The fanciest high-end desktops from boutique gaming vendors are great objects of envy, and amazing machines if you can afford them, but most shoppers are working with more realistic budgets. The Dell G5 Gaming Desktop (starts at $589.99; $1,169.99 as tested) is a straightforward, compact system with a fast CPU and plenty of power for full 1080p gaming. It’s highly configurable, but our prefab build hits almost all the marks (we’d add more storage) and leaves us very little to complain about. Like its Inspiron Gaming Desktop predecessor, it offers a great value. However, it can’t quite swipe our entry-level gaming desktop Editors’ Choice from the NZXT BLD Starter PC Plus, which offers virtually the same advantages (and a better GPU) at an even lower price.
Compact Mainstream Gaming Desktop
For the most part, Dell took everything I liked about the Inspiron Gaming Desktop’s design and made it smaller and better. The older tower was already on the compact side, but it’s impressive how petite the G5 Gaming is. The case measures just 14.5 by 6.7 by 12.1 inches (HWD), with the height and depth particularly short of standard size.
Sure, mATX builds are nothing new and quite popular with DIY builders and boutique companies, but the big manufacturers tend to stick to full-size towers. The fact that we’re getting a smaller, configurable, and easily accessible gaming system at this size on a large scale is a real feat. The G5 is diminutive enough to fit on top of your desk, which is far from true of all cases, or in a smaller open space if need be.
Aesthetically, the G5 looks, well, like a gaming desktop, even more than the Inspiron did. That’s almost entirely due to the front panel, which features a zig-zagging geometric pattern. It’s very modern, and underscored with a diagonal blue LED that may not be to everyone’s liking.
Part of the Inspiron’s appeal was its understated look, but I don’t think Dell has gone too far with this model. That said, I could forgive someone who might not want this case front and center in their living room.
One noticeable upgrade, and a calling card of big-league gaming desktops, is the presence of a glass window on the left panel. This is a $30 option that shows off the interior components, lit with blue LEDs, and makes this budget-friendly system feel that much more high-end. Removing the side panel is incredibly easy, with no tools required—giving a few twists to two rear thumbscrews lets you pull the panel away from the case.
The interior is clean if somewhat sparse. While the case is made so you can look inside, the components themselves aren’t exactly the most flashy. The CPU fan cooler and GPU are located front and center, but both look very plain. The cable management is mostly neat and out of sight, with the exception of a few dangling cables. On the whole, the blue LEDs do a lot of heavy lifting here, because (at least in our build) the interior is fairly nondescript. For a less expensive system, though, that’s okay. Arguably more important, the G5 is cleanly assembled and easy to work in despite its compact size.
I mentioned that our build isn’t the most spectacular, but you can seriously upgrade what’s inside when ordering. There are a wide swath of component choices in every category. Our $1,169.99 test model, built into the 460W case option, features an Intel Core i7-9700 processor, 16GB of memory, a 512GB solid-state drive, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 graphics card.
The processor is the strongest part of this build, a great CPU for gaming, while the GPU is a thrifty choice—the GTX 1660 isn’t bad, but it’s on the less powerful side of Nvidia’s hierarchy. Still, it’s plenty good enough for gaming at full HD resolution, as you’ll see later. I also personally wouldn’t outfit a gaming desktop with only half a terabyte of storage, as it will fill up fast. I’d recommend pairing a 512GB (or smaller depending on your budget) SSD with a larger hard drive to hold most of your game library.
CPU options scale from a Core i3-9100 to the beefy Core i9-9900K, with various Core i5 and i7 steps in between. RAM can range from 8GB to 64GB, with room for one or two storage drives from a single small SSD to a 3TB combination (a 1TB SSD plus 2TB hard drive). The graphics card is what will truly determine which tier of power your system falls into, and you can choose among the AMD Radeon RX 560X, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660, GTX 1660 Ti, RTX 2060, RTX 2060 Super, RTX 2070, RTX 2070 Super, and RTX 2080.
As for ports, the front panel has plenty—arranged vertically along the left side, you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port, a USB-C port, and microphone and headphone jacks. The power button is also located here. Around back are four USB 3.1 Type-A ports, two more USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, and audio lines. There are also whatever video outputs come with your graphics card, in our case one apiece for DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI.
Plenty of All-Around Power
For performance comparison testing, I’ve collected the benchmark results of other gaming desktops with similar parts and/or price tags. (Unfortunately, the older Dell Inspiron Gaming Desktop isn’t included because it was tested with our former suite of benchmarks.) Here’s a cheat sheet of their names and basic specs:
The inexpensive ($779 as tested) HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop 690 serves as a baseline. The Editors’ Choice NZXT BLD Starter PC Plus also undercuts the G5’s price at $999 as tested, with a lesser CPU but a superior GPU that bodes well for its gaming results.
That brings us to two desktops priced above the Dell. The first is the Lenovo Legion C730 Cube ($1,444 as tested), an alternative small-form-factor system available in budget or midrange configurations. Finally, the Digital Storm Lynx ($1,999 as tested) is the most expensive contender.
Productivity and Storage Tests
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. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the storage subsystem. It, too, yields a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The G5 Gaming does well here, as it should with one of the best processors in the bunch. Rest assured that in addition to gaming, this desktop can be your home office PC. Its Core i7 CPU will be able to handle everyday tasks for years to come, and its storage is also snappy, on par with or better than the competition (most of which is quite quick). I enjoyed swift boot and load times during my testing.
Media Processing and Content Creation Tests
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.
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.
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. 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.
The Dell continued its strong showing, posting the second-best result in all three of these tough multimedia tests. That shows consistency, and that its CPU lags behind only the cranked-up, unlocked version of the same chip. We’ll get to the gaming results in a moment, but if you do light to medium media creation or editing at home (whether professionally or as a hobby), the G5 Gaming Desktop is up to to the job.
Synthetic Graphics Tests
UL’s 3DMark suite 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, 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 than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
While the Dell’s GeForce GTX 1660 performs decently, the NZXT’s upticked 1660 Ti performs that much better, as it should, while the last-gen GTX 1060 and the HP’s Radeon lag behind. Unlike with the media workloads, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend our G5 configuration for 3D-accelerated tasks if time is of the essence, but it is capable enough. As for gaming, on to the next tests.
Real-World Gaming Tests
Our synthetic tests are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail 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 gaming at various settings. We use their maximum graphics-quality presets (Ultra for Far Cry 5, Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions to determine the sweet spot of speed and eye candy for a given system. The results are provided in frames per second. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do.
These are the most important results for gamers considering this desktop, and the news is mostly good. Targeting a system in this price range means you’re probably looking to play at full HD (1,920 by 1,080) resolution. Not only are 1440p or 4K monitors more expensive, but so is a GPU that can run games smoothly at those resolutions. As such, the red bars are the most important here, and the ideal target is 60fps.
The G5 Gaming Desktop easily clears that bar, with room to spare for more strenuous moments during gameplay. If its average frame rate sat exactly at 60fps, you’d notice the dips, but 80-plus frames per second give you a good cushion. As these are two AAA titles, things look even better for less taxing multiplayer titles like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and League of Legends.
On the whole, the GeForce GTX 1660 is a good GPU for this scenario, not giving you too much or too little. If your monitor’s refresh rate exceeds 60Hz, the extra juice of a GTX 1660 Ti (or even something better) may be the way to go. As you can see, 1440p is much more taxing (unless you’re okay with 30fps), and I wouldn’t recommend 4K gaming on this system. The GeForce GTX 1660 Ti in the NZXT can pump out 60-plus frames per second more reliably.
Everything You Need, Nothing You Don’t
The Dell G5 Gaming Desktop is a nice little package all around. It left me with few gripes, virtually none of which involve essential functionality. It offers solid value in a space-saving design, looks pretty good for the price, and is both highly configurable when ordering and upgradeable later. The inside is somewhat sparse, and the more I look at the front panel the less I’m sure everyone will like it, but those are minor downsides.
If you’re a semi-serious gamer but not a performance hound, or shopping for a desktop for your kids to play the most popular games with no fuss, this is a great pick, especially if you prefer to stick to one of the major manufacturers. If you don’t, there’s no denying that the NZXT BLD Starter PC Plus offers faster graphics and more storage for even less money, retaining our Editors’ Choice for the category.