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As Close as You Can Get to 4K Portable Gaming
The Alienware 15 is a very capable gaming laptop, especially when you're purchasing the top-spec model that's loaded with the most powerful components out there.
I received the highest-end Alienware 15 to review, and the combination of an Intel Core i7-4710HQ CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M and a 3840 x 2160 IPS display makes for an excellent gaming experience. Not only do you get a crisp, high-resolution image in supported games, but there's plenty of power to render to over eight million pixels. While you mightn't be able to play at the highest quality settings at 4K in titles like Crysis 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition, no game I tested was completely unplayable at native resolution.
Of course the entry-level and mid-range systems don't come with quite as much power as the flagship load-out. However the GPU options available, which start with the GeForce GTX 965M, are all very capable of 1080p gaming: the display resolution included with most models. No Alienware 15 model could be classed as merely mid-range, unlike with the Alienware 13, making this laptop truly designed for gaming.
And it's clear from the design of the Alienware 15 that this laptop is meant for gaming. Alienware has made no attempt to produce the slimmest or lightest 15-inch gaming laptop, with the system clocking in at over three kilograms heavy and more than 30mm thick. The style is similar to other machines from Alienware, and includes a healthy dose of gamer-centric aesthetics including a non-rectangular body and loads of customizable lighting.
Although the general build quality and materials choice for the Alienware 15 are perfectly adequate, including brushed aluminium and soft-touch plastic, it doesn't have the same exquisite finish and clean style as today's premium Ultrabooks, many of which are half the price. Some of the over-the-top features, such as the light-up touchpad, take the whole 'gamer' aesthetic too far as well.
For lower-spec Alienware 15s it would be nice to see a thinner, lighter design, as the beefy cooling system and huge battery aren't as necessary for mobile GPUs with lower TDPs. The cooling system included is a little on the loud side when the GPU is running at full tilt, and battery life is expectedly mediocre, though these are relatively minor concerns.
It's also worth mentioning that for some Alienware 15 owners, especially those with the GTX 980M or R9 M295X, the Graphics Amplifier won't provide a massive performance uplift, even with a flagship GPU inside. Loading out an Amplifier with a GTX 980 will cost you over $800, which is a huge outlay on top of a pricey laptop for a 20-30% performance improvement at best.
While some of the above points may seem somewhat negative, there are plenty of great aspects to the Alienware 15. The keyboard and trackpad are surprisingly good, though gaming with an external mouse is a given for most. The selection of ports around the body is also fantastic, and with mini DisplayPort out as well as HDMI, you can easily drive multiple external monitors from this laptop.
The display is also a fantastic aspect of the Alienware 15. I have only tested the 4K display option, but the quality exhibited is excellent. Color quality is fantastic, though the real star of the show is the resolution, which requires a lot of GPU power to drive but looks sharp, clear and highly detailed in games. On top of this, you also get great viewing angles and brightness.
Alienware isn't a brand that has historically been associated with value, but their recent line-up of gaming laptops have been priced quite fairly. Configurations loaded with a GTX 980M and 4K display start at $2,150, cheaper than similar 15" systems. The entry-level systems are also decent value compared to laptops with similar hardware, starting at $1,200 for a GTX 965M and 1080p display.
While the Alienware 15 won't be a portable laptop that you take from place to place with ease, it succeeds at its one goal: providing a great gaming experience. I had a blast gaming on the flagship model, and I expect you will too regardless of the load-out.
Pros: The highest-spec model is a seriously powerful machine capable of 4K gaming. Excellent 15.6-inch display. Many configurations are decent value, including the reasonably-powerful entry-level system.
Cons: A little on the large side, with a merely average design and a somewhat loud cooling solution.