Battle of the $800 Gaming Notebooks
Back when Dmitry, Eber and I were at CES we had a bit of a revelation. Sitting almost forlornly among the high end gaming systems, extreme monitors and other porn-worthy tech at the Dell booth and Acer suite was a pair of notebooks that could undoubtedly become resounding success stories. By all outwards appearances the VX15 and Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming look like nothing more than your typical monolithic black laptops with a few touches of red. But underneath those unassuming exteriors and sub-$850 price points lies a specification list that actually makes them respectable gaming machines as well.
At this point you are likely thinking to yourself: “yeah right buddy, I’ve heard this song and dance before!”. Every generation seems to have its pretenders which over promise and under-deliver but this time is different. For example, the previous Inspiron Gaming and numerous other budget gaming laptops fell short due to the underlying processing architectures being used. Combining efficiency alongside adequate performance proved to be a bridge too far. Unlike so many other low cost products that promised gaming potential, the Inspiron 7000 and VX15 actually have the chops to back their gaming monikers. Those accomplishments can be laid firmly at the feet of Intel’s Kaby Lake CPUs and NVIDIA’s Kepler GPU cores.
While Kaby Lake may have been met with upturned noses by DIYers in the desktop market, its influence upon the notebook segment has been quite dramatic. Not only does this new family of CPUs provide significantly better performance per watt characteristics than its predecessor but they also include numerous features that help with battery load balancing.
NVIDIA’s Pascal architecture had a significant impact upon the desktop market but it too has made a splash within the notebook market. Due to its inherent efficiency, full-spec Pascal-based desktop GPUs have been brought over largely untouched unlike in previous generations when truncated cores were used for gaming laptops. Hence why the GTX 1050-series cards you’ll be seeing a lot of within this review sport the exact same throughput as their desktop brethren and make no mistake about it, those performance numbers are pretty damn impressive in their own right.
But enough about that. This review is really about the two notebooks and by just looking at the raw specifications, one thing pops our right away: they look lake literal clones of one another. It’s almost like the design teams at both Acer and Dell had a conference call to hash out what these laptops would house. All joking aside, from a more practical perspective manufacturers looking to build a low cost gaming notebook are somewhat limited in what they can specify before pricing starts spiraling out of control.
With that in mind, the VX15 and Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming both sport quad core i5-7300HQ processors, 1080P screens, 8GB of DDR4 2400MHz memory, very similar external dimensions and 256GB SSDs. The storage part of this equation is quite concerning since both companies decided to offer their models with either an 256/ 512GB SSD or a 1TB hard drive.
Anyone who has looked at the installation requirements for recent games will know neither SSD capacity is sufficient. There’s no option to combine the quick boot times of an SSD with the capacity of a spindle-based drive unless you are willing to go prying around the internals yourself…but more on that later.
Past the obvious similarities there are also some areas where one of these products is ahead of the other. The VX15 has an edge with its IPS screen (although Dell now offers an IPS screen of their own for a $50 upcharge), advanced 2x2 MU-MIMO wireless module, I/O port selection and price. Meanwhile, the Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming in this particular setup has a faster graphics card with a GTX 1050 Ti and a larger battery. Both notebooks are available in different configurations with more memory or faster processors but the costs associated with those upgrades mean affordability is thrown out the window.
With the Acer VX15 and Dell Inspiron 15 so closely matched in all things including price, one has to wonder which of these affordable notebooks is worthy of your consideration. Unlike their predecessors, can they even be considered gaming worthy? What kind of sacrifices –if any- were made for those impressively low price points? Is the $50 premium spent for Dell’s more powerful GPU and larger battery money well spent? Well let’s find out!
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