Dell has refreshed much of its laptop lineup in the second half of 2020 in time for the holiday season. For the first time in years, AMD processors have become available in some of the most popular models. On the Intel side, 10th-gen Core processors have fully replaced their predecessors, while some Inspiron models now feature 11th-gen Intel Core Tiger Lake processors.
In this article, we go over the differences and similarities across the four main consumer laptop lines: Inspiron, Dell Gaming, XPS, and Alienware.
To start with, the latest laptops do not differ much from before in terms of form factor. Roughly, three categories are distinguishable from the run-of-the-mill laptops: 2-in-1 convertible, ultraportable, and desktop replacement.
Recent developments in CPU manufacturing process, notably the move towards 10nm (Intel) and 7nm (AMD), however, have made possible the latest round of size reduction. Whichever the form factor, laptops are becoming lighter and more compact. Bezels are also shrinking in all but the lowest-price offerings.
In late 2020, Dell offers five 2-in-1s from its Inspiron and XPS sub-brands:
Each is powered by an Intel Tiger Lake processor, and, with the exception of the Inspiron 5406 (which is an Inspiron 5000-series model), all feature Thunderbolt 4 connectivity.
The 17-inch Inspiron 7706 is the only model that can be optioned with discrete graphics, though the GeForce MX350 with 2GB GDDR5 is nothing to write home about.
Years ago, anything under 20mm (0.8") in thickness was considered "Ultrabook". Today, models thicker than 20mm must have powerful internals to compete in the desktop replacement segment.
Dell's thinnest models include four models from its Inspiron and XPS sub-brands:
While this list is short, most other consumer models not targeted at gamers are under 20mm in thickness.
Desktop replacements are those models with a large display and relatively powerful internals. Today, they consist 17-inch and exceptional 15-inch models.
Dell markets nine such models in late 2020:
A key consideration in choosing a laptop computer is the display. Implications range from portability and work space to versatility and user experience. Five characteristics can make a difference: size, resolution, refresh rate, panel type, and touch operation.
Since display size is the easiest thing that a consumer can identify and touch operation is only really useful for a 2-in-1, which all have multi-point touch support, we only look at the other three.
A decade ago, most laptops had only a measly "HD" (1366x768), resolution. Today, this (lack of) resolution can only be found in the lowest priced models, namely Inspiron 15 3505 and Inspiron 14 5406, with the latter available in FHD (1920x1080), too.
While most models come with FHD display as default, access to 4K UHD has trickled down to an increasing number of models.
Another interesting trend in 2020 is the resurrection of the 16:10 aspect ratio, which allows laptops to offer a larger viewing area while being more compact. It entails FHD+ / WUXGA (1920x1200) or UHD+ (3840x2400) resolutions. Some models are also available in QHD+ (2560x1600).
Models available with these options in Dell's late-2020 lineup include:
- 4K UHD: Alienware Area-51m R2, Alienware m17 R3, Alienware m15 R3, Inspiron 15 7506
- QHD+: Inspiron 17 7706, Inspiron 14 7400
- FHD+ & 4K UHD+: XPS 17 9700, XPS 15 9500, XPS 13 9310, XPS 13 9310 2-in-1
In recent years, manufacturers are pushing displays with high refresh rates in gaming applications. Combined with the popularity of variable refresh rate (VRR) support (NVIDIA G-SYNC and AMD FreeSync), these panels make for a smoother gaming experience.
All gaming models in Dell's late-2020 lineup have some high-refresh-rate option. Depending on the highest refresh rate available, these include:
- Up to 144Hz: G5 15 SE 5505, G5 15 5500, G3 15 3500
- Up to 300Hz: Alienware m17 R3, Alienware m15 R3, G7 17 7700, G7 15 7500
- Up to 360Hz: Alienware Area-51 R2
Currently, almost every model comes with an IPS display in Dell's lineup, though those in the higher-end XPS sub-brand tend to have richer color gamut.
What stands out in 2020 remains OLED panel. (Even though the two models that are HD-only still use TN panels from yesteryear.) Dell was one of the earliest adopters of this technology. However, its move away from the 16:9 aspect ratio in its upscale XPS lineup means that OLED is unavailable for those models in 2020.
The only model that still can be configured with an OLED display from Dell in late-2020 is the Alienware m15 R3.
As we see newer panels of different sizes come into the market these days, we can expect things to change in the next cycle.
If form factor and display alone cannot sway you (putting price aside), it must be power that differentiates, as it usually does. The most important factors today remain the CPU and the GPU.
In terms of CPU, we see three series from Intel and one from AMD being used by Dell: the high-powered 14nm Comet Lake H-series (10XXXH), the medium power Comet Lake U-series (10XXXU), the low power 10nm Tiger Lake (11XXGX), and AMD's 7nm Ryzen 4000-series (4XX0U).
Those who stand out are powered by Intel's Comet Lake and AMD processors. These include:
- Comet Lake (10th-gen H-series): XPS 9700, XPS 9500, Alienware m17 R3, Alienware m15 R3, Inspiron 7501, G7 7700, G7 7500, G5 5500, G3 3500
- AMD Ryzen 4000: Inspiron 3505, G5 5505
Another noteworthy model is the Alienware Area-51m R2, which sports a desktop processor (up to i9-10900K).
In the last decade, only mobile workstations, gaming laptops, and select high-end models have featured discrete graphics. Dell does not break with this trend in its latest lineup. Discrete graphics can be found in its Alienware, XPS, and Dell Gaming series.
In the more basic models, this comes usually in the form of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 or 1650 Ti. However, NVIDIA GeForce RTX and AMD Radeon RX are becoming available. They offer greater performance for gamers (and data science / AI applications, though mobile workstations may be more appropriate for such use cases).
Models who offer such high-powered and interesting options include:
- Radeon RX: G5 5505 Gaming
- Up to RTX 2070: G7 7700 Gaming, G7 7500 Gaming, G5 5500 Gaming
- Up to RTX 2080: Alienware Area-51m R2, Alienware m17 R3, Alienware m15 R3
Obviously, different models can have different design and connectivity characteristics that appeal to you in different ways. I encourage you to check out the Related Products section or to use our comprehensive comparison tool to find out more.
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I also wrote an article for HP in the same format.