A Photographer's Review: The Dell XPS 15 Laptop

A Photographer's Review: The Dell XPS 15 Laptop

I've lived with the Dell XPS 15 laptop as my main computer for all my photo and video editing for the past year. Should you buy it for your photo editing? Here's my full review of what it's like as a creative content maker, warts and all.

As a creative professional that's always on the go, I wanted to invest in a decent laptop in order to edit my content from wherever I am, whether taking shelter in the car from a snowstorm that blows over Iceland, in a coffee shop in downtown London, or simply sitting at home on the couch. I also wanted the biggest bang for my buck, so that's why last year, I settled on the Dell XPS 15 9570 laptop.

Why didn't I just go for a MacBook Pro? Well, mostly because I wanted to get the highest spec laptop for the least amount of money. And before you ask, it doesn't really have anything to do with the operating system, because I know both intimately and am happy using them interchangeably. So, let's start my review by looking at the specs I went with, and then I'll detail how I feel about it now that I've lived with it as my main computer over the past year.

Dell XPS 15 9570 side view

The Dell XPS 15 9570

Full Specification

  • CPU: 8th Generation Intel Core i9-8950HK Processor (12 MB Cache, up to 4.8 GHz, 6 cores)
  • RAM: 32 GB 2x16GB DDR4-2666MHz
  • Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050Ti with 4 GB GDDR5
  • Storage: 1 TB M.2 2280 PCIe Solid State Drive
  • Screen: 15.6" 4K Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) InfinityEdge Anti-Reflective Touch IPS 100% AdobeRGB 400 Nits display
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Pro, 64-bit

It's Still Fast

After a few tweaks in Lightroom this past month, the laptop is still running faster than ever. Thanks to the powerful Intel i9 CPU and the speedy SSD, image buffering and recall are quick. It doesn't slow down when editing big video projects in Adobe Premiere Pro, either. I run CCleaner every now and again to do a bit of cleanup here and there, tidying the registry as I install and uninstall software, but once you've swapped from an old HDD to an SSD, you'll know that this doesn't make a huge difference anyway.

Dell XPS 15 laptop front view

This laptop, although over a year old, hasn't slowed one bit and is still plenty fast enough to cope with anything I throw at it

Trackpad Repairs Were Needed

I had an issue with my trackpad, in which the cursor kept skipping and jumping all over the page. Occasionally, the cursor would grab onto something and drag it across the screen, which is a real pain in the neck. Luckily it was under warranty, and I had a Dell-approved service repair center fix it for me. There's a small rubber notch that sits under the trackpad, and if installed incorrectly, the pad clicks and feels odd to the touch. But it took the engineers three separate visits before it was working properly again.

In the end, the service operator had to replace the whole trackpad and the keyboard as well. I was not impressed. I requested an extension of my warranty (which was due to end in just a couple of weeks' time at that point), but Dell didn't want to do that. It screamed "planned obsolescence" to me, something that I abhor, but has been okay in the few months since.

Dell XPS 15 trackpad top view

The trackpad required three separate service visits to repair due to an installation error by the engineer

It's Easy to Repair and Upgrade

After the service operator took it apart in my home right in front of me, (this was pre-COVID), I was impressed with how easy every component was to access. A few screws and a couple of clip-on cables looms and most things popped out of the case quite easily. It's definitely something I'd be happy doing if parts needed repairing or upgrading in the future; there's plenty of space inside, so it makes things easy to fiddle with. I can't say the same for MacBook Pros I've repaired in the past; they're a lot trickier in my experience.

Great Battery Life

The battery life in the Dell XPS 15 is great. Even with the larger 15.6" 4K touchscreen, the battery (6-Cell 97 WHr integrated) lasts several hours happily when out on location editing. When I know I'll be out shooting and editing all day, or running through airports, I'll also take my Dell Power Companion (18,000 mAh)-PW7015L, which provides another big charge to see me through another few hours of editing.

The Fans Can Get Loud

If you want to edit big batches of files in peace, then get some music on the go or wear headphones. The Dell XPS 15 isn't actually all that loud when compared with a new version of the MacBook Pro, but you can certainly tell it has fans when things get going. That's actually pretty good, because you want a cool laptop so components don't fry, but pair that with the placement of the vents (on the bottom, towards the back), and you can easily burn your legs if you don't use a tray when not at a desk. 

Dell XPS 15 profile view

There's a lot in a small package, so when using the laptop for power-intensive work such as photo or video editing, the fans kick in to keep everything cool

Biometric Login Drivers Fail

I've repeatedly reinstalled the biometric fingerprint drivers on this laptop, and the issue persists, even after BIOS, OS, and other drivers were updated. I'm not sure why this is, and to be honest, it ruins the otherwise speedy boot time when it goes wrong. That said, there are two other options for signing in, including a PIN and password. But this is more of a Windows 10 feature than a Dell thing. The fingerprint reader feels sturdy though and also doubles as the power button. 

Phenomenal Screen

To be fair, I have the highest spec XPS 15 you can get with the 4K Ultra HQ screen. The full-screen spec is 15.6" 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) InfinityEdge Anti-Reflective Touch IPS 100% AdobeRGB 400-Nits display, and I can tell you from using it the past year that the touchscreen still works great, and it makes editing images accurately a doddle. It's the best editing screen I've ever used, and I'm so glad it's in something portable. It's definitely the best laptop screen I've ever seen.

The touchscreen isn't just a gimmick either. It's gotten me out of tight spaces when the trackpad wasn't working and makes certain operations much quicker, as I don't have to search for the cursor and waggle my finger around on the trackpad or an external mouse.

Dell XPS 15 screen view

The 4K HQ IPS screen has 100% Adobe color range and reproduces images with great accuracy — perfect for photo and video editing

Should You Buy It?

If you're happy working on Windows 10 and aren't bothered with the label on the front, then yes. It outperforms the MacBook Pro at the same price range, and it's easier to upgrade or repair when needed. It looks great with its metal exterior, has a brilliant screen (we're photographers/videographers after all), and does it all in a small, neat package.

Also, it plays games well too if you're into that kinda thing. I've got Forza Horizon 4 up on high settings quite comfortably. I would probably say it's worth dropping to the i7 version if you want to save a boatload of cash or if it's not your main computer, as you likely won't need the extra power or a touchscreen. You can purchase yours here.

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56 Comments

Previous comments
Jason Parnell-Brookes's picture

That's great, glad you love it! Definitely capable of handling everything I can throw at it.

Marek Stefech's picture

Is here somebody who have some experience with ASUS Zenbook 15 UX 534 with 4k display? How is the color accuracy? I wanna buy something smaller for traveling and is not crazy expensive.

Deelan Vabanmali's picture

Did you colour calibrate your screen? I find the colours a bit oversaturated

Jason Parnell-Brookes's picture

I haven't yet. I've got a Spyder sitting in the cupboard but tbh it's the most accurate display I've ever used, so I haven't felt the need yet. I'm sure I will at some point though.

Rayann Elzein's picture

How do you know that it's accurate if you didn't calibrate it?

Desmond Stagg's picture

I calibrate all my Macs / screens once a month. Absolutely necessary to ensure continued colour perfection. I use Spyder.

yousaf saleem's picture

I am using same model, with I7 and 4K touch LCD. The trackpad is much better than many other Laptops. The only issue is Display calibration, I don't have any calibrator but I think colours are big saturated.

Deleted Account's picture

You can get the X-Rite ColorMunki Smile for about $100. I don't understand why anyone would try to edit photos without calibrating their monitor(s). My device also calibrates printers which makes printing a whole lot simpler; women don't really like their lavender dress coming out tan! ;-)

Nox Vega's picture

Had a 4k XPS with a core i5 cpu and 12gb of ram.
I used it mainly to edit photos. A tiny bit slow but such a fantastic screen.
Sold it and am editing photos on my desktop. I might try HP Spectre x360 in the future, it looks lie another classy editing laptop.

Ed C's picture

You left out the part about the heating problem. They get dangerously hot with heavy use.

Deleted Account's picture

At home, mine sits on a wire rack to help keep it cool.

Ed C's picture

Mine sits on a fan to keep it cooler.

The point is that it is a real problem that isn't mentioned in the article. I got one despite the advice of a high end dealer whose Dell company rep told him the heat is a problem for Photoshop and video editing. I'm not unhappy with it but I am constantly monitoring the heat even with it sitting on fans.

Deleted Account's picture

Mine gets pretty warm at times but not dangerously so, as far as I can tell.

Irma Prunesquallor's picture

You can (really should) solve the heating problems!

To make this good laptop great, there are two things you need:

throttlestop (https://www.techpowerup.com/download/techpowerup-throttlestop/)

and better thermal paste: https://www.ultrabookreview.com/14875-fix-throttling-xps-15/

When I first got it, I was very disappointed with mine because of the heating, but better thermals and undervolting has completely cured this! (Beware of BIOS upgrades, which can break undervolting!)

I use it for Lightroom, Capture One, KDEnlive, etc., and it feels almost as fast as my i9990 desktop and just gets mildly warm and is silent. I also use it as a software development machine, and even with all cores maxed out for minutes during a big software build task, the fans run, but the machine only gets warm, not hot!

BTW: it is a really superb Linux machine (as it is as I am typing this)! It is fast; runs cool, quiet and has exceptional battery life. You need a recent distro (I use Manjaro) to use the hybrid graphics, but it all works perfectly. Plasma has better HighDPI support than Win10! Use PowerTOP!

Sam Edge's picture

B&H link goes to a dead page. Just an FYI.

Robert Feliciano's picture

I have the older 9560 model. I'm happy with it, I'll upgrade when they move to AMD CPUs.

Rusty Watson's picture

I love my XPS 15 9570. Same exact specs, down to every detail.

Got it same time too, last August 2019.

I heavily use the Adobe CC package; do a lot of Lightroom and a lot of Photoshop. This laptop has no problems keeping up! I added the Dell Pen PN579X. Perfect! Every moment I can I switch to it for editing in Photoshop.

I'm using the latest Windows 10, v2004 from May 2020 release. It has presented absolutely no problems for me.

Irma Prunesquallor's picture

I think that the 9570 makes a great, but not perfect, portable computing platform.

The obvious plus-points are its display and fast processor. It also has a good keyboard.

Downsides?

The HighDPI screen causes problems with some old programs; their buttons and widgets appear far too small.

This is the bigyin! In Windows, sleep (suspend to RAM) is completely broken. The machine can appear to sleep, if you then shove it in your briefcase (as I do often with my laptop) it can be extremely hot when you get back to it later. There have been BIOS "fixes", but none of them has worked. I have disabled "Modern Sleep", but still have problems.

This is a Windows problem! My 9570 sleeps (suspends-to-RAM), goes completely cold, and resumes perfectly, and without delay, on opening the lid when running Linux. Near two decades on from when I first became involved in Linux: this is the first machine I have ever encountered in which power management and suspend/resume is significantly more reliable and functional in Linux than in Windows!

Irma Prunesquallor's picture

Sorry! One more thing...

Some come with a strange "Killer" wifi card. You can replace this with an Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200 card, to get fast, solid wifi connections and dump the "Killer" crapware that masquerades as drivers.

The good news is that the machine is super-easy to open up to replace components, and unless you do something daft, your guarantee will not be void.

Desmond Stagg's picture

Just this second checked via the given link with B&H, this laptop is no longer available.

Trackpad repairs - But it took the engineers three separate visits before it was working properly again.
Poor service is an immediate no-go!

Biometric access - not unusual, my iPhone loses the finger print after a day. I just don't bother with it anymore - I use the 6 figure code. Takes only a second to input.

I threw all windows IT out of our office in 2009. I got fed up with the regular blue screens. Since changing to Mac (iMacs and MB Pro) my team and I have suffered not a minutes downtime.

Windows IMHO is too unreliable for professional use. For gamers and others who my have a small home office it could suffice, but for a pro where time is money, a NO GO!

John Adams's picture

What's the point of this article at all? Isn't this a 2 year old laptop??

Kevin Gilmour's picture

Good luck getting a replacement 4K touch screen if you ever break it and you live outside of the States!
I live in Scotland and my screen broke under 'mysterious' circumstances (I think it was my cat!) and I can't get a replacement for love nor money... that's pretty bad service for Dell.

Desmond Stagg's picture

Dell sells products - service doesn't exist in their vocabulary. I experienced this some years ago when I was in the market for new equipment. That was before I changed over to Mac!
All I wanted was some info to buy a laptop. Used their call service, unfortunately I couldn't understand a word the young lady was saying. Very poor broken English, I found out their sales support at the time was in India. How can you let someone loose on prospective customers if they are not in command of the language they are supposed to use????

Thomas H's picture

The link provided here to B&H is not current. B&H says model no longer available. You should rather link to Dell.com .

Richard Uchytil's picture

I've got the i7 version. The screen really is amazing! Not just for photo editing but reading text too, so crisp and clean! I've got a work laptop Dell sitting on the desk next to this one and really wish I could use this laptop instead, just so much easier on the eyes. I've got it set to 200% zoom because at 100% it's just too tiny for me (getting old sucks... haha). It is really cool looking at 4K YouTube videos on this screen!

Lightroom can still drag for me when I'm doing a lot of edits. The LR catalog is on my C drive (SSD) and the photos are on an external SSD. I've gone over the tweaks recommended many times but nothing seems to help. Telling LR to use the GPU doesn't seem to make any difference. Still, the majority of my photos don't require that much editing and so LR is usually fine.

My only real complaint is the stupid auto dimming display, or adaptive brightness. I have researched it a TON and can't find any way to turn it off. When I'm plugged in it's fine, but as soon as I go on battery it dims when I'm in LR - but doesn't dim for my browser, weird. Everything says to go to a setting and turn it off, but my Windows 10 home (updated to 2004 version) doesn't have that setting. I've tried every setting I can find but I can't turn it off. I tried asking Dell but they told me because it's out of warranty I would have to pay $150 for a support call. Not gonna do that. Most of the time I'm plugged in so it's not THAT big a deal, just annoying that I can't turn it off.

You're right about the fan, it can get loud. Overall I like this computer a lot, best laptop I've ever had!

Paul Scharff's picture

I have always wanted one of these but have heard more reports in recent years of manufacturing challenges such as the ones cited in the article. That scares me a bit. I need reliability more than anything in my laptop.