love to see those lights gone, they’re annoying when using the laptop at night, I’d also like a 180-screen, friendlier front-lips and a more versatile set of full-size ports. I can live without HDMI, but I still use USB-A often and I can’t see myself getting a laptop without at least one of those.
Keyboard, Trackpad, and Fingerprint Sensor
While still usable today, the inputs on this XPS 15 series could surely use an overhaul.
The keyboard is the same shallow-stroke kind we’ve seen on XPS laptops for generations, and while a few years ago this was somewhat competitive in comparison to what other portable full-size laptops had to offer, I feel that it is not anymore. Current gen ThinkPad X1Es, the ZenBooks, the HP ZBooks, and the new Apple MacBooks are all superior typers to this XPS 15.
This should come as no surprise, I’m certainly not the first one to complain about the limited stroke-depth and unusually abrupt actuation of this keyboard, the kind that would take a fair bit of time to get used to. Still, I do like the layout (except for the half-sized Up and Down keys) and how the plastic keycaps feel to the touch, plus I’m still accustomed to this sort of feedback as I still use my XPS 13 time and about, so I was able to get along alright with this XPS 15 after a few days. But even to me, this felt like a very shallow typer, even shallower than most modern ultrabooks, and I feel there’s much room for improvement on this sort of full-size chassis.
The keys are backlit, of course, with white, rather dim, but uniform LEDs. Some light still creeps out from underneath some of the keycaps, but for the most part, I have no complaints about the illumination system here. It times out when not used, it switches on quickly with a swipe over the clickpad, and includes a physical indicator for Caps Lock.
Speaking of the clickpad, Dell implemented this large glass surface with the XPS 15 9500 and this 9510 series, which, in theory, should be one of the best clickpads available on a Windows laptop. Thing is, it doesn’t always work flawlessly and there have been numerous reports of bugs and erratic behavior even since the 9500 series was launched. Dell released a number of software patches that addressed some of the complaints and I was under the impression they were able to finally figure out these quirks, but tough luck, they were not.
My unit is running the latest BIOS and software available for this laptop as of November 2021, and I’m not experiencing any fake clicks or palm-rejection issues. Instead, the left click doesn’t work properly on my unit. Everything’s fine as long as I’m using taps, but when I press on the left corner of the clickpad, it depresses and it clicks as it should, but it doesn’t always register an action. It feels and sounds like it clicks, but it does nothing, and that happens at least once in 4-5 clicks, so 20% of the time. If I move my finger and press one or two centimeters away from the corner, it works more reliably, but clicking right on the corner just doesn’t work sometimes.
As far as I can tell this is some sort of a hardware problem. Since this unit is a loaner, I didn’t open it up to try to address this behavior, but there are quite a few videos and posts on Reddit explaining the wonders a
small piece of tape can do on this clickpad. Nonetheless, if I’d be paying 2.5K for this laptop and end up with this kind of clickpad, I’d surely send it back for a replacement.
For what is worth, though, Dell seem to have improved their QC over time as fewer and fewer complaints about the clickpad have surfaced online in recent months. So there’s a fair chance you’ll end up luckier than I.
As far as biometrics go, there’s IR integrated into the webcam on this XPS 15 9510 series, as well as a finger-sensor in the power button, with Hello support. It’s the kind that registers your fingerprint when you first press the button to power on the laptop and then uses it to log into Windows, and it worked fine during my time with this laptop. There’s no guarantee you won’t run into any troubles, though, as there have been reports of the power button and finger-sensor malfunctioning, but most of them on the XPS 15 9500 series from last year.
Dell offers three screen options for this 2021 XPS 15 9510 series:
matte non-touch with FHD+ 1920 x 1200 px IPS panel, with 600+ nits of brightness and 100% sRGB colors;
glossy touch with 3.5K 3465 x 2160 px OLED panel, with sub-400 nits of brightness and 100% DCI-P3 colors;
glossy touch with 4K 3840 x 2400 px IPS panel, with 500+ nits of brightness and 100% DCI-P3 colors.
Our unit is the latter 4K IPS panel, the most expensive and arguably the better option for creative use, for two main reasons: it doesn’t suffer from the black/gray potential quirks of OLEDs and it should scale better with 3rd party software and experience fewer scaling inconsistencies when set at 200% scaling in Windows.
This panel also offers very good blacks and contrast for a regular IPS screen and showcased no light bleeding around the edges on our unit.
Here’s what we got in our tests,
with an X-Rite i1 Display Pro sensor:
Panel HardwareID: Sharp SHP1516 (LQ156R1);
Coverage: 100% sRGB, 100.0% Adobe RGB, 97.2% DCI-P3;
Measured gamma: 2.16;
Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 504.08 cd/m2 on power;
Min brightness in the middle of the screen: 30.38 cd/m2 on power;
Contrast at max brightness: 1769:1;
White point: 6400 K;
Black on max brightness: 0.28 cd/m2;
Response time: ~54 ms GtG (
source); PWM: No.
Calibration is also very good out of the box, with minor Gamma and White point offsets that can only be slightly further corrected.
If I’m to nitpick, I will mention that this panel doesn’t get very dim at the lowest brightness setting, which might bother some of you that use your laptop as night in complete darkness. Other than that, this is one of the best screens you can get on a full-size laptop these days. It’s expensive, though, a $400 extra over the base matte panel.
The OLED panel might seem like a good option to consider instead, at only $200 over the matte FHD option and $200 less than the touch 4K IPS. This is also touch, and I’m curious whether it experiences any of the graininess effects of white background that I noticed on other OLED touch laptops – it might be based on some user reports I’ve seen online, but still something to further look into.
This OLED panel option is also 100% DCI-P3, with the excellent blacks, contrast, and viewing angles characteristic of OLEDs. At the same time, at sub 400 nits of max brightness, it might not suffice for bright-light use, and you should also account for the potential downsides of OLEDs on laptops, such as black-crush and gray-bending, potential burn-in if used at maximum brightness with static interfaces for longer periods, and especially the 60 Hz flickering across the entire brightness range, except for 100%. And remember that you don’t want to use an OLED laptop at 100% brightness.
Furthermore, you should be aware of the potential scaling issues with this 3.5K panel. To me, setting it up at 200% would make everything too small, 150% would make everything too big, and 175% can lead to scaling issues in Windows. Tricky.
As for the base-level matte FHD+ panel, this is the brightest option here and best-suited for outdoor use and bright environments. This also offers fair blacks, contrast levels of around 1400:1, and fair color coverage, although not wide-gamut as on the other options. Dell offers this matte screen option paired with a smaller 56 Wh battery on the iGPU configurations, or the 86 Wh battery on the dGPU models.
Finally, I’ll also add that all these screen options are 60 Hz and slow response times for the IPS models, so none is ideal for gaming.
Hardware and performance
Our test model is a top-specced variation of the Dell XPS 15 9510, built on an Intel Core i7-11800H 8C processor with Iris Xe graphics and an Nvidia RTX 3050Ti 35-45W dGPU, 16 GB of DDR4-3200 MHz of memory, and 1 TB of fast SSD storage.
What we have here is a retail model bought locally. We tested it several months after launch, with the mature software available as of mid-November 2021 (BIOS GOP 1061, Dell Power Manager 3.10.0 app, Nvidia Studio Driver 472.47).
Specs-wise, this is built on an Intel Tiger Lake H45 hardware platform, with the mainstream Core i7-11800H 8C/16T processor on our configuration. Dell implements a couple of different power profiles on this laptop, allowing the CPU to run at up to 48W of sustained power here. That’s limiting for this sort of processor, as you’ll see down below. Compared to the previous XPS 15 9500 generation, though, the mid-range i7 is now 8C/16T and you don’t have to pay extra for the i9 to get an 8C/16T processor, which improves the value proposition of the mid-tier XPS 15 9510 configurations.
For the GPU, our configuration comes with an Nvidia RTX 3050Ti chip, with a TGP of 35W and the ability to run at up to 45W with Dynamic Boost. This is the highest-end dGPU option available for this series, as there’s also a 3050 mid-range option or Intel Iris Xe graphics only on the base-level Core i5 models, for those of you who don’t need the GPU power on their unit. The i7 and i9 versions are only available with Nvidia graphics.
For memory, there are 2x DIMMs on this laptop, which support up to 64 GB of DDR4-3200 memory. Our configuration gets 2x 8 GB of memory, in dual-channel.
For storage, there are 2x M.2 2280 slots inside. That means you can add a secondary drive when you’ll run out of space and still keep the one that comes by default. Our unit shipped with a WD PC SN730 1 TB drive, fast for daily use, but still only a PCIe gen3 drive. The laptop supports gen4 drives as well if you’ll need faster data transfer speeds, and you can add up to 8 TB of storage using the two slots.
So the RAM and the SSDs are all upgradeable on this series. Accessing them is a simple task, requiring you to remove the back panel that’s held in place by a couple of Torx screws. None of them are hidden behind rubber feet.
While in here, I’ll also add that Dell seems to have done an OK job pasting the CPU/GPU on this unit, without any overspilled paste. We ran all our tests and findings with the default paste, but repasting could impact the temperatures and even the performance to an extent; just be aware that repasting will void your warranty in most markets.
As far as the software goes, there are a couple of Dell apps preinstalled by default, such as Command/Update, Power Manager, and Support Assist. I’d recommend reinstalling a fresh copy of Windows and only put in Command and Power Manager, as the first is useful for updates and the second allows to switch between the different power modes.
For what is worth, this laptop also offers a stuffed and well-organized BIOS, with many options and configurations tweaks – the battery settings are definitely useful and something I’d like to see on all laptops, regardless of brand. Battery control is also possible in Windows, in the Power Manager app, if you don’t want to go into BIOS.
The power modes set different CPU/GPU power profiles and allow the fans to speed quieter or faster. There’s no direct control over the fans, though, you have to rely on what’s baked into these profiles.
During my time with this laptop, I’ve mostly kept it on the Optimized mid-tier profile, and only switched to Quiet for some batter tests and on Ultra Performance for benchmarks and gaming tests.
The laptop feels snappy with daily multitasking, video streaming, text-editing, and the likes, and it tends to keep quiet while on battery. The fans are active when lugged in and sometimes high-pitched, as we’ll discuss in the Emissions section further down.
Performance and benchmarks
On to more demanding tasks, we start by testing the CPU’s performance by running the Cinebench R15 benchmark for 15+ times in a loop, with 2-3 seconds delay between each run.
On the Ultra Performance mode, the Core i7 processor peaks close to 90 W for a little bit, then gradually drops and stabilizes at around 48W of sustained power in this mode, with clock speeds of ~3 GHz, and temperatures of ~95 degrees Celsius, but with very quiet fans at only 36-37 dB. Power and thermal limits prevent the CPU from running at its maximum 4.3 GHz all-core Turbo speeds and result in a ~20-25% reduction of performance over an ideal unlimited i7-11800H configuration.
There’s no default way to push the fans faster, and there’s no default ability to undervolt the CPU with either XTU or Throttlestop. There are some workarounds you could try at your own risk, though, such as using DellFanCmd to manually control the fan or
these tricks to enable undervolting. I haven’t tested them on my unit, because this review unit is a loaner from a friend and I need to return in perfect shape.
What I did is push up the back of the laptop from the desk, as this improves the airflow into the fans and lowers the temperatures. However, the 48W power limit still precedes in this case, and the CPU ends up performing similarly, but averages lower temperatures in the mid to high 80s.
Switching over to the Optimized mode limits the power to 45W and slightly lowers the fan noise. The performance minimally drops from the previous profile.
Quiet mode limits the noise even more, but also limits the CPU at 30W, resulting in roughly 70% of the performance measured on the top profile.
Finally, the laptop runs at ~22 W of power when unplugged, on the Optimized mode, with limited scores. All these findings are detailed in the chart and logs down below.
To put these in perspective, here’s how this Core i7-11800H implementation fares against other performance ultraportables in this test, both Intel and AMD, as well as a higher-power implementation of the i7-11800H processor, so you’ll better understand what you’re missing with this power-limited model.
We also ran the 3DMark CPU profile test.
We then went ahead and further verified our findings with the more taxing Cinebench R23 loop test, Blender, and Prime 95.
We also ran our combined CPU+GPU stress tests on this notebook. 3DMark stress runs the same test for 20 times in a loop and looks for performance variation and degradation over time, and this unit failed it by a small margin, which means you should expect a slight performance throttling in combined loads as the heat builds up into the system.
Next, here are some benchmark results. We ran the entire suite of tests and benchmarks on the Ultra Performance profile at FHD resolution, for consistency with our past reviews. Here’s what we got.
3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 10016 (Graphics – 11572, Physics – 11813, Combined – 4480);
3DMark 13 – Port Royal: 588;
3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 4461 (Graphics – 4273, CPU – 5947);
Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Medium: 7587;
Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Extreme: 2437;
Handbrake 1.3.3 (4K to 1080p encode): 35.64 average fps;
PassMark10: Rating: 3704 (CPU mark: 21172, 3D Graphics Mark: 10127, Disk Mark: 24333);
PCMark 10: 6019 (Essentials – 9654 , Productivity – 8116 , Digital Content Creation – 7553);
GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1527, Multi-core: 7513;
CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 1900 cb, CPU Single Core 226 cb;
CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 4162 cb, CPU Single Core 570 cb;
CineBench R23 (best run): CPU 10827 cb, CPU Single Core 1508 cb;
x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 36.46 s.
We also ran some Workstation related loads on this Core i7 + RTX 3050Ti configuration, on the Ultra Performance profile:
Blender 2.90 – BMW Car scene- CPU Compute: 4m 11s;
Blender 2.90 – BMW Car scene- GPU Compute: 1m 20s (CUDA), 46s (Optix);
Blender 2.90 – Classroom scene – CPU Compute: 11m 16s;
Blender 2.90 – Classroom scene – GPU Compute: 6m 22s (CUDA), 2m 37s (Optix);
Pugetbench – DaVinvi Resolve: 710 points;
Pugetbench – Adobe Photoshop: 725 points;
Pugetbench – After Effects: 597 points;
Pugetbench – Adobe Premiere: 621 points;
SPECviewerf 2020 – 3DSMax: 54.38;
SPECviewerf 2020 – Catia: 30.12;
SPECviewerf 2020 – Creo: 60.94;
SPECviewerf 2020 – Energy: 9.87;
SPECviewerf 2020 – Maya: 171.42;
SPECviewerf 2020 – Medical: 15.96;
SPECviewerf 2020 – SNX: 10.95;
SPECviewerf 2020 – SW: 100.88.
V-Ray Benchmark: CPU – 7957 vsamples, GPU CUDA – 464 vpaths.
Ok, so first off, this 2021 XPS 9510 with the
i7-11800H and the 3050Ti is a noticeable step-up in performance from the previous 2021 XPS 9500 model in a matching i7-10750H and 1650Ti configuration. We’re looking at improved IPC and single-core results and up to 30% faster multi-core results due to this mainstream i7-11800H being an 8C/16T processor now, corroborated with the higher clocks, faster memory, and advancements in IPC. Furthermore, the 3050Ti GPU scores 15-20% high in GPU-intensive tests such as 3DMark-Graphics, even if it’s only an up to 45W chip, and not up to 50W as the 1650Ti in the previous XPS 15.
We haven’t tested the previous XPS 15 9500 in the exact same way as we tested this 9510, so I can’t tell you the exact performance gains you should expect with specific workloads, but expect an overall 5-20% gain across all kinds of complex activities.
At the same time, this XPS 15 9510 remains a power-limited implementation of this hardware. As shown above, the CPU is limited at only middling power levels in sustained loads and the GPU is only a 35-45W implementation, so expect a noticeable performance hit over less limited models or higher specced configurations.
Furthermore, the CPU is even greater limited in combined loads, which explains the low scores in 3DMark Physics, even lower than what we got in similar configurations based on the
4C Intel Tiger Lake H35 i7-11370H platform, and significantly lower than on other i7-11800H implementations that we’ve tested and even previous-gen i7-10750H products. I ran these 3DMark tests multiple times just to make sure those are the right results, and they came back the same all the time.
At the same time, the CPU does perform as expected in the multi-core CPU-only loads such as Blender or Handbrake, or V-Ray. So take those 3Dmark-Physics results with a grain of salt.
For comparison, there are similarly sized products out there that would offer superior performance in demanding loads across the board. Among those we’ve tested, the
HP ZBook Studio or the Lenovo Legion Slim 7 come to mind in this same class, but there’s also the new ThinkPad X1 Extreme to mention here as a potential alternative. And then there are also the Apple-silicon MacBooks to consider, as well as some of the more compact 14-inchers such as the ROG Zephyrus G14 or the Blade 14, both more powerful in demanding loads.
Furthermore, I’m seeing more OEMs releasing this newer kind of 16-inch Creative kinds of laptops these days which might eat into the market share of this XPS 15, such as the Acer ConceptD3,
Asus VivoBook Pro 16X, and Dell’s own Inspiron 16.
That doesn’t mean the XPS 15 9510 might not be powerful enough for your needs. I still think this is a competitive overall package, you’ll just have to judge and decide for yourselves whether it offers the kind of performance you’ll need or you’d be better of with some of the alternatives out there.
While you should not get this XPS 15 9510 with primarily gaming in mind, let’s still look at how this Core i7 + 16 GB RAM + 3050Ti configuration does in games. Just don’t expect to game at the screen’s native 4K resolution.
For starters, we ran tests on Ultra settings on FHD resolution, with the laptop set-up on the Ultra Performance profile. We also three in a couple of other 3050 and 3050Ti configurations, for comparison.
Ultra settings, Performance profile
XPS 15 9510 –
Core i7 + 3050 35+W
VivoBook Pro 16X –
Core i7 + 3050 35+W
VivoBook Pro 14X –
Ryzen 7 + 3050Ti 35+W
Zephyrus G14 –
Ryzen 7 + 3050Ti 60+W
Legion Slim 7 –
Ryzen 5 + 3050Ti 60+W
Far Cry 5
(DX 11, Ultra Preset, SMAA) 56 fps (49 fps – 1% low)
64 fps (52 fps – 1% low)
68 fps (42 fps – 1% low)
84 fps (72 fps – 1% low)
81 fps (57 fps – 1% low)
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
(DX 11, Ultra Preset) 76 fps (51 fps – 1% low)
86 fps (61 fps – 1% low)
88 fps (63 fps – 1% low)
113 fps (82 fps – 1% low)
102 fps (73 fps – 1% low)
Red Dead Redemption 2
(DX 12, Ultra Optimized, TAA) 41 fps (31 fps – 1% low)
35 fps (28 fps – 1% low)
40 fps (29 fps – 1% low)
44 fps (32 fps – 1% low)
51 fps (36 fps – 1% low)
Shadow of Tomb Raider
(DX 12, Highest Preset, TAA) 49 fps (24 fps – 1% low)
48 fps (33 fps – 1% low)
56 fps (45 fps – 1% low)
69 fps (52 fps – 1% low)
59 fps (41 fps – 1% low)
Shadow of Tomb Raider
(DX 12, Highest Preset, TAA, RTX Ultra) 28 fps (12 fps – 1% low)
19 fps (9 fps – 1% low)
24 fps (11 fps – 1% low)
26 fps (14 fps – 1% low)
22 fps (12 fps – 1% low)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
(DX 11, Ultra Preset, Hairworks On 4) 58 fps (42 fps – 1% low)
60 fps (46 fps – 1% low)
63 fps (47 fps – 1% low)
70 fps (54 fps – 1% low)
70 fps (54 fps – 1% low)
The Witcher 3 – recorded with Fraps/in-game FPS counter in campaign mode;
Far Cry 5, Middle Earth, Tomb Raider – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities;
Red Dead Redemption 2 Optimized profile based on
In all fairness, if you must run recent games on this XPS 15, I’d recommend trimming down on the details and set-up the resolution at FHD+ to properly benefit from the screen’s 16:10 aspect ratio. Here’s what we got on Medium settings at FHD+ resolution.
Medium settings, Performance profile
XPS 15 9510-
Core i7 + 3050Ti 35+W
VivoBook Pro 16X –
Core i7 + 3050 35+W
VivoBook Pro 14X –
Ryzen 7 + 3050Ti 35+W
ConceptD 3 –
Ryzen 7 + 3050Ti 35+W
Far Cry 5
(DX 11, Normal Preset, TAA) 72 fps (54 fps – 1% low)
69 fps (57 fps – 1% low)
76 fps (44 fps – 1% low)
72 fps (17 fps – 1% low)
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
(DX 11, Medium Preset) 102 fps (74 fps – 1% low)
119 fps (83 fps – 1% low)
111 fps (82 fps – 1% low
106 fps (18 fps – 1% low)
Red Dead Redemption 2
(DX 12, Balanced – first option) 50 fps (34 fps – 1% low)
47 fps (34 fps – 1% low)
51 fps (39 fps – 1% low)
52 fps (19 fps – 1% low)
Shadow of Tomb Raider
(DX 12, Medium Preset) 52 fps (26 fps – 1% low)
62 fps (40 fps – 1% low)
66 fps (52 fps – 1% low)
68 fps (19 fps – 1% low)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
(DX 11, Medium Preset, Hairworks Low) 92 fps (59 fps – 1% low)
89 fps (65 fps – 1% low)
98 fps (73 fps – 1% low)
96 fps (18 fps – 1% low)
The Witcher 3 – recorded with Fraps/in-game FPS counter in campaign mode;
Far Cry 5, Middle Earth, Tomb Raider – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities;
Red Dead Redemption 2 Optimized profile based on
These are fair framerates for the sort of hardware in this XPS 15 9510, as long as your expectations from this sort of 35W 3050Ti are realistic.
You won’t be able to run games at the screen’s native 4k+ resolution here, so you’ll always have to use a non-native resolution that can lead to a slight amount of fuzziness and scaling artifacts in most games. Furthermore, the panel is only 60Hz and with slow response times, so you’ll also notice stuttering and ghosting in fast-paced titles, all these further adding up as reasons why you should not get this XPS 15 series primarily for gaming.
As far as the overall performance goes, we measured a combined system power of around 55-60W in the tested games, which means that the GPU only averages around 40W at FHD+ resolution in most of the tested games, and that explains the dip in framerates over other 3050 and 3050Ti models that we’ve tested which are able to push the GPU closer to 50W and to sustain a higher CPU+GPU combined power.
Temperatures are kept at bay even on the Ultra Performance profile, though, with quiet fans at 42-43 dB max with the laptop sitting on the desk. The CPU averages temperatures in the low-70s C and the GPU runs in the mid-70s C between the tested titles. Here are the logs at FHD+ resolution.
Lifting up the bottom of the laptop helps lower both the CPU and GPU temperatures by 3-7 degrees, but also results in a noticeable increase in perceived fan noise, which we now measured at 44-46 dB on the same Ultra Performance profile.
You can opt to run games on the Optimized profile if you prefer lower fan noise at sub 40dB levels, with a minimal toll on performance and only marginally higher internal and external temperatures.
Finally, I’ll also mention that the XPS 15 can run games on battery, as the system can still supply around 50W of combined power in this mode on the Optimized profile. Not bad. Don’t expect more than 1 hour and a few minutes of game time, though.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
Dell went with a dual-fan dual-heatpipe thermal module on this laptop, and they also put some thermal plates on top of the VRMs to prevent them from overheating.
These plates and thermal pads were missing from older XPS 15 models and
required tweaking to keep these VRMs at bay, but not anymore.
I’ll also add that Dell seem to have done a fair job pasting the CPU/GPU on this unit, without any overspilled paste. We ran all our tests and findings with the default paste, but repasting could impact the temperatures and even the performance to an extent, just be aware that repasting will void your warranty in most markets.
Most of the fresh air comes in from the bottom with this design, through the open intakes over the fans and heatpipes, and the hot air is pushed out through vents hidden under the hinge. This splits the hot air, sending some of it down and to the back and away from the user, but some still goes into the screen, as shown in the thermal readings down below.
With combined benchmarks and workloads, the fans rarely go above 40 dBA even on the Ultra Performance mode, and run quieter in CPU or GPU-only loads. With games, though, which push the hardware to 55-60W of combined CPU+GPU power, the system also pushes the fans faster and we measured about 42-43 dBA at head level with the laptop sitting on a desk.
This detail is important because as shown in the previous section, the slim rubber feet on this laptop tend to choke off the intakes, and actually pushing the back of the laptop up from the desk positively impacts the internal temperatures, but also leads to an increase in perceived fan noise. This is especially noticeable with games on the Ultra Performance mode, in which case the noise levels jump to 44-46 dB in our tests.
Switching to the Optimized profile is going to minimally impact the combined system power, but slightly lower the fan noise in games to 39-40 dB with the laptop sitting on the desk, and 41-42 dB with it pushed up.
I should also add that there’s no default way to manually adjust the behavior of the fans, but you can do it with third-party software if you want to. Don’t expect significant changes, as I find these standard profiles quite well balanced.
One final observation is that Dell sets up a slow response time for the fans in this XPS 15. This means that they’ll react slowly and gradually to a high load, which has both a positive and a negative effect. The positive is that you’re not going to experience annoying pulsating fans with daily use, when you launch an app that spikes up the CPU. The negative is that at times, the CPU is going to run at high temperatures for 10-30 seconds before the fans catch up and start spinning. Based on our tests, that’s not a concern with daily use, and I’ve only experienced it within the 10-30 seconds of launching a demanding load or test; this, however, means the heat is going to build up faster into the system than if the fans were more responsive. All in all, though, I prefer this kind of setting over an overly-aggressive fan profile.
When it comes to everyday use, the XPS 15 9510 keeps very quiet, with the fans staying mostly idle with casual use even on the Ultra Performance profile, with the laptop either plugged in or running on battery. They will occasionally kick on with multitasking, and they are rather annoyingly high-pitched when they do at their lower rpms; that aside, it will also take a while for them to turn back to idle, as a result of the lazy fan settings explained above. For the most part, though I’ve rarely even noticed the fans in this laptop during these weeks, and you can also switch over to the Quiet profile if you want to force them to keep quieter even with daily multitasking.
I’ll also add that I haven’t experienced coil whine or electronic noises on this unit, but that’s not a guarantee you won’t get any with yours, so make sure to carefully test and listen for any abnormalities within your return window.
As for the external temperatures, I have no complaints with daily use, even with the mostly passive cooling. Yes, the laptop runs a bit warm to the touch, but the chassis doesn’t go above mid-30s Celsius in the warmest spots.
*Daily Use – Optimized Mode – streaming Netflix in EDGE for 30 minutes, fans at 0-30 dB
With games, we tested a worst-case scenario in games that push a combined CPU+GPU power of around 60W in Far Cry 5, with the laptop sitting on a desk and then pushed up to improve the airflow and temperatures. In both cases, the keyboard and armrest stay within comfortable limits, with hotspots in the mid-40s in the middle of the keyboard around the Y, U, 7 keys, just on top of the hardware. You’ll rarely come in contact with those parts during use, so I’ll give the overall thermal performance a pass here.
I do have to mention that the majority of the hot air is expelled into the screen with this design, and that causes the bottom of the panel to reach temperatures in the low 40s. Not ideal, but these are low enough not to cause panel degradation over long-term use, especially since all the dGPU configurations of the XPS 15 9510 come with a touchscreen with an extra layer of protective glass on top of the actual panel.
*Gaming – Ultra Performance mode, on desk – playing Far Cry 5 for 30 minutes, fans at 42-43 dB
*Gaming – Ultra Performance mode, raised up – playing Far Cry 5 for 30 minutes, fans at 44-46 dB
For connectivity, there’s the latest-gen WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5 through a Killer 1650s module on this laptop. It performed well with our setup, although the speeds dropped a fair bit at 30+ feet with obstacles in between; not to unusable levels in our case, but there’s a potential concern if you plan on using the laptop in places with dodgy wifi signal, far away from your router.
Audio is handled by a set of quad speakers that fire through those cuts on the sides of the laptop and through small cuts in the grills that flank the keyboard. They’re definitely louder and higher-quality than what you’ll get with most of the other Windows laptops, at 85+ dB at maximum level and quite good bass for this class. You’ll hardly want to use these at higher volumes, though, as they push a fair bit of vibrations into the chassis and I’ve even noticed some rattling with certain songs.
I’ll also mention that there’s an HD camera placed at the top of the screen, with IR, but without any kind of shutter, and microphones placed on the front lip, above the camera. These mics are OK for calls, but the camera quality is mediocre at best, even in good light.
There’s a 86 Wh battery inside this XPS 15 9510 higher-tier configuration, which is adequately sized for a laptop of this size, although smaller than the 97 Wh battery in the previous generations. With the Intel hardware and the 4K screen, this notebook is capable of average runtimes on a charge.
Here’s what we got, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~60 brightness).
18 W (~5+ h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Quiet + Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
13 W (~6-7 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Quiet + Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
11 W (~7-8 h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, Quiet + Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
12 W (~5-6 h of use) – browsing in Edge, Optimized + Better Performance Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
22 W (~4+ h of use) – gaming – Witcher 3, Ultra Performance + Best Performance Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON.
The laptop ships with a mid-sized 130W charger, adequately sized for this hardware, which plugs in via USB-C. It’s a dual-piece design with long cables, but it doesn’t include a cable strap so you’ll need to find a solution (as I did in that pic below) if you don’t want to pull out the cables all-tangled up from your backpack.
On a positive note, charging is possible on both the left-side and the right-side USB-C slots.
Keep in mind that the base FHD+ without any dGPU configurations of the XPS 15 9510 only ship with a smaller 56 Wh battery and a 90W charger.
Price and availability- Dell XPS 15 9510
The XPS 15 9510 is widely available all around the world at the time of this article, mid-November 2021.
The base model with a Core i5-11300H CPU, Iris Xe graphics, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, the FHD+ matte screen, and a 56 Wh battery starts at $1299 MSRP. RAM and storage are upgradeable, so you could consider this variant if on a tighter budget, if you prefer a matte screen and if don’t need a dGPU, even if you need to accept the tradeoff in battery life. You’ll also want to upgrade the RAM and storage if you go this route, so plan a budget for that.
The configuration tested here, with the Core i7-11800H, the 3050Ti, and the 4K touchscreen starts at $2399 and goes up as you add RAM and storage. The 500-nits 4K touchscreen is a pricey $400 upgrade over the FHD screen options and $200 over the 400-nits 3.5K OLED touch variant. The 3050Ti is also a $100 extra over a 3050, and that’s a small extra to pay for. Updating to an i9 is also a small difference over the i7, but not necessarily recommended on this power-limited design.
I appreciate that this series is
highly configurable on Dell’s website, where you’ll also find occasional discounts that will bite into those MSRP prices. You’ll still find the XPS 15 9510 listed in other online stores as well, with competitive prices for the most part. Follow this link for more details.
Final thoughts- Dell XPS 15 9510
7000 words later, time to draw some conclusions on this XPS 15 9510.
As a whole, this is still a versatile package of premium craftsmanship, compact form factor for a full-size laptop, several good-quality screen options, as well as balanced specs, performance, thermals, and battery life. Add in the excellent speakers and OK inputs and IO, and this could still be the get-go for many of you.
At the same time, I feel that this is starting to show its age here and there in comparison to the more recent launches
in this premium segment. I’ve mentioned my various nits with some of the ergonomics of this laptop, so I won’t go over them again here. Then, the overly shallow typing experience was somewhat of a letdown in the past, and is no longer on par with the competition today. The clickpad was also still buggy on my unit, and I would have hoped Dell figured this out by now, given the multiple complaints they’ve had ever since they launched the 9500 model last year.
And there’s the IO. I’m glad to see wide support for Thunderbolt 4 with this generation, but an IO that relies solely on USB-C connectors on this sort of production laptop is a hard sell for me. Might not matter much for you, though.
As far as the performance of this XPS 15 9510 goes, there are a few aspects to balance out in your decision.
On one side, this can handle everything you’ll throw of it and is now significantly faster than the previous generation in the mainstream Core i7 +3050Ti configuration. This means you’re getting a 5-25% upgrade in performance with the mid-tier 9510 models without having to reach for the i9 configurations (although the price difference between the i7 and i9 is minimal). On the same side, Dell have refined their power profiles and cooling over the years, and this generation has minimized the thermal issues of past XPS 15 models, while also keeping within comfortable fan noise levels and temperatures, both internally and at the case level.
Of course, that’s a result of this being a power-limited design, with a combined CPU+GPU power of only 55-60W in our tests. That means less restrained implementations of this same hardware will perform faster in demanding loads, so if you’re after for the best performance for your money in a portable chassis, the XPS 15 is probably not the way to go for you, as it’s neither very powerful nor inexpensive.
Speaking of, the FHD matte-screen configuration would be the better value pick for me here, just be aware that the base models without an iGPU only ship with a 56 Wh battery, so you might want to go with any of the dGPU options to also get the bigger battery. This will set you back $1899 MSRP at this point. The other screen options are a hefty extra and the 4K IPS would be for me the viable alternative if the budget would allow it, given the flickering and potential quirks of OLED laptop screens. When you throw in that 4K screen, expect to pay at least 2K for a fair configuration of this XPS 15 9510 even with discounts, as the MSRP starts at $2399 at the time of this article.
premium creative laptops such as the Apple MacBook Pro 16 or the HP ZBook Studio are even more expensive, but have a fair share of advantages down their sleeves, such as superior performance, IO, and inputs on the ZBook, plus all these and a more efficient platform on the Apple-silicon MacBook. And then there’s also the 2021 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme, now available with a 16-inch 16:10 display, specs up to a Core i9 and 80W RTX 3080, superior IO, and most likely superior typing experience. We haven’t tested that one, but you’ll want to look into it as a viable XPS 15 alternative.
All in all, sure, this 2021 XPS 15 remains one of the star multi-purpose premium laptops of its time, now faster than the previous models and overall more refined in terms of software, cooling, and potential bugs. However, while back in 2016 when Dell first introduced this ground-breaking at the time XPS 15 design, there was little to no matching competition for the series, a lot has changed in the meantime and I’m looking forward to a revamped 2022 XPS 15 (or maybe 16?) to potentially push this lineup back into our recommendations lists.
This wraps up my review of the mid-2021 Dell XPS 15 series, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and feedback down below, so get in touch.