Alienware's been undergoing a reinvention of sorts, releasing laptops that have a decidedly more mature design. The 15-inch (starting at $1,199, reviewed at $2,299) is the latest in the line to undergo this evolution, and the result is a space cruiser that's damned sexy. But the Alienware 15 is more than a fancy redesign. It's also packing Intel's powerful new overclockable 7th-generation processors, which, when paired with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1070 GPU, makes for a system that can handle multitasking, gaming and VR with minimal effort.
And if that wasn't enough, Alienware has teamed with Tobii to bring its eye-tracking technology into the mix for a seamless new way to interact with your laptop. However, short battery life keeps the Alienware 15 from Editor's Choice status.
Say hello to the sleeker, more sophisticated Alienware 15. Like its smaller brethren, the Alienware 13, the 15 has undergone a major design revamp that removes all the lighting from the Epic Silver anodized aluminum lid, save for the trademark alien's head in the center. But never fear, Alienware hasn't eliminated the beloved LED lighting. It simply migrated to the sides of the lid for a more cultivated look. In order to accommodate all of the specs and ports, the laptop has developed a small protruding caboose made from black magnesium alloy, which matches the top of the lid.
Opening the notebook reveals the keyboard and touchpad marooned in a sea of black soft-touch material that offers a luxurious feel. You'll find the glowing alien head power button residing in the center of a glossy black bar above the keyboard. The matte display is surrounded by a rather thick bezel accentuated by an Alienware logo illuminated with customizable LED backlighting.
There are a good number of ports along the sides of the Alienware 15 accentuated by a glowing LED strip. On the right sits a lone USB 3.0 port, with another USB 3.0 port on the left along with a USB Type-C port, jacks for a microphone and headset, and a Noble Lock slot. Along the rear, you'll find a Thunderbolt 3 port, a full HDMI 2.0 port, a mini DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet, a proprietary port for the Graphics Amplifier and the DC power jack.
Weighing 7.4 pounds, the Alienware 15 (15.3 x 12 x 1 inches) is lighter than the 8.2-pound Acer Predator 15 (15.4 x 11.8 1.5 inches) and the 10-pound, 16.4 x 12.7 x 1.9-inch Asus ROG G752VS OC Edition. The MSI GT62VR 6RE Dominator Pro is a bit more portable at 6.4 pounds, but at 15.4 x 10.5. X 1.6 inches, it's also noticeably thicker. The Razer Blade, with its 13.6 x 9.3 x 0.7-inch frame, weighs 4.2 pounds.
Alienware continues its streak of pretty displays with the latest iteration of the 15. The 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution panel is a font of rich color and crisp detail. Watching the 1080p trailer for Kiki, I marveled at how clearly I could see the delicate fronds of the peacock feathers adorning some of the dancers. The azure, emerald and gold feathers were almost as bold as their wearers' personalities.
Exploring the worlds of Mass Effect: Andromeda was a constant exercise in picking my jaw off the floor. Details were sharp enough that I could see blue-white lightning bolts cut jagged paths along the sky until they met the steel-gray earth, leaving a smoking black crater. When I happened upon an uncorrupted piece of earth, I was taken in by the vivid-green alien plant, caught in a near angelic golden ray of light.
Those bold hues are due to the panel's color gamut, which measured an excellent 117 percent of the sRGB scale. It's much better than the 94 percent mainstream average. The Blade, the G752VS, the Predator 15 and the Dominator Pro weren't too far behind at 114, 112,110 and 106 percent, respectively.
With a score of 0.3 on the Delta-E test (0 is ideal), the Alienware 15's display is plenty accurate. It was enough to top the 2.6 category average, the Blade's 2.4, the G752VS' 2.1, the Predator 15's 1.4 and the Dominator Pro's 0.7.
When we measured for brightness, the Alienware 15's panel averaged a gleaming 374 nits, which outshined everything except the G752VS, which delivered an incredible 476 nits.
The Alienware 15's display has Nvidia's G-Sync technology, which allows the display to sync directly with the graphics card for the smoothest performance possible. On the less expensive models of the Alienware 15, the G-Sync display is capped at 60 Hz, but my model offers double the refresh-rate speed at 120 Hz. In my experience, most games ran well on the Alienware regardless of whether G-Sync was enabled or not. However, the image looked a lot smoother with G-Sync enabled.
You could use a headset to game on the Alienware 15, but then you'd be missing out on the rich, balanced audio from the front-firing speakers. The laptop filled my medium-size testing space with Bruno Mars' smooth tenor as I played "That's What I Like." The bass was deep, but not overpowering, allowing for the fullness of the keyboard and the crisp drums to shine through.
Using the Alienware Sound Center software, I found that the Music setting was optimal for listening to Spotify or Vevo. But when I started playing Mass Effect, I went with the Shooter preset over Role Play, as it made for weightier blasts and booms when I engaged the enemy in combat.
There are four additional presets you can choose from, although the majority are tuned with specific gaming genres in mind. Similar to MSI's Nahemic 2 software, Sound Center has Audio Launchpad, which lets you map audio samples to your keyboard or gamepad that can be triggered while streaming. There's also Audio Recon, which amplifies enemy footsteps so they'll never get the drop on you.
Keyboard and TouchPad
While the Alienware 15's traditional keyboard doesn't deliver the loud click-clack that I love on mechanical keyboards, it definitely delivers comparable feedback, thanks to the steel-reinforced keys. We measured key travel at 2 millimeters (1.5-2 mm is optimal) and the actuation -- the force needed to depress the keys -- was 78 grams (60 grams is the minimum). Those measurements allowed me to hit 70 words per minute on the 10fastfingers typing test, which is well above my 60 wpm norm.
As always, Alienware offers a customizable LED backlit keyboard that's simply a sight to behold. Able to reproduce up to 16.8 million colors, depending on your creativity, you can transform the system into a captivating, pulsating jewel-toned masterpiece.
The 3.8 x 2.1-inch touchpad looks small, but I had plenty of room to execute two-finger scroll, pinch-zoom, three-finger swipe and other multitouch gestures. Best of all, like all Alienware laptops, the pad lights up with every gentle caress. The pair of discrete mouse buttons offered springy feedback.
Alienware Command Center
Alienware's proprietary settings suite has been streamlined to four apps. There's AlienFX, which lets you create custom backlighting profiles for your system, while TactX allows you to map commands to the macro keys. You can tweak the power settings with Alien Fusion, while AlienAdrenaline allows you to create custom shortcuts, monitor performance and adjust the Graphics Amplifier, if you have one handy.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
The middle child in Nvidia's Pascal GPU lineup, the GeForce GTX 1070 with 8GB of VRAM can handle just about anything you throw at it. I jumped into a game of Robo Recall on the Oculus Rift, for a robo-smashing good time. The game ran smoothly, despite my frenetic teleporting around the board, which allowed me to pluck a copper-colored bullet from the air and chuck it at an oncoming robot, causing a slew of sparks and smoke to stream from the new hole in its chest.
When we ran the SteamVR performance test, the Alienware 15 got 11, which is the top score for this test. That was more than enough to sail past the mainstream average of 6. Outfitted with GTX 1060 GPUs, the Predator 15 and the Blade both got a score of 6. The G752VS and Dominator Pro achieved 10.4 and 10.1, respectively, thanks to their GTX 1070 GPUs.
The Alienware 15 can also deliver some smoking frame rates -- with or without G-Sync enabled. When I played Mass Effect: Andromeda with the feature off at 1080p on Ultra, the laptop delivered an average of 57 fps. That's well above our 30-fps playability threshold. When I dropped the settings to High, the frame rate jumped to 62 fps, and 68 fps when I lowered it even further to Medium.
As far as traditional gaming benchmarks are concerned, the Alienware 15 is on a par with the competition. On the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark (1920 x 1080 on Very High) for example, the Alienware notched 52 fps, while the Dominator Pro and the G752VS achieved 51 fps and 55 fps. They easily beat the 33-fps category average. The Blade delivered 43 fps, while the Predator 15 barely cleared the hurdle at 34 fps.
During the Hitman test, the Alienware 15 hit an impressive 98 fps, soundly beating the 56fps average. The Dominator Pro and the G752VS weren't too far behind, with 94 and 91 fps. The Blade and Predator 15 got a respectable 60 fps and 57 fps each.
The Alienware 15 produced a solid 68 fps on the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark, coasting past the 48 fps mainstream average. That was enough to beat most of the competition except the G752VS, which notched a great 73 fps.
When we ran Metro: Last Light, which is one of our tougher tests, the Alienware achieved 68 fps, trouncing the 48fps average while matching the G752VS and the Dominator Pro. The Predator 15 was the surprise winner, however, with 69 fps, while the Blade delivered a solid 43 fps.
On those occasions when you're not saving the world or exploring a virtual one, the Alienware 15 switches over to its integrated Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU for less intensive tasks.
Skylake was so last year. The new hotness is Intel's Kaby Lake processors, which offer better performance and power efficiency. The Alienware is rocking a 7th-generation Intel Core i7-7820HK processor with 8GB of RAM. It's overclockable, which means it has plenty of gas in the tank to handle all your multitasking demands.
For example, I streamed Dave Chappelle's latest stand-up special on Netflix while running a full system scan in Windows Defender with 17 open tabs in Google Chrome with no discernable latency. In fact, I encountered lag only when I launched Mass Effect: Andromeda in another window.
The Alienware 15 held its own on our synthetic tests, hitting 14,932 on Geekbench 3, which tests overall performance. It was more than enough to top the 11,377 mainstream average along with the G752VS (Intel Core i7-7820HK CPU), the Blade (Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU) and the Predator 15 (Intel Core i7-6700HQ CPU). They obtained 14,717,13,682 and 12,888, respectively.
During the File Transfer test (copying 4.97GB of mixed-media files from an external hard drive), the Alienware 15's 512GB PCIe SSD (and a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive) took 17 seconds to complete the test, which translates into 299.3 megabytes per second. It was definitely faster than the 177.9, as well as the Blade's (256GB PCIe SSD) 203 MBps and the Predator 15's (256GB SSD) 145.4 MBps. However, the G752VS (256GB SSD) and the Dominator Pro (256GB PCIe m.s SSD) scorched the competition with 727 and 628.6 MBps, respectively.
The Alienware 15 saw a small measure of redemption on the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, taking only 3 minutes and 17 seconds to pair 20,000 names and addresses, smoking the 4:13 average along with most of the competition. However, the G752VS clocked in with a lightning-fast 2:51.
Overclocked specs, a G-Sync display and a powerful Nvidia GPU? At some point, the Alienware 15 had to pay the piper, and in this case, the toll is exacted on the battery life. The laptop lasted only 3 hours and 25 minutes on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi), which is far below the 6:57 mainstream average. It's better than the Dominator Pro's time of 3:18, but not the G752VS and the Predator 15 ,which lasted 3:53 and 4 hours. But the Blade was the last system running, with a time of 7:45.
Wewatched a few HD YouTube videos over the course of a 15-minute span and measured key points on the laptop. The touchpad registered a cool 81 degrees Fahrenheit while the space between the G and H keys hit a warm 94 degrees. The bottom of the notebook reached 92 degrees, slightly below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The integrated 720p webcam can take a decent shot, provided you're in a well-lit spot. My test photos accurately captured my forest green and black dress with sharp-enough detail to make out the slightly floral pattern. I could also read some of the lettering on the poster in the background.
Heeere's Tobii! The eye-tracking software has made its way into the Alienware 15 in limited capacity via Tobii EyeX Lite. Without the integrated sensors you find on the larger Alienware 17, you won't have the ability to control your video games with your eyes. You can, however, put your system into sleep, shut off the lighting or dim the screen with a simple look. The IR sensor mounted in the webcam module keeps track of your gaze and executes commands accordingly.
As fun as playing peek-a-boo with your laptop can be, the camera can also be used to unlock the laptop via Windows Hello. Setting up the facial recognition service is pretty simple, just create a password and pin first. From there, simply hit the Set Up button under Face Recognition in the settings menu and let the IR presence-detection camera scan your face, and you're good to go.
Software and Warranty
Alienware typically keeps the unwanted software to a minimum. Outside of the typical Windows 10 suite, the only third-party apps on the Alienware 15 are Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, Royal Revolt 2, Asphalt 8: Airborne, Candy Crush Soda Saga and Drawboard PDF.
There is some useful, gamer-centric software pre-loaded onto the laptop, such as Nvidia's GeForce Experience, which consists of several game-optimization apps, including Battery Boost and GameStream for streaming games to your Nvidia Shield. There's also the Share feature, which allows you to record or broadcast your gaming exploits. To ensure your games are running on the fastest network possible, the notebook also has Killer Network Manager.
The Alienware 13 comes with one year of Premium support, which includes 24/7 access to Alienware's support techs, in-game repairs and troubleshooting.
I had loads of fun reviewing the $2,299 model of the Alienware, which has an overclockable 7th-generation Intel Core i7-7820HK processor with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB M.2 SSD with a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM and a 1080p Nvidia G-Sync 120Hz panel.
If you're on a budget, the $1,499 version of the system offers a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU with 8GB of RAM, a 128GB M.2 SATA SSD with a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM and a 1080p Nvidia G-Sync 60Hz panel.
The $1,199 base model features a 3.5-GHz Intel Core i5-7300HQ CPU with 8GB of RAM, 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU with 2GB of VRAM and a 1080p Nvidia G-Sync 60Hz display.
The top-of-the-line $2,549 model has an overclockable 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7820HK CPU, a 512GB PCIe SSD with a 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM and a 1080p Nvidia G-Sync 120Hz panel.
The lower-tier configurations of the Alienware 15 are outfitted with a 68 watt-hour battery -- a rather meager spec compared with the 99 wH battery found in the more expensive models of the system.
If you want power and performance without putting too big a dent in your wallet, I highly recommend the $1,799 model, which has the larger battery as well as a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM, a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU with 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD with a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive and a 1080p Nvidia G-Sync 60Hz display.
There's a lot to like on the Alienware 15. For $2,299, you get a modern take on the interstellar theme that's sleek and sophisticated, with a comfortable keyboard, excellent sound, strong gaming performance and a lovely G-Sync-enabled display. The Tobii software adds a fun, but useful eye-controlled functionality for more seamless productivity, even if it's not for playing games. For the full Tobii treatment, you'll want to step up to the Alienware 17.
But the Alienware 15 is more than its eye-tracker. Thanks to some rather robust hardware, including an overclockable Core i7 processor, Nvidia GTX 1070 GTX and a G-Sync display, the laptop serves up buttery-smooth frame rates whether you're playing traditional or VR games.
The system does stumble a bit when it comes to battery life, and if endurance is important to you, the $1,899 Razer Blade might be a better fit. It's also more portable than the 7.4 pound 15-inch Alienware. If you want something with a faster SSD, consider the $1,999 MSI GT62VR Dominator Pro. But, if you want a fairly portable 15-inch system with all the bells and whistles, the Alienware 15 is a great choice.