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I tested the Dell G3, G5, and G7 gaming laptops. Here’s the one you should buy

Digital Trends has tested hundreds of gaming laptops over the years. Most share a common trait; they’re expensive. Razer Blade is our favorite gaming laptop, but you’ll have to pay well over a thousand dollars for a base model even if you find a good sale. Dell’s Inspiron G-Series is one of the few reliable budget options, with prices starting at $800.

It’s a popular choice, which is why Dell offers three different G-Series models. Choosing between them isn’t easy. They offer hardware that looks roughly similar on paper with only slight differences in price. I went hands-on with all three to decide which of these budget rigs is worth your cash.

The Inspiron G3 is a painfully obvious budget pick

The Dell G3 starts at $800, the G5 at $850, and the G7 at $950. As usual, the more you spend, the better laptop you’ll get. However, the closely packed base MSRPs mean there’s plenty of overlap to wade through.

Let’s start with the G3, the most affordable of the three. Its plastic chassis, textured touchpad, and outrageously chunky bezels all scream “budget.” Then again, none of these laptops are what I’d call lookers.

Rather than opting for a blatant gaming style, the G series instead look like normal laptops you could find in an office five or six years ago. They’re thick, heavy, and unabashedly old-school. And the G3 is, by far, the worst offender.

Though the G3 starts $50 less than the G5, the compromises are more substantial than just design. The screen is a great example. It’s a 1080p IPS panel, like the others. However, it has an overly green tint to it, its colors look sorely muted, and it’s dim at 250 nits. This is not a great display even for a budget laptop, and that’s a problem, since you can’t upgrade or replace a laptop’s screen. What you buy is what you’re stuck with unless you plug in an external display.

The G3’s battery life is its biggest compromise.

My G3 review unit, with an Nvidia GTX 1650, maxed out at around 60 FPS in games like Fortnite or Civilization VI. Tougher titles will cause framerates to dip well below 60 FPS. However, less technically demanding games are what you enjoy, a GTX 1650 (or the optional 1660 Ti) should be fine. And skip the Intel Core i7. A quad-core Intel Core-i5 is more than enough processing power for gaming.

The G3’s battery life is its biggest issue. It lasts less than three hours in light usage, nearly half the length of the G5. Gaming laptops aren’t known for battery life, but laptops like the XPS 15 feature the same GPU and last over 10 hours on a single charge.

The Inspiron G5 and G7 give reasons to spend more

Once you move up to either the G5 or G7, you can expect a better experience. They’re still thick and heavy, but offer much improved touchpads and keyboards, better build quality, and longer battery life. The G5 can last five hours on a charge, and the G7 adds a half-hour more. That’s acceptable endurance for a modern laptop.

Game performance sees a boost, too. Both laptops have an option for six-core Intel processors, as well as Nvidia’s RTX 2060 graphics card. To pair with better graphics, higher display refresh rates are also offered. The 144Hz screen on the G7 makes for super-smooth gameplay in fast-paced games.

The difference between the G5 and G7 in design is a bit more subtle.

If you jump up to an RTX 2060, the higher refresh rate can show off. In lighter games like Fortnite and Civilization, the G7 saw nearly 100 FPS with graphics settings maxed out.

The difference between the G5 and G7 in design, though, is more subtle. The G7 is more refined, with its white keyboard backlighting, thinner bezels, and full aluminum chassis. It’s a half-pound lighter than the G5, as well. All that comes for a $50 premium. For example, a G5 with a 144Hz screen, RTX 2060, Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB SSD will cost $1,400. The exact setup on the G7 costs $1,450.

That’s not a bad deal for $50. However, the leap from the G5 to G7 isn’t nearly as dramatic as the leap from the G3 to the G5.

Start with the G5

So, which should you buy?

The Dell Inspiron G5 is the best place to start. Even the $850 model offers reasonable battery life, a decent screen, and a good touchpad. It has 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD boot drive, and a 1TB HDD to store all your games. Its Nvidia GTX 1650 and Intel quad-core processor are enough to play games like Fortnite or Civilization VI at 60 FPS with Ultra settings. You’ll need to drop to Medium to see smooth framerates in games like Battlefield V, but for $850, that’s still impressive.

The best configuration for gaming is the $1,400 Dell G5. You’ll get a powerful RTX 2060 graphics card, plenty of storage and memory, and most importantly, that 144Hz refresh rate screen. If you’re looking for a smooth gaming experience at a great value, look no further.

Opting for the more refined G7 isn’t a bad idea, especially if you plan on using your laptop for work or school. Either way, I wouldn’t recommend spending over $1,500 on any of these configurations. You don’t want to spend $2,000 on a laptop like the Dell G7 with an RTX 2080 Max-Q and 240Hz when you can instead buy the ROG Zephyrus M or Predator Triton 300 with an RTX 2070 for a similar price. The G7 looks bland by comparison, and the quality of its components don’t hold up against more expensive systems.

As with many things in life, the happy medium is where you get the best bang for your buck, which makes the G5 the best of the bunch.

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