Sturdy high-end build. Fantastic 1080p gaming performance. Boatload of storage. Nice lighting and design.
Very expensive as configured. Maximum 1080p resolution. Heavy for a 15-inch laptop.
- Bottom Line
The Alienware 15 R3 is a well-designed laptop with the power for smooth HD gaming at maximum settings, but the competition offers more for less.
The Alienware 15 R3 (starts at $1,224.99; $2,424.99 as tested) is a new take on the 15-inch gaming laptop we rated highly back in 2015, with a few design and component upgrades that offer cutting-edge performance. The new model we're testing here is a much higher-end configuration than the $1,499.99 unit we reviewed two years ago, though. For just under $2,500 you get a thinner chassis with a ton of storage, GTX 1070 graphics, and a Core i7 Kaby Lake processor for higher than 60fps gaming in HD. A 1080p screen at this price is a bit disappointing though, especially when you consider our Editors' Choice, the HP Omen 17,features the same graphics hardware and a 17-inch 4K display for about $600 less. The Omen 17 offers a better balance of power and price, but the Alienware 15 delivers a premium build and a lot of power, if you can afford it.
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The Alienware 15 R3 looks sharp, successfully balancing the gamer aesthetic with a modern, classy look. It's made of anodized aluminum and magnesium alloy on the exterior, and feels very solid all around. This year's version measures 1 by 15.3 by 12 inches (HWD), while the 2015 Alienware 15 was 1.34 by 15.2 by 10.65 inches, so it's a bit thinner than its predecessor. The new model is still quite heavy though, even for a 15-inch laptop. It's compact, but at 7.8 pounds, it will weigh your bag down, an issue the 8.26-pound Acer Predator 15 (G9-593-72VT shares. The 17-inch HP Omen 17 takes up more room, but weighs less given its plastic body that measures 1.2 by 16.3 by 11.0 inches and weighs 6.3 pounds. The R3 is the big brother to the Alienware 13 in terms of both size and power—the smaller version measures 0.87 by 13 by 10.6 inches and weighs 5.43 pounds.
Its stylized construction is supplemented by chassis lighting, adding colorful flair to the black and silver design. The sides of the body and lid are trimmed with thin LED strips, while the alien head on the lid, the branding text on the bottom screen bezel, the keyboard, and even the touchpad also glow. That sounds like a lot of flair, but it's tasteful enough to be attractive rather than eyeroll-inducing. The included Alienware Command Center software lets you customize the lighting in 12 spots, including the touchpad, side lights, and separate portions of the keyboard, with 20 color options to choose from.
The touchpad, setting its unique lighting aside, works well and tracks responsively. The keyboard isn't chiclet style, which is relatively rare in the laptop market right now, with all the keys spaced closer together, nearly flush against one another. It's a breeze to type on the R3 regardless, with satisfying action and travel and just enough bounce. There's a column of five macro keys on the left side of the keyboard, the functions of which are also customizable through Command Center. You can assign them certain functions or set macros, and there are three profile save slots for different settings.
The 15.6-inch display bears a full HD (1,920-by-1,080) resolution, and the picture quality is crisp and clear. The panel uses G-Sync, Nvidia's feature that syncs the frame and refresh rates for smoother gameplay (but can lower performance), and the In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology prevents glares and widens viewing angles. That said, it's a little disappointing the resolution isn't higher. The R3's Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics card could handle at least a QHD resolution, and the HP Omen 17 features a 4K screen. While 4K gaming at 60 frames per second (fps) is out of reach, the Omen was capable of around 30fps, and you still have the option to view 4K media natively. Especially given that the Alienware 15 costs more, not offering at least QHD seems like a missed opportunity—you can always lower the resolution in a game's settings if it's too strenuous for smooth play.
Connectivity options are good: There's a USB 3.0 port, a USB-C port, a headphone jack, and audio out line on the left side, while the right panel has a single USB 3.0 port. Around back you get an Ethernet jack, an HDMI port, a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3, and the power adapter. There's also a proprietary port for connecting to the Alienware external graphics amplifier, into which you can place a desktop graphics card to power the laptop.
Storage is plentiful, with a fast 512GB boot SSD and 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive. Even accounting for some big game installs, that's a lot of room for a laptop. The Omen 17 includes slightly less space (a 256GB SSD and a 1TB HDD), while the Origin EVO15-Sups the ante with a 512GB SSD and 2TB HDD. To cut down on the laptop's price, you can configure the R3 with just a hard drive and less solid-state storage. You can also order a less powerful graphics card, all the way down to a GTX 1050Ti and less RAM (minimum of 8GB). It's fairly customizable depending on your needs, so the high price tag isn't a must, but the fastest components will cost you.
The R3's speakers are mediocre: They get quite loud at full volume, but the sound isn't particularly rich or full. Voices, in particular, sounded a bit muted and recessed, while the bass was on the weaker side. They're not outright poor or tinny, but I'd expect better at this price. Other features include dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, and Tobii eye tracking. With that technology, a special front-facing camera tracks when you're looking at the screen, and adjusts settings accordingly. This includes dimming the screen, turning off the display, and putting the computer to sleep when your eyes aren't detected for a set period, the length of which you can change. The 17-inch model has a fuller version of Tobii that features in-game integrations, but the 15-inch model is limited to desktop use. The system is supported by one year of hardware service with onsite service after remote diagnosis.
The new Alienware 15 packs suitably fresh hardware, outfitted with a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor, 16GB of memory, and the GTX 1070. The EVO15-S utilizes the same seventh-generation Intel processor as the Alienware 15, while the Omen 17 and even the Alienware 13 were built with sixth-generation chips. As such, the Alienware 15 and the EVO15-S scored very similarly on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional and multimedia benchmark tests, and while the others scored well in their own right, these two were ahead of the pack. These scores (which I can verify through real-world use in my time with the system) indicate that the Alienware 15 is a speedy multitasker that won't chug during daily use, and can crunch through some media projects on the side.
As a gaming laptop, though, 3D performance is what matters most. The 1070 is a very capable card, and running at 1080p the Heaven and Valley tests were a cakewalk. Even at Ultra-quality settings, the R3 averaged 104fps on Heaven and 99fps on Valley, well above the ideal 60fps target. That translates to a smooth gaming experience, and since we couldn't bump up the resolution beyond Full HD, there are no caveats or suggested tweaks to make. The Omen 17, for example, averaged 97fps and 93fps on these tests on the same settings, but just 26fps and 30fps at 4K. 30fps is still smoothly playable, though, and it's nice to have the option for less demanding games, plus you could set the resolution somewhere between HD and 4K while playing. Regardless, the Alienware 15 is a powerful gaming system that will not disappoint, with smooth 60fps performance in modern games at high settings. The GTX 1070 is also more than capable of VR gaming, reaching beyond the GTX 1060 recommended floor, and the R3's other speedy components will help ensure a smooth virtual reality experience.
Battery life is about as expected for a gaming laptop, at 5 hours and 33 minutes on our rundown test. That's longer than the Omen 17's 4:35 (not surprising as the 4K display will drain your battery faster), the EVO15-S's 3:28, and the Alienware 13's 4:56. Only the ultraportable Early 2017 Razer Bladeis truly long lasting for a gaming system, running for 10:36 on the same test.
Premium with a Price
The Alienware R3 is a worthy upgrade on its predecessor, slimmer but more powerful than before, with a stylish design and sturdy high-quality construction. You get plenty of premium features including custom lighting and copious storage, but these add up to a pricey proposition relative to its gaming power. The HP Omen 17 offers the same graphics card and similar performance across the board, plus a 4K screen, for $1,799. With its plastic build, it's not as high end, but it remains our midrange Editors' Choice for threading the needle on performance, features, and price. If you like the R3's top-notch feature set and design, but can't afford the price tag, consider configuring a less expensive version.
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Matthew Buzzi is a junior analyst on the Hardware team at PCMag. Matthew graduated from Iona College with a degree in Mass Communications/Journalism. He interned for a college semester at Kotaku, writing about gaming. He has written about technology and video game news, as well as hardware and gaming reviews. In his free time, he likes to go out with friends, watch and discuss sports, play video games, read too much Twitter, and obsessively manage any fantasy sports leagues he's involved in. More »
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