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Long-term review: The Dell XPS 15 Touch is the laptop to beat

Scot Finnie | Feb. 3, 2016
Dell's latest Windows 10 laptop is lightweight and powerful, with one of the best displays around.

And complicating the process is the fact that, in Windows 10, the pointer controls are divided into two locations: some are found under Control Panel while others are found in the new Settings applet. I've had to go back again and again to reset the tracking speed in Control Panel > Mouse > Pointer Options; those settings keep slipping back to the default middle point.

I've pointed out so many flaws in the XPS 15's touchpad you probably think I hate it. The truth is that, to me, it's the single most important feature; without it, I would not have adopted a Windows machine as one of my two daily-driver laptops. It could use improvement, but Dell and Microsoft are headed in the right direction.

Thunderbolt 3 on USB-C

The Dell XPS 15 9550 is something of a landmark laptop for more than just high-resolution, compact packaging and a MacBook Pro-like trackpad. It's among the very first model lines to sport the new USB Type C port-based Thunderbolt 3 technology.

Without Thunderbolt 3, the USB-C port -- such as the one that ships on Apple's 12-inch MacBook -- adheres to the USB 3.1 Gen 2 spec, which delivers a maximum data-transfer rate of 10Gbps. The same port with a lightning bolt symbol next to it supports Thunderbolt 3, which provides transfer rates up to 40Gbps.

dell thunderbolt dock tb15a
Dell The Dell Thunderbolt Dock provides a variety of ports for use with Thunderbolt 3 systems such as the XPS 15.

Thunderbolt 3 is about to become the new de facto docking station connection. It supports power up to 100 watts for system charging, up to 15 watts for bus-powered devices, four lanes of bidirectional PCI express, eight lanes of bidirectional DisplayPort 1.2, DVI, HDMI, VGA, 10-gigabit Ethernet and the ability to daisy-chain up to six Thunderbolt 3 devices. The Dell XPS 15 is among the first laptops to be Thunderbolt 3 certified.

There weren't any Thunderbolt 3 products I could test at press time, but USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 had a solid presence at CES, with a long list of products announced and set to ship in the first quarter. One such product is the Dell Thunderbolt Dock ($299), which shipped on January 28th. It provides several ports, including three USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, DisplayPort, VGA and Thunderbolt 3. The docking station can support two 4K monitors simultaneously at 60Hz or one 5K monitor.

Disappointingly, the XPS 15's onboard HDMI port only meets the 1.4 spec, not HDMI 2.0, which means that it can't display a higher resolution than 1080p at 60Hz. I can understand why this would be the case in the $1,000 base model. But half the model line delivers 4K resolution; it's a shame that Dell didn't spring for the HDMI 2.0 port, which supports 4K at 60Hz. Better yet, it should have given strong consideration to a Mini DisplayPort, which also supports 4K at 60Hz. The XPS 15 is wholly dependent on the Thunderbolt 3 port for displaying 4K externally at the proper 60 frames per second (fps).

 

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