A Review on Dell's XPS 15 9570 as a Mobile Workstation

Before buying this laptop I planned how the laptop would be used and what requirements the laptop would have to fulfill. Such requirements set a context for a laptop review and influences its rating. I planned to use the laptop primarily as a mobile workstation.

The price of the laptop was not of primary concern. Also, I did want to have a 'good' deal, the concrete price was not that important to me as long it is not completely of the limits.

A long battery life, a bright matte display and a stable case is required for mobility. A long battery life, a bright matte display, a stable aluminum case is required for mobility. A 15 inche display is required as it allows to show 1 window comfortably and 2 windows simultaneously with little compromises. Such a laptop is still small enough in order to use it on trains and planes. A 4K resolution is not required as pixels are not clearly visible on FHD on such a display size.

I did want to avoid having a gray laptop with black keys, as I somehow dislike this style. I associate the light gray of aluminum with cold material which I dislike on keyboards. A decent look and feel of the laptop was important as well. If I am spending larger amount of money on an object, it should be appealing if it does not cost too much.

Replaceability for RAM and storage is required as these components are putting hard constraints on the set of programs that can be executed on a computer. Hard disks are not acceptable because of their bad resistance against vibrations during their operation. I had an older laptop with a disk drive and it had even problems when the laptop was held in a certain angle. The cooling system should be good in order to increase the laptop's life span and in order to get most performance out of it. The laptop should not create unpleasant sounds. A 2 in 1 form factor would be a nice bonus because this way the laptop could also be used for drawing with a pen and comfortable reading.

16 GB of RAM and 1 TB storage were required for 2 operation systems. Linux has to work. Thunderbolt should also be available for fast access to external storage. A fast CPU is required for heavy-duty processing tasks.

An external GPU is required for better driver support on Linux as Intel's GPU driver on Linux does not support management of color. Gnome's Universal Access settings were broken and therefore are not able to manage colors without explicit driver support via external settings program. An external GPU is also a plus for graphical programs. 3D Gaming should be supported as well.

Thunderbolt support is irrelevant for most application regarding storage, as it is an overkill most of the time. USB3 is for most operations more than enough.

Generally the only case were fast storage is important is when there are inefficient programs/systems or when there are some kind of soft/hard real time requirements. You can not compensate bad application performance with hardware performance efficiently and effectively in many cases.

The default XML Editor of Eclipse can take up multiple seconds in order to copy an XML document from Eclipe's console to the editor, if the XML file contains just about a thousand lines. A search and replace in the default text editor of Eclipse can freeze the application, if the file is bigger than 16k lines. Notepad++ does this operation instantly.

It is better to avoid applications with bad performance or at least the bad behaving parts of it. It is tempting to just add more hardware, but this can escalate very fast and may not even be effective.

There is no external GPU required for increased color management support via driver settings on Gonme, because Gnome fixed their Universal Access. It now works without any additional drivers. In general the driver support for Intel's GPUs is excellent. Everything seems to be working out of the box. The only downside of these chips is the inferior performance compared to external GPUs.

2 in 1 form factors compromise on the stability, performance and battery lifetime in order to further enhance its mobility by making the laptop thinner, when compared to a normal laptop. This leads to a situation where a laptop with a certain performance and better battery life costs a lot less than a 2 in 1. (I did not compare it exactly, but it seems to me, that the difference in cost is up to 100%.) Also, the stability of the 2 in 1s is most of the time inferior to a normal Laptop. The display will be shiny most of the time as well. Note that the weight of the laptop is not a big concern to me.

During ordering of the laptop I was not able to freely set the amount of RAM and storage on the laptop. I was only able to find a fixed set of CPU/GPU/Storage and RAM configurations. I got a unit with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD storage. I would have liked to settle for a lower CPU, because of the limits of the cooling system (see below). Instead, I would like to have 32 GB of RAM and a terabyte of SSD storage. However, I could not find such an option without also upgrading other components and thereby increasing the price massively. Instead, I replaced the 512 GB SSD with a terabyte one and transplanted the original SSD into my desktop computer.

The time until the laptop arrived seemed to be long, but the automatic feedback on order progress was good.

I personally like the fact, that the top and the bottom is out of metal when closed, as it gives a fair amount of stability. The display hinges are very stable, but it is relatively hard to open the laptop lid, as it is hard to get a grip on the display side.

I also favor the plastic on the keyboard, as the heat transfer is lower for plastic than for metal, which produces a warmer feeling to the hands in colder environments. Personally this is very important for me. After some time, it came to my mind that a laptop skin would also have done the same job.

I like the fact that the chassis is black on the inside. Thereby, the display contents and the keyboard letters are better visible. The keyboard backlight makes the keys better visible, which makes it easier to start typing. Black matt plastic with soft touch paint generally speaking wears down relatively fast, which I guess will be also the case on this laptop. From my experience it takes a some time until this effect happens, but it will happen with time.  The plastic may cause problems in the future.  Based on other experience with similar materials on keyboard and mouse, I do not think that this will be the case in the climate of my current environment.

There was a little deformation problem for a short time. During this time the laptop did tilt on flat surfaces. I also found 1 YouTube video with the same problem. The problem did not reapare yet, also I am taking the laptop often with me. The chassis also has gaps by design, where dirt can accumulate. It seems to be hard to clean these gaps. Overall, the laptop does feel stable, but at the same time it is not a computer that I would be comfortably using in rough environments without an additional laptop hard case.

The camera is badly positioned, which causes the hands to be visible when the user types during video conferences. It also creates a disturbing camera angle, where the camera focuses on the nostrils. Noise is clearly visible in the camera's feed of my unit.

The keyboard is flat which allows a good flat type flow. I like the touch pad and the fact that there are no physical buttons as this reduces friction for the hands.

Its relatively easy to open the laptop bottom and all important parts are replaceable: RAM, battery and storage. One has to take great care when unscrewing the 2 screws of the bottom cover, as they seem to be easily stripped. This happened to me as I carelessly used the false tools for these screws in order to replace the storage.

 The Ultrabook form factor has some downsides regarding stability and performance when compared to some other formats.   In this case the stability of the laptop provided by its metal shell is ok, but the thermal performance is terrible. During my tests on Windows playing the game Xonotic, the CPU reached up to 99°C for a short time and stayed at very high temperatures afterwards. The high temperatures seem to be caused by the provided throttling configuration. At least during my tests the fans only start spinning, when the temperature had well passed 60°C. I could reproduce the same issue on Ubuntu. There is also a bit of whine coil, which to my understanding is also caused by the bad cooling system. So in the end the cooling system seems to cause much throttling and high temperatures. The hinge emits a quiet noise while opening the display lid, but does not seem to hint to an additional problem. See the support chapter for that. On the plus side the sound of the fan spinning is nice and the fans rarely start, when there is little CPU activity. I noticed that I could fix the whine coil for some time by temporarily executing an application that required a lot of CPU/GPU performance like Xonotic.

The FHD Display is bright and has 400 nits according to specs. Combined with the fact that it is matt, I have no problem to use it anywhere, except in direct sunshine. Buildings with bright ceiling lights, did not disturb the displayed image.

The speakers are ok. In short, they can be used from a practical point of view, but the quality is mediocre for entertainment purposes. I did not notice any crackling, popping or similar.

From a practical point of view one charge gets me through up to about 11 hours in normal use without saving power by decreasing the keyboard backlight, turning the brightness of the display below the half of the maximum display brightness or by disabling WLAN. Keep in mind, that I never measured the runtime exactly as one charge lasts so long. Weirdly enough Windows predicts a runtime from 3 to 6 hours during my usage, also I never tested it. Ubuntu predicts the runtime of the laptop regularly from 2 to 18 hours during my usage on a full charge. If the laptop is only turned on for downloading of games via Steam and the display is disabled, the runtime seems to be longer than 20 hours. Also, Ubuntu's predictions are not perfect, they confirm my estimates when one takes into account, that I sometimes disable the WLAN and turn down the display brightness.

Combined with the Dell's power bank, the extended runtime of the laptop with one charge is excellent.

After installing Ubuntu, I did not notice any problems with the hardware except that there was no finger print reader support. I also could not find third party Linux drivers for the finger print sensor. The 3D Linux native game Xonotic and an attached drawing tablet from Bamboo was working without a problem out of the box. After a while I noticed that there is a tearing issue, when playing YouTube videos, but it does not affect Amazon Prime.

Dell supports firmware updates for Linux and it works without issues. This update process is perfectly integrated into the default firmware update system provided by GNOME (Fwupd).

The only manual bug fix that I applied was a patch to a sleep/wake bug related to Bluetooth. I did not test, if I had this issue, and installed the patch proactive.

Gaming is a mixed bag. Integrated graphics of the Intel CPU works best, but are not perfect. Xonotic works without an issue. 2D games like Forts and Invisible work without problems. Dirt 4 can be started, but there seem to be a fps cap at ~20 FPS and makes the game unplayable. I only tested Dirt 4 on an external monitor and I suspect it has something to do with the cable, as the desktop was also limited to 20 FPS on this monitor. Gaming with Nvidia on Wayland does not work at all, which seem to be an Nvidia and Wayland specific issue, but I also could not run Dirt 4 with Nvidia and X11.

The unit that I bought has the issue, that the hinge emits a small sound, when the lid is opened. I found that this seems to be a known issue for some laptops of this lineup. Some stated that the hinges may need to be tightened. As I was replacing the SSD of the laptop I also checked the hinges, but could not do anything to solve the problem. I contacted Dell's supported, stated that it does not seem to be a big issue, but I would like to have it checked. I also requested 2 screws for the back cover, as I caused too much wear to the 2 screws on the laptop by using the false tools in order to open the laptop. They send a technician too me, that checked the laptop and provided the screws for me. The sound issue was not fixed, but I was convinced that the sound is not an indication of another problem. This support case did not cost me any money, also I should note that I have bought 3 years premium support for this laptop. I got the 2 screws and overall the support experience was nice.

Public available data sheets and manuals for the laptop from Dell seem to be of good quality.

The only accessory provided by default is the power adapter and fulfills its job. I also bought a power bank Dell Power Companion (18.000 mAh)-PW7015L. It can power other devices via USB and has a power status indicator via LEDs. The only problem with the power bank currently on Ubuntu is the fact that it always charges the laptop, if the battery is not full. I did not test it on Windows. This means that one should first use the power of the bank and then the battery of the laptop. Otherwise, one might lose some power, because transferring energy from a battery to another one in general has not 100% efficiency. The power bank can be charged by Dells power supply that is provided with the laptop.

    1. conclusion