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GE GDF520PGJ review: Dry and mighty, this budget GE dishwasher holds its own

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Nothing about this $400 GE dishwasher is going to blow you away. The GE GDF520PGJWW is a competent model at a budget-friendly price. Both the all-white exterior and the plastic interior look the part of a low-end machine. The GDF520PGJWW doesn't have any exciting features. But again, it's $400 (or less if you find it on sale), and it will do an adequate job of cleaning your dishes. The GDF520PGJWW even proved better than average at drying.

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GE GDF520PGJ

The Good

The GE GDF520PGJWW offers surprisingly good drying power and competent cleaning at a budget-friendly price.

The Bad

It doesn’t have much in the way of design or features, and it missed spots on silverware and dishes on the upper rack in our tests.

The Bottom Line

If you scrape your dishes and like them dry when the cycle ends, the GDF520PGJWW offers a fine way to save money on a dishwasher that will get the job done.

For a little more, the $500 GE ADT521PGJBS is pretty stylish and the $500 Kenmore 13479 cleans dishes more thoroughly. If you rinse or scrape your dishes anyway, and prioritize bone dry dishes, the GE GDF520PGJWW is worth your consideration if you're shopping on a budget.

The GE GDF520PGJWW dishwasher keeps things clean and simple

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Not much to look at

With a scoop handle below an upper border of responsive buttons, the exterior of the GDF520PGJWW isn't glamorous, but neither is it ugly. At best, it's understated and simple. At worst, it's boring.

I wish the display had a countdown timer, but it's hard to get mad at the GDF520PGJWW about what it lacks, given its bottom-tier price. It does offer a fine mix of standard cycles -- AutoSense, Heavy, Normal and Light. Plus, it has a steam prewash option -- which is a nice bonus for this price -- along with other options to heat the water during the cycle or add drying time to the end of the cycle.

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The GDF520PGJWW has a useful mix of cycles and options.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The interior of the GDF520PGJWW can fit up to 16 place settings and it keeps things relatively quiet during the cycle with a sound rating of 54 decibels. You'll have to speak up if you're in the same room and want to have a conversation, but you'll barely hear it even from the next room. Both the capacity and sound rating are generous for the price. The $500 Kenmore 13479 fits 12 place settings with a similar sound rating of 53 dB.

None of the tines fold down, so you'll have a hard time finding spots for pots and pans. The dark gray of the interior is even more bland than the exterior, but the arrangement of tines is serviceable for standard plates and bowls.

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You can move the silverware basket to a couple of different locations.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

You can adjust the height of the upper rack by removing the caps from the end of the rails and shifting the rail to a lower set of wheels on the rack. Plus, the dishwasher includes a couple of detachable stem holders that double as shelves for small items.

I particularly like the silverware basket. You can put it on the side of the lower rack as you'd expect, but you can also hang it off the edge of the bottom rack or on the door to give yourself that extra space in the rack.

You can buy the GE GDF520PGJWW now from Best Buy, Home Depot and other large appliance dealers, some for less than the $400 sticker price. Head to the company's site to find a retailer in your area. This affordable model is only available in the US.

High and dry cleaning scores

The GDF520PGJWW doesn't pack in a lot of extras, but it combines a few basics -- well positioned water jets, ball tipped tines, a piranha food disposer -- to solid effect. The GDF520PGJWW is impressively good at drying, and it's pretty fast. The normal cycle averaged 98 minutes, and the "Heated Dry" option only slowed it down another 30.

To test dishwashers, we slather 112 dishes of various shapes and sizes with all manner of foods, then let the dishes sit out for 24 hours before loading them all into the machine and running it on normal with no extra options enabled. Head here for all of the details of our process, but know that we're intentionally hard on the machine to see just how well it can handle gobs of spinach and stuck-on preserves.

The GDF520PGJWW handled itself fairly well, but missed a few bowls on the top rack, redeposited some spinach throughout, and left the spoons pretty messy.

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The GDF520PGJWW left some spots on plates, bowls and spoons. Rinse or scrape your dishes before you load them. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The overall score of 62.3 percent isn't damning. Again, we stress our dishwashers during our tests. If you rinse or scrape your dishes before loading, the GDF520PGJWW will mostly do a fine job of removing the stuck-on dirt. You'll want to give a little extra space to any dishes on the top row, and give your spoons an extra rinse to make sure.

For just a little more, the $500 Kenmore 13479 earned a fantastic 87.1 percent on our cleaning tests, so consider spending a little extra if you don't want to bother with rinsing or scraping.

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The GDF520PGJWW doesn't clean as well as dishwashers that cost just a little more.

Steve Conaway/CNET

The GDF520PGJWW wasn't great at drying either on our normal tests. Fortunately, when we turned on Heated Dry, the GDF520PGJWW shone -- literally. It earned a 64.1 percent on our power dry tests and kept water spots to a minimum. That mark beats the $500 Kenmore's 42.4 percent on the same test, and even tops the drying performance of much more expensive models: 39.7 percent for the $900 LG LDF7774ST; 58.8 percent for the $800 Bosch SHS63VL5UC; and 56 percent for the $650 Frigidaire FGID2466QF.

The verdict

The $400 GE GDF520PGJWW is the best option for you if you're on a strict budget and want your dishes dry. You'll need to make some allowances in exchange for the low price -- you won't get many features, the plastic tub won't help you save energy, and you'll need to rinse or scrape your dishes before you wash them.

The $500 Kenmore 13479 is similarly simple, but is a better cleaner if you prefer being messy. Still, the GE GDF520PGJWW proved sufficient in all of our tests and is worth your consideration if you're looking for a simple, low-cost machine that gets the basics right.

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GE GDF520PGJ

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Features 7Usability 8Design 6