The first laptop I ever bought with my own money was a Dell Inspiron. It was big, ugly, and exactly what I needed at the time — a cheap computer with just enough processing power to play the latest Half-Life game.
The new Dell Inspiron 15 7000 is my college laptop on steroids. Starting at just $800 (£749, AU$1,699), it’s a cheap 15-inch laptop that can run any game on the market. And, just like my old notebook, it’s a clunker with an utterly forgettable design. But that melts away when you realize this inch-thick obelisk can play the most demanding games, including Fallout 4, Grand Theft Auto V and The Witcher 3, albeit with graphical detail settings at low. Slightly older games like Bioshock Infinite ran better, however.
The secret is Nvidia’s GeForce 960M graphics chip, a prime piece of silicon that’s only typically found in computers that cost hundreds of dollars more. While some of those computers have sleeker bodies, Dell chose to make an affordable gaming laptop instead. And though Dell may have cut a few corners to get to that magic $800 price, I couldn’t find any major deal-breakers when I made it my primary computer for weeks at a time.
Sure, the backlit keyboard is a little shallow, but it’s responsive. The touchpad sucks, but most will want to add a mouse for gaming anyhow. The 15.6-inch 1080p screen is a little dull and can bleed a bit around the edges, but games look great on the display — and the LCD’s matte finish means no distracting reflections while I’m aiming.
The only real issues I’ve got with the new Inspiron 15 are the hybrid hard drive, which can make for slow game and application load times, and the battery, which only lasts four hours on a charge. (It ran for 6.4 hours in our standard battery drain test, but my real-world use tends to be harsher, and I was lucky to see 30 minutes of gaming away from an outlet.) Savvy gamers can solve the speed issue by opting for a 256GB solid-state drive, which Dell sells for just $50 more. For $850, I doubt you’ll find a better gaming laptop.