Dewalt Atomic Vs XR Explained: Which Should You Buy?

Dewalt Atomic Vs XR

Atomic and XR comprise two of the three DeWalt lines of cordless products. While both use brushless technology, they differ in size and power. Ahead, we explain both product lines and outline their differences by pitting an Atomic impact driver against an XR impact driver in our in-housing testing so you can decide which of these product lines is best for your workshop.

What is Dewalt XR?

DeWalt XR, which debuted in 2013, is the brand’s line of high-performance brushless power tools. The XR stands for eXtreme runtime, which refers to the long battery life XR tools get thanks to the high efficiency of their brushless motors.

Along with extending their battery life, that brushless motor makes the XR line DeWalt’s most powerful cordless power tools. The XR product line is broad, covering everything from cordless drills to chainsaws to roofing nailers.

What is Dewalt Atomic?

Atomic is DeWalt’s line of compact cordless power tools. The company started rolling out this product line as a compact version of its XR line of cordless power tools in 2019.

As with the XR product line, Atomic tools also use brushless motors. Atomic tools are made to be lightweight and compact at the expense of some power, speed, and cutting capacity.

The Atomic suite of tools includes cordless impact drivers, drills, circular saws, reciprocating saws, oscillating multi-tools, ratchets, and a band saw.

Dewalt Atomic vs XR compared

While Atomic cordless tools are more compact and sometimes lighter than XR tools, the XR tools are more powerful, producing greater torque and faster speeds. Our in-house testing of the DeWalt 20V Max XR DCF887 impact driver and DeWalt 20V Atomic DCF850 impact driver illustrates these differences.

ModelCollet-to-back Length (in.)Bare Weight (lbs)Max Tested Torque (in-lbs)2Ah Battery Run Time (min.)
DeWalt Max XR DCF8875.3752.09880.239.0
DeWalt Atomic DCF8503.8752.08659.430.0

As our Dewalt Max XR DCF887 vs DeWalt Atomic DCF850 shows, both the Max XR and Atomic DeWalt impact drivers have their pros and cons. While they both weigh about the same, the Atomic is considerably shorter from collet to back.

Dewalt Max XR and Atomic Impact Drivers Size Difference
The DeWalt Atomic DCF850 impact driver (right) is considerably more compact than the DeWalt Max XR DCF887 impact driver (left).

This shorter head makes the Atomic DCF850 adept at driving fasteners in tight spaces, such as between wall studs. In fact, the Atomic has the best interior width clearance of any cordless driver or drill we’ve tested.

While some Atomic power tools are lighter than their XR counterparts, that wasn’t the case with the DCF850, which weighs about the same as the Max XR DCF887.

While it may be a little bulkier than the Atomic, the Max XR DCF887 impact driver dominates when it comes to raw power and run time. It handily beat out the Atomic model in maximum tested torque, which means you’ll have an easier time driving in lag bolts and other large fasteners with the Max XR.

DCF887 and DCF850 Torque Meter
Demonstrating how Max XR power tools are consistently more powerful than Atomic models. The DeWalt Max XR DCF887 impact driver (left) generated more torque on a torque meter than the DeWalt Atomic DCF850 (right).

And since the Max XR has more minutes of run time than the Atomic, you’ll also be able to drive in more fasteners with the Max XR before having to pause for a recharge or battery change.

Pro tip

Our DeWalt Max XR vs DeWalt Max guide can be helpful if wanting to compare DeWalt’s high-end power tool lineup against its budget-focused tools.

Which should you pick?

Deciding whether to go with the Max XR or the Atomic has a lot to do with how you plan to use your power tools. Unless your projects often take you into tighter spaces where the Atomic’s compact size becomes a real advantage, the Max XR’s clear performance edge and runtime across its suite of power tools make it the best choice between these two lineups.

Price is also a factor. The Atomic line is cheaper than XR cordless tools. For example, the Atomic DCF850 bare tool is available for about $100, while the Max XR DCF887 runs about $120.

FAQ

  • Do Max XR and Atomic use the same battery?

    Both the Max XR and Atomic use the same battery. That means you can use both Max and XR batteries of varying sizes with both tools. You can also use DeWalt’s newer 20V/60V Flexvolt battery line with both cordless tool lines.

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Tony Carrick
Tony is a recognized expert in the home and DIY space, as well as outdoor recreation. His articles have appeared on websites such as Bob Vila, U.S. News and World Report, Angi, Popular Science, and Popular Mechanics. He can be emailed at awcarrick@gmail.com. His online portfolio is available at https://www.tonycarrick.com/.

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