Graphic of DeWalt Atomic versus DeWalt 20V MAX XR

Comparing DeWalt Platforms: Atomic vs. XR

Selection of DeWalt XR Tools

If you’re looking to build up your toolkit with DeWalt but are not sure which series would be best for your line of work, we’ve got you covered. In this comparison blog, we’ll compare and contrast DeWalt’s Atomic Compact Series and 20V MAX XR lineup.

These two powerhouse systems are designed to handle challenging jobs in tough work environments but have unique features to help push productivity depending on the job. Based on your needed maneuverability and performance, explore the features, benefits, and differences between the DeWalt Atomic and XR series to help you make an informed decision.

DeWalt Atomic

DeWalt DCF921B ATOMIC 20V MAX in use

DeWwalt’s Atomic Compact Series began in 2019 and made waves among tradesmen by highlighting their compact power and maneuverability. These tools were made for tight spaces and when you need to navigate a work area with little room but don’t want to compromise on power or performance. Here’s what sets the Atomic Series apart from the XR line:

  • Size Without Compromise:  Designed to be compact, maneuverable, and powerful, Atomic tools allow professionals to work in small spaces without complicated specialty tools.

  • Tools On The Move: Lightweight and portable, Atomic tools are your go-to solution for on-the-go jobs. To keep you from lugging around even more equipment, these tools give you more mobility and space.

DeWalt’s Atomic line is here to offer brushless power solutions in a compact package. According to, both size and weight are major factors for professional tradesmen to consider when purchasing tools. Those that are more ergonomically designed ease body strain and increase job capabilities.

While the Atomic series does share the 20V Max compatibility with over 300 products, its focus on smaller sizing makes it stand out among competitors and compared to the XR line.

Daniel Heiney-Gonzalez, senior product manager at Towson, Md.-based DeWalt, when talking about ergonomics, gave a few examples of products that both incorporate brushless motors and a smaller design. He said these examples included “the Atomic cordless platform 20V Max brushless motor band saw for one-handed use and overhead applications, and the cordless Atomic 20V Max brushless motor 5.8-inch rotary hammer, a compact, well-balanced tool.”

Benefits of the DeWalt Atomic Series

  • Optimized for Tight Spaces: This line of tools is compact and optimized for tight spaces, overhead work, and longer periods of use. They improve work efficiency in tight areas, keeping you away from continuous errors while increasing safety.

  • Brushless Motor: Brushless motor technology extends the motor's life and provides more efficient power to the tool. With less motor maintenance and a better reliability score, the work gets finished quicker.

  • Wide Range of Applications: Despite their compact size, DeWalt's Atomic series is versatile enough to handle a wide range of tough jobs. From basic outdoor tasks to tight attic repairs, these tools can handle it.

  • Compatibility and Convenience : This series is also compatible with the existing DeWalt 20V MAX battery platform, making it easy to integrate Atomic tools into your existing toolkit without purchasing additional batteries or chargers.

Whether you're a professional contractor or a homeowner needing portable yet reliable tools, the Atomic Compact Series is worth considering for its compact yet powerful design. Though these tools are impressive for tight spaces and are more affordable, they might not be the best fit for large-scale jobs. For heavy-duty tasks, consider looking into DeWalt's XR line.

DeWalt 20V MAX XR

DeWalt DCF891 20V MAX XR 1/2" Mid-Range Impact Wrench with Hog Ring Anvil  in use

Introduced in 2013, Dewalt's XR line transformed cordless power tools. Below are some features of DeWalt’s 20V MAX XR Technology:

  • XR Stands For: The XR stands for eXtreme Runtime or Extended Runtime. This is to show that XR batteries last longer than their non-XR counterparts. DeWalt accomplishes this through higher mp-hour batteries, which in turn provides longer tool runtime and less downtime.

  • Brushless Motors: Tools stamped with XR signify brushless motors, which are a significant upgrade from traditional brushed motors. Brushless motors manage energy transfer more efficiently, maximizing performance and extending runtime on a single charge.

  • Enhanced Components: The XR line boasts enhanced components both inside the tools and within the batteries. This includes smarter power management, protecting against overloading, overheating, overcharging, and deep discharge, ensuring longevity and optimal performance.

  • Compact Design: Despite their advanced technology, XR tools are able to maintain a compact design, making them easy to maneuver on the job site.

The concept behind XR was to create cordless tools that are tough on the outside and smart on the inside. DeWalt reimagined the power transfer within this series and implemented smarter switches to achieve better runtime and overall performance.

Benefits of DeWalt XR

  • Balanced Performance: While everyone wants "extreme runtime," DeWalt understands the importance of balance. XR technology not only extends runtime but also safeguards your tool investment by preventing damage to the motor and batteries.

  • Interchangeable Batteries: One of the standout features of XR is its compatibility across the DeWalt 18V XR range. Whether you use a circular saw or a drill, you can power them all with the same battery. Work without interruptions by seamlessly switching tools.

  • Continuous Evolution: While XR technology isn't new anymore, its impact continues to grow throughout the trades. DeWalt is always expanding its range of XR tools, listening to user feedback, and adapting to meet their needs. From brushless motors to improved technology, the XR series is the driving force behind DeWalt's popularity in the power tool market. 

DeWalt XR goes beyond its name of eXtreme Runtime by continuing to outperform the competition. This series has cemented its position as superior in the power tool world by prioritizing extended runtime, durability, and compatibility across DeWalt XR tools. And with the new XR FlexVolt series advancing into the power tool scene, the future for DeWalt is ever-changing.

What's the Difference Between DeWalt 20V Atomic Compact and 20V MAX XR Tools?

DeWalt DCD800P1 20V Max XR Brushless Cordless 1/2" Drill/Driver 5.0Ah in use

When compared, the DeWalt two series perform at the same voltage, guaranteeing consistent and strong power for heavy-duty jobs. In short, the difference between DeWalt’s 20V Atomic line and the 20V XR series is their motors. DeWalt’s Atomic line features brushed motors, while XR has brushless motors. Read further below to understand the differences between these two motors.

The 20V XR series offers an upgrade from a typical battery runtime to an extended runtime. DeWalt’s XR adds an extra oomph to your tools by delivering increased energy efficiency and a boosted performance to prolong your tool to get the job done with a few charges or battery switches as possible.

20V Atomic DeWalt tools, on the other hand, are standard in terms of getting the job done efficiently but with more breaks in between to change or charge batteries. Due to the brushed motors, there is also more tool maintenance to keep track of. These 20V MAX tools offer the same power with less runtime but more wear over a span of use. The 20V Atomic is great for jobs that don’t require a long runtime.

Overall, the DEWALT 20V Atomic and 20V XR tools share the same voltage and tool size, so you can’t really go wrong choosing one over the other. However, the XR series features advanced technology with brushless motors, making it the go-to choice for those who want a bit more power and performance from their tools while spending a few more bucks. 

What is Brushless Motor Technology?

Graphic detailing difference between brushless vs brushed motor technologies
Image courtesy of ToolBoxBuzz

According to DeWalt’s support forum, “A brushed motor uses brushes and a commutator to supply electricity to the magnetic coils of the armature. This can create friction, heat, and loss of energy at the point of contact.”

In contrast, brushless motors eliminate the need for brushes and the commutator, minimizing friction commonly found in traditional brushed motors. This advanced design causes a cooler, more efficient motor, reducing the wear and tear you see on brushed motors.

While brushed motors have been the most popular design for tools and power equipment by providing professionals with fast-paced and efficient work performance, the fundamental difference between brushed and brushless motors lies in their operational mechanisms.

Brushed Motor Key Points

  • Relies on mechanical action, with permanent magnets in the stator and electromagnets in the rotor.

  • Carbon brushes maintain contact with the commutator, transferring electrical voltage to create an electromagnetic field in the rotor.

  • Continuous polarity switching through the commutator generates the motor's spinning motion.

Joerg Zellerhoff, group product manager at DeWalt, said, "Increased runtime is one of the biggest benefits of brushless motors in cordless tools. DEWALT coupled brushless motors with high-capacity batteries to deliver EXTREME RUNTIME to our users," Zellerhoff also said "The push to higher voltage like 12V to 14.4V and 18V gave cordless tools more power in the late 90s. Lithium-ion battery technology has provided a lightweight battery option, with no memory effect, for cordless tools during the last six years. Brushless motors are now improving the runtime of cordless tools compared to standard brushed motors and make them desirable to contractors."

Notable Advantages of Brushless Motors

  • Decreased motor maintenance, as there are no brushes to replace.

  • Extended motor lifespan due to operating at a cooler temperature.

  • Increased power.

  • Fewer battery changes or charging as brushless motors extend battery runtime.

For a better visualization of how DeWalt brushless motors work, check out this video below

Quick Comparison between DeWalt Atomic and 20V MAX XR

In short, the difference between DeWalt’s Atomic Compact Series and the 20V MAX XR lineup is that the Atomic series highlights compact size without compromising on power for enhanced portability and small spaces, while the 20V MAX XR series offers eXtreme Runtime technology for extended job site applications and brushless motors to offer faster task completion. Whether you prioritize maneuverability or extended runtime, DeWalt has a solution to suit your needs.

DeWalt History

Raymond DeWalt with his trades skills students, [ca. 1945]

For more than a century, DeWalt has stood as a example of high-quality tools and dedication to lessening the challenges that trade professionals' face. Since 1924, DeWalt has been a trusted partner to these professionals and has strived for superiority with every new product upgrade. DeWalt works Tirelessly to improve its tools to increase productivity on the jobsite while easing the strain on trade professionals.

DeWalt is focused on more than just their tools. They’re also heading toward a more sustainable future for tradesmen by developing cutting-edge solutions like brushless motors, gassless and hoseless equipment, and their product recycling policies.These solutions make for a more cleaner future, while also protecting professionals from harsh side effects caused by gas powered equipment.

Final Thoughts

In summary, whether you opt for the maneuverability and compact power of DeWalt's Atomic Compact Series or the advanced extended runtime of the 20V MAX XR lineup, you're investing in tools designed to tackle tough jobs efficiently. Both series offer unique advantages, so choose based on your specific needs and preferences. With DeWalt's commitment to quality and innovation, you can trust that whichever series you choose, you're equipping yourself with reliable tools built to perform.

DeWalt Atomic vs XR Frequently Asked Questions

What's the main difference between DeWalt Atomic and XR?

  • Atomic: Think of the Atomic series as the younger sibling of the XR series. It’s compact and lightweight, perfect for tight spaces and lighter tasks.

  • XR: XR, on the other hand, is like the seasoned professional, with more power and performance suited for heavier-duty applications.

What is the DeWalt 20V Max Series?

  • DeWalt's 20V MAX series, which succeeds the 18V line, introduces lithium-ion batteries and features a standard size with brushed motor technology.

Are DeWalt 20V MAX and MAX XR batteries interchangeable?

No, they are not interchangeable. MAX XR batteries have upgraded features and are not compatible with standard 20V Max packs

What is XR FlexVolt, and how does it relate to XR technology?

Dewalt's XR FlexVolt is an advancement in cordless tool technology, showcasing the power and adaptability of XR technology. The new standard for DeWalt batteries and other tools is the XR series.It offers extended runtime and dependability, particularly in the 12V and 18V ranges. With FlexVolt, Dewalt extends its reach to those needing power on the 54V and 18V platforms, delivering the performance of a corded machine with the freedom of cordless convenience.

Can XR Batteries Work with FlexVolt Tools?

Yes, XR batteries are compatible with FlexVolt tools as they share the same battery platforms. Nevertheless, it's important to note that while XR options can be used, they feature lower voltage and amp-hour ratings, and hence, their performance may not match the expectations set by FlexVolt batteries.

Which series has better battery life?

XR tools typically have longer battery life compared to Atomic tools, thanks to their larger size and higher capacity batteries. This can be a significant factor if you're working on large projects or need to use your tools for extended periods without recharging. However, Atomic batteries still offer respectable run times for most tasks and are quick to recharge when needed.

Is it bad to leave a DeWalt Battery on the Charger?

  • Not at all. DEWALT chargers are equipped with a maintenance mode, ensuring that batteries can remain in the charger without adverse effects, maintaining a full charge until the user is prepared to utilize them.

How does the warranty differ between Atomic and XR tools?

  • Both Atomic and XR tools come with DeWalt's standard warranty coverage, typically ranging from one to three years, depending on the specific product. This warranty protects against defects in materials and workmanship, providing peace of mind for users who rely on their tools day in and day out.