My ongoing quest to find the perfect gaming laptop - at the conclusion of which I shall buy my favourite - continues. I should note at this point that 'perfect' can mean several different things in this case. Clearly, attractiveness, features and performance are the main draws, but this is by no means a money no object deal. If a decent lappie is cheap enough, the fact that I won't spend months trying and failing to justify the cost to myself means it might tick the 'perfect' box despite falling short in other areas.
And so to Dell's £1000 Inspiron 15 Gaming, aka the Inspiron 7567. A diamond in the rough, or a get-what-you-pay-for folly?
I'll say right off the bat that £1000 isn't cheap by any wider metric - a lot of money for most of us, but more to the point you could build an equally-specced desktop for significantly less - but, by gaming laptop standards, that's damn near as affordable as it gets.
Those specs, then:
Intel 7th generation Core i7-7700HQ Quad Core, 3.8GHz, 6MB Cache
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB
16GB DDR4 2400MHz
256GB SSD + 1TB 5400 rpm HDD
15.6" 1920x1080 screen
Height: 25.44mm (1.00") x Width: 384.9mm (15.15") x Depth: 274.73mm (10.82")
Weight: 2.65Kg / 5.84 lbs (higher or lower depending on hard drive config)
The bulk of that is essentially identical to what you'll find in the twice-the-price Alienware 15 I looked at the other week, including the display (more on that shortly). The key on-paper difference, of course, is the graphics card. A 1050 Ti is not much above entry-level, a big step down from the 1070 in the Alienware and even from the 1060 in the Razer Blade (a review for another day, that, but I did look at its non-gaming ultraportable cousin). That alone makes the price several hundred quid cheaper than many others in the gaming laptop field.
The good news is that 2017's entry level GPU is surprisingly meaty. We're talking the magic 60 frames per second at 1080p in The Witcher 3 with a mix of high and very high settings (not ultra, however), and the same's broadly true of the more recent Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, though you'll have to get a bit more granular with settings to achieve that. (Also, the 4GB of video memory locks you out of higher texture settings there). In other words, you're looking at something which will very comfortably trade blows with a PS4 or Xbox One. I'd recommend against aiming for higher than 1080p though.
I'm impressed by the capabilities of the 1050 Ti, but there are two big provisos here. The first is the most important: you can buy this Inspiron with either a 1050 Ti for £1000, or a 1050 (note no suffix) for £900. The difference between the two GPUs is the Ti has 4GB of RAM but the non-Ti only 2GB. In many very popular games - MOBAs, WoW, Overwatch, Dawn of War III and the like - that won't be an issue, but in big bunnies like Witcher 3, Deus Ex and Mass Effect Andromeda it's going to force you into dropping texture quality quite low, which can result in an obviously muddy-looking game.
I'm tempted to say that if you're considering this machine or one like it, the extra hundred quid is well worth it, but I entirely appreciate that a hundred quid is by no means chump change. It's just, well... that brings me to my second proviso.
My major concern with even a 1050 Ti is that, while it's got a decent amount of clout now, it's liable to be significantly less punchy as time - and the march of game technology - wears on. The eternal problem with a laptop over a desktop is that you can't upgrade its GPU or CPU, something that's historically kept me desk-bound.
The mobile 1070 (not to mention 1080, but that's beyond the realms of realistic affordability) changes that somewhat - I'm confident you'd get three years out of that before even beginning to think about an upgrade - but my suspicion is that the 1050 Ti might run into difficulties all too soon. The 1050 even more so. This should manage to be a two-year laptop, but not much more - not without dropping resolution down to 720p, which looks pretty ugly on a native 1080p screen.
On the other hand, 'only' £1000 now is going to hurt a lot less than a 1070 or even 1060 spec machine would, which may mean you've got more of a chance of saving up again for a new laptop in a few years' time. I really would steer clear of the non-Ti 1050 though, despite the £100 saving.
The comparatively low price also makes itself obvious in overall build quality. The exterior of the Inspiron isn't bad, with a soft touch that suggests a premium device, but open up the lid and the fascia around the keyboard feels a bit like it's made from a flattened shampoo bottle. The trackpad buttons are too light and hollow-feeling too, while the big bezel around the screen screams 'budget business laptop.'
None of it's awful, and it's not like it's horribly bendy or anything, but you'll probably experience the sort of mild sinking feeling that dropping a grand in one place shouldn't entail.
A positive side effect of its plasticky frame is that it's surprisingly light given how thick it is. I mean, look at that truck grille-like heatsink on the rear - I'd worry that low-flying bees might get stuck in there. The girth of the device - seeming a result of its cooling array - seems fairly excessive given the lowly 1050, but I imagine non-fancy cooling is one more way of keeping the price down. More importantly though, it's not a back-breaker despite the size.
You couldn't call this a sexy machine, but at the same time I much prefer it's more-or-less understated looks to the tiresomely blingy Alienware, and the lack of neon strip-lighting means there's less to go wrong in addition to getting fewer pitying looks in Costa. It does, however, share the same poorly thought-through permanently-on blue LED on its power plug, so again you won't be able to leave this charging overnight in your bedroom.
Now, this may be a trick of the mind, given that it's smaller and lighter than the Alienware brute, but it felt to me that the Inspiron was appreciably quicker at sleeping and resuming. Other than in games, it feels like an ever-so slightly faster machine than the identically CPUed Alienware did, but without still having the latter here to test, I can't say whether that's the case - e.g. because of all the stupid lighting control software - or just psychosomatic.
Whatever, that's a very good CPU in there, and as a general purpose computer, this thing'll do you proud for quite a while. Sadly, the fly in that particular ointment is the screen, which very much appears to be the same washed-out, viewing angle-challenged panel I saw in the Alienware. It's far less of an issue in a thousand quid PC than it was in a two thousand pound one, but it's still a bummer. Again, you have to angle it just so to get any kind of contrast, and even then games and movies look like someone's holding a sheet of tracing paper over the screen.
Dell/Alienware really need to up their game here - a screen is our main means of interaction with a computer, and as such the worst possible place to compromise. I'd rather a lesser CPU than this.
That said, all told this isn't a bad machine and the price is right for what it is. It's a crying shame it lacks a Thunderbolt 3 port, as that would mean that using a more powerful external GPU later on would be a possibility, but that and the poor screen aside, it does everything that should be expected for £1k.
Does it meet my criteria for perfect? No, not personally, not even given the significant money-saving. I don't inherently object to a 1050 Ti, but I'd want something a bit slimmer and with a better screen if I was consciously compromising on performance. If I was strictly limited to a £1000 budget I do believe I'd be reasonably satisfied, however. The Inspiron 15 Gaming is, after all, an entirely decent gaming laptop for the same money as many, admittedly far sleeker, non-gaming laptops sell for.