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Dell goes big with the XPS 17's debut: Everything you need to know

It's not your typical 17-inch laptop. Dell built in a number of distinctive features.

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With the debut of the Dell XPS 17, the company will bring its popular XPS brand to a 17-inch laptop this summer, with a bezel-less design, H-class 10th-gen CPU, and up to RTX 2060 graphics. There’s an updated XPS 15, too. 

While the laptops were officially announced Wednesday, we actually got a sneak peek at prototypes of the XPS 17 in late 2019. We’ll walk you through everything we know about it.

Dell XPS 17 9700 Price and Availability

Dell said the XPS 17 9700 will go on sale this summer with a starting price of $1,499. Starting obviously means a version that doesn’t include the top-end components.

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Dell’s XPS 17 9700 is smaller in physical dimensions than some 15-inch laptops, but its display is a 17-inch, 16:10 aspect ratio, 4K UHD+ screen.

Dell XPS 17 9700 Screen Options

The XPS 17 9700’s most distinctive feature is its 17-inch screen, and not just because of the size. While most 17.3-inch displays have a wide, 16:9 aspect ratio best suited for video, Dell’s is a custom panel with a 16:10 aspect ratio, far taller and more pleasant for people who need to get work done.

Two display options are available both of which are 60Hz. The first is a 1920x1200 resolution FHD+ screen that can hit 100 percent of sRGB color space. Although not exactly high-resolution, it’s plenty bright at 500 nits. The screen comes with an anti-glare finish.

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Dell’s two display options share certain features, including 178-degree viewing angles and support for Dolby Vision and Eyesafe.

Those who value pixel density will likely prefer the touch-enabled 4K UHD+ screen with a resolution of 3840x2400. It’s rated to hit 100 percent of the Adobe RGB color gamut and greater than 94 percent of the DCI-P3 color gamut. It also complies with the HDR 400 spec for luminance and color depth, and can hit 500 nits of brightness. The panel features anti-smudge and anti-reflective features.

Anti-reflective isn’t the same as anti-glare, which is typically a matte finish. Anti-reflective screens are designed to be glossy or shiny to maintain image crispness, but they typically have internal coatings to minimize reflections.

Both screens offer 178-degree viewing angles and support both the Dolby Vision HDR 4K video format and the Eyesafe standard for reducing blue emissions from the screen—without that horrible brown tint that makes it look like you’re wearing As Seen On TV Blue Blocker sunglasses. Eyesafe screens essentially look “normal,” but without the blue emissions that disturb your sleep and hurt your eyes.

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The XPS 17 is about an inch narrower than many other 17-inch power house laptops.

Dell XPS 17 9700 Size and Weight

Dell likes to say the XPS 17 9700 is smaller than “half the 15-inch” laptops available. Measuring 14.7 x 9.8 x 0.77 inches. It’s definitely smaller than Gigabyte’s Aero 17 HDR at 15.6 x 10.6 x 0.84 inches, or Razer’s Blade Pro 17 at 16.7 x 11 x 0.88 inches, or MSI’s GS75 at 15.6 x 10.2 x 0.7 inches All three of those laptops are gaming laptops or feature fairly beefy GPUs, but the XPS 17 has a hefty spec list too (see below). The weight of the laptop is good, starting at 4.65 pounds but increasing to 5.53 pounds depending on the options.

Dell XPS 17 9700 Specs

Dell spares little expense with its top-tier XPS line. The XPS 17 9700’s specs are predictably premium:

CPU: The new XPS 17 is based on Intel’s latest 10th-gen Comet Lake H CPUs. Options include the quad-core Core i5-10300H, six-core Core i7-10750H, or the eight-core Core i7-10875H or Core i9-10885H.

A Ryzen CPU option would have been nice, but our initial advice is to recommend the Core i7-10750H or Core i7-10875 in thin laptops. While the Core i9-10885H offers higher boost performance, it’s better suited for much larger and heavier designs.

RAM: All configurations are based on standard DDR4/2933 modules in dual-channel mode with capacities of 8GB, 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. All designs use standard SO-DIMM modules so you can increase capacity at a later point. Obviously choose the RAM based on your needs, but we’d recommend 16GB unless you’re on a tight budget. Choose 32GB or 64GB only if you know they need that much RAM, or because you’re locked into it by a build.

GPU: Graphics options range from using the CPU’s UHD graphics to a GeForce GTX 1650 Ti or a GeForce RTX 2060. While neither of the GeForce cards is designated as Max-Q, typically that’s implied due to the thinness of the laptop. Both are good GPUs, but the RTX 2060 offers hardware ray tracing support and tensor cores for machine learning loads. It's a big step up from the GTX 1650 Ti in gaming. If you’re choosing between the discrete GPUs for video editing, both are based on Nvidia’s Turing chip and offer the same NVDEC performance, but the RTX 2060 has a slightly more advanced NVENC engine.

You might be wondering why anyone would buy a big-screen laptop like the XPS 17 and skip the more powerful graphics chips? Dell likely wants to have a model to hit lower prices and make it more appealing—and there is a crowd that just wants a big-screen laptop even if it’s not for gaming.

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A rendering of the Dell XPS 17 9700's interior indicates how much space there is to work with in a 17-inch laptop.

Battery: Dell offers two different battery configurations: 56 Watt-hour and 97 Watt-hour. On previous XPS laptops, Dell has offered two battery sizes, but that was typically done to accommodate hardware such as a hard drive. This time it’s to provide a choice between weight and battery life. Ditch the big battery, 4K touchscreen, and discrete graphics, and you can get the XPS 17 down to 4.65 pounds. With full kit, it’s a beefy 5.53 pounds.

SSD: For storage Dell offers 256GB, 512GB, 1TB and 2TB SSDs in one of the laptop’s two M.2 slots. All of the options are PCIe-based, which is good because some laptop makers still use SATA-based M.2 cards in low-capacity builds to keep the price low. Dell said it’s also looking at possibly populating both M.2 slots down the road.

Networking: For networking, there’s no ethernet, but it is the latest Killer AX1650 Wi-Fi built on an Intel chipset.

Dell XPS 17 9700 Serviceability

As you read earlier, the XPS 17 9700 features two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots and two M.2 slots. That’s a plus only if you can get to those slots without having to remove the motherboard (which many inverted designs use).

While we didn’t get a picture of the inside bottom of the XPS 17 9700, Dell officials said it’s not an inverted design. Removing the bottom will allow fairly easy access to the M.2 and SO-DIMM slots.

Dell XPS 17 9700 Ports

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The left side of the new XPS 17 9700 features two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a wedge-style lock.

The left side of the XPS 17 9700 features two Thunderbolt 3 ports which support x4 connections. There’s also a “wedge-style” lock, which we think is a generic name for Noble’s wedge lock, not Kensington’s old Security Slot nor Kensington’s newer Mini Lock.

The right side of the XPS 17 9700 gives you two more Thunderbolt 3 ports, an analog headset jack, and an SD card reader that Dell said is UHS-III complaint. That last bit means the card reader can theoretically hit 624MBps transfer speeds, vs. the 312MBps of UHS-II slots when used with a fast SD card.

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The right side of the XPS 17 9700 features two more Thunderbolt 3 slots, a UHS-III card reader, and analog headset jack.

Dell XPS 17 9700 Cooling

One technique Dell used to shrink the overall size of the XPS 17 9700 was to build vapor chambers for heat dispersion, instead of traditional heat pipes. Heat pipes use pipe-shaped conduits to wick heat from the CPU to the heat sink and fans. Such designs are inexpensive, but they also tend to be thicker and less efficient.

Vapor chambers are flat chambers that help spread the heat. Vapor chambers can be found in graphics cards and were even used for a Razer laptop.

Dell said the new system offers about 90 watts of cooling, which the company claims is impressive for a 19.5mm-thick laptop. Dell again uses Gore insulation material to keep the keyboard deck cooler and channel heat away from your fingertips.

Dell's other trick with the XPS 17 9700 is a patent pending "Dual Opposite" fan that the company said increases airflow by 30 percent by increasing air flow in both directions. If that makes no sense, we read the company's patent application (US20200093035A1) and it appears to work by allowing a server or laptop to reverse the flow air based on which method offers cooling.

Most laptops intake air from the bottom and exhaust it out near the hinges away from the user. Since laptops can have impeded air flow on the bottom, the XPS 17 likely automatically or lets the user reverse the air flow when that direction works better.

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Dell’s XPS 17 features vapor chambers and a “Dual Opposite” fan design, which is supposed to increase airflow by 30 percent.

Dell XPS 17 9700 AC adapter

We rarely spend a lot of words on a laptop’s charging system, but Dell said two options are offered with the new XPS 17. A 90-watt brick is available for those who buy the laptop without discrete graphics. Laptops with GPUs get a Dell 130-watt USB-C charger. Technically, power delivery over USB-C tops out at 100 watts, so Dell’s charger checks first to confirm the laptop is a Dell and can handle it before before breaking the 100-watt rule.

Even with Dell’s neat trick, we do wonder whether the 130-watt PSU is a tell on just how far the XPS 17 will push it in performance. Most laptops we’ve seen with H-class CPUs and GeForce RTX 2060 GPUs (both Max-Q and non-Max-Q) typically have 180-watt power bricks. We’ll have to wait for review units to check this out.

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Dell uses top-firing speakers, a 1.3mm travel keyboard, and a really big trackpad on the XPS 17 9700.

Dell XPS 17 9700 Keyboard, Mouse and Webcam

Dell doesn’t say much about the keyboard, but those worried it might have a low-travel MagLev 2 keyboard will be glad to know it’s a standard rubber-dome keyboard with 1.3mm of travel. The trackpad is huge and supports Microsoft’s Precision Touch drivers.

The laptop features an integrated fingerprint reader in the power button as well as a biometric login IR camera. That camera, as well as the microphones, are mounted on the top-bezel. As with the vast majority of laptop webcams, the resolution is 720p.

Dell XPS 17 9700 Speakers

We’ll have to wait to to hear the speakers to render judgment, but Dell said they feature Waves Nx 3D audio tuned by Grammy-award-winning producer Jack Joseph Puig. Dell also takes advantage of the size of the laptop, firing the sound through 7,622 holes drilled on the left and right sides of the keyboard. Many laptop makers have resorted to firing the sound from the side or the bottom of the laptop to save space.

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It's all bezel on the new XPS 17 9700.

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