Surface Book 2 vs. Dell XPS 15: Which should you buy?

Microsoft's 15-inch Surface Book 2 is one of the finest laptops on the market today, but that doesn't mean it stands without some stiff competition. Dell's XPS 15, also a fine device with impressive hardware inside, comes at a significantly lower price but without a few of the key features that make the Surface Book 2 the special device it is. Let's take a look at exactly how the two 15-inch laptops compare to help you decide which is best for your needs.

Surface Book 2 vs. XPS 15: Specifications

Microsoft Surface Book 2 (Image credit: Windows Central)
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CategorySurface Book 2 (15)Dell XPS 15
ProcessorEighth-genIntel Core i7-8650USeventh-genIntel Core i3-7100HIntel Core i5-7300HQIntel Core i7-7700HQ
Display size15-inch15.6-inch
Display resolution3,240 x 2,160 (touch)1,920 x 1,080 (non-touch)3,840 x 2,160 (touch)
GraphicsNVIDIA GTX 1060 (6GB)Intel HD Graphics 630NVIDIA GTX 1050 (4GB)
Storage256GB/512GB/1TB PCIe SSD500GB HDD + 32GB SSD1TB HDD + 32GB SSD256GB/512GB/1TB PCIe SSD
CameraFront-facing 1080pRear-facing 1080pFront-facing 720p
BiometricsIR camera for Windows HelloFingerprint reader (optional)
PortsTwo USB-A 3.1USB-C 3.1Two Surface ConnectSD card reader3.5mm audioTwo USB-A 3.0Thunderbolt 3HDMI 1.4SD card reader3.5mm audio
Xbox WirelessBuilt-inNone
Dimensions13.5 in x 9.87 in x 0.57-0.90 in(343mm x 251mm x 15-23mm)14.06 in x 9.27 in x 0.45-0.66 in(357mm x 235mm x 11-17mm)
Weight4.20 pounds (1.91kg)4 pounds (1.8kg) non-touch4.5 pounds (2kg) touch
PriceStarting at $2,499Starting at $1,000

Surface Book 2 vs. XPS 15: Performance

The 15-inch Surface Book 2 is intended as the high performance option of the lineup, so it comes only with an eighth-gen Intel Core i7-8650U processor (CPU). You're getting four cores for great performance, but it also has a 15W thermal design point (TDP). Compared to the seventh-gen Core i7-7700HQ in the XPS 15 that has a 45W TDP, the eighth-gen CPU is going to be sucking up less power.

When it comes to raw performance, these two CPUs are closely matched, though the one in the Surface Book 2 has a higher single-core turbo frequency at 4.20GHz. If you're going to be primarily multitasking, you'll likely be able to squeeze better performance out of the XPS 15 when all cores are engaged. If you're in need of a PC with less processing power, the XPS 15 does also come in Core i3 and Core i5 configurations, saving you a bundle of cash.

Likewise, you can go as low as 8GB or as high as 32GB of RAM in the XPS 15, whereas the Surface Book 2 is set at 16GB. As for the hard drive, the XPS 15 has some budget-friendly hard-disk drives (HDD), but like the Surface Book 2, also comes with PCIe solid-state drive (SSD) options up to 1TB in size.

The big difference in performance here is in the graphics card (GPU). The cheapest XPS 15 model uses integrated Intel HD Graphics 630, but the rest have a dedicated NVIDIA GTX 1050 with 4GB of GDDR5 VRAM. This is enough for a decent gaming experience, but compared to the NVIDIA GTX 1060 with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM in the Surface Book 2, it won't compete.

Winner: Surface Book 2. The XPS 15 does come in more configuration options, but the GTX 1060 in the Surface Book 2 will outperform the GTX 1050 all day.

Surface Book 2 vs. XPS 15: Display

The IGZO displays that Dell uses in the XPS line are downright gorgeous, stretching seemingly from edge to edge without much bezel at all. Whereas older models were capped at 1800p, you can get a 4K touch version alongside the standard 1080p non-touch version. Either one will serve you well, offering up a high color gamut and deep contrast.

The Surface Book 2's display has a 3:2 aspect ratio, making it seem boxier than usual. It's perfect for tablet mode when you remove the display from the keyboard, and is the perfect shape for use with the Surface Pen (which is no longer included with the laptop). The bezels here are also thicker than on the XPS 15, something that might help a lot of you decide.

Winner: XPS 15. The fact that the Surface Book 2's display can be removed and be used on its own with a Surface Pen does certainly count for something, but strictly speaking appearance, the XPS 15 has it beat.

Surface Book 2 vs. XPS 15: Design and features

The Surface Book 2 has a modular design, meaning the display can detach from the keyboard base. There's still decent battery life in the tablet, though the bulk of it, along with the dedicated GPU, is housed in the base. The two pieces attach at the fulcrum hinge, and can be separated with the click of a switch. For something a bit different — mainly to get the display closer to you while retaining a base to sit on, the display can be replaced backwards to face out when closed.

The XPS 15 is far less complicated, designed to be a standard notebook and not much else. Made from aluminum on the outside and a carbon-fiber finish on the inside, the XPS 15 sits at about four pounds for the non-touch version and 4.5 pounds for the touch version. The Surface Book 2 weighs about 4.20 pounds.

For ports, you have similar USB-A 3.0 and an SD card reader, and while the Surface Book 2 has two proprietary Surface Connect ports, it is lacking a Thunderbolt 3 port that the XPS 15 has. If you're a gamer, though, the Surface Book 2 has Xbox Wireless built right in, making it easy to connect a gamepad.

The keyboard and touchpad on both laptops are comfy, though you're getting more key travel with the Surface Book 2 (1.55mm compared to 1.3mm). Both have large Precision touchpads, and there is an adjustable backlight behind the keys.

As far as logging in with Windows Hello, the Surface Book 2 has an IR camera above the display. The XPS 15's standard 720p is below the display — giving a nose view at best — and doesn't support Windows Hello, but you can choose to add a fingerprint reader.

Winner: Surface Book 2. Though the XPS 15 makes a great notebook, the Surface Book 2's modular design and bonus features make it the winner.

Surface Book 2 vs. XPS 15: Battery

If you opt for the basic XPS 15 model, you'll get a 56WHr battery, smaller to make up for the size of the HDD. For other models using an SSD, you get a 97WHr battery. Battery life varies depending on whether you have a dedicated GPU and whether you have the FHD or 4K version, but you can expect about ten hours of straight use with the lower-res display and running a GTX 1050.

The Surface Book 2 can hit about the same life, getting about 10 hours of standard use from a charge. This number is impacted by the GTX 1060, and if you remove the tablet from the base, you'll only have access to about 20 percent of the total battery reserve.

Winner: Tie. Both laptops can provide all-day life, but are impacted by the dedicated GPUs.

Surface Book 2 vs. XPS 15: Price

Considering the 15-inch Surface Book 2 starts at a whopping $2,500 and the XPS 15 comes in with a model that costs just $1,000, it's kind of clear who the winner is for anyone who wants a cheaper device.

See at Microsoft

However, that base model of the XPS 15 has no dedicated GPU, has an HDD, and is running a Core i3 CPU. Compared to the Surface Book 2, there's no performance contest. If we look at an XPS 15 that's closer matched to the entry-level Surface Book 2 — Core i7, 16GB RAM, dedicated GPU, and a 512GB SSD — it's clear that you can still save nearly $1,000 by sticking with Dell's laptop.

See at Dell

Winner: Dell XPS 15. You get a lot of laptop for the price you pay, and though the Surface Book 2 has a lot going for it, the price can be prohibitively high.

Surface Book 2 vs. XPS 15: Conclusion

Dell XPS 15

Like with a lot of laptop comparisons, the final score comes down to a tie. Here, the XPS 15 has a better display, costs far less, and offers a Thunderbolt 3 port, but the Surface Book 2 offers better performance, a few important extra features, and a killer design.

The price will likely play a big part is choosing between these two, but it's safe to say that the XPS 15 makes a great notebook while the Surface Book 2 makes a great notebook and more. If you're in it for Windows Mixed Reality (WMR), keep in mind that either of the laptops can run it, though you'll likely want to check out my guide to adapters to get it all set up.

More resources

Check out our in-depth reviews for far more information about these great devices.

Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond. If it runs Windows or in some way complements the hardware, there’s a good chance he knows about it, has written about it, or is already busy testing it.