I finally bought a new laptop computer. When I say “finally”, I mean that this is the first full-size laptop I have bought for myself personally since 1999. This is the fifth laptop I have owned in thirty years. I suppose that’s because I am more of a desktop kind of guy, and lately I have made good use of smaller devices (tablets, smartphones, smartwatches).
My goal was to have a portable computer on which I could do some video editing in the field. I do have a little 11″ notebook from 2015, but it only has power for lightweight tasks (web browsing, word processing, email, Facebook, and maybe editing a photo or two). To be viable for video editing, a computer must have plenty of horsepower and a good display. Laptops which meet these criteria are expensive, so I have put off the purchase for several years.
When I was finished procrastinating, I googled to see what the consensus was for best video editing laptop, and the answer was the Dell XPS 15. I looked at the specs, and they looked pretty good. What I ordered was a Dell XPS 15 Touch with an i7 processor, 32 GB RAM, 1 TB NVMe storage, and the 3840×2400 touch display.
It is fairly sleek and slim, but dense and heavy. You can look up the specs. I have used several Dell laptops belonging to my employers over the years, mainly in the Latitude line. The latest one if fairly slim, but this XPS is much thinner than that. It looks nice, and it is clearly Dell’s answer to the MacBook Pro.
It normally runs silent, but when needed, there is a fan that kicks on. The cooling fan isn’t particularly loud, but you can definitely hear it. It seems to be effective.
One weird thing about this laptop is that the power button is not labeled. It serves dual purposes, being a fingerprint sensor as well (which seems to work reliably). They may have decided it doesn’t need to be labeled, because the damn thing powers on when you open the lid. I haven’t figured out how to disable that, and I haven’t decided if I want to.
The only performance use case I really care about is video editing. That’s really two things: responsiveness while scrubbing and editing, and rendering/encoding.
I haven’t really done much testing for responsiveness. The one thing I’ve loaded up took a long moment to display, but that might simply be because Adobe Premiere Pro hadn’t put anything in cache yet. Once it was up, it played back okay, but I haven’t really done much scrubbing on it, and the video project was not a complicated one. I guess I will update here once I have a chance to play with it more.
The performance of encoding was completely objective, because I was able to repeat the same encoding job that I had done on another system (my desktop) and compare the times in the logs. I encoded a 45 minute 1920×1080 video using the same render settings. On my desktop (which only has 16 GB of RAM), the encoding time was 32:53, while on my new laptop, the encoding time was 40:32. I guess that means this laptop has about 81% of the performance of my desktop. A significant factor must be the NVIDIA GPU: my desktop’s GTX 980 Ti has 2816 CUDA cores, while the laptop’s GTX 1650 Ti has only 896.
I’m not sure how I would feel if this was going to by my primary video editing platform. However, for something I will only use when I’m on the road or on location, this is more than adequate.
This is actually the first device I have owned with a 4K display. I guess I was expecting more. At 15 inches, the fine resolution is a little difficult to perceive. I will say that the fonts all look amazing. They are crisp, and they show curve and personality that is not seen on a display with a more typical resolution. However, for photos and video, the finer detail is not really apparent. Perhaps I need to spend more time with photo editing and 4K video footage, but it almost seems like I would have been just fine with a 1920×1200 display.
Oh, yeah. Read the fine print. If you look at Dell’s web site for the XPS 15, it will talk about how great the 4K display is, even though the regular XPS 15 does not have a 4K display. I very nearly ordered one with a 1920xWhatever display, and only caught that when I was reviewing my order before clicking the final submit button. I had to get the Touch model to get a 4K display and all the other specs I wanted.
I might have been better off, for video and photo editing, with a 17″ display. Dell makes 17″ (and 13″) models of the XPS. However, I didn’t want to be lugging around a surf board all the time. The quality of the 4K resolution might have more apparent on a larger display.
The colors are good. The brightness is good. Someday the sun will come out, and I will try using it outdoors. These things are probably very good, but I am spoiled, and I already have a lot of devices with great displays.
Gloss = Glare. I don’t know why glossy displays are so popular. With a gloss screen, you just have to accept glare. This one has a gloss screen. Oh, well.
Touch screen. It works. My little Inspiron has one, so I’m familiar with the concept. It is sometimes more convenient than the touch pad, especially for navigating a GUI. However, it’s not as convenient, and definitely not as precise, as a good mouse.
Speaking of a mouse, I got a bluetooth one to go with this laptop. I already own a little wireless mouse I like, but that has a USB Type A receiver, and this laptop has no such ports!
That’s right. It has three USB Type C ports, all of which (I think) double as Thunderbolt 3.0 ports. It has an SD card slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and one of those anti-theft connection points. That’s all. No ethernet, no HDMI, and no USB Type A ports. It does come with a little adapter with a USB Type A port and an HDMI port, and I haven’t lost it yet.
I will probably be investing in a lot of USB Type C cables, but I can already tell it is going to be a frustrating process. That’s because so many of the USB Type C cables out there are only for charging devices, and they do not clearly say so. I’ve also read reviews for cables that complain that they only work for data if the USB Type C end is used with a phone/tablet, and not the other way around.
Lack of ethernet makes me sad. I have a fairly good WiFi network at home, but it’s not 1 Gb/s. Oh, speaking of WiFi, Speedtest reported that I was getting the full 200+ Mb/s of my cable connection at this new laptop. I don’t really have a trustworthy way to measure WiFi speeds locally, so that’s the best I can do.
The mouse I ordered is a Dell MS5120W Mobile Pro Wireless Mouse. It comes with a USB (Type A) dongle, but it can also do bluetooth (5.0). Thus, I am able to use it with the Dell XPS directly without any dongle. It’s decent for a basic mouse. It’s certainly no gaming mouse, and the scroll wheel is just adequate. However, I can’t complain about the convenience.
I am happy with it. It is what I was looking for. At the price I paid, I hope it lasts a long time.
However, I haven’t really used it much. That’s probably because I haven’t left the house since it arrived. There’s a pandemic going on. No film productions, no meetups. Now that I think about it, this was a weird time to buy a laptop.