Design and Other Considerations

Before we get to the benchmarks, let’s take a minute more to look at the design and aesthetics on offer. We’ve covered most of this already—the XPS 15 L501x had a decent keyboard with only slight flex, there are lots of matte surfaces to go around, and you get some of the best sounding speakers you’ll ever hear in a laptop. Except, this isn't exactly the same keyboard as the previous model, and the chassis feels slightly less sturdy as a result. More on this in a moment.

One upgrade that we didn't get to test previously is the 9-cell battery, and this is one of those hit-or-miss upgrades. On the one hand, you increase battery capacity and battery life (by about 55% in our testing). Unfortunately, the 9-cell battery really ruins the profile of the XPS 15, raising the back of the notebook almost a full inch and giving the bottom an uncomfortable bump that makes using it on your lap a dubious proposition. It's great for battery life, and if your laptop sits on a desk or table it's not a big deal; however, Dell should be able to put this much capacity into a better form factor with a few modifications to the chassis.

In the above gallery, we’ve included some comparison pictures of the 6-cell and 9-cell Dell batteries with ASUS’ 8-cell battery from their U-series. The ASUS battery is nearly as thin as the 6-cell but it’s substantially longer; it shows that it would be possible for Dell to fit such a battery into a 14” chassis if they were willing to rework the chassis and internal layout. Personally, I think Dell needs to reevaluate the battery design. While I really like the idea of a 90Wh battery, I don’t like the battery wart on the bottom of my laptop. Another option would be to go for a higher quality (and higher cost) Lithium polymer battery that could pack the same 90Wh into a smaller shell, which is the approach Apple tends to take.

Another tidbit worth mentioning is that upgrading your hard drive requires a bit of extra work. You can get at the memory, WiFi card, and the remaining mini-PCIe slot (occupied by an AverMedia TV Tuner in our test unit) through the single large bottom panel. The hard drive on the other hand is accessed through the top of the chassis. Interestingly enough, the top cover around the keyboard isn’t even secured by any screws; remove the battery and you can access a couple of the plastic clips that hold the cover in place. There are about twenty plastic clips around the top cover, and you’ll have to get them all to release before you can get at the hard drive; you’ll also need to detach the touchpad and media/power button ribbon connectors. While you won’t need to remove any screws, the end result is something of a pain compared to the simple bottom-hatch access most laptops use, and if you happen to remove the cover several times there’s a reasonable chance you’re going to start breaking the plastic clips.

The reason I get into the above is two-fold: first, it illustrates a design flaw and the difficulty of upgrading the hard drive/SSD. The other item to note is that the entire top cover is made of somewhat flimsy plastic, which feels more like Inspiron quality than XPS quality. The frame on the XPS line may be solid, but the actual shell around the frame is plastic and definitely not as sturdy as Dell’s Latitude line. I’d really prefer to see the XPS line go slightly more upscale—bump the price up $50 to $100 and give us a consumer chassis that feels like it will last. Or there’s the new Alienware M11x/M14x that might fill that niche, but aesthetics are still a matter of opinion and plenty of people dislike the bling that’s present on Alienware’s offerings.

Finally, let's discuss the keyboard. I actually liked the old L501x keyboard, and I sort of figured the L502x would be the same design. Well, it's not. The new keyboard is the chiclet style that has become so prevalent among consumer notebooks. I don't really mind typing on chiclet keyboards, and this one works well enough, but I felt there was more flex and less ruggedness to the overall design compared to the previous model. Some of that may just be my perception—I don't have the L501x handy to check—but as noted above the build quality feels more like a tweaked Inspiron rather than giving you the quality of a Latitude.

With that out of the way, let’s hit the benchmarks and graphs and see how the new XPS 15 compares to the old model, along with a selection of other recent laptops. Pricing for the reviewed configuration puts the L502x into direct competition with laptops sporting significantly faster GPUs—i.e. MSI’s GT680R can be found for just $50 more. What you get with the Dell is a more aesthetically pleasing design, a higher quality LCD, significantly better battery life (thanks to Optimus), better speakers, and a backlit keyboard. On the other hand, the GTX 460M walks all over the GT 540M in games, so if you’re looking for gaming laptops as opposed to Jack-of-All-Trades offerings, there are better options.

Dell XPS 15 L502x: Tweaking the Formula No Surprises: Quad-Core Sandy Bridge Is Still Fast
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  • cookiezulu - Sunday, April 24, 2011 - link

    Not satisfied with just replacing the primary HDD with a Vertex 3 I also want to replace the optical drive with a HDD caddy with a 1TB WD 2.5 Scorpio Blue (WD10TPVT) or a 1TB Samsung Spinpoint MT2 (HM100UI).

    So I've got a couple of questions for anybody who knows:
    1. does the MB/Bios support a 1TB drive in the secondary SATA?
    2. if anybody has done in the L501x model, are there any issues with heat?
    3. does this void the warranty? (I realise that Dell are not going to support the 3rd party caddy, but does it void the warranty repacing the ODD with a HDD - I don't quite know why Dell don't make one themselves)

    Thanks again for your help,
    Cookie
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, April 25, 2011 - link

    1) It should support any SATA device in the secondary port, but you'll need to find an appropriate caddy (or jury-rig something).
    2) Most 2.5" HDDs don't generate all that much heat, though 1TB might be a bit more than others. Would be interesting to put the SSD in the ODD bay and use a standard HDD in the main location, as SSDs generate very little heat.
    3) Shouldn't matter, as long as you keep the ODD around. There's nothing to indicate you've done something non-standard unless you actually have to mod the main chassis.
    Reply
  • cookiezulu - Monday, April 25, 2011 - link

    I'm planning on using the Newmodeus caddy (http://bit.ly/frNqo3). Other people seem to have found it alright for the L502.
    The reviews for hard drive that I was thinking of for the caddy (a WD Scorpio Blue WD10TPVT) report that the drive stays cool under load. Also the caddy is made of metal so that should help with heat.
    I did consider the SSD for the caddy but the problem is that if I want to use a 1TB drive (12.5mm in height) I can only put it in the caddy.
    Yes, I'm keeping the bluray drive and using it in an external USB enclosure. I've got a 1-5 days in home 3 years extended warranty so I should have time to pop the unit back in if the laptop needs to be taken away.
    Reply
  • aneuwahl - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - link

    Hello,
    does anyone have any news on this?
    http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/laptop...
    The issue seems to be widely and quickly spreading both on 15" and 17" XPS models.
    And Dell seems not to be finding any solution at the moment.
    Reply
  • mahapatra - Thursday, October 20, 2011 - link

    Does anyone know when Dell will upgrade the gfx card gt540m in xps 15? Would it better to wait for 4-6 months? Reply
  • Waynef - Monday, January 16, 2012 - link

    Hi,

    I purchased an XPS l502x Direct Base on 27th May and was delivered in the second week of June 2011

    Towards the end of the 4th Month ie Oct, I had few incidents of overheating (get pop ups informing the temp is 99.0 deg in core 1 / 2), in the 5th month I had severe overheating issues (get pop ups informing the temp is 99.0 deg in core 1,2,3 & 4), for which I kept informing Dell about the same and they got the heat sink replaced this was in the first week of dec even to date i get occasional overheating issues.. The day they replaced the heat sink my daughter board went kaput and that took a week to get the same replaced.

    In the first 4 months of usage I had a battery life of 7 hrs +, Post which it is now about 3 hours.

    Please do let me know if this is normal?

    1. Overheating issue.
    2. Battery life.

    I use the same in Power Savings Mode with screen brightness on the 1st bar. (min)

    I rarely use the bluetooth and wifi have not used it till now.

    My tech specs are:

    Second gen i7-2630QM processor 2.0 GHz with turbo boost to 2.90 GHz
    WLED display with Truelife
    8GB Dual Channel 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
    750GB 7200 rpm Hard Drive
    9 CELL Battery
    2 GB NVIDA GeForce GT 540M Graphic Card
    Backlight Keyboard

    Thanks in advance for the replies and assistance.
    Reply

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