More lights than most desktops.
Alienware’s lineup of gaming laptops is designed to fit the needs of a pretty broad swath of gamers, as they’re available in 13″, 15″, and 17″ options. The 15″ model is the sweet spot in terms of size and performance, most would say, and the entry-level model is priced at a modest $1,249, with more powerful models running closer to $2,499.
For the past few weeks I’ve been using a 15″ model that’s right in the middle of the spectrum at $1,849, although it has a few notable customizations that drive the price up to $2,349. With fancy software tricks that allow it to identify when you’re looking at the laptop, a surprising number of LEDs, and a 120Hz display, the Alienware 15 R3 (See it on Dell.com) / (See it on Amazon UK) definitely has some interesting hardware.
Here are the specifications of the Alienware 15 R3 I’m evaluating:
- Model: Alienware 15 R3
- Display: 15.6 inch FHD (1920 x 1080) 120Hz
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 w/8GB GDDR5
- Processor: Intel Core i7-7700HQ (Quad-Core, 6MB Cache, up to 3.8GHz w/ Turbo Boost)
- Memory: 16GB DDR4
- OS: Windows 10 Home
- OS Drive: 512GB PCIe SSD
- Storage Drive: 1TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s
- Ports: 1 x USB 3.0 Type-C, 1 x USB 3.0 Type-A w/PowerShare, 1 x USB 3.0 Type-A, 1 x Ethernet, 1 x audio in, 1 x audio out, 1x mini-DisplayPort 1.2, 1 x HDMI 2.0, 1 x Thunderbolt 3.0, 1 x Alienware Graphics Amplifier
- Battery: 99 Whr
- Wireless: Killer 1535 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1
- Dimensions: 15.3 x 12 x 1-inches (WxDxH)
- Weight: 7.69 pounds
- Price: $2,349.99
Design and Features
With the lid closed, the Alienware 15 R3 seems to share some design cues with Dell’s Inspiron lineup, with a grey exterior and rigid lines. The easily identifiable Alienware logo sets it apart, along with a spaceship-like appearance taking shape along the front where the speaker grilles are located.
This svelte-looking all-black laptop quickly changes to a rainbow of color the moment you open the lid or touch a key. The keyboard is divided into five customizable lighting sections, and there’s an additional seven lights that can be customized including the Alienware head on the lid, the power button just above the keyboard, the touchpad, the Alienware logo below the screen, and perimeter lighting on both sides. If the idea of your gaming rig looking more like a UFO, you can disable any or all lights with a few clicks.
To the left of the keyboard there are audio ports, along with a USB 3.0 Type-A with PowerShare port, and a USB 3.0 Type-C port. The back of the laptop is loaded, with ports for charging, Alienware Graphics Amplifier, Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0, mini-DisplayPort, and an Ethernet port. Flanking the right side of the laptop’s housing is a lone USB 3.0 Type-A port.
Even though it’s equipped with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU, the Alienware 15 R3 isn’t a Max-Q laptop, so it’s not designed to be thin and light. Weighing 7.69 pounds, and measuring 15.3 x 12 x 1 inches, the Alienware 15 R3 is bigger than similarly equipped laptops such as the Asus ROG Zephyrus, which is a Max-Q laptop and weighs just 4.9 pounds and is just 0.7 inches thick.
Under the hood of the Alienware 15 R3 is an Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU, 16GB DDR4 memory, a 512GB PCIe SSD for the OS and a 1TB HDD for data storage. The 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) TN panel has a dazzling refresh rate of 120hz, and just above it is Alienware’s “presence detection” hardware and webcam. You see, one of the key features of the 15 R3 is that it has a feature called “presence detection,” which uses an infrared camera and an infrared emitter next to the webcam to identify when a user is actively using the laptop. With that information, Alienware can then do things like dim the display or put the laptop to sleep when you step away, wake it up when you return, and it also integrates with Windows Hello’s biometrics features so you can use your face to login to Windows. Be sure to mention this feature to any iPhone X users you meet.
Alienware installs a suite of software on the Alienware 15 R3. Programs include its Alienware Command Center, which includes AlienFX, AlienFusion, AlienAdrenaline, and Alienware TactX. All of those add up to what feels like limitless options to customize the lighting that’s found on nearly every edge of the 15 R3, set keystroke and macro shortcuts, monitor and record system performance, and optimize battery life. There’s also an Alienware Sound Center program for refining the sound quality of the 15 R3’s speakers.
I appreciate having options and to tweak and alter minute details and settings, but at some point it gets to be too much. The Alienware 15 R3 toes that line, and without going too far across it. For example, having the option to customize colors and key combos is welcomed, but AlienFusion is duplicative of system controls for battery and system performance, so it seems a bit unnecessary. I did tinker with the color scheme of the laptop often, but stopped short of creating any gaming profiles or adjusting the system itself from the Alienware Command Center.
To find out how the Alienware R3 holds up in gaming I ran a few benchmarks on it and played some games. I’m mainly comparing it to the much smaller Asus ROG Zephyrus as that system has the same CPU and GPU, and is only $120 more expensive. The Acer Predator 17 is also comparable as it has the same GPU, but an older Skylake CPU, and is about $400 cheaper.
Overall the Alienware 15 R3 performed pretty much exactly as expected for a system with this type of configuration, so there were no big surprises. What’s interesting is the Acer Predator has an older CPU, but it appears there’s not much difference at all between Kaby Lake and Skylake CPUs in gaming, thanks to the GPUs doing the heavy lifting. It was a smidge faster than the ROG Zephyrus overall, perhaps due to its large size and abundant cooling. New drivers could partly be responsible for these small gains, too.
My favorite aspect of the Alienware 15 R3 is the display. With a 120Hz panel, I found action to be very smooth with colors that didn’t look oversaturated or fake. And with a 400 nit display, it was very bright too.
The touchpad and keyboard are both responsive, although the keyboard could feel a bit flimsy at times. The keys themselves are centered and have a bit of play when pressed on a side or in a corner. It’s not enough to be incredibly annoying, but it is something that took a bit of adjusting on my part.
Unlike previous systems I’ve tested, the cooling system doesn’t run the moment you open the lid until it’s closed. Instead, it waits until absolutely necessary. It’s nice not having to deal with a nearly constant whir of the fans, but the downside is the fans are fairly loud when the system is under load, but this is pretty common with gaming notebooks. Still for a unit this large I expected it to be a little quieter.
Gaming on the Alienware 15 R3 was neither mind-blowing or a disappointment. I spent most of my time in PlayUnknowns BattleUnderground or Epic Games’ Fortnite. Despite being similar in gameplay, each game take a different approach to graphics and intensity. I didn’t experience any dropped frames or hitches during my testing. Overall, everything ran smooth, though I’m not sure I was ever close to the display’s 120Hz refresh rate. In essence, the Alienware 15 R3 performed exactly how I wanted it to.
As far as the presence detection goes, it sounds useful on paper, but in use, it was somewhat frustrating. After a couple of days using the Alienware 15 R3 with presence detection enabled, I disabled it and never looked back. The issue I consistently ran into was the screen dimming in the middle of a gaming session, despite sitting right in front of the screen and actively playing a game. I would have to move back and forth to trigger presence detection, in turn adjusting the brightness of the display.
Alienware does offer more advanced functionalities of presence detection with the Alienware 17 line, but as it is not on the model I tested, I wouldn’t suggest leaving the feature enabled — especially while gaming.
What really sets the Alienware 15 R3 apart from other gaming notebooks is its battery life. Alienware claims up to 11 hours of battery life for the model I tested, which is far beyond the typical hour or so we see with some of the more high powered notebooks. I wasn’t able to get that much out of it, but I did see an impressive 155 minutes in my 4k video rundown test. This is the longest time I’ve had a gaming notebook run so far, though the Acer Predator was also very good too.
Gaming on battery power was a mixed experience. On one occasion, around an hour into playing, the battery died, and once I plugged in the power adapter I faced a warning that the battery had overheated and to wait awhile. I unplugged the power adapter, plugged it back in, and the warning disappeared.
On another occasion, I was able to game for nearly two hours before the battery died. This is double what I experienced on the ROG Zephyrus, so while it may not sound like a long time, I was happy with the results.
The Alienware 15 R3 Gaming Laptop has an MSRP of $2,349 but Dell has some insane promotions from time to time. As we went to press it was a whopping $500 off on Dell.com, so you’re better off waiting for just such a promotion to come along if you want to pull the trigger.