Dell G5 SE gaming laptop review: Peak AMD
“The Dell G5 SE is an extremely competitive midrange gaming laptop.”
Excellent CPU performance
Great gaming performance for the price
Solid value across configurations
144Hz refresh rate
No FreeSync validation
Nvidia does not manufacture PC processors. Intel doesn’t make PC graphics cards – at least not yet. AMD is the only company that does both, and hopes that a more harmonious relationship between CPUs and GPUs could lead to additional performance.
The Dell G5 SE offers our first glimpse of this potential. It’s an affordable gaming laptop with an AMD Ryzen 7 4800H and the AMD Radeon RX 5600M graphics card, the latest and greatest AMD it has to offer. How does it measure
Display and design
I’m not going to waste too many words on the design of this laptop. The tag “Special Edition” does not refer to the appearance. It has a chunky plastic case that looks almost a decade old and is identical to the Intel / Nvidia version. It is a slight refinement of last year’s model, in which the edges are excavated for a simple and less unique profile. Nothing on the generic silver lid screams for games.
It weighs 5.5 pounds and measures 0.85 cm thick. It’s not a Razer Blade – but it’s not supposed to be. The outdated look and size are part of the business if you only pay $ 880 for a gaming laptop.
The lackluster screen of the Dell G5 SE is also part of this business. The brightness is limited to only 171 nits, and the color accuracy is severely limited. The colors are very saturated and the screen is colored blue. Of course, this is not a distraction when playing. Do not buy the G5 SE in the hope of doing professional color accurate photography or video work – at least not with the built-in display of the laptop.
However, the 144 Hz refresh rate is fantastic. It ensures incredibly smooth actions, whether it is the movement of the cursor or games with a high frame rate. However, the Dell G5 SE is not a FreeSync validated platform. This means that you will still encounter some visual artifacts and screen tears unless you limit your frame rate or enable V-Sync.
There are some strong bezels around the screen. You can find thin frames in laptops like the Razer Blade, the ROG Zephyrus G14 or even the Predator Helios 300. This goes without saying with affordable gaming laptops, although the new Asus TUF gaming laptop is gradually changing this.
A small change to the chassis of this year’s G5 affects the ports. They are no longer on the back, but are divided between the left and the right side. The G5 SE offers two USB-A 2.0 ports, a headphone jack, a Kensington lock and an SD card slot on one side. On the other side there is USB-A 3.2, Ethernet socket, HDMI 2.0, USB-C and barrel plug connection. This is a nice change for a player, and the SD card slot is particularly noteworthy for content creators. Thunderbolt 3 is omitted, as is common with cheaper gaming laptops.
It should be noted that Dell continues to offer a Dell G7. It offers a higher quality case with a better screen, aluminum surfaces and thinner bezels.
Keyboard and touchpad
The keyboard and touchpad of a gaming laptop are often an afterthought. This applies all the more to cheap ones. The G5 SE avoids this danger. The keyboard has a conventional layout, a lot of travel and even a four-zone RGB backlight for good game quality. However, you will have to pay an additional $ 30 for failed backlights.
The touchpad is large, smooth and has a quiet click mechanism. This is an important feature for a laptop that can double for both work and games.
The Dell G5 SE does not include a fingerprint reader or an IR camera for Windows Hello. The 720p webcam is in the top panel above the screen. It’s nothing fancy, but it can handle the occasional zoom call easily.
Next we come to the true meaning of the term “Special Edition”. Thanks to the Ryzen 7 4800H, this laptop offers eight cores and 16 threads of computing power. It also has 36 processing units and GDDR6 memory in the RX 5600M GPU. My test device contained 16 GB of RAM, a 512 GB SSD and a 1080p 144Hz screen for a cool $ 1,200. That is a very attractive price. The $ 880 launch model has the same graphics card and a Ryzen 5 processor, but it does back memory, memory, and refresh rate.
This is a gaming laptop, so I started with 3DMark. The results in Time Spy were encouraging for AMD. It passed a midrange version of the Dell G7 that I tested in late 2019 and that was powered by a 9th generation Nvidia RTX 2060 and an Intel Core i7-9750H. A 5% gain isn’t much in benchmarks, but a profit is a gain.
The processor performance is strong, but who is surprised with 8 cores and 16 threads?
It’s going crazy here. The G5 SE has managed to develop the best thin gaming laptops like the Razer Blade 2019, which we tested with the RTX 2070 Max-Q from Nvidia. This is impressive. The G5 SE is a chunky laptop by comparison, but it’s far cheaper.
The processor performance is strong, but who is surprised with 8 cores and 16 threads? AMD’s mobile Ryzen blows Intel’s 6-core gaming chips in Cinebench R20 and Geekbench 5 out of the water. Again, the Razer Blade beats Cinebench Multi-Core by 49% and Handbrake by the same amount in video encoding. I’m not surprised, especially after reviewing other Ryzen 4000 laptops like the ROG Zephyrus G14 and Acer Swift 3.
However, the actual story is not about these components. The real magic comes from working together.
Games load the GPU more than the CPU, which makes them a combined effort that requires a balance between the components.
I tested three games: Civilization VI, Fortnite and Assassins Creed Odyssey.
Civilization VI is a CPU-intensive game, and this is where a Ryzen 4000 laptop can shine. With an Nvidia RTX 2070, it was only a few FPS (frames per second) behind the Razer Blade that achieved 79 FPS in ultra settings. Compared to the Nvidia RTX 2060 in the Dell G7 I tested, you still see 19% better frame rates.
This trend continued in Fortnite. The AMD-powered G5 delivers 85 FPS with Epic settings, slightly behind the RTX 2060 in the G7 and Zephyrus G14. You should probably set the settings to “High” to make better use of the laptop’s refresh rate of 144 Hz. The G5 SE achieved an average of 105 FPS there.
The graphics offer great value compared to what you get from Nvidia for the same price.
The final challenge was Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, a game that brought even the most powerful gaming laptops to a standstill. The gameplay was pretty smooth with an average of 53 FPS. With high quality – the middle setting of the game. At Ultra High, you drop to 44 FPS, which is still playable but a bit choppy.
All games were played at 1080p, of course, as this is the native resolution for the Dell G5 SE. As you can see, the RX 5600M is not the most powerful graphics card in the world. It sits comfortably between the Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti and the Nvidia RTX 2060. Fortunately, you can purchase a basic configuration of the G5 SE for as low a price as $ 880, which still comes with the same GPU. This is great value compared to what you get from Nvidia at this price.
SmartShift in action
In addition to the new GPU and CPU, the Dell G5 SE also introduces AMD technology, which connects the two. It’s called SmartShift, a way of organically sharing the energy between the two components. Every laptop has an upper limit on the performance it can play with. SmartShift uses AMD’s Infinity Fabric at both ends to transfer more power to the CPU or GPU when the thermal headroom allows – even beyond standard performance. According to AMD, SmartShift can lead to an up to 10% improved frame rate in games.
The problem is that SmartShift cannot be turned off. So I can’t prove it works. You just have to trust AMD to deliver that extra 5% or 10% of the extra power. I was excited to see how SmartShift could impact a task like rendering video in Adobe Premiere Pro that could use both the CPU and GPU. I loaded a 2-minute 4K video clip and exported it to the ProRes 422 codec, carefully observing the power distribution between the CPU and GPU. Rendering video in Premiere is a task best suited for a processor with a high number of cores. However, you can also tap the graphics card.
The rendering time of the Dell G5 SE was good and the export was completed in just under 8 minutes. This happens fairly quickly and beats Intel laptops like the Razer Blade that fewer cores can work with. However, more expensive options such as the Dell XPS 15 or Microsoft Surface Book 3 have clearly exceeded it.
SmartShift is said to work using an automated algorithm that determines the best moment-to-moment performance allocation. However, according to Dell, AMD must also whitelist applications to better optimize their performance.
The G5 SE uses only a 51-watt-hour battery, which is smaller than the 68-watt-hour battery of the Intel model. This was cause for concern, but the Dell G5 SE overtook the 2019 Intel model I tested by an hour. The laptop lasted just over six hours on a single charge with easy use.
This is not great, although it can be serviced for a gaming laptop. The 1080p screen resolution helps, as does the lack of Nvidia’s G-Sync technology. G-Sync panels prevent laptops from switching between the discrete and the integrated graphics card, which leads to terrible battery life.
The G5 SE does not have this problem. It won’t get you through a busy day, but surviving the Intel model with a smaller battery is another win for AMD.
However, it only takes about 2 hours while playing, but this is not uncommon. You simply cannot expect to be able to play challenging games outside of an outlet for a long time.
When it comes to affordable gaming laptops, it doesn’t get much better than the Dell G5 SE. It is powerful and can play most games surprisingly well. This is great for AMD and its Ryzen 4000 platform. How much SmartShift really makes a difference is not clear, but I’m happy with the performance that the AMD Radeon RX 5600M offers. Despite the outdated appearance, Dell and AMD offer a value proposition with which it is difficult to compete.
Are there alternatives?
There’s no strong reason to opt for the Intel version of the G5 over the AMD version, but there are some other decent gaming laptops in this price range. The Acer Predator Helio 300 is a popular option, although it is more expensive and has a weaker processor performance.
The Lenovo IdeaPad L340 is a decent option and starts at $ 859 for an Intel six-core processor and an Nvidia GTX 1650 for graphics. It’s a high-end design, but the G5 SE will perform better.
How long it will take?
The G5 SE should last for at least four or five years. It’s not the most powerful graphics card in the world, but it can handle most modern games
Should you buy it
Yes. The Dell G5 SE is great value for the gaming performance you get.