A VR-ready gaming rig can put a hole in your pocket, but it doesn't have to. The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop, with its starting price of $950, is light on the wallet and offers solid performance for the price. This laptop's Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q GPU can power games and VR experiences, and its battery life is far longer than that of its competitors. But Dell's display, while better than on previous models, is still poorer than competitors', and its keyboard is no fun to type on. But if you can overlook those flaws, you will get a lot for the price.
The Inspiron maintains the black-and-red design that you see on almost every gaming notebook out there, but depending on the color you pick, you get either something incredibly understated or something colorful and proud. Our review unit was a professional matte-black model, with a soft-touch lid bearing Dell's logo in an eye-popping red. The rear, featuring a series of vents, comes in straight, gray plastic lines. It's not as fun as the spiderweb accents from the year before.
The interior maintains that motif, with a black soft-touch deck, an island-style keyboard with red lettering and backlighting, and a touchpad surrounded by a crimson border. The power button in the upper left-hand corner also serves as a fingerprint reader.
At a hefty 6 pounds and measuring 15.2 x 10..8 x 1 inches, the Inspiron is heavier than any of its competitors. The Acer Predator Helios 300 is the lightest, at 5.5 pounds, but far thicker, at 1.5 inches, while the Lenovo Legion Y520 (1 inch thick) and Asus ROG Strix GL503 (0.9 inches thick) are each 5.6 pounds.
Along the sides, you'll find just about every port you'll need for peripherals and monitors. On the left side, there's a Noble lock slot, Ethernet jack, a USB 3.0 port and an SD card slot. The right side is home to the headphone jack, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a Thunderbolt 3 port and an HDMI output.
The original model of the Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop had a horrible display. Thank heavens Dell improved the panel this time around. The 15.6-inch, 1080p screen still isn't the best on the market, but the switch to an IPS panel gives you more-accurate colors and wider viewing angles. When I watched the trailer for Black Panther, I found that the display was sharp, and I could make out all of the intricate designs on T'Challa's suit, but Dora Milaje's red outfit didn't pop against the black wall of her ship like it does on better screens.
When I played Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the grass around an orc fortress was a crisp green, but Talion's brown-and-gray cape was muddled, and I wished I could make the screen just a little brighter.
The panel on the Inspiron covers 70 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is less than the mainstream average (102 percent), as well as showings from the Strix (113 percent) and Predator (81 percent), which have richer hues. The Legion, however, is duller, at just 68 percent.
On our light meter, the Inspiron's screen measured an average of 233 nits, dimmer than the average (253 nits) and the Strix's screen (297 nits). But the Predator (226 nits) and Legion (220 nits) are even darker.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The issues with the Inspiron's keyboard are twofold.
The first: This keyboard has just 1.2 millimeters of travel and requires a heavy 79 grams of actuation to press the keys, so I found myself bottoming out constantly. Typing is not a pleasant experience. I hit my usual 106 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, but with a 4 percent error rate -- twice my average.
The second: The keyboard is placed too far back. I have this issue on most of Dell's Inspiron laptops (I'd rather have a slightly shorter trackpad), and when this placement is paired with the shallow keyboard, the experience is just uncomfortable.
The touchpad is 4.1 x 3.1 inches, which is nice and spacious but taller than any reasonable person needs. It's plastic, so it doesn't feel as nice as metal or glass touchpads, but it's accurate when you're navigating and using gestures like pinch-to-zoom and tapping four fingers to reach the Action Center in Windows 10.
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The Inspiron's speakers are squarely average. When I listened to Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," the Inspiron's speakers filled our lab with sound. The guitars, vocals and drums were nice and clear, but the bass was lacking. In the included Waves MaxxAudio Pro app, turning up the bass didn't help, though using the Details dial, I managed to get a little more detail out of the cymbals.
I found myself wishing the speakers were just a bit louder when I played Middle-earth: Shadow of War, but I could still clearly make out the sound of Talion's boot stomping on the ground and the noise from orcs' heads popping into slimy messes.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
The Inspiron comes with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with Max-Q design and 6GB of VRAM. That's plenty of power to play games at high settings, but you'll have to lower some games' settings to get the smoothest frame rates. Max-Q cards allow for laptops that are quieter and slimmer, but it's also less powerful than a regular GTX 1060.
When I played Middle-earth: Shadow of War at very high settings and 1080p resolution, the game ran at between 45 and 49 frames per second, with a little bit of screen tearing as I searched for, battled and killed Naruk the Tyrant. A bump down to high settings gave me between 50 and 55 fps.
Dell's gaming laptop ran the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark at 31 fps on very high settings at 1080p, falling just below the mainstream average of 35 fps. The Legion, with a 1050 Ti, rendered at 46 fps, and the Predator, with a regular 1060, ran at 67 fps. The Strix, with its 1050, can't handle Tomb Raider at those settings, but on our budget version at high and medium settings, the game ran at 44 fps.
On Hitman (1080p, ultra settings), the Inspiron ran at 55 fps, falling below the mainstream average and the Legion's score (both 60 fps), as well as the Predator's showing (64 fps).
On the Metro: Last Light benchmark (high, 1080p), the Inspiron reached 38 fps, falling below the average (42 fps) and the Predator's score (46 fps), but beating the Legion's result (31 fps).
Though the Inspiron will work with an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, the Dell laptop just won't be the best VR experience you can get. It earned a score of 5.9 on the SteamVR Performance Test, falling below the average 6.1 and the Predator's 7.1.
With a 2.5-Ghz Intel Core i5-7300U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, the Inspiron can be used for work just as much as for play. With 30 tabs open, including one streaming Overwatch from Twitch, the laptop showed no signs of lag.
The Inspiron notched a score of 10,535 on Geekbench 4 overall performance test, falling just short of the mainstream average (10,979) and also below scores from the Strix (12,435), Legion (13,037) and Predator (13,587). All of those competitors run more-powerful Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPUs. If you need a bit more power in your Inspiron, you can customize it with that same processor (see Configurations below).
It took Dell's gaming notebook 15 seconds to copy 4.97GB of files, for a rate of 339 megabytes per second. That's speedier than the average of 262 MBps, as well as rates from the Strix (a very slow 32.2 MBps) and Predator (188.5MBps). The Legion is just a teeny bit quicker, however, at 363.5 MBps.
On the OpenOffice spreadsheet macro, the Inspiron paired 20,000 names and addresses in 3:38, faster than the 4:20 average, but slower than the Legion (3:19), Strix (3:20) and Predator (3:22).
Some of the Inspiron's trade-offs are offset by the fact that it lasts so much longer than most other gaming notebooks. It ran for 7 hours and 5 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which consists of continuously browsing the web over Wi-Fi. The mainstream average is 6:27, though that includes a whole slew of computers without discrete GPUs. Only the Predator came close to the Inspiron, at 6:48, while the Strix (3:32) and Legion (3:39) barely offered half as much endurance.
The Inspiron stays nice and cool under normal usage. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, the laptop measured 82 degrees Fahrenheit on the bottom, 84 degrees at the center of the keyboard and just 77 degrees on the touchpad. That's all far cooler than our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Of course, you'll want to keep the laptop on a table or desk while gaming. During a session of Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the touchpad climbed to 82 degrees, the keyboard hit a balmy 100 degrees and the underside of the machine reached 113 degrees. We consider temperatures above 95 degrees uncomfortable.
You'll want an external webcam if you're going to stream. The 720p shooter on the Inspiron takes grainy photos with poor color.
In a photo I shot at my desk, my beard looked as if it were shaded on with pencil, and my gray sweater appeared, inaccurately, to have some red in it. The shirt my colleague Louis wore in the background wasn't a rich blue, as it is in real life, but instead appeared blown out and lifeless.
Software and Warranty
Dell, as usual, is pretty light on its own software, which is of dubious usefulness. This laptop includes Dell Power Manager, which provides battery information and lets you change settings, as well as a customer-chat program, similar to what you can find on the company's website. Dell also added some bloat: Netflix, McAfee Security and Dropbox, with 20GB of free space for new users.
We reviewed the entry-level, $949.99 Inspiron 15 7000 with an Intel Core i5-7300HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, a 1080p display, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q GPU and 6GB of VRAM.
The maxed-out version comes with a Core i7-7700HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 1TB HDD, a 4K display and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU.
At the minimum, you should consider the $999.99 model. For the extra $50, you get a 128GB SSD and a 1TB, 5,400-rpm HDD, which will give you far more storage for games.
Dell, as it is wont to do, offers the laptop in a wide variety of configurations between those two prices, with various amounts of storage and multiple GPU and RAM options.
You get what you pay for, and while the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming has an annoying keyboard and a display that isn't as bright or colorful as competitors', you're still getting a solid deal with a GTX 1060 Max-Q GPU for less than a grand. The long battery life doesn't hurt, either. If you have a little more money to spend, you should get the Acer Predator Helios 300. Starting at $1,049.99, it offers better performance thanks to its full GTX 1060 GPU and strong battery life (though it's short of the Dell's), and you also get a two-year warranty. The Acer's display, though, is also on the dim side.
Overall, the Inspiron 15 7000 continues to be among the best values in budget gaming if you're able to put up with its shortcomings.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/ Laptop Mag