Dell’s G5 Gaming Desktop (starts at $749.99; $929.99 as tested) is a budget gaming PC that delivers enough muscle for casual and multiplayer games at 1080p resolution in a midtower chassis at a competitive price. Our test system is built around Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1650 Super GPU and a 10th Generation Intel Core i5 processor. Despite its trim dimensions, the compact tower and MicroATX motherboard offer room to expand, though we’d recommend springing for Dell’s optional power supply (PSU) upgrade if you harbor future expansion or upgrade plans. Dell offers a host of other configuration options for the G5, and we’d suggest a few in addition to the PSU that would make our test system a more capable gaming rig and put it on equal footing with the NZXT BLD Starter PC Plus, our current Editors’ Choice pick for value-priced gaming machines.
LEDs Outside, Room to Expand Inside
Many midtower PCs are charmless affairs devoid of character. The Dell G5 adds some gamer-centric flair to the front to break free of the bland.
The design hasn’t changed since we reviewed the G5 Gaming Desktop in November 2019. The molded plastic front panel features four sections of diagonal lines and an LED stripe that runs diagonally. The light shines Dell blue by default, but you can customize the color and pattern with the Alienware Command Center app that comes preinstalled. It’s cool to be able to use software from Dell’s upscale Alienware brand on a budget gaming PC, even if the only thing you can actually do is customize the look of a single LED stripe along with monitoring the status of the CPU, GPU, and memory.
If you crave more flair, Dell offers a case upgrade that offers internal lighting and a windowed side panel for an additional $70. This upgrade also nets you a bigger power supply, bumping you up from the 360-watt PSU of our test system to a 500-watt unit. To leave headroom for future GPU upgrades, I’d recommend making the upgrade.
The front panel’s diagonal slats offer more than just gamer chic. They allow air to pass through, turning the front panel into a giant vent to help maximize airflow through the system. As mentioned, the G5 is compact, measuring 14.5 by 6.7 by 12.1 inches (HWD). It’s much smaller than a full tower system, but the interior is neatly organized to make it easy to work inside the case.
Opening the case requires no tools, but simply twisting two thumbscrews to remove the side panel…
Cables are tied and routed to keep them from interfering with your access to the MicroATX motherboard, where you’ll find four DIMM slots, only one of which was occupied on our test system.
In addition to a single 3.5-inch drive bay, which was occupied by a 1TB hard drive in our tester, there are two free 2.5-inch bays. There’s one M.2 slot, which our system filled with a 256GB boot solid-state drive. In total, our G5 has three free DIMM slots and two free 2.5-inch drive bays.
External Expansion and Configuration Options
The G5 Gaming Desktop provides plenty of ports on both the front and back panels, with no glaring omissions. Up front, you’ll find a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.1 Type-A port, a USB-C port, and microphone and headphone jacks. Having both Type-A and Type-C USB ports is beneficial because you can connect your USB devices without first needing to locate a dongle or that spare cable. You’re out of luck, however, if you use flash memory cards; a card reader is missing.
Around back are six more USB-A ports, two of the USB 2.0 variety and four USB 3.1. You also get a trio of audio ports (left/right and center line-out plus line-in) and an Ethernet jack. Video connections will vary by your choice of graphics card; our test system features an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super that offers DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI.
Dell bundles a basic wired keyboard and mouse with the G5 Gaming Desktop, and you can’t opt out of their inclusion. The company offers gaming peripherals from its Alienware line as G5 options, but they’ll be added to the default set instead of replacing it. Gamers will want to use a keyboard and mouse other than the included offering.
Though you are stuck with the low-rent desk set, Dell offers a wealth of other customization options for the G5 Gaming Desktop. All models use 10th Generation Intel Core processors, but both AMD Radeon and Nvidia GeForce graphics cards are on offer, as well as a multitude of memory and storage choices.
The $749.99 base model combines a Core i3 CPU with AMD Radeon RX 5300 graphics. Our test system, as mentioned, costs $929.99; it’s actually an $849.99 model on Dell’s site with an $80 storage upgrade (adding the speedy 256GB SSD to the 1TB hard drive). It features an Intel Core i5-10400F processor and 8GB of RAM as well as the GeForce GTX 1650 Super GPU. We tested the Core i5-10400 in depth a few months back; the Core i5-10400F is the same six-core chip, just with the integrated graphics disabled, as indicated by the “F” suffix. (You’ll need the video card, or a video card, period, to run this PC’s graphics.) We liked this CPU as a nice budget-smart balance for gaming and light content creation work.
You can upgrade the processor all the way up to a Core i9, memory up to 64GB, and the graphics to a GeForce RTX 2060 or Radeon RX 5600 (either of which obliges you to swap the 360-watt power supply for the 500-watt unit). In-between GPU choices include Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1660 Super and GTX 1660 Ti.
Testing the G5: Short of Full HD Gaming at 60fps
We haven’t reviewed too many budget gaming desktops in recent months, but I’ve assembled a group in the neighborhood of our $930 Dell. The CyberPower Gamer Xtreme GXi11400CPG ($770 as tested) features a Core i3 CPU and GeForce GTX 1660 graphics. It’s the only system here priced below our G5 Gaming Desktop. The NZXT Starter PC Plus mentioned up top ($999 as tested) is the closest in price; it teams an AMD Ryzen 5 2600 with GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics.
The Lenovo Legion Tower 5i ($1,459 as tested) is the priciest of the group and supplies a Core i7 CPU and GeForce RTX 2070 Super graphics. I also included the Dell G5 Gaming Desktop from late 2019, which cost $1,170 at the time and featured a Core i7 chip and GeForce GTX 1660 GPU.
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
The 2021 G5 balked at our PCMark 10 test (a not uncommon occurrence with gaming desktops). Subjectively, during my time using the system Windows operations moved swiftly, apps loaded quickly, and various multitasking scenarios brought no lag or hiccups. With applications running on its speedy SSD rather than the slower hard drive, the system achieved a competitive score in PCMark 8’s storage test.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
The test machine finished in the middle of the pack here, ahead of the CyberPower and NZXT but behind its 2019 predecessor. As we’ll see throughout testing, the more costly Lenovo desktop was a step or three ahead of the competition.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
The G5 Gaming Desktop slipped to a fourth-place finish in Handbrake, besting only the CyberPower Gamer Xtreme. There are better options if you intend to use your system regularly for video editing in addition to gaming.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
A third-place showing in our Photoshop test shows the G5 Gaming Desktop has some capacity for image touch-ups, but systems with more powerful Core i7 CPUs and more memory are better suited for the task.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test or gaming simulation, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
Our G5 Gaming Desktop uses the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super GPU, an update to the original GTX 1650. It’s a budget graphics card that’s built for 1080p gaming and also a popular pick in compact mid-towers because, at just over 6 inches in length, it’s far smaller than higher-end graphics cards. The Dell fell short of the desired 60 frames per second (fps) in the high-end Superposition test.
Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings. We run them using the best graphics quality presets (Ultra for Far Cry 5, Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions to find the sweet spot of visuals and smooth performance for a given system. The results are also provided in frames per second. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while we flip Rise of the Tomb Raider to DirectX 12.
The G5 Gaming Desktop topped 60fps at 1080p resolution in Far Cry 5, but missed that threshold in Rise of the Tomb Raider and at higher resolutions in both games. You’ll have better luck with less demanding multiplayer titles such as Fortnite, Apex Legends, and League of Legends. In Fortnite, I averaged roughly 60fps to 70fps at 1080p resolution with image quality set to Epic, climbing to 90fps to 100fps when I dialed quality back to High.
Compact and Capable (But Tack On an Upgrade or Two)
The Dell G5 Gaming Desktop is a neatly organized, compact PC that offers just enough design flourishes and 3D performance for gamers on a budget. Dell offers enough options that you can likely find a configuration that fits both your needs and your wallet. As configured, our test system is best suited for running Fortnite and other multiplayer games at 1080p with most or all quality settings at their max. To reach 60fps in AAA titles, we’d suggest spending $50 to upgrade the GPU to the GeForce GTX 1660 Super. Even that upgrade keeps the machine’s price in three rather than four digits. And if your budget can stretch beyond $1,000, gamers and non-gamers alike would benefit by spending another $100 to double the RAM to 16GB.
Moving up the price ladder, you can upgrade the power supply to 500 watts and select the GeForce RTX 2060 or Radeon RX 5600 card to really kick up 1080p game playability. Pairing one of the Core i7 offerings or the top-line Core i9 with either of these GPUs would make sense, but at that point you’ve left the budget category and entered the midrange gaming PC space. Still, Dell’s pricing for upgrades is reasonable, delivering good value at any performance level.