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Editor's Choice
  • Pros /

    Great graphics performance; Excellent audio quality; Incredibly comfortable keyboard; Highly customizable; Impressive battery life

  • Cons /

    Dim, lackluster display; Bottom runs hot; Heavier and thicker than competing systems

  • Verdict /

    The Alienware 15 offers excellent gaming performance and over 7 hours of battery life in a thick but manageable chassis.

The Alienware 15 is the middle child in the company's suite of gaming laptops, but that doesn't mean it doesn't stand out. The $1,849 (starting at $1,199) rig offers serious gaming and overall performance punch. To further flesh out the awesomeness, you get excellent audio quality, a supercomfortable keyboard and more than 7 hours of battery life, making the laptop a unicorn in a field of thoroughbreds. While the display could be brighter, for the money, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better option.

Specs

Design

Someone cue up the Beastie Boys' "Intergalactic," because Alienware's design continues to be out of this world. The lid is gilded in gray anodized aluminum and topped off with black plastic, which served to play up the pair of customizable LED strips. The backlit components are angled strategically to draw your eye to the glowing red alien's head in the center.

Alienware 15

But the oohs and aahs don't stop there. Upon opening the lid, you're treated to a keyboard deck awash with a black, soft-touch finish. The large keyboard is topped with yet another alien's head that glows otherworldly blue. A gentle caress of the touchpad causes the surface to turn cerulean, matching the rest of the deck.

Along the right side of the notebook, you'll find a USB Type-C port, a USB 3.0 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a 3-in-1 card reader. On the left side, there are two USB 3.0 ports, a Noble Lock slot and jacks for a headset, microphone and power. On the rear of the notebook, you'll find an HDMI port and Alienware's proprietary port for its Graphics Amplifier.

MORE: Best Dell and Alienware Laptops

No matter how slick the Alienware 15 looks, it continues to be one of the heaviest systems in its class, weighing 7.1 pounds and measuring 15.2 x 10.6 x 0.9~1.3 inches. The Digital Storm Equinox (4.2 pounds, 15.4 x 10.5 x 0.7 inches) and the Asus ROG Strix (4.8 pounds, 15.3 x 10.5 x 0.9 inches) are downright dainty by comparison. However, none of them can hold a candle to the Razer Blade's 4.25-pound, 13.6 x 9.3 x 0.7-inch figure. 

Display

Alienware outfitted our configuration with a matte 1920 x 1080 display, but you can do better. Colors looked lackluster, and the panel was on the dim side. Those looking for a sharper and brighter picture should opt for the ultra-HD, 300-nit display ($200 more) or, if you don't need the anti-glare coating, splurge on the TrueLife display ($350). That has the same ultra-HD resolution but with 350 nits of brightness and touch support.

Alienware 15

When watching the 1080p trailer for "The Birth of a Nation," I noticed the African-American actors' skin often looked ashy. And while the detail was clear enough to see a tear snake a trail down Nat Turner's tortured visage, the fresh blood from his split lip looked more black than red.

The lack of vividness was also apparent when I played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The pinks and oranges that made up the normally resplendent sunrise over White Orchard were washed out. The result was a scene that was pretty but not exactly breathtaking.

This display produced just 60 percent of the sRGB gamut, which is well below the mainstream average of 89 percent and our minimum of 100 percent. The Asus Strix registered 109 percent, while the Equinox and Blade achieved even higher results of 111 percent and 120 percent, respectively.

The entry-level screen on the Alienware 15 is as bright as the company's claim (222 nits), but that's beneath the 248-nit category average. The Strix, Equinox and Blade were considerably brighter at 273, 293 and 338 nits, respectively.

Audio

Alienware's relationship with Klipsch continues to be music to my ears. The pair of side-mounted speakers filled the lab with loud, crisp audio. I reveled in the deep twang of the guitar on Chris Stapleton's "Tennessee Whiskey." His bluesy tenor floated along the easy track, melding with the background singer for a genuinely sweet harmony. 

MORE: Best 2-in-1s (Laptop/Tablet Hybrids)

When I initiated a fight in The Witcher 3, the sword clashes were audible against the lively but heavy violin in the fight music. I unleashed a fire spell that engulfed my enemies in a whoosh of flames, causing quite a few screams of pain. 

Keyboard and Touchpad

If I can't get a mechanical keyboard, I'll take Alienware's traditional setup any day of the week. With an impressive 2.2 millimeters of key travel and 65 grams of force required to depress the keys, the glowing keyboard is a springy joy to type on. I easily hit 70 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is way above my 60-wpm average.

Alienware 15

The backlighting is bright enough to see in a dimly lit room, but not as vivid as the Chroma keyboard on the Blade. However, I do appreciate that Alienware includes a row of macro keys, which I used to assign a few shortcuts, including to launch Google Chrome, Spotify or YouTube with a quick press of a button.

My fingers floated across the silky surface of the 3.8 x 2.1-inch touchpad, eliciting rapid, accurate responses when I performed two-finger scrolls, three-finger swipes and four-finger taps.

Alienware Command Center

One of the first things I did when I opened the laptop was start futzing around with the Command Center software. I created a few crazy lighting configurations with AlienFX, meticulously color coordinating each zone. From there, I made a few macros with the TactX software. Because I was feeling particularly fancy, I created a few unique game modes with AlienAdrenaline while checking out the overall system performance. While I rarely use AlienFusion to create custom power plans, it's one of those nice-to-have features.

Graphics and Gaming

Armed with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU with 3GB of VRAM, the Alienware 15 is ready to unleash a volley of kickass. I got a steady and playable 30 frames per second on ultra settings as I played The Witcher 3 on 1080p with Nvidia's HairWorks software enabled. That meant the warrior's long tendrils of white hair flowed freely as his silver sword plunged deep into a Drowner, causing pinkish-gray entrails to ooze from its blue skin. The frame rate rose to 42 fps on high and hit 49 fps on medium.

Alienware 15

The notebook continued to impress on the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege benchmark, scoring 131 fps on low at 1080p, which destroys the 86-fps mainstream average. Though equipped with a 970M GPU but with 6GB of VRAM, the Strix (128 fps), Blade (128 fps) and Equinox (126 fps) fell slightly behind.

When we pushed the settings up to high, the Alienware 15's frame rates dropped to 71 fps, placing it above the 52-fps average. The Strix and Equinox delivered 69 fps and 61 fps, respectively, but the Blade eked out the win, playing at 72 fps. 

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The Alienware 15 held its own on the graphics-intensive Metro: Last Light test, notching 112 fps on low at 1080p. That easily beat the 69-fps category average as well as the Blade (103 fps), Equinox (98 fps) and Strix (78 fps). But the frame rates took a nosedive on the highest settings, with the Alienware achieving only 29 fps, which is a frame per second short of our 30-fps playability threshold. However, it was better than the 21-fps average, as well as the Blade, Equinox and Strix.

To save energy and lower its heat, the Alienware 15 switches over to its Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU when you're engaged in less-strenuous tasks, such as watching videos or working on a presentation.

Performance

Thanks to its 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 16GB of RAM, the Alienware 15 isn't just a gaming dynamo. The CPU ably handled streaming a full-screen episode of Michiko & Hatchin on Hulu with 12 additional tabs open in Google Chrome, all while running a full system scan.

The system put up some formidable numbers on our synthetic benchmarks, starting with Geekbench 3, where it hit 13,494, soundly defeating the 7,651 mainstream average. That puts it on a par with the Blade (13,268), Strix (13,348) and Equinox (13,525), all of which have 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPUs.

The Alienware 15's 256GB PCIe SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 25 seconds, for a transfer rate of 201.1 megabytes per second, topping the 129.1-MBps average. The Strix's 128GB SSD managed 135.9 MBps, while the Blade (256GB PCIe SSD) and Equinox (256GB M.2 SSD) delivered scorching scores of 359.2 MBps and 424.1 MBps, respectively.

Armed with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU with 3GB of VRAM, the Alienware 15 is ready to unleash a volley of kickass.

On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Alienware 15 paired 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 50 seconds, which is much faster than the 5:02 average. That was marginally faster than the Blade's time of 3:55, but not enough to keep pace with the Equinox or the Strix, which clocked in at 3:37 and 3:39, respectively.

Battery Life

Color me impressed! Historically, Alienware has delivered some strong numbers on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi), but never anything like this. The Alienware 15 lasted 7 hours and 13 minutes, blowing past the 5:51 mainstream average. The Strix came in a distant second, with a time of 5:56, while the Blade tapped out at 5:42. The Equinox posted the shortest time, at 3:09. 

MORE: Laptops with the Longest Battery Life

Heat

I played The Witcher 3 for 15 minutes to knock some of the rust off my sword swing. When the time had passed, the touchpad measured a cool 84 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the center of the keyboard and laptop undercarriage registered 103 degrees and 113 degrees, respectively. Both measurements are above our 95-degree comfort threshold.

When I started watching Afro Samurai Resurrection, the notebook's temperature was fairly cool, for the most part. The touchpad and space between the G and H keys measured 86 and 91 degrees, respectively. The bottom of the system reached a toasty 101 degrees.

Webcam

The Alienware 15's integrated 1080p webcam serves up good color with a solid amount of detail. The camera successfully captured my rose-red shirt, which helped to warm up my complexion. Details were sharp enough to capture the lines in my top, but there was a lot of visual noise -- so much so that the lights looked like misshapen blobs.

Software and Warranty

Bloat? What bloat? Aside from Candy Crush Soda Saga, Twitter and Flipboard, there's barely any to speak of. Nvidia's GeForce Experience, a gamer-centric suite of apps designed to optimize your gameplay, is preinstalled.

The Alienware 15 comes with one year of premium support. See how Dell/Alienware fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Laptop Brands.

Configurations

The configuration of the $1,849 Alienware 15 we tested comes with a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 16GB of RAM; a 256GB PCIe SSD; a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M with 3GB of VRAM; and an Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU.

The $1,199 base model has a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ CPU; 8GB of RAM; a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; an Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M with 2GB of VRAM; and an Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU.

If I can't get a mechanical keyboard, I'll take Alienware's traditional setup any day of the week.

If you care about screen quality (and who doesn't?), you should configure the Alienware 15 with an ultra-HD display ($200) or a TrueLife touch panel ($350), both of which have 3840 x 2160 resolutions with better brightness and color than the one on our test unit.

Fans of AMD will have to pay a pretty penny for the privilege of using their favorite GPU. For $2,399, the Alienware 15 will feature the overclockable 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-6820HK CPU; 32GB of RAM; a 256GB PCIe SSD; a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; an AMD Radeon R9 M395X with 8GB of RAM; and a 4K display.

Bottom Line

Now this is a midlevel gaming rig. For $1,849, the Alienware 15 delivers impressive gaming performance in an attractive, eye-catching chassis. The laptop also offers great sound for games and music, and one of the most comfortable keyboards I've used this year. But if that doesn't do it for you, 7-plus hours of battery life should; this is easily one of the longest-lasting gaming systems on the market. However, I'd recommend spending more on the brighter and sharper ultra-HD screen to make the most of your gaming experience.

If you want a better display; faster SSDs; and a brighter, customizable keyboard in a more subdued chassis, I'd recommend the $1,999 Razer Blade. But for gamers looking to add a bit more flair to their fragging, the Alienware 15 is the way to go.

Editor's Choice
  • Pros /

    Great graphics performance; Excellent audio quality; Incredibly comfortable keyboard; Highly customizable; Impressive battery life

  • Cons /

    Dim, lackluster display; Bottom runs hot; Heavier and thicker than competing systems

  • Verdict /

    The Alienware 15 offers excellent gaming performance and over 7 hours of battery life in a thick but manageable chassis.

CPU 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor
Operating System Windows 10 Home
RAM 16GB
RAM Upgradable to 32GB
Hard Drive Size 256GB
Hard Drive Type PCIe SSD
Secondary Hard Drive Size 1TB
Secondary Hard Drive Speed 7200
Secondary Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 15.6
Native Resolution 1920x1080
Optical Drive None
Optical Drive Speed n/a
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M/Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU
Video Memory 3GB
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Wi-Fi Model Killer Wireless-n/a/ac 1535 Wireless Network Adapter
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.1
Touchpad Size 3.8 x 2.1 inches
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headset
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) USB Type-C
Ports (excluding USB) Gigabit Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.0
Ports (excluding USB) Proprietary
Ports (excluding USB) Noble Lock
USB Ports 4
Card Slots 3-1 card reader
Warranty/Support 1-year premium support
Size 15.2 x 10.6 x 0.9~1.3 inches
Weight 7.1 pounds
Company Website www.alienware.com