If you’re shopping for a laptop, you have torrent of options to choose among, be it a thin mobile companion or a hefty, rugged notebook, with a vast range of options in between. Where even to start? Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to narrow down your options based on what you know. And sometimes that’s a brand you’ve long used and trusted.
If you’re familiar with Dell, you probably have some opinion regarding how reliable the company’s products are, how its customer service works, and the general quality of the user experience that those products and services deliver. If you’re brand-loyal, it’s a reasonable way to whittle down your options, while still helping you zero in on a great product. Picking a brand you trust does half the deciding for you.
Whether you’re after a powerful laptop for crunching numbers at work, or a laptop for staying productive at home or on the go, there’s a good chance that Dell has a model you’ve considered buying. The company has solid machines at all levels of the market.
Decoding Dell’s Key Laptop Brands
When you’re looking at Dell’s laptop product line, you’ll want to concentrate on which of its six main families of laptop best meets your needs. The ones to familiarize yourself with are Inspiron, XPS, Alienware, G Series, Latitude, and Precision. You’ll find both clamshell and 2-in-1 convertible entries in all of these families apart from the two gaming-oriented ones.
Inspiron: The Mainstream Choice
For use in home or school, Dell’s Inspiron brand comprises consumer laptops of every stripe: power machines, inexpensive “just enough” machines, big displays, ultracompacts. Whether you’re editing photos or managing your home finances, Inspiron’s copious options fit both screen-size and budget needs for most buyers. These machines are mostly Windows models; if you want something a little less expensive for simple tasks and browsing online, consider Dell’s Chromebooks, which put basic functionality into an affordable package that works great for kids and students.
Dell breaks its Inspiron line into three gradations or levels: 3000, 5000, and 7000 series. As you go up that stack, you tend to see more premium features, and higher relative pricing. The number between the word “Inspiron” and the series number is typically the screen size of the laptop; an Inspiron 13 5000, for example, would be a 13-inch-screened laptop with middle-field characteristics.
XPS: The Power-User Class
The various guises of the Dell XPS 13 have been our “near-perfect” mainstream and power laptops for some time now. Refresh after refresh, Dell keeps tuning to keep this hardy machine on top. XPS signifies, on both the desktop and laptop side of the fence, a premium-design, fully decked-out machine that bridges demanding consumers and business users. It’s Dell’s line of power tools that are equally at home in a home office, a coffee shop, a conference room, or a high-stakes business meeting.
You won’t find a lot of variety in the XPS laptop line in terms of screen size or stratification, just configurable versions of the 13-inch-screened XPS 13 and 15-inch XPS 15 as both clamshells and swiveling-screen 2-in-1s. Notable developments in the XPS line in last year or so include the resurrection of the Dell XPS 17, the biggest model, now with the option for GeForce RTX graphics. The late-2020 XPS 13 2-in-1 is also much improved.
Alienware and G Series: Full-Spectrum Gaming
If gaming is more your style, Dell’s Alienware brand delivers, if you’re on the market for a serious, blinged-out gaming cruiser. The latest components combine with premium construction and design, earning Alienware a well-deserved reputation as an aspirational brand among PC gamers. The Alienware machines tend to be big, brawny models with heavy graphics firepower and prices to match, though the brand has made forays into some leaner machines with its m15 and m17 series models. That said, the wholly redesigned Alienware Area-51m, now in its second generation, is a futuristic, winning take on the classic gaming bruiser. The company has also tipped an Alienware X-Series slimline family; more on that later in 2021 when we get to test one.
Dell also sells gaming laptops under its G Series brand, introduced in 2018. Before this new sub-brand’s introduction, this aggressively priced, lower-end line was part of the Inspiron family. Dell split it out as its own animal, and now the G Series is aimed at mainstream and budget-constrained gamers, with more modest designs than the Alienwares and component loadouts that are humbler but still workable for the latest games.
The G Series models hover above and below the $1,000 mark, while the Alienwares start north of that. Models in the G Series are gradated like the Inspirons, into G3, G5, and G7 classes, with the higher numbers indicating higher-grade builds and feature sets. One recent G unit we have tested, the G5 15 SE, now incorporates AMD Ryzen CPUs and AMD Radeon graphics.
Latitude: The Umbrella for Business Machines
Then there’s business. Dell’s Latitude brand is the mainstay for its business laptops, competing with options from Lenovo (the ThinkPad T series) and HP (the various EliteBook lines). Latitude offers options for workers in the office or in the field, with a mix of thin-yet-powerful laptops and durable systems that can take a beating.
Like the Inspirons and the G Series, the Latitudes make use of the same 3000, 5000, and 7000 nomenclature, with a 9000 series joining the family at the start of 2020. The second number in the four-digit model number signifies the screen size. So a Dell Latitude 7390 is in the second-from-the-top of the four lines, with a 13.3-inch screen; a Latitude 9510 would be a top-grade machine with a 15.6-inch screen.
Beyond the “simply” durable units, the Latitude line is also home to a few costly, highly ruggedized models that are designed to be used in hostile environments: doused in water, clipped onto an ATV, exposed to cold and wind, and the like. These are branded under the Latitude Rugged Extreme moniker.
Precision: For Demanding Professionals
Mobile workstations are a breed of machines that share some traits with business models, but they stand apart for their Independent Software Vendor (ISV) certifications and, in some cases, specialized CPU and GPU options and support for highly precise ECC (error-correcting) memory. ISV certifications give users of demanding professional business apps (in areas such as scientific computing, architecture, and engineering) assurances that the workstation will run up to snuff with a given application. Companies such as Adobe, Autodesk, Avid, Dassault Systemés, and Siemens tend to be the ISVs involved.
Dell’s line of mobile workstations is its Precision line, which comprises both laptop and desktop models. On the laptop side, Precision makes use of the same 3000, 5000, and 7000 series lingo as the other lines, with the screen size indicated within the model number.
A workstation might make use of consumer- or business-grade Intel CPUs, but the mark of a high-end workstation is the presence of a mobile Intel Xeon CPU and a dedicated workstation-grade graphics processor from Nvidia (Quadro) or AMD (Radeon Pro, much less common). The latter are in contrast to their consumer-GPU counterparts (GeForce GTX/RTX and Radeon RX, respectively) and are designed specifically for the kind of heavy-duty calculations that ISV-class applications require. Dell also offers a few 2-in-1 SKUs in the Precision line; convertible workstations are far less common than their consumer counterparts.
So, Which Dell Laptop Is Best for Me?
There are plenty of solid Dell systems to choose from, but don’t be overwhelmed by the options. We’ve combed through our many reviews and singled out the best Dell systems in multiple categories. For more (Dell and non-Dell) options, check out our favorite laptops overall (updated constantly), as well as our lists of the best Chromebooks, the best budget laptops, and the best gaming laptops.