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Alienware 15

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star

What's Hot: Slimmer and lighter and less expensive with the same superb gaming performance and great keyboard you'd expect from the Alien head. Very good battery life for a large and powerful gaming laptop.

What's Not: Upgradable CPU and GPU is a thing of the past, no optical drive. Bottom gets toasty when gaming.


Reviewed August 15, 2015 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Alienware 15

What's the world coming to when I get to say that Alienware gaming laptops are a good value? Oh yes--they've slimmed down and lost weight too, so they're no longer fit to use as ballast on a stormy sea. Not that I haven't appreciated Dell's high end gaming PC brand in the past, but the price put them squarely in the very serious investment category and the older designs were dated in a world where laptops have been on a crash diet for years. Happily, the designers at Alienware didn't swing too far in the fashionable direction. There are several Ultrabook-like gaming laptops on the market, but when we think Alienware, we think of ample sized machines with room for large, quiet fans that cool effectively, a deep keyboard and seriously good graphics cards. Those goodies are still here in the Alienware 15, a 7 lb., 1.34" thick gaming laptop with a futuristic lid that looks like it came from a spaceship wall and multicolored LEDs that could put a Christmas tree to shame. The price starts at $1,199 and that's a decent configuration. Our unit is a higher end model that brings the cost up to $1,949. For that price you get cream of the crop specs including a quad core i7 Intel CPU, NVIDIA GTX 970M (Maxwell generation) graphics, a 256 gig M.2 SSD plus 1 TB 7200 RPM HDD and a truly stunning 4K IPS touch screen. All models have AlienFX multi-zone, multi-colored backlighting and effects, Killer E2200 Gigabit Ethernet, Killer 1525 dual band 802.11ac WiFi, a webcam, Klipsch stereo speakers and support for the Alienware Graphics Amplifier.

For those who prefer the usual 17" gaming monster, there's the Alienware 17 (R2) with the same specs and options but with a larger display (1080p only). The Alienware 13 is the smallest and lightest model, but keep in mind that it runs on ULV lower power CPUs that are significantly less powerful than CPUs offered in the 15 and 17.

New Look, Same Excellent Quality but More Heat

The Alienware 15 maintains design continuity--you look at it and instantly recognize it as an Alienware. But it's slimmer and when you pick it up you don't think about that lapsed gym membership. At 7.07 lbs. it's still heavier than the average 15.6" laptop, and at 1.34" it's thin for a full size gaming rig, but thick compared to everyday laptops. It's interesting that Dell is slimming things down while Asus has been embracing massive with some recent ROG models like the G751. It's as if they're trading places. In fact, the highest end ROG model prices have been creeping up while the Alienware's has gone down.

Alienware 15

The gaming laptop has a soft touch keyboard deck finished in matte black that feels absolutely luxurious under the palms. The top has a dark silver finish that tends toward the gunmetal and the rest of the machine is black. The display panel has no flex (it's quite thick too) and the beefy barrel hinge is extremely stiff (you'll need two hands to open it). There are large rear exit vents for the two internal fans and a large grille on the bottom for ventilation. Don't block the bottom vent area, and don't keep it against your legs when gaming because that area gets quite hot. It reached 122F when playing Battlefield 4 for 30 minutes. The surrounding bottom areas measured 102 to 109F (toasty but not as painful as that vent temperature), while the keyboard reached 103F near the WASD cluster and the OPL keys. To put these temperatures in perspective, our super slim and light MSI GS60 Ghost Pro gets about 20 F hotter under the same conditions on the underside, but it gets no hotter on the keyboard area. The Asus ROG G751 and the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro G, much roomier 17" gaming laptops, stay cooler than both. When using the Alienware for productivity work and creative work in Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro, temperatures are much lower and you won't hear the fans, but that bottom center area is still hot enough to make your legs sweat. When gaming, the fans are audible but not as loud and high pitched as skinny gaming laptops on the market. My MSI GS60 Ghost Pro gets loud when gaming, and much louder than the Alienware 15 (I have to turn up the audio to overcome the MSI's fan, which isn't the case with the Alienware).

Fit and finish are excellent and all seams mate perfectly. The casing is made of metal and carbon fiber according to Dell (Dell bought the Alienware brand many years ago). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I'll let you decide if you like the machine's futuristic gaming look. It's certainly not an understated design that you could take to work without attracting attention, and perhaps admiration. But few heavy duty gaming laptops are subtle.

The Alienware 15 has 4 USB 3.0 ports (two on each side, which is convenient), separate mic and headphone 3.5mm jacks for those high end gaming headsets, RJ45 Ethernet and an SD card slot. The rear houses ports for the graphics amplifier, HDMI and a mini DisplayPort. It's a well-connected laptop, as we expect from Alienware. Note that is no optical drive on the Alienware 15, so you'll have to use a USB DVD drive if you need to install programs from discs.

Alienware 15

Stereo Klipsch speakers fire from the front edge and the laptop has a Creative SoundBlaster card rather than the more common Realtek audio. The speakers are balanced and full, and are much better than Asus ROG offers, but not as good as MSI's gaming audio. Headphone audio is excellent and extremely loud.

Keyboard and Trackpad

Even though Chiclet style keyboards have been the rage for several years, Alienwares still have traditional beveled keys for a more desktop-like keyboard feel. This is an excellent keyboard with an unusually deep travel of 2.6mm key travel (1.6mm is standard). It works very well for gaming and for typing (I wrote this review and others on the Alienware 15). The keyboard feels spacious, but there's no number pad. Not many 15" laptops have a number pad, and it can reduce room for the main keyboard or require a larger chassis, so we understand Dell's decision. The usual Alienware column of macro keys live to the left of the keyboard and these can be handy for games or for quick access to functions in any program, though you'll have to get used to placing your hands a bit rightward when typing. There are 4 backlighting zones for gaming, and you can hit the AlienFX Fn button to go dark and turn all LEDs off.

Alienware 15

The responsive and accurate trackpad proves that PC manufacturers can make a good trackpad if they try. It's not particularly large, but it's precise and predictable by Windows trackpad standards. It has traditional clicking buttons that require just a soft press rather than the more common buttonless design (we like buttons!). The entire trackpad is LED backlit, and you can make it any color you like using the AlienFX app.

Display, Graphics Cards and Gaming Resolutions

Alienware display quality has long been a selling point for those who buy these for graphic design, photography or video editing. Of course, gamers enjoy lovely screens too, but precise color calibration capabilities, wide color gamut and good brightness are a must for pro app users. Dell offers the 15.6" panel with an IPS 1920 x 1080 anti-glare non-touch and 4K UHD 3840 x 2160 gloss IPS touch options. If you're buying the machine primarily for gaming, the 1080p matte display makes a lot of sense since laptops, even powerful ones like the Alienware, can struggle to drive some games at 4K resolution and it's honestly not easy to see the difference between 1080p and 4K in gaming assets on a 15.6" panel. That said, Tomb Raider ran well at 4K resolution even if we were hard pressed to see a wild difference in detail levels using the built-in display. GTA V tells you how much graphics RAM it requires, and it wants 20k more than the 3 gigs of VRAM that's standard with the NVIDIA GTX 970M to run at 4K (you can override the RAM requirement if you wish). It did however stay glued to the 60 fps vsync cap at 2048 x 1152 resolution. Most games either pre-selected that resolution or NVIDIA's game optimizer suggested it. Those games ran at 60 fps (or higher if not capped by vsync), including Battlefield 4, Far Cry 4, Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and the afore mentioned Tomb Raider and GTA V. This is a laptop that won't be humbled by today's most demanding titles at high or ultra settings, and it offers a decent amount of future proofing.

Alienware 15

For those who want even more, there's the NVIDIA GTX 980M 4GB DDR5 (that's enough RAM to meet GTA V's 4K resolution preferred RAM requirement). That card will set you back $350 above the 970M price, which is a big chunk of change for 20% faster graphics. We haven't received a model with that card in for review, but some users have reported that the standard 180 watt power brick isn't sufficient to power that card when gaming, which results in throttling to avoid draining the battery when the laptop is plugged in. Dell plans to release a firmware update to change that throttling behavior at the end of August 2015. Alternatively, some owners have gotten a 230 watt charger from Dell, which seems to solve the problem (we can't confirm this since we don't have the GTX 980M model).

If you're on a tight budget, then entry level model comes with the NVIDIA GTX 965M 2GB DDR5 card, and it has enough power to run many of today's top 3D titles at 1080p and high settings. That said, the GTX 970M is $150 more, and that gets you a lot for your money--around 40% performance improvement and 1 gig more VRAM. If you're an AMD Radeon fan (anyone?), there's a Radeon R9 M390X 4GB DDR5 option for $200 more than the 970M.

For pro apps users, the 4K Sharp IPS display is enticing. It adds $300 to the base price (there are various pre-built options that include it too) and it's well worth the price if you're a designer, artist or anyone who needs high color fidelity. Like some high end mobile workstations, but unlike any consumer laptop offering we've reviewed, it covers 99% of Adobe RGB--very impressive! Of course it covers 99% of sRGB too (a lesser feat) and an excellent 94% of NTSC. Contrast is among the best at 1100:1 and brightness is 335 nits, which is also impressive since many competitors' 4K displays are in the 200's. This is a glossy touch screen, and while we love touch, glare can be annoying and it diminishes perceived brightness compared to a matte display.

Alienware 15

One note to graphics pros: yes the 4K display has an ideal 99% Adobe RGB color gamut, but be warned the saturation or color intensity is very high. It reminds me of a Samsung Super AMOLED phone display with much more intense colors than what you'd see in pro photo sRGB 100% coverage. This can make it difficult to judge photo and video saturation in production environments since everything looks more vivid than normal. For content producers, this is a challenge. For content consumers, it's lovely looking.

The IPS 1080p non-touch matte display has 300 nits of brightness, also excellent contrast and color gamut that matches higher end Ultrabooks and laptops on the market with 75% of Adobe RGB and 99% of sRGB. It's color gamut isn't nearly as impressive as the 4K display, but if you're not a graphic professional looking for the best, it's still a darned lovely display.


Deals and Shopping:


Alienware 15 Video Review


Alienware 15 Gaming Demo

- Far Cry 4, Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, Battlefield 4 and Tomb Raider


CPU and Upgrading Parts

Dell offers the Alienware 15 with 47 watt mobile Core i5 dual core and i7 quad core Intel CPUs with Intel HD 4600 integrated graphics (switchable via NVIDIA Optimus or AMD Enduro). These are the more powerful CPUs made for larger laptops and mobile workstations rather than the ULV 15 watt CPUs used in Ultrabooks and the Alienware 13. These are 4th generation Haswell CPUs since 5th gen CPUs were so delayed by Intel. I'd expect to see a refresh with 6th generation Skylake processors in the first half of 2016 (this is an educated guess, not insider information). We have the 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7-4720HQ with Turbo Boost to 3.6 GHz in ours, even though Dell still lists the 2.5 GHz i7-4710HQ on their website (clearly the part has been upgraded but their website hasn't). The machine is also available with the Intel Core i5-4210H dual core CPU, which is acceptable for gamers overall since the GPU does most of the work (except in SIM and RTS games), but pro apps users may want the quad core i7, particularly for video encoding. In our extensive gaming tests the CPU didn't throttle and Turbo Boost wasn't disabled due to thermals. During benchmarks and gaming, the GTX 970M averaged a chilly 56 C to 64 C. The CPU cores stayed around the 55 to 65 C mark--all very low and much below allowed temperature limits. Unigine Heaven is a great stress test and the GPU never passed 70 C. This bodes well for machine longevity. The GTX 980M will run hotter and draw more power, but we expect the GPU won't often pass the upper 70's Celsius. As with most gaming laptops with dedicated graphics, the Alienware 15 has two internal fans: one for the CPU and one for the GPU.

Alienware 15

The laptop has two RAM slots, a 2.5" drive bay and an M.2 SSD slot and the usual socketed wireless card. An access door on the bottom provides access to these internals. If you want to clean the fans, re-paste the CPUs or replace the battery, you'll have to remove the entire bottom cover (around 15 screws hold it in place). The base model ships with 8 gigs of RAM and a 1 TB, 7200 RPM HDD. You can order it with a 128, 256 or 512 gig M.2 SSD as the boot drive (c:\) and that 1 TB drive will be your storage drive (d:\).

Alienware 15

Unlike older generation Alienware models with socketed upgradable CPUs and MXM upgradable graphics cards, the CPU and GPU are soldered on (Intel doesn't offer socketed mobile CPUs anymore). For some Alienware fans, this may be disappointing. Your only option right now is to opt for a different brand laptop with a desktop CPU and a socketed mobile graphics card if you want to upgrade the machine a few years from now. Mainstream brands don't offer desktop CPUs in laptops, but some boutique brands do. Dell addresses the issue in part with the graphics amplifier, a $200 street price accessory that connects to the proprietary port of the back of the laptop. The amplifier works with any modern graphics card, from the NVIDIA GeForce GTX600 and newer and the AMD Radeon HD 5000 series and newer. It takes a PCI-Express x16 card that's full length and dual-wide. The graphics amplifier has a 460 watt PSU for the card and it has 4 USB 3.0 ports. The shoebox sized amplifier is a great way to give an aging powerhouse new life, as long as you intend to game at home (this isn't something you want to carry around). We didn't receive the shoebox-sized amplifier in for review, but others have tested it and recorded fps improvements in games up to 40% with a desktop NVIDIA GTX 980M. Honestly, we see the amplifier as a way to make the Alienware 15 good enough to max out games that ship 3 or 4 years from now. It's not really something I'd invest in today when the internal GPUs handle games so well.


PCMark 8 Home: 2970
PCMark 7: 5880
wPrime: 8.2 sec.
Geekbench 3: 3370/13,051
Unigine Heaven (1080p, high, DX11, AA off, no tess) 72.5 fps, GPU temp 72 C
Cinebench R15: OpenGL 56.33 fps, CPU: 664 CB

3DMark 11: P9170, X3252

3DMark Tests:
Fire Strike: 6529
Cloud Gate: 14,616
Ice Storm Unlimited: 127,308

Benchmark Comparison Table

  PCMark 8 3DMark 11
Alienware 15 (Core i7, 970M) 2970 P9170, X3252
Origin PC EON15-X (desktop Core i7, 980M) 4886 P12,013, X4346
MSI GT72 Dominator Pro G 4432 P11,032, X4243
Dell XPS 15 4K 2573 P2977, X984
Dell Inspiron 15 7000 4K (Core i7, 16 gigs RAM, SSD) 2913 N/A
Asus ZenBook Pro UX501 3050 P5390, X1780
MSI GS60 Ghost Pro 2QE-064 (GTX 970M) 3929 P9112, X3224
HP Omen 15 3494 P5081, X1645
Lenovo Y50 Touch Core i7-4700HQ, GTX 680M Kepler, HDD 2874 P4790, X1621


Battery Life

This is where the hurt happens with big and smaller gaming laptops--battery life is usually abysmal. The Alienware 15 is a rare treat- a powerful laptop that can actually run for 5-6 hours on battery with brightness at 40%. Let's qualify that: we mean productivity and movie streaming when we quote that. If you're going to play games unplugged, you'll get closer to 1.5 hours. How does Dell manage such good battery life? The machine has a very large 8 cell, 92 Whr battery, and they've done some excellent power tuning. Obviously machines with NVIDIA Optimus can switch down to the Intel HD 4600 graphics to save power for everyday tasks, but many gaming laptops just don't show the benefit of this. Our MSI GS60 Ghost Pro has Optimus, and the power button glows a different color when using integrated graphics, so it's clear to us that even when running on Intel graphics, battery life is subpar at 3 hours. The Asus ZenBook Pro UX501 (basically the same as the Republic of Gamer G501) with the lesser NVIDIA GTX 960M doesn't come close to this sort of battery life. This is the case for many other gaming laptops too, not just our Ghost Pro and ZenBook Pro. Unexpectedly, the Alienware 15 is the gaming laptop to beat for battery life.

Alienware 15


Alienware is the Kleenex of gaming PCs: no it's not for wiping your nose, we mean it's a brand that stands for the entire category. "I want an Alienware" is synonymous with I want a gaming PC. It began as a boutique brand with killer specs and crazy looks, and in the many years since Dell bought Alienware, they've brought a scale of manufacturing and marketing that's made it a (for this sort of computer) volume leader. Finally, that's helped to bring the price down, so you're not paying twice as much for the Alien head on your rig. That doesn't mean there aren't excellent offerings from the competition like the Asus ROG line, MSI's many gaming laptops and smaller companies like Gigabyte and Clevo. It does mean that your're getting a very compelling gaming and pro apps laptop with a lighter and slimmer design than past generations, superb display options, an excellent keyboard and trackpad, that wonderfully over the top AlienFX LED lighting system, great graphics card options and a solid 1 year warranty that includes on-site next day service. Top that with a more mainstream and portable 15" size and surprisingly good battery life and Dell has a winner.


Price: $1,199 and up

Related Reviews:

Dell XPS 15 Review (late 2015 with Infinity display)

Asus ROG Strix GL502VS Review

MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro Review (NVIDIA GTX 1060)

Origin PC EON15-X Review

MSI GS40 Phantom Review

MSI GE62 and GE72 Apache Pro Review

MSI GT72 Dominator Pro G Review

HP Omen 15 Review

2015 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display Review

Asus ZenBook Pro UX501 Review

Lenovo IdeaPad Y700 Review

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Review

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s Review

HP ZBook 15 Review


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Display: 15.6" IPS displays. 1920 x 1080 anti-glare non-touch and 4K 3840 x 2160 glossy touch with wide color gamut, . Intel HD 4600 integrated graphics switchable via NVIDIA Optimus or AMD Enduro. HDMI 1.4 and mini DisplayPort. Graphics Amplifier Port.

Battery: 8 cell, 92 Whr Lithium Ion rechargeable.

Performance: 47 watt Intel Haswell 4th generation Core i5 H dual core and Core i7 HQ quad core processor options. 8 or 16 gigs RAM (two RAM slots). M.2 SSD drive bay with your choice of drive capacities. 2.5" drive bay with 1 TB 5400 or 7200 RPM drive.

Size: 15.19 x 10.64 x 1.34 inches. Weight: 7.07 pounds.

Camera: HD webcam.

Audio: Klipsch stereo speakers, SoundBlaster audio card, mic and 3.5mm stereo out jack and 3.5mm mic jack.

Networking: Integrated Killer 1525 dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0. Killer E2200 Gigabit Ethernet.

Software: Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 64 bit.

Expansion and Ports: 4 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, Graphics Amplifier port, 2 x 3.5mm audio, SD card slot and Noble lock slot.



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