Finally, we’re starting to see budget-minded gaming laptops you’d actually want to buy. A few of these systems have passed through our labs of late, each with specific strengths and clear compromises. The Dell G3 15 (starts at $699.99; $849.99 as tested) is the latest, offering a solid balance of price and performance via an Intel “Coffee Lake” Core i5 processor and
Keeping Gaming to the Basics
It’s rare to find an economical laptop that has the build quality of pricier machines; the G3 15 stops short of feeling cheap, but the chassis is dominated by inexpensive plastic. That’s not to say it feels flimsy—there is a little flex, nothing egregious. It’s just obvious from the jump that you’re dealing with a budget system.
Aesthetically, the plastic is an unremarkable grey. The lid has a metallic-looking finish, which is complemented by some stripes on the keyboard deck, and light-blue accents on the Dell logo, the keys, and the touchpad. With these flourishes, the G3 15 is not entirely plain, though I also don’t think it’s a particularly attractive laptop. (Your mileage, of course, may vary.) At least the color scheme takes its own path, rather than the gamer-safe black-and-red so common these days.
The body of the machine is fairly thin, though for a 15-inch notebook its footprint is on the larger side. Much like the Dell G7 15, you could mistake the G3 15 for a 17-inch laptop at a glance, due in part to the lid portion being enlarged by thicker screen bezels. (Dell also offers a separate 17-inch version of this laptop, the G3 17, starting at $799, to add to the confusion.) In reality, the 15-inch model measures 0.89 by 14.96 by 10.16 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.4 pounds. The more powerful G7 15 model is nicer, but it’s even larger and heavier, at 0.98 by 15.32 by 10.82 inches and 5.82 pounds. The Acer Nitro 5, meanwhile, tops the three in size at 1.05 by 15.35 by 10.47
Between the tame styling and average size, the G3’s design isn’t its selling point. That’s not necessarily a demerit when dealing with a budget laptop, but the occasional model does surprise. The Legion Y530, for one, offers a sleek design (0.95 by 14.37 by 10.24 inches, 5.1 pounds) and impressive build quality for the price, so you don’t always have to settle for less in this price zone.
The G3 15’s full HD (1,920 by 1,080) IPS display is what you’d hope for given the price, no more and no less. The panel doesn’t offer anything feature-fancy (no high refresh rate, nor touch input), as expected for the cost, but the 1080p resolution is adequate and
The picture quality, though, is so-so; it doesn’t look especially sharp nor particularly bright. Part of that is attributable to the anti-glare finish, which dulls the image somewhat, but at best I’d describe the whole picture as serviceable. Mind you, it’s not the lackluster screen I saw in a previous entry from Dell I tested, the Inspiron 7000 Gaming, whose only real flaw for an affordable laptop was its subpar TN display, but I wouldn’t call this a good screen, merely average.
The keyboard and speakers are also
As with the Dell G7 15 I tested, the dark-blue backlighting on the keys clashes a bit with the otherwise light-blue color scheme. The audio from the speakers is fine at best, and while it gets loud, I wouldn’t want to blast it at maximum volume. The quality becomes a bit fuzzy when you do that.
Ports, Storage, and SKUs
The ports-and-connectivity offering is on-target—no obvious exclusions or unexpected inclusions. You get three USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI port, an Ethernet jack, and an SD-card slot.
For storage, the boot drive is a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), backed by a 1TB hard drive, which is a strong combination at this low price. In contrast, the Legion Y530 we tested had only a 256GB SSD (though other SKUs are available), which will see you run out of room for game installations pretty quickly. The one-two punch of an SSD and larger hard drive means you can have the operating system and a few key applications—and maybe your game du jour—on the speedier SSD, and many more gigabytes of games in a Steam library on the hard drive.
Between the 15- and 17-inch versions of the G3, Dell offers multiple configuration options for storage and other components. To be clear: The Dell G3 17 is not being reviewed here since it’s technically a separate laptop starting at $799.99, but the two share the same configuration choices. In terms of storage, your options range from a 256GB or 512GB SSD by itself, to a 256GB SSD plus a 1TB hard drive. These are options in addition to the 128GB SSD/1TB hard drive combo I received in my review sample.
You can order the G3 laptop in either screen size with a GeForce GTX 1050, a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, or a GeForce GTX 1060 (using Max-Q). The RAM options range from 4GB to 16GB. (This test unit has 8GB.) The processor on both the 15- and 17-inch models can be kicked up to a Core i7 from the base Core i5, and there’s only the one display option across the board. The most expensive G3 15 model comes in at $1,099.99, so even if you go all-in, it’s still strictly a budget laptop when maxed out.
Sharpshooting Performance for 1080p
This system’s 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-8300H processor may not be the highest-end model in the line, but it’s more than competent, and many competitors have opted for the same chip. It’s one of Intel’s eighth-generation “Coffee Lake” CPUs that use four threads and support Hyper-Threading for eight-threaded operation with compliant apps. This is a solid chip with a 4GHz turbo rating, and note that it’s one of the “H”-series chips, as opposed to a lower-power thin-laptop “U” model.
Given that the G3 15 is a budget system, its PCMark 8 Work Conventional score was solid, demonstrating more than enough speed for general use. While good enough in its own right, that score is lower than those of the G7 15, the Acer Predator Helios 300, and the Legion Y530, while edging out the Acer Nitro 5.
The G3 15 was also in the second tier in this pack for our multimedia tests, on par with the other eighth-gen Core i5 machines here. You probably won’t use any of these machines as a day-in/day-out media-grinding workstation, but the G3 15 is serviceable for moderate photo editing, light video conversions, and the like. That four-core/eight-thread CPU is no slouch.
Gaming is the larger concern for the G3 15 than multimedia work, though, and Dell carves out a precise, useful place in the hierarchy with our tester’s GPU choice. The jump from a GeForce GTX 1050 to a GTX 1050 Ti is notable, as you can see in the difference between the G3 15’s performance and that of the Nitro 5 or Legion Y530. Where those two averaged around 30 frames per second (fps) and 40fps on the Heaven and Valley benchmark tests set to top quality, the G3 15 managed 68fps and 50fps.
This difference was backed up by some real-world gaming tests, though the meat-grinder titles I used for testing, Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, proved a bit more demanding. Using the in-game benchmarks for these two titles, the G3 averaged 46fps and 50fps, respectively, set to medium settings. Set to ultra, which is ambitious for an $850 laptop, the G3 scored 40fps on Far Cry 5 and 39fps on Tomb Raider—both still well within the margin for playability.
While short of the ideal 60fps target (that is generally reserved for at least the GTX 1060, as you can see from the G7 15 and the Predator Helios 300), it’s a nice step up from the GTX 1050 and gives you way more headroom for maintaining 30fps. The others are close enough to dip below 30fps, but for all but the most hectic moments in demanding games, the G3 15 should not dip that low.
What’s more, in the G3 15, the price
Battery runtime, meanwhile, was solid if unremarkable. The G3 15 lasted for 6 hours and 11 minutes (6:11) on our battery rundown test, a decent time for this kind of laptop. The Nitro 5 ran for about the same time, and the Legion Y530 for 7:59, but more than six hours off the charger for an inexpensive laptop that doesn’t stress portability is more than enough.
Of course, if you try to play games on the battery, it will not last nearly as long. So the modest battery life is more for when you unplug and browse the web on your couch or take notes in class.
Verified: The G3 Is a Good Value
For its price, the Dell G3 15 represents a solid buy. Its design and features don’t inspire, but this configuration doesn’t have any major shortcomings. Play your config cards right, and you can land a nice storage combination, in terms of both type and capacity, and the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti provides some marked extra oomph.
The Legion Y530 remains our Editors’ Choice for its better build, though our test configuration has a higher list price and offers only a GTX 1050 in that SKU. If you don’t want to get that close to the $1,000 mark, we’d recommend the Dell G3 15 over the Acer Nitro 5, and even if you’re a bit less price-sensitive, it’s a worthwhile model to consider, especially once you start tinkering with the configuration possibilities.