Apple MacBook Pro 15in v Dell XPS 15 head-to-head review

Reviews 11 Mar, 2014

Verdict

The 15in MacBook and XPS 15 are fantastic laptops. They’ve got ample power, stunning screens, exceptional physical design and great ergonomics.

The devices battled it out to a draw in the areas of design and keyboard/trackpad functionality.

Dell’s XPS 15 won three categories - display, connectivity and upgradeability. Not to be outperformed the MacBook won when it came to performance, software, and battery life.

So which machine is best for business?

The downside of the MacBook is the high price and lack of serviceability so it’s best suited to small businesses, sole traders or firms with BYOD policies.

The XPS is available in more cheaper configurations, is more customisable and the upgradable so is better suited to large deployments.

But if we had to pick one of these machines we’d opt for the MacBook.

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If I may ask, what were you playing the video with? And did you let the Windows machine finish it's out of the box optimization tasks? Those take some time (a day or so) and peg the CPU pretty hard until they are finished.

You found the devices to be equal in design and keyboard/trackpad functionality, the Dell won on 3 categories, and the Apple won on the remaining 3. It seems to be a draw. I would challenge the idea that Apple wins on software, as many software programs necessary for some sectors are simply unavailable on Mac and it has been proven that bootcamp severely limits the performance of the machine. You highlighted that the Macbook is more expensive for essentially the same (or worse) hardware and that this hardware is very difficult to upgrade at a later date. So my questions is, why would you pick the Mac? It seems to me that the Dell just edges it based upon the facts.

The MBP wins on battery life alone. There's nothing more annoying than showing up at a customers site (be it in a lab, cafeteria table or conference room) and not being able to make it through a presentation w/o having to drag out a power adapter. What good is a sexy/svelte laptop if you HAVE to lug around a clunky power supply with it? (It certainly ain't going in your pockets.) My work laptop is smaller than my personal MBP, but I have to carry around that blasted old fashioned charger. No one else has copied apples configurable transformer yet, surprisingly. On the integrated video, my MBP goes all day long.

If you are prepared to base your decision on purchasing a laptop on battery life then a MBP is perhaps the one for you. However I am extremely skeptical about the battery results posted here. As Eric queried below, was the windows machine fresh out the box and not finished with its optimization tasks? The battery stats posted here vary wildly with the stats posted on other laptop review sites which usually put the Dell only slightly behind the Mac (7 hours of web browsing for the Dell vs the MBPs 8.5 hours for example). Granted its behind but lets bear in mind that in this review the Dell was compared with an MBP with the integrated Intel graphics. If they had used the high end Apple machine with a dedicated Nvidia GPU (comparable in performance to the Dell, although for a greater cost) then it is unlikely it would have performed so well.

It depends on the importance you ascribe to the various factors, not just the number of them.

As for 'software', the Mac runs OSX and the Dell runs Windows. If you prefer OSX, then the Mac would win on 'software', would it not?

I know someone who has recently purchased a MBP. The battery life is truly astonishing.

That's not software per se it's an OS. I'd agree with Jacob above that Macs tend not to be able to run LOB apps. As it happens we run Parallels on some of our Macs and performance isn't impacted materially. Rather weirdly a fashion design app that you'd expect to be Mac compatible only runs on Windows.

I'd have to agree with the battery life tests - I had both machines, and I ended up returning the XPS after a month as the battery life never lived up to Dell's promises. Even after installing Windows 8.1 natively on the Mac (under BootCamp) the battery life of 5 hours still beat the XPS.

The Dell trackpad is also horrible after a month of use - it gets greasy and permanently marked, and multi-touch is buggy. Plus the touch screen on the XPS (which isn't mentioned in the review, odd) is great when it works, but often crashed.

Ultimately, I was after a great high-perf machine for running Windows 8 - and I ended up going with the Mac. I really wanted the XPS to win, but it just has too many build issues. Maybe next time Dell!

The biggest kicker is resale value - what's the Mac worth in 18 months compared to the XPS (only relevant if you tend to upgrade your laptop every 18 months).

Not really

The XPS gets one win for the screen, despite the comment that there is “There’s little to choose between these panels”

The MacBook gets one win for battery life with 8+ hours rather than 3+ hours.

The XPS gets a win for connectivity because the author doesn’t understand Thunderbolt.

I’m sitting here with 2 large super high res monitors, connected to my MacBook, one on each Thunderbolt.

Those monitors are also giving me connectivity for 2 desktop raid arrays, Gigabit ether, and a plethora of high speed USB connections. plus keyboard, mice etc. So when I walk away there are just 2 plugs to disconnect.

And I’m still left with the 2xUSB3 on the macbook itself available.

So how do I connect 2 super high res monitors and 2 raid arrays and Gigabit ether to the XPS, and still have 2x USB3 ports left free?

How can connectivity possibly be a win for the XPS?

The software section of the review is probably pointless. However, it's clear that the review discussed the software bundled with the machine, as well as the core OS. Clearly the Mac wins the review because it bundles so much more; it's not even close. Even if you don't concede that OS X 10.9 is a better fit for the hardware than Win 8 is, you can see that by sheer weight of included software the Macbook wins.

But none of this matters if you need to run Windows software. Perhaps such hardcore Windows users are a dying breed, the greatest evidence for that being Microsoft's own disdain for this legacy user-base with the release of look-we've got-an-app-store-too Windows 8.

And finally, if you need to run Windows apps anyway, the Mac wins on flexibility since you can Bootcamp or use a virtual machine.

Some of this sums up why I bought my first macbook three years ago, and the 14 hour battery life is why I bought a Macbook Air recently.

The MBPs with Nvidia still have the same battery life because in power saver mode they use the Intel video, like all hybrid video hardware.
If the Dell doesn't have integrated video as well as Nvidia, it will suck power when the MBP is idling nicely.

If it's true that the Windows machine spend a day doing optimisation and isn't smart enough to disable this activity on battery, it's hardly a great comment on either Windows 8 or Dell's configuration. I know OSs and I'm scratching my head trying to work out what this optimisation could be. A day :) Hoots toots that's an amusing idea.

"Apple’s OS has better apps" - Pretty funny comment. I think something must be wrong with the unit reviewed to have done so poorly on battery (or perhaps something wrong with the reviewer based on some of the biased comments)

So Apple's OS comes bundled with a full office suite.

Microsoft's doesn't.

Apple's OS has better apps. What is so funny?

That the MacBook battery lasted well over twice as long as the XPS' is consistent with other reviews of the devices.

For the most part I thought this was actually a great article. There are two things which I find irritating though:
1: OS X has "tighter security". Are you serious?? As for me, I would have left out the "OS" category altogether, since it's very much a matter of personal taste.
2: The battery life of the XPS. Bear in mind that the model being tested here is the 512GB SSD version, which packs a bigger 91Wh battery compared to the standard 61Wh in most XPS systems. The battery life should be much higher, as confirmed in other reviews.

For the most part, great article.

Download LibreOffice and you have your office suite.

As for the battery life, bear in mind that there are multiple versions of the XPS. What you have seen in other reviews is probably the lower tier models which have a smaller battery and thus achieve mediocre battery life.

The model tested here sports a bigger battery and actually comes closer to the MBP's battery life in most other reviews. But then again, the MBP is still untouchable in this regard.

Oh god, I used an MBP (purchased last year) recently at work, just because there was a spare one, and I wasn't so busy. So what the heck. I expected a lot but was disappointed. I was shocked by how slow some of its basic functionalities was even after a reboot. For example, the file manager took ages to list down files in a directory. I tried playing a video and it took forever to read off of a external USB drive. My cheap MSI that is 3 years old out performs it. I was dismayed by its performance. And to say that Windows has more applications available to it, I can't even begin to think spending so much money on an MBP.

surely you'll be forced to upgrade your mac more often as its a lot less customisable...

Not really - I can upgrade the SSD on the Mac, and I already have the max RAM supported on both laptops (can't upgrade to more). Upgrading RAM and SSD is about all you'd do on a laptop anyway isn't it? The things you really want to upgrade are CPU and GPU, and you can't upgrade those on most laptops anyway.

Why are you reviewing a 16gb memory dell V 8gb mbpr?

My old Dell xps has lasted nearly 5 years. The design was terrible back then, so bits have fallen off the hinges. Dell has first class customer service (in the first year they replaced the motherboard twice, new screen, various other things..)
The built in WiFi failed within the first 3 years.. the hardware was replaced, software reinstalled but it was never resolved. I've been using a dongle ever since.

The main problem I had, which seems case with this latest model, is over heating and poor battery life. As I write this the fans are on overdrive. Performance reduces considerably when the charger isn't plugged in. Battery life has always been poor but now I can't even get an hour!.

If you came on to this webpage then the chances are you are interested in a Macbook retina, my advice is to spend the extra cash plus definitely get the 3 years Apple cover. I will buy the top end MBPR when Apple release the next model.

* My work is all design, CAD, video etc, so a Macbook is good for this.
If you only need a laptop for personal use, web browsing etc then you really don't need either of these machines!

You get what you pay for!