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Display, Keyboard and Trackpad
The Alienware 15 comes equipped with a 15.6-inch display that differs in resolution depending on the model you opt for. Base units come with a 1080p IPS LCD at 141 PPI, while top-end models pack a 4K UHD IGZO IPS LCD for 282 PPI; both displays are 60 Hz. There's also a mid-tier option available with select models: a 1080p TN panel with G-Sync and a 120 Hz refresh rate, and this is the variant I have with me to review.
It's disappointing that the 4K variant does not come equipped with G-Sync, which would help with the lower framerates you'll achieve at that panel's native resolution. I'd advise against purchasing the 4K display if you're only opting for a GTX 1060 GPU, however GTX 1070 models should be fine.
The 1080p TN model I received isn't fantastic from a quality perspective. The display is bright, achieving just over 400 nits in my testing, however a contrast ratio of just 800:1, due to poor black levels, is below average. Viewing angles are terrible, which is to be expected of a TN display; you'll want to view this screen from dead center for the best experience.
Default color performance is bad. The display's gamut is a decent 96.8% sRGB, however colors across the board are distorted and simply incorrect. The display is not oversaturated, but a dE2000 value of 8.0 in our custom color performance tests indicates this panel is far off displaying accurate colors. If you value color quality, it'd be a good idea to stay away from this display option.
Using CALMAN 5 to calibrate the Alienware 15's display I was able to achieve far better color performance, although this came at the expense of brightness. Pulling back this display's dE2000 value in our custom test to under 1.0 (which is an excellent result) reduced maximum brightness to just 352 nits and the contrast ratio to just 680:1.
However, the main benefit to purchasing this display over the basic 1080p IPS model (which presumably boasts superior colors) is its performance in games. Having a 120 Hz refresh rate significantly improves the smoothness and responsiveness of games compared to a basic 60 Hz panel. The difference is especially noticeable in fast-paced games such as first-person shooters, where the extra frame rate can help you react to enemies more quickly.
G-Sync is also a significant factor here, as it eliminates all screen tearing and makes frame rates as low as 40 FPS feel smooth and stutter-free. The GTX 1060 in particular is not always capable of pushing 60 FPS in demanding titles with quality settings maxed out, and this is where being able to comfortably play in the 40-60 FPS zone is advantageous.
The keyboard on the Alienware 15 is typical of a gaming laptop, opting for standard full-width keys rather than an ultraportable-style chiclet design. The layout is decent, with large shift, tab, control and backspace keys, as well as full-sized arrow keys. Travel distance is very good, although the keyboard has a slightly mushy feel from its rubber dome keycaps; luckily you won't notice this while gaming.
On the left of the keyboard are five programmable macro keys that will be useful particularly for MMO players. The F-keys double as system function keys, and include useful toggles for things such as enabling/disabling the trackpad, switching between integrated and discrete graphics, and changing the AlienFX lighting modes.
The trackpad is small but serviceable, offering a good tracking and gesture experience, along with solid physical mouse buttons. You'll want to use an actual mouse for most gaming anyway so the trackpad is of little importance here.