This All-AMD Notebook Is DIFFERENT – Dell G5 15 SE Review

Today we are finally going to be reviewing the Dell G5 15 SE, where the SE stands for Special Edition. It’s actually one of the most heavily requested notebooks that we were asked to check out and there’s a good reason for that. Dell has managed to deliver an affordable gaming laptop with AMD all over it, which is to say you are getting a really fast Ryzen CPU and a Navi-based Radeon GPU.

Now there is a lot to like about the G5 15 SE, it’s pretty affordable, it comes with great specs, and let’s not forget you can actually buy one right now unlike some of the other AMD notebooks. However, I also have some concerns as well, and some of those will make you think twice before pulling the trigger on this notebook.

Pricing & Competition

Let’s start with pricing, and this laptop starts at an impressive $880 USD. For less than $900, you get a Ryzen 5 4600H with 6 cores and 12 threads, 8GB of DDR4-3200 RAM in dual-channel mode, a 256GB NVMe SSD, a RX 5600M GPU, and a 1080P 60Hz display. The sample that we have comes with the faster 8-core/16-thread Ryzen 7 4800H CPU, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, but the GPU remains the same. However, the display does get a bump to 144Hz. The price Dell between this and the base model is $320 USD, but with all the sales Dell usually has I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go for less.

Dell is also offering the G5 with an Intel CPU and GTX 1660 Ti graphics for about the same price, which goes to show that the Intel tax is significant, which is really unfortunate. Now when you look at the competition there is the ASUS TUF A15 for the same price as our G5 15 SE, but you get more storage and an RTX 2060. However, remember that the A15 really didn’t have a great screen, in fact it was a pretty terrible display. There is also the upcoming HP Omen 15 and Acer Nitro 5, both of which are priced similarly to this Dell notebook.

Design & Build Quality

Moving on to the design and build quality, and honestly it feels cheap. Dell is use of glossy plastic materials on the outside says it all. When you flip the notebook over the bottom looks like my XPS 15-L502X notebook from 5 years ago. Remember the classic Dell grey joke from decades ago? Well it’s back again. Interestingly, to make it stand out a bit Dell has coated the front panel with iridescent accents that show up different colours depending on the lighting conditions or the angle that you look at it.

I should also mention that the top lid scratches easily. Our sample is only been about a month old and it looks pretty beat up. The scratch marks are really visible, which is unfortunate, so maybe 2 or 3 years down the road don’t expect it to look like the day you bought it. Also the bottom panel sort of creates a squeaky noise when you are pressing on it or when you are holding it in certain ways. Furthermore, the hinge design is really poor. It very noticeably squeaks when you open the lid and the display also wobbles a lot, especially if you have it in your lap. Overall, it’s a really poor hinge design in my opinion.

This notebook is also pretty thick coming in at 0.85 inches, and it weighs a tad more than 5.0 lbs. It’s a little bit thinner but heavier than the ASUS TUF A15. The included power adapter is ginormous, seriously this is one of the biggest adapters that we have ever come across in the last year. It is rated at 240W, which is about the same as my Blade 15, but that one is significantly smaller. Above you can see it next to my regular photography lens and my Pixel 4 XL. It’s really so big that you will certainly need to find room in your bag to lug this thing around.

Keyboard & Trackpad

The interior space is decent with a full-size keyboard, but we know that a lot of you prefer standard layouts so this may or may not be your cup of tea. I also noticed that the key caps were smaller compared to other notebooks that we have tested. I have pretty big hands and I constantly find myself making numerous typos, which was frustrating, so it might not be ideal for hardcore typists. If you are willing to overlook that, the keys do offer fantastic travel distance and good feedback. It is right on par with the A15, which is awesome. The LED backlighting is RGB, but it doesn’t get that bright, and oddly enough Dell doesn’t include brightness settings so it’s either on or off. You will need to use the Command Center app for that, and to be honest with you I would prefer a much better piece of software from Dell than this.

The trackpad is respectable. It is a pretty smooth surface with support for Windows Precision Drivers, but over time as you start accumulating finger grease it just starts to become really weird and sometimes unresponsive. It is also aligned slightly with the space bar, meaning that there is little to no room to place your left palm comfortably, unlike the TUF A15 which is just slightly off-centered and that makes navigation easier.

Webcam & Speakers

This is what the webcam looks like, and quite frankly I’m not impressed with the colour coming out of this sensor. The skin tones are not that accurate, it boosts the shadows all the way up, and it’s one of the worst looking webcams that I have come across on a notebook. However, the microphone does sound pretty good, so it should be fine for a casual business meetings. The speakers are bottom facing, and unfortunately they don’t sound that great. You are not going to get any bass and the trebles do sound a bit harsh. I think the TUF A15 sounds way, way better than this notebook in my opinion. Bottom facing speakers are basically always an absolute no-go.

Connectivity

Port selection is okay on this notebook, it’s basically on par with the other budget-friendly devices. On the left-hand side you get power-in, mini-DisplayPort, HDMI 2.0, a USB 3.2 Gen1 5Gbps Type-A port, LAN port, and a USB Type-C Gen2 port, which also functions as as DisplayPort output. Switching over to the right-hand side, you get a Kensington lock, two USB 2.0 Type-A ports – yes, USB 2.0 – an audio jack, and a full-size SD card reader. This is really interesting addition because this notebook is catered towards gamers not creators, but if you happen to be both of them then this is definitely a bonus feature. Just keep in mind that it’s not a UHS-3 card reader, so it’s not the fastest one available.

One thing that we have started to notice on a lot of these AMD notebooks is the fact that all the manufacturers sort of limit the number of high bandwidth connections, particularly with USB. In this case, you only get a single USB Type-C port, which supports 10Gbps, and a single USB Type-A, which supports 5Gbps. The rest of the ports are just super low speed, which is really unfortunate because when you look at the Intel notebooks they do come with the fastest protocol available. This is very frustrating to me, and I hope all the manufacturers revamp that in the future.

The Display

Moving on to the display, it is 15.6-inch 1080P panel running at 144Hz. Our display analysis tests revealed that it covers 95% sRGB, 73% Adobe RGB, and 74% DCI-P3. It is way, way more colour accurate than something like the TUF A15, which is just significantly worse compared to the Dell. Honestly, I really wish that the TUF had a similar display to this one, but this will definitely be an awesome addition for content creation or if you’re looking to edit photos this will definitely get the job done. It is also pretty bright display at 300 nits, definitely not the brightest, and the fact that it’s a matte display makes it even better so you don’t have to worry about crazy reflections when you are viewing this in direct sunlight. The gaming experience was fantastic on this notebook, I think you are really in for a treat. I think it’s partly due to the combination of that higher refresh rate display, but also how colour accurate it is. I actually did a side-by-side test comparing this to the TUF notebook, and the difference was just night and day. You are really in for a treat with the G5 15 SE.

Upgradability

Upgradability is pretty straightforward on this laptop. You have access to two RAM sticks, maximum supported memory is 32GB. The primary M.2 drive is tiny and hidden under a copper heatspreader. It is a really fast drive, in fact it’s one of the fastest that we have seen on a gaming notebook in this price range. I believe Dell is using the new Samsung PM991 NVMe SSD.

There is an additional M.2 connector for expansion, which is nice, but check this out: For some odd reason you will notice a little engraving beneath that which says that you can add a 7mm/2.5″ drive as well, but that is not really the case. In fact, Dell does not include any brackets or the necessary connectors for installation. We even tried to place a drive to see if it would fit, but turns out it conflicts with that second M.2 slot and it makes direct contact with the PCB.

Battery Life

Dell does offer the option to upgrade the battery size to 68Wh, but that can only be done with the highest config that comes with a 1TB drive, so you are going to have to pay a little bit more to get that option. The fact that is isn’t offered with the lower end configs is just so bizarre and an attempt at upselling in my opinion.

Speaking of the battery, our sample came with a three-cell 51Wh battery and it’s not that great. In fact, the Bravo 15 – which has roughly the same size battery – lasted way longer than this notebook. It could be due to a faster GPU or SmartShift not optimizing workloads between the CPU and the GPU, but basically the results were pretty disappointing in my opinion. Switching gears to our heavy load test, we got about an hour’s worth of use from this thing.

AMD SmartShift Technology

One of the most important aspects of this notebook isn’t its design or even its specs, but rather the addition of AMD’s SmartShift technology. Dell is actually the first to include this and it could really be a game changer, but I also have a few concerns about it as well. We will make a separate video on SmartShift, but from a high level what it essentially does is it treats the GPU and the CPU as a single virtual entity when it comes to distributing power and thermal headroom for certain workloads like rendering or gaming. Using application specific learning algorithms SmartShift will increase the power going towards whatever component is most critical. For example, in gaming the GPUs resources are used the most, so it will get more power resources. That should technically allow it to boost further and for longer than in a system without SmartShift, but that also means the CPU would be given a lot less power than normal. The same goes for rendering, where the CPU would be able to stretch its legs since the GPU isn’t really needed that much. The CPU and GPU are now aware of what they are doing and can balance performance based on workloads.

A lot of it actually depends on how good AMD SmartShift’s algorithm actually is, because it’s a new piece of technology that is still being built out and we have experienced a few hiccups. For instance, the integrated GPU was being detected instead of the discrete graphics card and vice versa. Another thing that you need to be aware of is that SmartShift is always on, there is no way to turn it off or modify it. In fact, there are some profile settings like high performance and balanced built into Alienware’s Command Center but they don’t do anything. It’s SmartShift doing pretty much all the tasks on this laptop. Now that could cause an issue for people who are willing to sacrifice acoustics for better temperatures and performance. We already saw with notebooks like the Legion 7i that giving users control over how they experience a gaming laptop can be really beneficial. Hopefully, AMD adds a few more modes, but for the time being this notebook does have the option to run its fans at full speed by simply hitting Fn + G or the F7 key, but who wants their fans running at full speed all the time. Either way, I will be checking out to see how that mode impacts performance a bit later on.

Before I get too far into performance, I do have to talk about some of the issues that I encountered with this notebook. To be honest with you that were a lot when I first received this notebook about a month ago, and I honestly felt bad for early adopters. There was an odd issue with Steam where the app ended up enabling the integrated graphics every few seconds, even when I was gaming. That caused massive gameplay stutters as SmartShift disabled the discrete card for an instant to enable the onboard GPU. I also couldn’t get Red Dead Redemption 2 or Warhammer II: Total War to start. Even Premiere ended up oddly using the integrated graphics rather than the more powerful discrete GPU. Temperatures also got crazy hot too, it just all felt really unpolished. However, things changed in a big way thanks to a new Dell BIOS update and a new AMD driver that completely wiped out every one of those problems. The Ryzen notebook ecosystem and specifically SmartShift are still going through some growing pains, and we had to retest all of our titles before putting together this review.

Acoustics & Case Temperatures

Let’s take a look at how this thing actually does on a daily basis. I wanted to kick things off with the acoustic performance since the G5 15 SE is actually one of the quietest notebooks that we have tested. However, remember this since low fan speeds do come with some sacrifices and with this system you can’t change that by changing performance modes. Exterior case temperatures were pretty well managed too, but that is to be expected with such a thick chassis.

Performance

Loading up a real world AutoDesk Maya render shows the CPU speeds and temperatures starting off really strong, but gradually things start to change. As I mentioned earlier, this is the quietest or one of the quietest AMD notebooks that we have tested, but it also is one of the hottest running with that Ryzen 7 hitting almost 100°C by the end of the test. Those high temperatures impacted clock speeds too, which were barely above 3.4GHz by the end, but is about where the Bravo 15 ended up and bit lower than the TUF A15.

While it’s really hard to see if SmartShift is actually working, as we make our way through these benchmarks you will notice a few things. First and foremost, in terms of raw CPU performance this Dell laptop is better than the Bravo 15, and it’s one of the fastest notebooks that we have tested. It’s not as quick as the TUF A15, but Dell’s notebook is also much quieter. This is pretty much why people are begging to get these Ryzen CPUs inside higher end systems. Moving on to GPU-based rendering benchmarks, the G5 is good but not all that great. Even with the latest updates NVIDIA’s GPU still have an edge. In something like WinRAR, it does pretty good too, which goes to show that the SSD Dell installed is solid.

Gaming Performance

Switching gears to gaming, and this is where things get pretty interesting. It also looks like SmartShift is going to impact this in a big way. You see these are some of the lowest CPU clock speeds that we have seen with a gaming laptop, but according to AMD there is a reason for this. The algorithm just doesn’t think that higher speeds are necessary and the system should be putting more emphasis on GPU performance. That doesn’t stop temperatures from climbing to high levels again though. A notebook CPU operating at just 2GHz should never get up to over 90°C. What this tells us is the RX 5600M is pushing its heat through the cooling system and onto the processor, which makes sense since according to our readings our notebook was sucking down over 90W at full load. On the positive side, the GPU is running at an average clock speed of about 1.35GHz, which is right inline with AMD’s Game Clock spec. It does get mighty hot though, topping out at just over 90°C with both the CPU and GPU hitting above 90°C during gaming, while the system remains so quiet. You see it feels like SmartShift is prioritizing noise over temperatures, and that could be an issue for performance.

Other than in Call of Duty, the RTX 2060 in the TUF A15 beats the RX 5600M in the G5 every single time. In many cases, it isn’t even remotely close. Remember according to AMD the RX 5600M is supposed to be a RTX 2060 competitor, but that’s super far from the truth here. It could be that SmartShift is implementing such low CPU clocks and that is ultimately what’s bottlenecking the GPU, but there is no way to find out for certain or at least until we get a notebook with an RX 5600M that doesn’t have SmartShift. Either way, this is a super disappointing result.

Performance With 100% Fan Speed

As promised here are a few more tests with Dell’s fan override that pushes RPMs to 100%. In AutoDesk Maya it certainly helped increase clock speeds by a good 200MHz, even though the temperatures were reduced by only a few degrees. The reason for this is pretty interesting, basically the Ryzen 7 4800H took advantage of the extra thermal headroom, bumped up its input power, and delivered increased frequencies. That allowed the G5 15 SE to almost match the A15 and shave a full minute off it’s rendering time. In gaming things get pretty interesting, even with much lower temperatures SmartShift doesn’t allow the CPU any additional clock speed headroom. It looks like all of the resources are still being given to the RX 5600M.

The GPU has lower temperatures too, and that actually does lead to much improved frequencies that are on average 125MHz to 250MHz higher than the default setting. In this case, we actually saw the RX 5600M consuming a bit over a 100W every now and then, which does prove that a cooler operating environment did lead to more available input power. With that extra juice the AMD GPU can actually match the RTX 2060, but only while consuming about 20W more. In my opinion that is just unsustainable without the fans running at max speed.

Conclusion

Honestly, my thoughts on this Dell G5 15 SE are kind of all over the place. It offers great value with decent gaming frame rates, respectable productivity scores, a really good quality display, and with the new BIOS update it does run quieter. However, on the other hand, there is a reason why I wouldn’t recommend this thing, because the build quality and design leave a lot to be desired.

The trackpad position is really at a crammed location, the component temperatures are pretty high, the battery life is pretty short, and most importantly you’re only getting a single USB Type-A port that supports the higher 10Gbps protocol, which is really unfortunate. I know this might be a little bit more controversial, but if the TUF A15 had a better display then we would ultimately have a winner right there. I am a bit disappointed since AMD notebook buyers are constantly being asked to make sacrifices they shouldn’t have to make. The Dell G5 15 SE is just no different. It has impressive performance in many areas, but in 2020 there is so much more we would expect from portable devices than just chart topping benchmarks. Now if you can find this notebook for a really good deal, given how frequent Dell’s sales are, then this could be a great option, or you could just wait out to see what the next round of AMD notebooks could offer.

Check out the Dell G5 15 SE – https://bit.ly/G515SE