On September 2019 I got a Dell XPS 15 7590, a powerful 15.6" laptop, to replace my previous Dell XPS 15 9570 from 2013 that, after 6 years of honorable service and several maintenance interventions (which, given the unusual stress I put my laptops in, was not unusual) was getting a bit too long in the tooth.

I have generally been quite satisfied with my Dell laptops (all the way back to the first one I owned, a venerable Dell Inpsiron 8100 with an out-of-this world 15" 1600×1200 UXGA high-density display, that I've mentioned before), with which I've had generally better luck than with laptops from other vendors.

This is however not the case with the one I'm currently using. In fact, my experience with this laptop has been so bad that I have no qualms in claiming that this is the worst computer I've ever had. (And I've had some pretty poor experiences, including a laptop HDD failing exactly one week after the warranty expiration, and working for two years with the shittiest display ever attached to a laptop.)

In fact, what makes the XPS 15 7590 situation particularly crappy is that not only it's a badly designed piece of hardware with components of debatable reliability (as I'm going to discuss momentarily), but it's the fact that —at least on paper— it's supposed to be a high-end powerhorse, starring an Intel Core i7-9750H 6-core/12-thred CPU running at 2.6GHz and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 3D accelerator, with a high-capacity battery to provide the user with several hours of gaming/officing/video streaming.

(Narrator: «It doesn't»)

There's so many things that went wrong in the materialization of this hardware that I'm not even sure where I should start listing them from.

First of all, I should probably mention that the power requirements of the laptop are enormous: you need a 130W power source to be able to use it while charging, and even with the battery configured for slow charging the power is still barely sufficient. I also have a strong suspicion that the distribution of the power within the system is far from reliable, due to at least two different symptoms: monitor flickering when switching from/to battery/AC, and the laptop simply shutting down when turning the discrete GPU / 3D accelerator on while on battery.

To make things worse, the power connector in the system is dramatically loose, leading to unpleasant situations where finding the correct angle/depth/tension to make the laptop even just sense that the power cord is inserted becomes a ridiculous game of contorsionism, or finding out the connector had gone disconnected by the laptop nearly dying under your hands (or suddently shutting off because you switched on the accelerator, as mentioned before).

It doesn't end here, obviously: a strong contributor to the power issues of this model is the horribly inadequate cooling system: the system runs at over 60°C even when under light load, with the fans having troubles keeping the temperature low enough under heavy load, leading to frequently throttling of both the CPU and the 3D accelerator —and a consequent massive reduction in performance (videos stuttering, gaming with FPS dropping in the single digits, long compilation time, near impossibility to do any serious benchmark of my HPC code).

And of course, the combination of higher-than-expected power requirements and lower-than expected cooling capabilities, the battery has never lasted as long as advertised (maybe half of that, out of the box).

The rest of the hardware isn't much better: it took several firmware updates to get the WiFi working reliably, Bluetooth connections still randomly die without apparent cause, and the touchpad has issues recovering from sleep mode. This last issue is particularly frustratring because it's not even easy to circumvent: when the touchpad is borked the touchscreen doesn't work either, and even external mice become unreliable due to the touchpad still firing up random events. (Apparently, a workaround is to keep the left touchpad bottom for a few seconds and this can help reset the device, or at least clear the queue or whatever else is causing the malfunction.)

Now, before anybody comes up and mention that I might just have been unlucky and drawn the short stick, getting myself a defective laptop —nope: these are structural issue, reported by several users, and not even related to the operating system (as a Linux user, I'm used to hardware issues related to poor testing with that operating system, and in fact I was half convinced that e.g. the touchpad issue might be Linux-related —but no, Windows users have the exact same issues, so it's something in hardware.)

In fact Dell even recently (January 2021) released a new BIOS version that tries to address several of the issues I mentioned, and while it does improve some of them up to a point, it's still not enough to completely fix most of them (e.g. the power cord detection is improved, but it's still extremely volatile, especially when the laptop has been on for several days; moreover, the touchpad still has issues when getting out of sleep mode). But at least the laptop does run cooler now (between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius with a light load) most of the time.

Now, as I've said before, I've had some pretty poor experience with laptops. Indeed, until I got this one, I would have said that the worst I've ever had was the one before the previous one: the one whose HDD died right after the warranty expiration, which was also the one with the, shall we say, less than stellar display; and flimsy plastic finishes; and several other small annoyances. Yet despite the traumatic experience of the HDD death (a one-off issue against every wise person should be adequately prepared) most of my gripes against the previous holder of the “worst laptop I've ever owned” had only minor annoyances counting against it. Also I came to it from my wonderful über-bright matte UXGA display of Inspiron 8100, which might have heavily biased me against its display.

But no, the XPS 15 7590 isn't like that. It's really bad.

Mind you, on paper it's really a wonderful laptop. The 4K display is also crystal clear —when it's not flickering due to the power distribution issues— and it's even a touch screen, if you choose that configuration1. The keyboard is backlit, and as laptop keyboards go, it's a pretty nice keyboard —except that some times it seems to eat up characters (but again this might be an operating system issue, although I've generally seen these issues when the touchpad isn't working either). The touchpad is large and comfortable to use, including support for multi-touch gestures —when it actually works. The number and type of connectors, while not exceptional, is pretty adequate, especially paired with the USB-C adapter with VGA, HDMI, Ethernet and USB-A 3.0 connectors. The CPU and 3D accelerator (discrete GPU) are high-end, top-of-the-line offers (for the release date of this model) —too bad you don't really get to exploit them at their full power for long, due to the thermal and power issues. The 32GB of RAM and 1TB of NVMe storage are also a very nice touch —and possibly the only thing that hasn't given me any significant issues … yet.

In the end, as I already mentioned, the biggest let-down is that what you're left with after all the issues are taken out isn't nowhere near what it was supposed, which —for the hefty price the product carries— is simply unacceptable.

I mean, if I pay 200€ for a laptop (I did, in fact, buy one such thing for my mother, that was quite strict on the upper bounds we were allowed to spend for her present) I don't expect much from it, other than the bare minimum. And in fact, with all its downsides and limitation, that laptop was exactly what we expected to be, and even managed to last way longer than we had envisioned, with minimal maintenance (although to be fair we did expand the RAM and we did replace the internal hard disk with an SSD). That's fine —I'm not buying a Ferrari, I don't expect a Ferrari.

But when I do buy a Ferrari Enzo, I most definitely don't expect to find myself using something that —on a good day— may at best resemble an Open Tigra with the pretense of being an Enzo.

TLDR

The single biggest (for me) issue is that the power connector is loose and will frequently drop the laptop out of charge.

A close second is the horrible thermals, and the consequent CPU and GPU throttling.

The inability for the touchpad to reliably come out of sleep is a distant third (at least inasmuch it can be worked around in ways that the other two issues cannot).


  1. I've had usage of the touchscreen lead to hard lock-ups for the system, but I'm quite sure this is an operating system/driver issue, and not a hardware one; I can't be 100% sure though, because it's an issue which is neither easy to reproduce nor easy to debug. ↩