Dell XPS 15 vs Precision 5520

Dell has two top-of-the-line laptops that are currently competing for king-of-the-hill status — quite the odd choice from a marketing perspective, no doubt — but how do the two compare? We take a look at both the XPS 15 (9560) and the Precision 5520 and see how they stack up against one-another.

The 2017 XPS 15 9560 and the 2017 Precision 5520 are both “flagship” laptops out of Dell’s prosumer and business divisions respectively, and while they share a chassis and similar specs, they aren’t exactly two faces of the same coin. While on the entry level both can be similarly configured, the XPS 15 comes in one of seven different configurations (or eight if outside the USA), while the Precision 5520 can be hand-customized in any of a dozen+ configurations depending on your (small business) needs. The real difference between the two comes into stark visibility when comparing the top-end options between the two lines, however.

Maximum Specifications

The following are the maximum specs for the two laptops, per the availability in the USA as of March 14, 2017.1

XPS 15 9560 Precision 5520
CPU i7-7700HQ @
Xeon E3-1505M v6 @
GPU GeForce GTX 1050 4GB Quadro M1200 4GB
Memory 32 GiB DDR4 32 GiB DDR4
Fingerprint reader/
Windows Hello
Yes No
Battery 97 Whr 97 Whr
Display 4K UHD 3840×2160 4K UHD 3840×2161
Disk M.2 PCIe/NVMe 1TB M.2 PCIe/NVMe 1TB

While both the XPS 15 and the Precision 5520 are offered with Intel’s latest 7th-generation CPUs, through no fault of Dell’s, Intel currently does not (yet) offer proper high-performance Kaby Lake i7 mobile GPUs. Unlike some of the previous generations, this year’s Kaby Lake Xeon chips are real screamers, and the Xeon 1505M v6 featured here isn’t even the fastest mobile Xeon you can get. The difference between the i7-7700HQ and the Xeon 1505M v6 isn’t just a question of the 200MHz clock difference between the two in both regular and turbo modes, but also the 33% bump in L3 cache (6MB vs 8MB). The difference between the two in terms of real-world performance works out to an approximate 7% advantage favoring the Xeon – nothing to scoff at, since a 7% improvement is considered a relative win when going from one generation to the next, these days.

Both of these CPUs have the same 45W TDP (configurable to 35W for power savings) and so going with the slower CPU doesn’t even result in longer battery life, as would be the case with an i5 vs i7, for example. What’s more mind-boggling – this time to the Precision 5520’s detriment – is that Dell, for reasons unknown, has chosen not to enable the usage of ECC memory, which is extremely confusing since it’s traditionally one of the biggest reasons to go with a Xeon CPU in the first place.2 Other competitors like HP with their ZBook line of mobile workstations traditionally don’t make this confusing decision, and anyone holding out for 7th gen Intel chips with ECC RAM should probably hold off until HP’s ZBook Studio G4 is unveiled sometime in Q2 2017.

As is par for the course, the Precision 5520, being Dell’s business/workstation offering, comes with an nVidia Quadro GPU – the M1200 w/ 4GB of DDR5 memory to be precise. Geared towards design and CAD professionals running renders and crunching numbers, a comparison between the Quadro line of GPUs and the gamer/prosumer-oriented GeForce GTX 1050 (again w/ 4GB of DDR5 memory) offered with the XPS 15 9560 would normally be an apples-to-oranges comparison, except this time the XPS 15 is using the latest generation of Pascal-powered nVidia GPUs and goes up against the older, Maxwell-powered Quadro M1200. Here, the XPS 15 comes out the clear winner, with its GTX 1050 having quite the performance advantage over the last-gen M1200 – probably even for enterprise workloads.

Of all the confusing decisions Dell has made with its XPS vs Precision strategic marketing fiasco, perhaps most-confusingly of all is the decision to withhold a fingerprint reader from the Precision 5520 range of laptops. Remember that these are two models that share a chassis and have identical components most of the way through – yet for some odd reason, the Precision 5520 does not have an option of an integrated (Synaptics-powered) fingerprint scanner, while you literally can’t get the XPS 15 w/ a backlit keyboard and no fingerprint scanner if you tried. We’re scratching our heads over this one too, folks.

Killer 1535 vs Dell 1820 vs Intel 8265

Just a word to the wise – when configuring both the XPS 15 9560 and the Precision 5520, Dell gives customers the choice of either the Killer 1535 (in the case of the XPS 15) or the Dell 1820 (in the case of the Precision 5520) vs Intel’s 8265 wireless card. All three of these are fairly-equally spec’d (the Dell 1820 is actually a white-labelled, fairly-old Qualcom Atheros QCNFA344A in disguise), but we strongly suggest saying no to anything but the Intel’s. While the performance of these three cards is fairly interchangeable, the quality and timeliness of Intel’s drivers is second to none here and in testing the Atheros drivers would frequently blue screen on Windows 10 – even after updates. Likewise, Killer’s driver updates are rare and far enough in between to warrant news articles each time they come out, while Intel’s network card drivers – for both wired and wireless – are released, updated, and maintained like clockwork.

Final thoughts?

It’s honestly a very tough call to make. At NeoSmart Technologies, we’ve evaluated all these options closely and in person, but it’s genuinely a tough decision given the trade-offs involved. Power verses convenience is always a tough call to make, users that have become accustomed to/spoiled by a fingerprint reader in the past might have a really hard time giving it up. Otherwise, performance-conscious buyers willing to pay the Dell business premium for the Precision 5520 would certainly notice the not-negligible 8% performance boost the Xeon 1505M v6 brings to the negotiating table. Perhaps if Dell weren’t so short-sighted and offered ECC as an option3 it would be an easier call to make – after all, that bulletproof peace-of-mind ECC RAM brings is hard to pass up, especially combined with that monster of a Xeon chip. But as things stand, the XPS 15 is probably the best option for most users, and it does offer a better bang-for-the-buck.

  1. Yes, Pi Day. 

  2. Intel is famous for artificial market segmentation and examples are abound. ECC memory being restricted to the Xeon chipset is a real PITA, though funnily enough, you can run ECC RAM on the entry-level i3 as a nod of the head towards the low-power server farms. 

  3. We’ve tried installing ECC RAM in the Precision 5520 after-the-fact and it just doesn’t boot. 

7 thoughts on “Dell XPS 15 vs Precision 5520

  1. I was told by a Dell sales rep that the certifications the Precision has to pass were the reason for the ommission of the fingerprint reader. It wouldn’t pass them with the reader installed, whereas the XPS doesn’t have to adhere to or pass these standards.

  2. I’m skeptical that the Xeon really performs ~8% better than the i7 across a wide range of real-world situations. I have the i7 and it is temperature throttled within 30-90 seconds if I hit it with a heavy CPU load. The Xeon will have similar problems with heat at its higher clock speeds. The i7 is already damn fast for most interactive operations and if the system is waiting for the human then speed doesn’t matter. Anything GPU bound will be the same between the two, and GPU loads heat soak the CPU causing CPU throttling too (rendering, gaming or CUDA). Compiling and most docker / vm / database workloads will be I/O bound (even with the NVMe SSD). So the marginal case where the Xeon can outperform the i7 is for “puncutated heavy” CPU loads where there is enough idle time to not overheat in between demands. Maybe some CAD or Video editing fall into this situation, but I feel are pretty rare. The $ is better spent on a Class 50 vs Class 40 SSD or 32GB instead of 16GB RAM. Of course if you want to load it to the gills, then the Xeon is a good choice. The potential savior would be the extra cache. It would be interesting to do some heat-soak tests where the system is throttled to see if the extra 2MB of cache makes much difference.

  3. @Tony the first thing I did was repaste the CPU, I don’t get thermally throttled under any circumstances (Prime95/Intel Burn Test) though the fans do kick up a storm.

  4. Good point! I’ve been experimenting with throttlestop and probably will repaste, but that’s not really an option for most folks. “Beware of programmers bearing screwdrivers” as my dad used to say!

  5. @Tony I’ve yet to see any temperature issues with the Xeon. I went the other way from your recommendation: rather than spending money on expensive memory or SSD I went for the best non-replaceable components, the Xeon chip being one of them. The difference between getting the extra RAM and storage from Dell vs online was about €450 in my case.

  6. @Tony thanks for bringing ThrottleStop to my attention. It looks very interesting and quite handy. We have an in-house application that reveals advanced power options including fine-tuning all CPU power management options. On the XPS/Precision, it unveils some nice options for the nVidia drivers that can pull off some nice balancing between power and performance; all of which can help boost performance without raising power consumption (which is directly proportional to heat dissipated).

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