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Over the last year, Dell has been hard at work tweaking their formula, but have those tweaks actually added up to anything substantial? Let's check it out.
The Inspiron 15 has a red matte finish, with great looking triangles on the front and the back. It mostly avoids an over-the-top look, like some gaming laptops. It’s clear that thinness wasn't a top priority for Dell, here with lesser specs than the latest MacBook Pro, it is nearly double the thickness.
But assuming they used the extra space for cooling, we can’t be too critical, especially if the intent is for users to game on it for long periods at a time. The build quality of the Inspiron 15 is great for a budget segment laptop; the chassis feels solid and the screen flex is about what you'd expect. Opening the lid is easy and the hinge moves smoothly.
R model is not the cheapest, but it hits a really nice sweet spot, with just enough of pretty much everything for gaming, and without spending extra money on an I7 for example, that doesn't make games run faster.
Gaming performance is really solid – the included 60 Hz TN panel looks pretty good for a TN, with above average viewing angles from side to side, again for a TN, and on high settings at 1080p, which happens to be its native resolution.
This laptop proved to be more than capable during testing, meaning you should be able to run modern triple-A titles without issues, thanks in no small part to the strong performance of the Inspiron 15's cooling system.
During our stress test, it was not only able to keep this CPU at a relatively comfortable 80 degrees, but the I5 was able to use its turbo boost the whole time too, meaning performance won’t dip after a couple of minutes of gaming.
It was far from silent, but it wasn't disruptive and it is much quieter than a thin and light gaming machine like a RZR Blade. Battery life came in at a very impressive six hours and 48 minutes, one of the best results we've ever seen.
If that sounds good to you, you'll be happy to know the speakers are better than you might expect as well. The internal sub-woofer doesn't add as much depth to the sound as the subs in their XPS laptops several years ago did, but overall clarity is good, until some distortion creeps in at nearly full volume, as long as you’re right in front.
The keyboard feels very similar to previous Inspiron models, but nicer. The keystrokes are short, with a pleasant click and avoid being spongey. Spacing is a strong point, and there's a full NUM pad with appropriately laid out arrow keys.
The red backlighting is functional, and if you're actually in the dark you'll be able to read the keys. The trackpad is also quite good. The feel of the click isn't super consistent from the top to the bottom, but it performed accurately at high-sensitivity settings, and it does a great job of figuring out where you have your thumb at the bottom for clicking, as opposed to when you are trying to use multi-touch.
The first unfortunate compromise, is the one by one Wi-Fi, giving me a maximum speed of around 20MB per second in my data transfer test. So if you want fast downloads, you will have to wire-in.
The storage is also rather slow - it is an M.2 Drive, and it is an SSD, but it doesn’t run at PCI E speeds. Finally, the screen is far from the most vibrant in high contrast that we'd seen. Now that IPS is the standard, even a decent TN looks washed out by comparison. So who is this laptop for then?
Well unsurprisingly, the Inspiron 15 is a great value laptop for people who want to game, and need the portability of a laptop. For $850, you could build a better performing desktop that is more upgradable, but you can't exactly take that wherever it is that you might need it.
How To Pick a Gaming Laptop
Below, we are going to list some things that are important when it comes to the decision process for purchasing a laptop for a gaming. When it comes to making a laptop, manufacturers strive to find a balance between price, performance and portability.
Narrowing a Choice
For buyers, picking two of three is the most sensible route. Say for example, if you want ultra-light portability and really good performance, it does exist - there are some really good laptops out there, but inevitably, they are really expensive.
Thus, you have to decide pretty early on in the buying process how much money want to spend, and where you want to spend your money.
Cheaper laptops tend to be a little bit thicker, heavier and usually have more plastic materials, which isn't necessarily bad, but it just not as premium feeling or premium looking.
When it comes the thickness of laptop, sometimes thicker laptops can have an advantage, because when you have a big laptop to work with, you have bigger fans and more space, which tends to do a better job at removing heat from these systems.
Because there's more room in there, there is simply more tolerance for dust to build up, and so these devices, despite being less elegant-looking, will get you further along when it comes to maintenance. Comparatively, you’ll definitely have to take utmost care of any thin and light gaming laptop.
Bigger Or Smaller
When it comes to how well gaming laptops are made, in 2018 most laptops are made quite well. There is more emphasis on brands to build things that are thinner and lighter, simply because that's just what people seem to want right now.
But there is still a really good market for bigger laptops – they’re more durable, they tend to last longer and in all honesty, thin, light gaming laptops aren’t for everyone.
We won’t go into detail about ports, but we should touch on a few things. Thunderbolt 3 support is something that is cool on paper, especially for those into the idea of external GPUs but they’re really expensive to set up, so it’s not something we think you should really go for.
If the device that you’re looking at doesn't have Thunderbolt 3 support, it shouldn’t make or break the deal. The other thing is if you’re purchasing a device, make sure that the exhaust of the fans isn't on the mouse hand.
We’ve used some laptops where the fan exhaust was right beside the mouse hand, resulting in your hands is getting baked, which is no good! Otherwise, ports are pretty easy decision to make.
The Intel U Processors have just been refreshed, so the 8th-Gen U Processors are 15-watt CPUs – despite what companies will tell you, if you're really looking for a dedicated gaming laptop, don't get a U processor - get an H processor. The 8th generation H processors are 45-watt CPUs that are traditionally quad core CPUs.
The CPUs with the new ‘Coffee’ architecture, the faster clock speeds, and the two extra cores, you're going to get better performance. Things like multi-core applications are going to be significantly better, but well optimized games should notice some nice boosts in performance as well.
In terms of graphics cards, the Nvidia GTX 10 series GPUs were amazing for laptops, essentially changing the entire industry. Gaming laptops were basically a joke about three years ago – the concept of them was unbelievable.
You would have to pay huge amounts of money, while not really getting the performance you would need to be able to play current titles. Nowadays, you can spend $800-$900 on an entry-level gaming laptop and dependent on the game, you can float at 60 frames per second target on alter graphics for a lot of games - pretty remarkable!
Triple-A titles from Blizzard, Activision and EA - basically the most graphically intensive games, are able to run at a really good frame rate on an entry-level gaming laptop.
So what's next? Nvidia vaulter offers additional performance, but as mentioned before, some of the most challenging titles are already running on a $900 gaming laptop. Vaulter is obviously better, but for most, we don’t need that extra performance, as we’ve already hit that sweet spot where inexpensive hardware can play the best titles.
The screen is one of the most important decisions when it comes to making a laptop choice. When you’ve decided on a CPU and a GPU combination, it doesn't matter which brand you go with - performance is going be relatively similar, but the screens differ a lot.
Our first piece of advice is to not get a 4K screen, unless you really need it for content creation, because when it comes to gaming, you’re going to get better value and just get a better gaming experience. You can spend that money on higher quality 1080p screen, and a 120 Hz screen is so much better than a 60 Hz for gaming.
You’ll need to be able to push out those 120 fps to really appreciate it, but when you do, the game experience is just so much smoother. You can react faster and things just look better on screen.
If you can, try and see one of these screens in action – see them in person and you’ll usually love them! Another thing is to not be afraid of a high-quality TN panel. Traditionally, TN panels are terrible and bad for everything, let alone gaming.
However, the new ones are really good. Acer, MSI use some panels on their laptops that look gorgeous, and we would consider those high-quality TN panels significantly better than most IPS panels on gaming laptops, so check them out.
Generally, the direction the whole industry is moving towards is high refresh rate screens -120 Hz panels look so much better. If you're looking for screens and your budget can allow for it, check out 120 Hz screens, they’re the hot stuff for 2018.
We should also mention - if you do buy a cheaper laptop, if you really want to, a lot of them have the ability to replace the screen. While this is not easy, and probably not covered under, it can be done. There are some really inexpensive screens, for around $100 that are 120 Hz and look pretty good.
Dell Inspiron 15 Review
If you’re looking for something to buy that’s inexpensive and works well before heading off to college, the Inspiron 15 packs in everything that you are likely to need into a pretty nice container.
The options available from this nifty little machine mean that you can play until your heart’s content, and not have to burn a massive hole in your pocket either. And for most gamers, that’s all that they could ask for.