The Best Gaming Laptop on a Budget – Ever

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I’ve been playing video games most of my life. I won’t bore you with the details or the timeline, but let’s just say I’m the guy that got Pac Man and Ms. Pac Man to hook up. Just saying. When I used to write under the name Scary Larry (sooooo many years ago), I was at my game-playing peak. I had every system, every game, and I got to write about them. But even during the console wars between Sega and Nintendo and Sony and Microsoft, I was always very attached to my PC. I used to love playing Civ games—I have the old Rise of Nations on my Surface, which I play whenever life stresses me out.

But as consoles got smaller, and portable gaming became a thing, you’d never find me without my Neo Geo Pocket or Atari Lynx, which graduated into my Nintendo GameBoy and Sega Game Gear. But what I didn’t do was up my portable PC game. I thought, why haul a laptop around to play when I could just get my twitch game on with something small and affordable?

Portable and Affordable

Also, finding a powered laptop that could handle the new wave of games was expensive. I could buy a Nintendo DS for $250, or I could drool over a Razer laptop for $1300. My wife would silently root for the DS. I also found that most gaming laptops required dedicated (and expensive) GPUs to run games at their optimal settings, so whenever I did find a moderately priced laptop, the stock GPU usually hampered my gaming experience. I always thought, why reduce your frame rate and graphic settings, when you can just sit and play the game on your desktop with the installed graphics card that you already probably dropped a significant amount of money on? Why spend so much for a portable experience that may or may not suit your needs?

Dell 15.6" Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming Series Notebook

Dell recently introduced a laptop that answered those questions and more. The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 series laptop is the gaming laptop I’ve always wished for and could never find (for less than $1,000, that is). The specs are exactly what a gamer is looking for—a 6th-gen 2.6 GHz Intel® Core™ i7-6700HQ quad-core processor with 16GB of 1600 MHz DDR3L RAM, a Full HD screen, and a dedicated GPU. But more than that, it played even my hungriest resource-hogging games without a skip in frame rate or a compromise in quality.

If you are thinking of buying that special gamer in your life something for the holidays, you might want to take a hard look at this laptop.

Back to the Specs

The version of this that I had included the new Skylake i7 processor— and you have to be careful when researching or looking for this laptop. There are various versions of the Inspiron 15 7000 series, but only one has "Gaming"  in the nomenclature. There are Dell Inspiron 15 7000s out there with Core i5 processors, and others that are touchscreen enabled. For the sake of clarity, this is the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 series Gaming Notebook (in black) with a non-touch enabled screen. Now let's get to the specs. The Skylake processor is optimized for speed and was developed with notebooks in mind, and the 2.6 GHz base speed can be overclocked to 3.5 GHz. And while the 16GB of RAM is only 1600MHz DDR3 (yes, there is faster DDR4 2133 MHz RAM available for this chipset), most higher-end games don’t require that kind of loadout. Games like The Division and Far Cry Primal recommend 8GB of RAM (but can work with just 4GB) and the game I tested, Bioshock Infinite, definitely benefits from more RAM than less, but the speed of the RAM only gives a nominal bump in gameplay. The fact that this laptop comes with 16GB of RAM is a huge plus, since most laptops only come with 4GB or maybe 8GB when being generous. And in most other cases, you pay for that extra RAM in the sticker price.

Bioshock Infinite

But the real jewel in this crown is the GPU. The Inspiron 15 7000 gaming laptop includes, under the hood, a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M graphics card with 4GB of dedicated VRAM—one of the best budget mobile graphics options available. Using NVIDIA’s Maxwell architecture, it can display 1080p resolution natively and uses GPU Boost 2.0 to uptick the graphics performance automatically, depending on the game.

A 1TB hard drive with an 8GB cache is the only throwback to earlier days, since most gaming laptops now include faster SSDs, but you can always upgrade on your own. Also somewhat of a throwback is the 1920 x 1080 Full HD resolution of the non-touch screen, at a time when other players in this field are offering higher-resolution touchscreens, but it’s not as big a deal as you might think. Again, for under a grand, having even this screen is a bonus.

Style Throwback

 If you get hung up on what a gaming laptop should look like, and obsess over clean lines and edges, or fancy lighting options and such, then keep looking. This laptop is bulky (weighing in at 6lbs) with a large bevel around the screen and a lot of space on the keyboard (a 4x7" “palmrest” on the right side of the backlit keyboard that can sometimes be a help in games, and sometimes an ergonomic hindrance). There’s also a red speaker grill that runs along the top part of the hinge that adds some color, but not a lot of style points.

But if all you really care about is the performance of your portable gaming laptop, then you’ll be more than satisfied with what this unit can do. I loaded the aforementioned Bioshock Infinite—a game that I know well and that was a marvel of graphics technology when it debuted in 2013, and is still a feast for the eyes (and the mind) today. I also know from playing this on a desktop PC that it is a resource hog that will stutter and lag if not given a full slate of power.

I started by setting every detail to its highest level. This includes shadow and water details, antialiasing and texture filtering. With all of the setting on Ultra, I still saw frame rates in the 40-50 fps range. Next up was World of Warcraft. Same deal, same settings. Everything worked and played perfectly, without any lag or skips in the frame rates. Next, I took over my son’s Steam account (and other games he had) and went through a bucket-load of games—Grow Up, Minecraft, Rocket League, and many more. The only appreciable slowdown I saw was with Rocket League, but this is probably attributed to the online server I was using. Besides that hiccup—flawless. But not every game is built the same. Fallout 4 looked great, but I had to lower graphics setting a bit to get the frame rate up there. The same with WATCH_DOGS, although I don't know if the problem there was with RAM allocation (which I heard the game may have issues with).

Bioshock Infinite

With more than a solid week of gaming, the only negative I found with this laptop was the brightness of the screen and the battery life. The screen is not bright. I repeat. Screen is not bright. This may bog down some gaming purists, but for the most part, especially in low-light conditions, the game is crisp and clear and detailed. The battery life may also be a deal breaker to some – claiming this has a 6 hour battery life is like claiming my iPhone 5S can bend – it might, but it’s a stretch. In my real world gaming experience, the battery lasted about an hour playing Bioshock Infinite without being connected.

Those caveats aside, this is without a doubt the most enticing computer purchase you’ll consider this year. At under $900, it’s the best gaming laptop bang-for-your-buck you’ll see in 2016. If you’re a gamer and you’re looking for a machine that can handle your needs, look no farther than the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 series gaming laptop.

5 Comments

I'm not going to type out a long comparison, nor am I interested in starting any arguments.  With that said, I would not consider the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming Laptop the "best gaming laptop on a budget", as each individual person needs to evaluate their true wants/needs (overall, as well as on a 'component-by-component basis), what they consider "on a budget", and (possibly) several other factors.  However, if a person considers the $900-1,100 price range to be "on a budget", there are a few other excellent choices to consider...one of which I'll gladly point out, including some reasons as to why it's better than the Dell.  The laptop in question...the Lenovo Y700 (which, I'll admit, I don't own…although I do own its predecessor, the Y50-70 Touch).

Starting with price, yes, the Lenovo is typically priced slightly higher, but, if on sale, it’s essentially equal in price, and could (potentially) be less.  Aesthetically-speaking, the Dell has a plastic casing, whereas the Lenovo has a more sturdy, brushed Aluminum casing…much nicer to look at, and less prone top showing fingerprints.  Next up, screen resolution.  The Dell has a beautiful-looking screen, but it’s only 1920x1080.  The Lenovo, on the other hand, has an almost-as-good looking screen, but also offers a resolution that’s 4x that of the Dell (3840x2160, although you can also get a 1920x1080 screen)).  That, alone, makes the slightly-higher price worth it.  The Lenovo also has faster RAM, a touch screen, an M.2 slot, JBL speakers, a built-in subwoofer, and the option to add an SSD with up to 512GB.

In regards to speed tests, Dell wins “general usage” speed tests, while Lenovo wins gaming speed tests.  Dell is known for their high level of customer service, which is a plus.  Where Lenovo’s customer service is concerned, I haven’t had the opportunity (or the need, for that matter) to contact them, so I can’t say one way, or the other…and, hopefully, I never need to find out.  I won’t discount the Dell as an excellent budget gaming laptop choice, but, if you truly compare it against the Lenovo, there are just as many reasons (possibly more) to consider the Lenovo.  When I purchased my Y50-70 Touch, the Dell wasn’t available, so the Lenovo was my “best choice”.  I will mention that I was almost willing to spend a few hundred dollars more for a “low-end” (if one considers ROG laptops to be “low-end”) Asus ROG laptop, but decided I could upgrade the Lenovo, by replacing the hard drive with a Samsung 850 Pro, and upgrading/doubling the RAM to Corsair Vengeance, all for about the same price as the ASUS (which had the same 5400rpm drive as the Lenovo).

If I was buying a “budget” gaming laptop, and I narrowed down my choices to the Dell & Lenovo, which would I pick?  To be completely honest…personally, I’d still go with the Lenovo…although the Dell would probably be a close “second choice”.

I understand where you are coming from, but let's take a step back and realize what this post was all about. A gaming laptop. I guarantee you you will not be playing any modern titles on a 4k screen with a 960m gpu.

It would be nice if performance benchmarks were  included.  The easiest benchmark is Microsoft's built-in Windows Experience, readily accessible right up to Windows 7 but more challenging to access above that (simply Google it).  This Windows built-in benchmark gives scores for the processor, memory, hard drive and graphics card with the overall score being the lowest number in the categories.  Your PC can only be as fast as your weakest link for applications like gaming and video editing.  After I upgraded to a SSD drive and a $100 GPU,  my Quad core, fast RAM, 10 year old PC scores right up there with today's PCs selling for over double the price.  Your PC can only be as fast as its weakest link. 

I'm a photography hobbyist and I just bought this laptop two weeks ago to use for raw image editing at home. I can't attest to it's gaming ability, but I can say it's performance is working out great for editing and converting raw files to jpg. I use it strictly at home so the weight is not a factor for me, it actually adds to a feeling of solid build quality. Though I wished it had come with an SSD drive, the hybrid HDD is a big improvement in start up time as opposed to a standard hard drive, and not that much slower than my Dell 15-5000 that I have upgraded to an SSD drive. I'll do the same with this one once the warranty runs out, but right now it's more than satisfactory for my use. After spending quite a bit of time comparing specs and prices, and based on my two weeks of using it so far, I agree with your review. If you're looking for the most bang for the buck this is a great buy, especially if you can catch it on sale at B&H as I did.

i have the 15-7559 model and it did come with an SSD plus a bay for another hard drive.  I took the 1TB drive out of my old laptop and put it into that drive and had all my old data.  I then just deleted all the OS crap.  I also added more RAM since it is cheap.  This is a rocket and runs great!  $700 on Amazon.  

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