Alienware 15 R4 Review
This year saw the release of new laptop gaming CPUs that finally increased the core count to 6 with 12 threads using hyperthreading.
Dell was one of the first companies to announce the chips across their range which went from the high-end consumer XPS 15 to the new affordable Dell G line and finally the high-end gaming laptops from Alienware.
Alienware has always been at the forefront of the gaming laptop market, and the Alienware 15 is the model that offers the best balance between portability and power.
With Alienware being the premium gaming brand from Dell, things are not exactly cheaper, with the 15 starting at £1,348.99 for the i5-8300H and GTX 1060 OC model. This range tops out with the 8th Generation Intel® Core™ i9-8950HK with an NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1070 OC with 8GB GDDR5 costing a princely £2,049.00.
The model I was loaned for the review is the top model, and the full specification includes:
- 8th Generation Intel(R) Core(TM) i9-8950HK (6-Core, 12MB Cache, Overclocking up to 5.0GHz)
- 16GB, 2x8GB, DDR4, 2666MHz
- 256GB PCIe Solid State Drive
- 1TB 7200RPM HDD
- 6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) 60Hz IPS Display NVIDIA G-SYNC Enabled
- NVIDIA(R) GeForce(R) GTX 1070 with 8GB GDDR5
- Killer 1550 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi and Bluetooth 5.0
- Windows 10 Home 64bit English
- 240W AC Adapter
Checking the Dell website indicates this has had a couple of upgrades from the base spec (of the top model). There is an additional 8GB RAM, and the drive is the 256GB M.2 2280 PCIe Solid State Drive. This adds £178 to the price leaving a final price of £2,227.01 including VAT and delivery.
So not exactly a cheap laptop, but this is about the best-specced laptop on the market in the 15-inch category. Looking for alternative options online there is not a single laptop other than the Alienware that uses the i9-8950HK which is overclockable to 5.0GHz.
Design and Build
The impressive specification is made a little more understandable when you see the laptop and feel its weight. The dimensions are 25.4mm (1.0″) x Width: 389mm (15.3″) x Depth: 305mm (12.0″) with a total weight of 3.49Kg (7.69lbs). In comparison the similarly priced but lower specced Gigabyte AERO 15X measures 18.9 x 356.4 x 250 mm while weighing 2.0 kg. So Dell has quite a bit more room and weight to fit that hot power hungry chip in and the cooling system for it.
This, therefore, means that it is not that portable and should be treated more like a desktop replacement. It is comfortable to use on your lap and is okay to carry around short distances, but I certainly would not use this for my daily commute or travelling.
Adding to the weight is the massive power brick you get, I think it is the largest I have ever seen, but it is the most powerful laptop I have reviewed so understandable.
The overall build quality feels excellent, as you would expect for a laptop at this price. The materials used for the chassis are aluminium and a magnesium alloy which give a far superior feel to the plastic used on many laptops.
It sizes allows them to fit plenty or ports in with the following available:
- 1 RJ-45 Killer Networks e2400 Gigabit Ethernet Port
- 1 Type-A SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Port
- 1 Type-A SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Port with PowerShare technology
- 1 Type-C SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Port
- 1 Thunderbolt™ 3 Port (USB Type-C™ with support for SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps, 40Gbps Thunderbolt, and DisplayPort)
- 1 Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port
- 1 HDMI 2.0 Output
- 1 Mini-Display Port 1.2 (certified) Output
- 1 Audio Out 1/8″ Ports (Compatible with inline mic headset)
- 1 Headphone 1/8″ Port (retaskable for Microphone/Line-In analogue audio input)
So, you can really use this as a desktop replacement with the option to hook up multiple monitors via the thunderbolt or HDMI ports. Then if the GTX 1070 isn’t powerful enough for you, you can bump the power when at your desk via the optional Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port.
After reviewing several XPS models and some monitors using Dells InfinityEdge technology, it is a little disappointing when you open the lid to be greeted with absolutely huge bezels. Due to the size of the rest of the laptop, these bezels are unavoidable, but it does give a bit of a retro look to it.
The display itself is good, my model only ran 1920 x 1080 at 60Hz but it has Gsync enabled. So, while it isn’t the highest resolution in the world, it will help games run smoothly. You can optionally go for a 4K screen, or alternatively, they do a 120 Hz TN G-Sync option which will appeal to many gamers.
In general, the IPS based display performed well for me, it has a good level of brightness with vibrant colours. Response times felt good in gaming, but I am a long way off a professional FPS gamer, I prefer gamers like XCOM and Civilisation.
When you switch the laptop on, everything lights up, in true gamer style. There is a backlit keyboard, logo, and power button. The trackpad also lights up similar to the XPS 13, again with that strange light bleed around the left and right buttons. Then on the sides, you get more lighting and finally the logo on the lid lights up. While it is over the top, it is design for a specific market, and the end product does look good.
This laptop skips the popular chicklet style keyboard going for closely arranged keys. It is a standard layout without a number pad, but there are an additional set of 5 macro keys and a further macro switch button giving you 15 options. Typing and gaming on the laptop is excellent, I used it for a full day in the office and it was quite comfortable to use. It is better than the typing experience of ultra-portables but obviously won’t compete with a proper keyboard.
Similarly, the touchpad is excellent, it’s not the largest I have used, but it is a decent size with proper clicky buttons. It is quite sensitive compared to some touchpads I have used, but this will help with gaming.
The fat frame of the Alienware does mean it is quite easy to open up and upgrade. You can easily upgrade the RAM, PCIE SSD and the 2.5-inch drive, so you could potentially save some money by under-speccing it and doing an upgrade yourself.
All the lighting is customisable via software pre-installed on the laptop, it is full RGB so you can have almost any colour combination you can think of. Again, it is over the top, but this is what a lot of gamers want, and the Alienware delivers.
As well as controlling the lighting there are various other settings all under the Command Centre. The AlienFX is used to control the lighting, and then you get AlienFusion (power-saving plans) and AlienTactX (configuration of the macro keys) and then AlienAdrenaline, which checks the status of the Graphics Amplifier.
As with all Dell models I have reviewed recently you get McAfee pre-installed which will then try to install its extension into Chrome too.
I don’t have any other gaming laptop reviews of my own to compare this too, but as you would expect for a 6-core CPU with a GTX 1070 GPU, this thing can handle everything you throw at it with ease. There is nothing it can’t handle for day to day use, and nothing I did taxed it at all.
The combination of a PCIE SSD and mechanical HD means you can boot up apps instantly while still having room for lots of media. At 256GB the SSD will fill up quickly though, so big games will need to be stored on the mechanical drive. If I were to buy this laptop myself, I would be tempted to swap out the HDD for a cheap 500GB+ SSD at some point.
The hardware inside this laptop will have been benchmarked extensively by bigger more specialist websites, but for the sake of the review I did some basic benchmarks
With this laptop, the most crucial thing is gaming performance. While this can’t keep up with a high-end desktop, it can handle everything you would want to play with ease, especially with the 1920×1080/60Hz display option.
I played a few games such as Far Cry 5, XCOM, Deus Ex, The Witcher 3 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. All of these played on Ultra without issue and all hitting 60FPS+ for a large percentage of the time. The card may struggle to keep up if you went with the 4K option, but you would likely benefit with the 120 Hz TN G-Sync option, allowing you to make the most of the high FPS this machine is capable of.
After reviewing lots of ultra-portables, one thing I noticed, after its weight, was the fan noise. This thing is loud, the fans spin up as soon as you use it, and anything that taxes the CPU/GPU causes it to become very loud. While watching TV and running benchmarks, the fan noise was audible and distracting over the TV. It is not something I can criticise though; you can’t have this much power and a fanless system.
For such a powerful laptop I was pleasantly surprised with the battery life. During my day in the office, it lasted a good portion of the day before I started to get anxious about needed to charge it. If you are mad enough to take this on a commute it should last most journeys or flights without issue (if you don’t game). While gaming, things are obviously a little different, and you would want to be close to a plug in this case. I did some light gaming on it while on the battery and after a couple of hours the battery was starting to look very low.
Overall, this is a beast of a laptop, and if you are wanting a laptop that can replace a gaming PC, then this is going to be one of the best options out there.
Pricing is decent too it seems to be quite comparable to all other options on the market. It is hard to find a like for like comparison as this is the only laptop I can find with the 8950HK, but this seems to fall in the middle of the pricing even though it has a better CPU.
The downside is that it is easily the heaviest 15-inch laptop on the market from all the options I have checked and this is something you should consider before buying.
If you want a desktop replacement, this will make a superb choice.
Alienware 15 R4 Review