The Dell XPS L501x is a notebook that competes with the Apple Macbook Pro. It has a 15.6in, Full HD (1080p) screen, an Intel Core i7 processor, a fast 640GB hard drive and all the trimmings. It's not as attractive or as well built as an Apple laptop but it's cheaper and more powerful.

The Dell XPS L501x draws inspiration from the Dell Adamo, with a small lip that's raised behind the LCD screen. The notebook's chassis is an odd mix of curves and straight edges, it's not as smooth as a Macbook Pro or Apple Macbook Air and not as squarely utilitarian as a Lenovo notebook. It's a solid notebook, but we did notice a bit of flex in the LCD screen and some play in the DVD drive's tray lock.

The Dell XPS L501x can be customised with one of over 100 designs on its lid. Ours came with the Dazzling Dreams design, which we thought was very unusual and attractive.

What stood out for us was how good the Dell XPS L501x's internal stereo speakers sounded. They're not a patch on real computer speakers, but they're the best we've heard in a laptop. Clear treble and a surprising amount of mid-range and bass make the XPS L501x fine for music or movie playback.

Specifications and performance

Our Dell XPS L501x test unit used a quad core Intel Core i7-740QM processor. It's still a good chip, and comparable to the one in a base level 15in Macbook Pro. Our test unit shipped with 6GB of DDR3 RAM, but you're able to specify between 4 and 8GB of RAM when you order your notebook. The internal 7200rpm, 640GB hard drive proved to be a zippy performer in our tests, copying 2.12GB of files from one folder to another in 1min 2sec.

The NVIDIA GeForce GT 435M graphics card is a mid-range model, it's more potent than the Macbook Pro's GT 330M, but there are significantly more powerful chipsets available in gaming notebooks. This graphics adapter drives the Dell XPS L501's 15.6in, LED-backlit LCD screen, our test unit used the RGB LED-backlit 1920x1080-pixel model, which is able to display excellent clarity and brightness levels (among the best we've seen from a 15in screen). As you'd expect, the Dell XPS L501x also has 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, a couple of USB 3.0 ports and an eSATA connector.

Our battery rundown test, where we play a movie while the screen is set to full brightness and Wi-Fi is enabled, ate through the Dell XPS L501x's battery in 1hr 22min. This is a pretty standard result for a 15in laptop, but if you're looking for extra longevity you can purchase a 9-cell battery instead of the standard 6-cell. It is bulkier though, causing the laptop to tilt forwards when sitting on a flat surface.

We ran through a series of performance tests to give the Dell XPS L501x a bit of a chance to stretch its legs. Our Blender rendering test completed in 2min 14sec using a single thread of the CPU and 43sec when using all eight available threads. 3DMark06 returned a result of 7390 3DMarks, and iTunes encoded 53min of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s in 1min 16sec. These are strong results and are reflected in the generally snappy operation of the Dell XPS L501x.

OUR VERDICT

The Dell XPS L501x is a strong performer. It's not as well built or attractive as a MacBook Pro, but it is cheaper.