Dell’s Inspiron 7000 gaming series has been a great way to pick up a midrange laptop with the chops for gaming without paying an arm and a leg. The current 15-inch system offers a Core i5-7300HQ, a GTX 1050 Ti, 8GB of DDR4, a 1080p display, and a GTX 1050 Ti for $ 900, and we’ve seen it on sale for less than this at various points in the last year. Now Dell is beefing it up further.
The new Dell Inspiron 7000 Gaming will offer a GTX 1060 option, a 4K display (if desired), and Thunderbolt 3 capability. We don’t normally cover single laptop announcements, particularly when a company is upgrading an existing product, but we’re making an exception for several reasons. First, I’ve often criticized the lack of affordable gaming laptops and the way these products have been pushed into the $ 1,000+ price brackets. I’m not claiming the Inspiron 7000 Gaming line is the only alternative to dropping four figures on a gaming laptop, but it’s a pretty good one, with GTX 1050-equipped laptops starting at $ 800. The other reason I’m writing about this laptop in particular is because a good friend of mine bought one just shy of a year ago, and it’s been an extremely solid purchase.
At 15 inches and a base weight of 5.76 pounds, the current Inspiron 7000 Gaming isn’t a small laptop, but it’s certainly portable. One potentially negative change to this design, courtesy of Tech Report, is the battery size. The current Inspiron 7000 Gaming has a 74 Whr battery, while the new model with have a 56 Whr battery. Technologies like Nvidia’s Battery Boost can improve battery life while gaming by cutting frame rates, but even with various tweaks to its design, this system won’t get as much battery life as the current version does — not when used for gaming or other significant workloads, anyway. The 4K panel, if you opt for one, will also be a heavier drag. There’s no information on why Dell slashed battery capacity, though it may have been related to using the larger, more powerful 1060 GPU.
Of Mobile GPUs and Acoustic Bombardment
There’s one other point I want to make about modern laptops, the Inspiron 7000 Gaming series, and mobile GPUs in general. The acoustic profile of any system depends on what kind of cooling the OEM uses, and Nvidia has made a great deal of noise about its Max Q program. Laptops classified as “Max Q” use “the most advanced thermal and electrical designs ever achieved, elaborate heatpipe and heatsink setups, the highest-quality low-noise fans, next-generation high-efficiency energy regulators, and optimized components from top-to-bottom.”
All of the above being the case, one thing is still true: Gaming laptops with powerful GPUs are still pretty loud — and the more powerful the GPU, the louder they get. It’s entirely possible Nvidia still bins its best Pascal GPUs for mobile, so we can’t treat desktop TDPs as being equivalent to their mobile counterparts. But the desktop GTX 1050 Ti is a 70W card, while the GTX 1060 has a 120W TDP. Even if their mobile variants are 50W and 90W or 30W and 70W, you’ll still be dissipating a great deal more heat with the 1060 compared with the 1050 Ti.
One of the advantages of larger laptops for gaming is they tend to have cooler surface temperatures and aren’t nearly as noisy. Dell’s 2016 Inspiron 7000 Gaming laptop with a GTX 1050 Ti gets noisy enough to be distracting if you aren’t wearing headphones. Dropping a 1060 into that system will probably make it significantly louder, unless Dell used the space from the smaller battery to design a bigger cooler.
My own rule of thumb is this: As you increase the size of the laptop, you can typically step up one GPU with (roughly) the same noise profile. A 13-inch system is probably best suited to a 1050 and may struggle to handle a 1050 Ti. 15-inch laptops will be quiet with a 1050, significantly louder with a 1050 Ti, and objectively loud with a GTX 1060. 17-inch laptops are likely very quiet with a 1050 Ti, louder with the 1060, and may well hit the same “loud” objective standard with a 1070 or a 1080. As you increase the size of the laptop, you can typically step up one GPU at the same time, with (very roughly) the same final noise profile. Again, this is strictly a rule of thumb — if you’ve got a 15-inch laptop that’s whisper-quiet with a GTX 1060 that’s awesome and you should tell us where you got it.
Gamers who want a powerful GPU but not the noise that comes with it do have an option to eat their cake and have it, too. The Nvidia Profile Inspector (it’s now separate from the Nvidia Inspector utility) can be used to set frame rate limits in most games. Unlike Battery Boost, this works whether you are plugged in or not.
Nvidia Profile Inspector (available here) can be used to activate a frame rate limiter in most games; I’ve tested it on multiple titles and not yet found a game it can’t support. You can set this option as part of the Global Profile (shown above) or as part of a specific game profile. This can dramatically reduce system noise because it stops the GPU from simply rendering as many frames as it can, as quickly as it can. My own preferred target is 45fps — it’s a happy medium between 30fps (too slow, often jerky) and 60fps (better for responsiveness, but often noisy on a smaller laptop with a powerful GPU). If the frame rate limiter does happen to cause an issue, profiles for specific games or the entire global profile can both be restored to default.
Dell hasn’t given any details on pricing for its new Inspiron 7000 Gaming laptop, but based on what I’ve seen of the 2016 models, this should be a solid system. And keep the Profile Inspector option handy if you want to be able to control how loud your laptop is — it produces significantly better results than options like cutting the GPU’s clock and memory speeds.
Now read: The Best Gaming Laptops of 2017 (via our sister site PCMag.com)