Dell XPS 15Z

Dell's XPS 15Z slimline laptop is an impressive 25mm thickness; not quite Macbook Air thin, but it's easily the most compact of the multimedia laptops we tested in our mid-2011 roundup.

NameMultimedia laptop: Dell XPS 15Z
At a glance:Extremely lightweight and portable,Sturdy exterior construction,Dual-core CPU in a quad-core world,2GB dedicated graphics memory
Summary:An attractive, comfortable, but ultimately underpowered multimedia machine.

Dell's XPS 15Z slimline laptop is an impressive 25mm thickness; not quite Macbook Air thin, but it’s easily the most compact of the multimedia laptops we tested in our mid-2011 roundup.

The 15Z boasts the highest clock speed of the models tested, but that's a side-effect of the 15Z's dual core processor. Its competitors offer slower CPU clocks, but four cores apiece. For complex rendering, video transcoding and other multi-threaded tasks, this puts the 15Z at a notable disadvantage.

Older games and processor-heavy applications that don't make use of multiple cores will run well, though. This shows through in Trackmania Nations, our old DirectX 9 benchmark and the only place the 15Z really shone in its graphics performance.

It was worst in class when it came to DirectX 10 and 11 benchmarks Call of Pripyat, Unigine Heaven 2.0 and 3DMark 11, due at least in part to its Nvidia GeForce GT525M GPU, the lowest-spec graphics chip in our roundup. However, despite its CPU and GPU disadvantages it didn't trail behind the others by a particularly significant margin.

The XPS is an aesthetically pleasing unit at first glance. It’s easily the lightest and most compact model in its class. Its slender proportions are further complemented by a metallic silver finish that’s quite literally cool to the touch. Constructed of anodized aluminium, the exterior of the XPS 15Z does feel exceptionally durable and like it could withstand a fair amount of punishment for such a small notebook. Upon prising the XPS 15Z open, though, it’s plain to see that its overall build quality and construction aren’t quite up to the standard of the other laptops on test. In particular, the keyboard – while no less usable – feels rather cheap and plastic. It’s a forgivable compromise though, and all things considered, the XPS 15Z is arguably the most comfortable to use of the multimedia laptops we tested in 2011. At only 2.51kg, it’s extremely light for something in its class; easily my pick of the lot if I had to use one on my lap for extended periods.

Despite sporting the smallest display in our roundup, its 15.6-inch full HD widescreen feels like no compromise when it comes to viewing HD media.

Of course, lesser proportions also mean less room for outputs and connectivity options. The 15Z is comparatively lacking, with no VGA or DVI ports (HDMI only) and a mere two USB ports. There is, however, both an eSATA port and a Firewire port for those who require high-speed transfer. The 15Z’s 750GB hard drive is decidedly small compared to the likes of the HP Envy 17 3D with over 2TB, so those who like to hoard rich media on their machines should to bear that in mind. It’s also the only laptop in the line-up to lack a Blu-ray player, which could be a deal-breaker for some. Minimal customisations are available on the Dell website when purchasing, and Blu-ray isn't even an optional extra.

All in all, I’d recommend the Dell XPS 15Z to those who place a higher premium on portability and affordability than on performance when it comes to selecting a laptop.

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Chris Leggett

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