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Who Is It For?
The Alienware 15 is a decent gaming laptop. It's not the best I've tested, but it offers a good collection of hardware at a reasonable price, and that's what most consumers are after.
One of my favorite aspects to Alienware laptops is their design, especially in recent years. The Alienware 15 R3 looks like a performance workhorse, but it doesn't go overboard with 'gamer' elements. The consistent use of soft-touch black plastic around the chassis looks understated and impressive, while the silver metal lid retains Alienware's signature design. There's a ludicrous amount of LED lighting around this laptop, too, although it can all be used to customize the design to suit your style.
The Alienware 15 is also decked out with an excellent selection of ports in a layout that makes sense for desk use. Windows Hello functionality is built in, which adds to the overall package, and it supports Tobii eye tracking as well (although this is mostly a gimmick). The keyboard, while somewhat mushy, sports a great layout and good travel distance. On the flip side, at 3.49kg the Alienware 15 is a large and heavy laptop of this size.
My review unit was kitted out with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 and an Intel Core i7-6700HQ, which delivered good performance. While a GTX 1060 laptop from MSI with near-identical hardware did consistently outperform it by a not-insignificant margin, the Alienware 15 offers a lot of power for high-quality 1080p gaming. Users upgrading from a GTX 970M or slower should see massive performance gains in a similar form factor and power envelope.
The area of the Alienware 15 that disappointed me the most was the cooling solution. The Alienware 15 is a large laptop with prominent heatsinks, however it doesn't do a great job of cooling the GPU, as it often reached north of 90°C during gaming sessions. The cooler is also very loud, and while the high-RPM fan keeps chassis temperatures down, you'll need headphones to effectively block out the noise while gaming.
The 1080p 120Hz G-Sync display included on my review unit is well suited to gaming, particularly with the GTX 1060 that can often hit north of 60 FPS at this resolution. G-Sync is a fantastic inclusion and keeps games smooth in all situations; it's disappointing this feature isn't included with the more expensive 4K display option. While the high-refresh display is the best option for gaming, its TN construction delivers poor color quality and viewing angles.
The 15" GTX 1060 laptop market is highly competitive, and there are several strong offerings from known manufacturers like Asus, MSI and Gigabyte. The configuration I reviewed - 16 GB of RAM, 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD, GTX 1060, 1080p display, and a Core i7-6700HQ - is perhaps the most common, and for $1,575 the Alienware 15 slots just above the $1,500 Asus GL502VM and $1,500 MSI GE62VR Apache Pro. Depending on your design and feature preferences, the Alienware 15 is a solid choice here.
For some users it might be worth checking out the entry-level $1,349 model as well. At this price, the Alienware 15 is one of the cheapest GTX 1060 gaming laptops of this size on the market, and the customizable design allows easy RAM and storage upgrades.
The Alienware 15 with the GTX 1070 inside is less competitive: Asus, for example, has a $1,600 ROG Strix GL502VS with hardware only a $1,950 Alienware 15 can provide. That's a significant price discrepancy, so I'd only opt for the higher-end models if you can find one that's provides particularly good value. The $2,200 configuration, for example, is a respectable price compared to a similar offering from value-friendly Gigabyte.
Pros: Attractive design with lots of customizable lighting. Highly configurable hardware options offer both value and performance. Solid 1080p gaming experience from Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1060. Supports Windows Hello.
Cons: Heavy chassis with a beefy, loud and largely ineffective cooler. 3 to 5 FPS slower than a similar GTX 1060 laptop we tested. GTX 1070 model can be expensive.