Laptop Mag Verdict
The Alienware 15 has a sophisticated new look and powerful specs, but it gets a little too hot for comfort.
Bright, colorful display
Strong graphics and overall performance
Above-average battery life
Gets hot during gaming and regular tasks
Lacks Nvidia G-Sync technology
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Say hello to a sleeker, more sophisticated Alienware 15 (starting at $1,299.99, reviewed at $1,649). Like its bigger brother, the Alienware 17, the 15 has undergone a color change and lost a little girth in the process. But never fear, you still get all of the usual Alienware goodies, including customizable LED lighting. In addition to its new, intergalactic look, this beauty packs some beastly power in the form of an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 processor and an overclocked Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics card. While it gets a bit hot and lacks a G-Sync display, the Alienware 15 remains one of the best gaming laptops you can buy in this price range.
A blackout never looked so good. Alienware has thrown another color into the mix, swapping out the Epic Silver paint job on the anodized-aluminum lid for the optional Epic Black. The company also added more lighting zones to the laptop, for a grand total of 13. However, similar to what you found on the Alienware 15's predecessor, the only lighting you'll find on the lid comes from the large alien head in the center. The rest of the customizable light show can be found along sides of the lid and keyboard deck.
The laptop interior serves up even more lighting by way of the keyboard, the touchpad, the Alienware logo inscribed on the bottom bezel and the alien head serving as the power button. The rest of the keyboard deck is swaddled in delectable, black soft-finish.
The Alienware 15 is still the heavyweight on the block, thanks to its 7.8-pound, 15.3 x 12 x 1-inch frame. The PowerSpec 1510 (15.3 x 10.8 x 1.3 inches) isn't too far behind, at 6.5 pounds, while the Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (15.1 x 10.3 x 0.7~0.8 inches) weighs in at 5.5 pounds. The MSI GS65 Stealth Thin (14.1 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches) and Razer Blade (14 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches) are on the lower end of the scale, at 4.1 and 4.6 pounds, respectively.
As is customary for most gaming laptops, the Alienware 15's cup overfloweth when it comes to ports, with the majority residing in the back.
The Alienware 15's 1920 x 1080 matte panel delivers vivid color and plenty of brightness. When I watched the "Night Comes On" trailer, a Muslim woman's magenta dress and matching head scarf took flight in the wind, offering up a beautiful contrast to the red-brick church with its light-blue doors. Detail was sharp enough that I could make out the delicate curl pattern in actress Dominique Fishback's jet-black hair as well as the chips and scrapes on her submachine gun.
The screen also looks great when you're gaming. I got buttery-smooth frame rates as I hunted down a goat while fending off a pack of wolves in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I was enthralled by the red-orange blast of flame I launched into the center of the attacking animals, singeing fur and leaving them open to a sword attack. As pretty as the action looked, I wish the panel had Nvidia's G-Sync technology. Syncing the display refresh rate to the GPU makes for an even smoother render.
The Alienware 15's display can produce 119 percent of the sRGB color gamut, a score that falls below the premium gaming laptop average of 132 percent. However, the Alienware 15 did better than the Razer Blade, PowerSpec 1510 and Zephyrus, which got 112 percent, 113 percent and 120 percent, respectively. The Stealth Thin proved to be the most colorful, at 150 percent.
While the Alienware 15's display isn't the most vivid, it's definitely the brightest among the competition, at 311 nits. It handily beat the 281-nit average. The PowerSpec 1510 was a close second, at 306 nits, while the Stealth Thin, Zephyrus and Blade posted 293 nits, 286 nits and 260 nits, respectively.
The Alienware 15's front-firing speakers are loud, capable of filling my medium-size conference room. When I listened to The Internet's slow jam "Girl," the speakers produced deep bass, with crisp percussion and clean keyboards accompanied by lead singer Syd's seductive soprano. However, there was a bit of distortion in the highs at maximum volume.
The speakers gave a better performance when I played Witcher 3. The lively violin was the star of the show when I battled a nest of ravenous nekkers. Geralt's grunts and the nekkers' beastly screeches filled the air, mixing with the tambourine and sharp claps for a symphony of destruction that was music to my ears.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Using the Alienware 15's keyboard is like typing on a bunch of tiny trampolines. The keys have a travel of 2 millimeters with an actuation force of 78 grams. That's well beyond our 1.5mm, 60g minimum. With all that bounciness, I hit 80 words per minute on the 10FastFingers test, which is considerably faster than my usual 70 wpm.
The 3.9 x 2.1-inch touchpad had plenty of room for my rather spindly fingers to perform multitouch gestures, such as pinch to zoom, three-finger press and flick. Alienware is one of the few companies that still uses discrete mouse buttons, which are almost as springy as the keys.
Alienware Command Center
For the past seven years, the Alienware Command Center has been your one-stop shop for customizing the lighting on your keyboard and LEDs, programming macros, setting power-management plans, and creating desktop shortcuts. It still does that and so much more, all with a clean, easy-to-navigate interface.
Two of the first changes you'll notice in Command Center are that you can access all your games from the Home tab along with performance settings for the laptop and that you can switch the software's background from light to dark. You can also swap out the Active System Theme, the new term for your customized lighting profile from Home. If you're looking to get more granular, you'll want to explore the other tabs, starting with Library.
The Library section of Command Center has some clear influences from Nvidia's GeForce Experience. Similar to Nvidia's software, Library aggregated all of my games, no matter if they were Steam titles, GOG or Windows. That eliminated the hassle of having to track down my games, allowing me to access and launch everything from one prime location.
Looking to squeeze out more performance from your processor and graphics card? The Fusion tab lets you overclock both components by just adjusting a slider. And Alienware was kind enough to include a test feature to ensure your new clock speeds are stable.
Of course, you can still customize all the zones and the keyboard lighting with Command Center by way of the FX tab. However, by combining the extra zones with the 16.8-million-color palette and 12 effects, Alienware claims you can create up to 80 quadrillion combinations. After creating your custom theme, you can go to the Home or Library sections and assign that theme (as well as performance settings) to launch with individually selected games.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
Never let it be said that the Alienware 15 suffers from middle child syndrome, especially not when it's packing an overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM. During a romp around Velen in Witcher 3, I ran afoul of a giant bear. I employed a fairly successful battle strategy of dodges, sword strikes and fire spells at 64 frames per second on Ultra settings at 1920 x 1080.
The laptop was just as dynamic on our other benchmarks; on Rise of the Tomb Raider, the Alienware 15 delivered 72 frames per second on Very High at 1080p, handily defeating the 58-fps premium gaming laptop average. With their respective Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q GPUs, the Stealth Thin and Zephyrus scored 44 and 53 fps. The PowerSpec 1510 and its full GTX 1070 GPU got 56. However, the Blade, with its own 1070 Max-Q graphics card, managed 77 fps.
When we switched to the Hitman benchmark, the Alienware 15 achieved 92 fps, shattering the 86-fps category average. The Zephyrus was a close second, at 88 fps, with the Blade, Stealth Thin and PowerSpec 1510 obtaining 82 fps, 79 fps and 60 fps, respectively.
During the Grand Theft Auto V test, the Alienware 15 obtained 74 fps, which was a couple of frames short of the 76-fps average. Still, it was enough to top the Zephyrus (70 fps), Blade (66 fps), Stealth Thin (61 fps) and PowerSpec 1510 (60 fps).
The Alienware 15 barely missed the 84-fps average in the Middle-Earth: Shadow of War benchmark, with a frame rate of 82 fps. However, that was more than enough to topple the Blade's score of 68 fps.
Feel free to put on whatever virtual reality headset you have available, because the Alienware 15 easily maxed out the Steam VR test at 11, matching the PowerSpec 1510 and beating the 10.2 average. The Zephyrus, Blade and Stealth Thin weren't too far behind with scores of 10.9, 10 and 9, respectively.
Watching an episode of Luke Cage Season 2 on Netflix, while running a full-system scan in Windows Defender with at least 18 other tabs open in Google Chrome? I did that and more on the Alienware 15, and it barely broke a sweat. Thanks to its 2.1-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H processor with 16GB of RAM, the system is a multitasking monster on a par with its peers.
The laptop notched 17,109 on the Geekbench 4.1 overall performance test, which is short of the 20,031 average for premium gaming laptops. Armed with their own Core i7-8750H CPUs, the Zephyrus, Blade and Stealth Thin hit 21,735; 20,256; and 18,046, respectively. Keep in mind that the competing rigs run at higher clock speeds.
When we ran the HandBrake test, the Alienware 15 converted a 4K video into 1080p in 10 minutes and 28 seconds, beating the Blade (11:46), Stealth Thin (12:01) and PowerSpec 1510 (14:00). The Alienware's score is good, but not good enough to beat the Zephyrus' mark (9:43) or the category average (10:17).
The Alienware 15's 256GB PCIe m.2 SSD duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 23 seconds, for a file-transfer speed of 221 megabytes per second. That's better than the 193.3 MBps that the Stealth Thin's 512GB m.2 SSD scored. However, it wasn't enough to match the 472.8-MBps average, the Zephryus' 509 MBps (256GB NVMe SSD), the Blade's 424 MBps (512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD) or the PowerSpec 1510's 391.5 MBps (256GB NVMe SSD).
The Alienware 15 paired up 65,000 names and addresses in 50 seconds on the Excel test, a time that's longer than the 0:44 average. It's faster than the Stealth Thin's and PowerSpec 1510's times of 0:54 and 1:04. The Blade and Zephyrus completed the task in 0:40 and 0:35, respectively.
The Alienware 15 lasted 5 hours and 15 minutes on our battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. That was enough to beat the 3:40 average for premium gaming laptops and the Zephyrus' time of 2:47. The Stealth Thin and the Blade outlasted the Alienware 15, with times of 5:40 and 5:54.
I spent 15 minutes hunting for a goat in Witcher 3 and killing murderous nekkers. After that, I measured the touchpad, middle of the keyboard and undercarriage of the system, and got temperatures of 74 degrees, 97 degrees and 129 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. The touchpad temperature is within our 95-degree comfort threshold, but the bottom was particularly toasty.
When the system cooled down, we ran a full-screen HD video for 15 minutes and then remeasured the key points of the laptop. The touchpad measured 86 degrees, while the center of the keyboard and the bottom measured a rather warm 102 and 113 degrees.
The Alienware 15's integrated webcam captures stills and video that are pretty color-accurate. My bright red shirt popped under the fluorescent lighting in the office. There's definitely some graininess, but not enough to conceal the various peaks and valleys in the white spray-foam ceiling.
Tobii EyeX Lite
Similar to the previous model, the Alienware 15 includes Tobii's eye-tracking technology, albeit in a limited capacity. Dubbed Tobii EyeX Lite, the technology relies on the IR tech in the webcam to control certain functions. However, without the integrated sensors that you find on the larger Alienware 17, you won't have the ability to control your video games with your eyes.
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But you can put your system to 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. The camera can also be used to unlock the laptop via Windows Hello. Setting up the facial recognition service is pretty simple; 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
If it weren't for Windows 10, there wouldn't be a hint of bloatware on the Alienware 15. But alas, there's plenty to be found on the system, including Drawboard PDF, March of Empires, Candy Crush Soda Saga and Disney Magic Kingdoms. Dolby Access, which enhances your audio experience via your headphones, is also preinstalled, along with McAfee Security and McAfee WebAdvisor.
Alienware-branded software includes Digital Delivery to ensure your software is up to date. SupportAssist keeps an eye on laptop diagnostics and lets you tune performance, optimize your network and check for viruses, all at the touch of a button. The Docking Accessory apps ensure a fast connection between the laptop and any compatible docking stations, while Mobile Connect lets you interact with your smartphone via your PC.
In addition to Alienware Command Center, the Alienware 15 features Nvidia GeForce Experience with its gamer-centric software suite, including BatteryBoost and Game Optimization. There's also Killer Control Center, which lets you prioritize network bandwidth as well as test its speed and strength.
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The Alienware 15 R4 ships with a one-year hardware-service warranty with on-site and in-home service after remote diagnosis. See how Alienware fared on our Tech Support Showdown, Best and Worst Brands list and Best and Worst Gaming Brands ranking.
I defeated scores of werewolves, drowners and noonwraiths on the $1,649.99 configuration of the Alienware 15, which has a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H processor with 16GB of VRAM, a 256GB PCIe M.2 SSD with a 1TB and 7,200-rpm HDD, an Intel HD 630 Graphics GPU with an overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU and 8GB of VRAM, and a 1920 x 1080 display with a 60Hz refresh rate.
The $1,299.99 model scales down some of that power, with a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-8300H CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB and 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD 630 Graphics GPU with an overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU and 6GB of VRAM, and a 1920 x 1080 display with a 60Hz refresh rate.
For $2,599.99, you can get the top-of-the-line version, which has an overclockable 2.9-GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK GPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe M.2 SSD with a 1TB and 7,200-rpm HDD, an Intel HD 630 Graphics GPU with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU and 8GB of VRAM, and a 1920 x 1080 Nvidia G-Sync display with a 60Hz refresh rate.
It's hard to find much wrong with the Alienware 15. For $1,899.99, you get a 15-inch system with a mighty Intel Core i7 CPU and an overclocked Nvidia GTX 1070, as well as a comfortable keyboard, lovely display and almost 6 hours of battery life.
However, for the money, it would have been nice to get Nvidia's G-Sync technology and a faster SSD. The cooling could also be better. If you're looking for a slimmer system with comparable power and longer battery life, you'll want to check out the $1,899.99 MSI Stealth Thin. But if you're seeking a gaming rig that's as much fun to look at as it is to play on, there's no substitute for the Alienware 15.
Credit: Laptop Mag
Alienware 15 R4 Specs
|CPU||2.1-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H processor|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070/Intel HD Graphics 630|
|Hard Drive Size||256GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||PCIe m.2 SSD|
|Highest Available Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|
|Optical Drive Speed||n/a|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI 2.0, Headset, USB Type-C, Microphone, USB 3.1 Gen 1, Mini Display Port, Alienware Graphics Amplifier, Noble Lock, Thunderbolt 3, Ethernet|
|RAM Upgradable to||32GB|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size||1TB|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed||7200|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type||HDD|
|Size||15.3 x 12 x 1 inches|
|Touchpad Size||3.9 x 2.1 inches|
|Warranty/Support||1 Year Hardware Service with Onsite/In-Home Service After Remote Diagnosis|
|Wi-Fi Model||Killer 1435 802.11ac 2x2|
Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for Laptopmag.com since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.