Alienware 15 R4 Gaming Laptop Review – Mobile Colossus
It’s a fantastic age for gaming laptops. They’re faster, slimmer and lighter with desktop rivalling processors and graphics as well as batteries that last longer than 2 hours.
While their laptops may not be skinniest, Alienware has long led the industry with its reputation for sheer power and performance.
The Alienware 15 R4 that we received for review is a monstrous machine with a 6 Core, i9 processor overclockable up to 5Ghz and an NVIDIA GTX 1080 Max-Q mated to a 4K display. On top of all that, it looks badass and lights up exactly like you’d expect an Alien UFO to do.
Alienware 15 R4 Gaming Laptop Review
The Alienware 15 R4 is the fourth and final iteration of the company’s 15 models. Like its sibling the Alienware 13, It’s been replaced with the newer, skinnier Alienware m15. The Alienware 15 R4 comes in multiple configurations but our review unit is the top of the line model and here are the specs:
- Intel Core i9-8950HK CPU overclocked at 5.0GHz
- 32.0 GB DDR4 RAM
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 with Max-Q Design
- 15inch LCD UHD Display – Resolution 3840 x 2160 at 60 hertz
- 512GB SSD Primary drive + 1TB media storage
- Killer DoubleShot Pro Wireless and wired Gigabit Ethernet
- Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port
- Mini-display port 1.2, HDMI 2.0, USB A and USB C Thunderbolt ports
- TactX Keyboard with macro keys
- AlienFX RGB Lighting(Logos, Keyboard, Touchpad, Chassis)
As you can see, this is a beast and you can expect uncompromising performance. We put the Alienware 15 R4 through its paces over two weeks and were pleased with the results.
Alienware 15 R4 – Ultra gaming performance
As stated already, our review unit has a Core i9-8950HK overclockable to 5Ghz and GTX 1080 Max-Q. We were already impressed with the performance of the GTX 1070 in the ASUS Zephyrus M GM501 and only expected better with this model.
We weren’t disappointed.
A run through of synthetic benchmarks, 3DMark 10 and PCMark 10 resulted in an impressive score of 5480 and 5233 respectively. For comparison, the Zephyrus GM501 only managed a score of 3915 which is about 30% overall performance boost. And it shows in gaming tests.
Starting at 1080p resolution with settings cranked up to ultra we see fantastic performance across the board. DOOM leads with up to 170FPS, followed by Destiny 2 with 160FPS. Shadow of the Tomb Raider with its dense foliage and fancy ray tracing stress any card and it shows here.
Moving up to 1440p resolution, the Alienware 15 R4 continues to tick along nicely with most games very easily hitting the 60FPS on Ultra settings. So far so good but you don’t buy a machine with a 4K display and not expect to game at Ultra HD resolutions, right?
So, pushing the Alienware to its graphical limits, we turned it up to 4K. As you can see, the results were mixed. Only Destiny 2 and DOOM were able to maintain a reasonable frame rate above 50 FPS. Every other game hovered around the 30 FPS mark with several dips in the teens.
Performance didn’t improve too much when we dropped the quality from Ultra to High although going further down to Medium settings did get us back to the 50 FPS mark.
Still, you gotta admit; this is impressive for a laptop to do 50 FPS in 4K Ultra. It may not be the PC Master race nirvana of 60 FPS that desktops can achieve but with some individual settings tweaks, you can still achieve truly great results.
We recommend playing at 1440p at Ultra settings as a good middle ground. You still get very sharp visuals and a smooth frame rate.
All in all, a very impressive showing.
Alienware 15 R4 – Battery life
But beware, this performance comes at a hefty price on battery life. In our testing, we never got more than 2-2.5 hours of runtime on battery. Keeping this i9-8950HK, GTX 1080, the gorgeous, bright 4K display and all those RGB lights running drain that sucker fast.
Keep in mind, these are seriously powerful and power hungry components. Even in non-intensive activities, like web browsing in Chrome with some Spotify music streaming, it is commonplace to see the battery ticking down uncomfortably fast.
Gaming on a battery isn’t even something worth bothering with. The Alienware 15 R4 is really a desktop replacement machine that is meant to be close to a power source at all times. This isn’t a deal breaker though as mobile gaming, in general, is still somewhat of a pipe dream.
In saying that, I’d have expected a battery capable of at least 4-5 hours given the physical size of the Alienware 15 R4.
Alienware 15 R4 – Design and build
All this performance requires top-notch thermal cooling and the Alienware 15 R4 is fit for purpose. It’s built like a tank with lots of cooling vents everywhere for great airflow. Vents on the side, back and a large open mesh at the bottom ensure cool temperatures prevail.
It does get very loud when under load, and sometimes even when idling, but the laptop always remains quite cool. That said, it’s quite uncomfortable to use on your lap, given the hot air blowing out of the bottom.
Elsewhere, build is solid as a rock with no sign of flexing anywhere in the chassis. It feels like you could drop it on the ground and it wouldn’t get a scratch but, please don’t. And at 3.49 kg, this isn’t a laptop you’ll want to carry around often. It measures 15.3 inches wide and 12 inches deep and surprisingly, only 1 inch thick.
On the silver lid is the definitive Alienware triangular design with a glowing logo. At the bottom, three rubber strips keep the Alienware 15 R4 from sliding on surfaces but also raises it for airflow. The cooling vent mesh allows you to see a bit of the motherboard and the twin cooling fans.
Connectivity options abound with the Alienware 15 R4, as you would expect. On the left side, you have a Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.0 with PowerShare Technology and your audio jacks. On the right-hand side, you have a lone USB 3.0 and some more vents. At the front, you have the speaker grills which produce a tinny and lacklustre sound.
At the back, Alienware has smartly put some more ports: the DC power port, an RJ-45 Killer Networks Gigabit Ethernet, USB Type-C, Mini-Display Port 1.2, HDMI 2.0 and Alienware Graphics Amplifier port.
Running along the sides of the chassis and lid are AlienFX RGB light strips which can be configured independently using the Alienware Command Center for dramatic effect.
Alienware 15 R4 – Display, Keyboard and Touch
Opening the lid reveals the 15 inch, 4K(3840 x 2160) IPS-LCD display which is surrounded by atrociously huge bezels. It’s good to know that newer Alienware laptops do away with these ridiculous bezels. Getting rid of these bezels could have allowed for a 17inch display.
That said, it’s a great display with great colour accuracy and viewing angles. Above the display is a 720p webcam while the confusingly large bottom bezel only has the glowing Alienware text. Again, unnecessarily adding depth to what could have been a smaller laptop.
The keyboard on the Alienware 15 R4 is great. It’s a TactX Keyboard with n-key rollover which allows for 108-key commands per minute. The 2.2mm of key travel is lovely for typing, with a springiness on each keystroke that is a delight.
All keys are backlit with colour profiles customisable in the Alienware Command Center. You can set a number of lighting combinations and save different profiles. For example, a Shooter layout, an RPG layout or a Work layout. We really liked the Rainbow Spectrum mode which gently cascades a rainbow of colours from the left to right.
You also have six macro keys running down the left-hand side of the keyboard. These can be programmed for quick access to customized actions such as multi-key actions like combos or supers. This is a great feature for not just gamers but also content creators who would benefit from one-button actions in editing software.
The Touchpad on the Alienware is unimpressive. It has a matte surface which doesn’t feel that nice to my fingers but it responds well enough. Its small size isn’t conducive to multi-touch gestures like pinch to zoom, or 3-finger gestures. It also has two physical buttons, a thing that’s becoming increasingly rare.
The buttons are soft to press but we rarely used them since the touchpad responds to taps as clicks. Sadly, there aren’t any haptics in the touchpad to give you feedback like on the MacBooks. Lastly, the touchpad also lights up and is customizable like all other lit parts of the Alienware but we found it distracting and unattractive so we kept it off.
Alienware 15 R4 – Alienware Command Center
The Alienware Command Center is a software suite that allows you to control various aspects of the Alienware 15 R4. What began life as a tool to customize the RGB lighting, it now allows for system overclocking, setting audio profiles, power management and much more.
The Alienware Command Center is divided into distinct sections; Home, Library, FX and Fusion tabs. Home gives you an overview of your system and peripherals with a quick launch for last used items. The Library has shortcuts to all of your games and saved performance profiles with which you wish to run them in.
The FX tab is the place where you control the AlienFX RGB lighting across the laptop and any connected Razer peripherals. The UI presents you with a clear visual to see which parts of the device you can adjust. Clicking on one or more then allows you to change their colour profiles in real-time. You can also set the macro key profiles here.
The Fusion tab contains the overclocking, power and thermal profiles. But beware, here there be dragons. Overclocking is a tenuous activity not to be taken lightly as you could destroy your components. The Alienware Command Center has safety measures to help you tinker safely though. We didn’t test any overclocking but the system comes set up with two overclock profiles to try.
It’s not common to have a mainstream laptop which allows overclocking so enthusiasts will be pleased with the Alienware 15 R4.
Alienware 15 R4 – Verdict
The Alienware 15 R4 is a phenomenal machine with productivity and gaming performance that’s without fault. 1080p gaming is insane and with some tweaking, 4K60 gaming is achievable. Add a no-compromises build, customizable RGB lighting, overclocking and some excellent thermal cooling and you have a hell of a laptop.
But starting at AUD $4600, it had better be. This is not a cheap machine by any means and that’s where it becomes a very hard recommend. At this price, we configured a superior desktop PC with an i9 9900K Octacore processor, 32GB RAM, an NVIDIA RTX 2080, 512GB SSD + 4Tb storage. We even managed to add a 31in, 144Hz QHD monitor, a mechanical keyboard, mouse and a HyperX Cloud gaming headset!
So while we really like the Alienware 15 R4, it’s hard to justify unless you’re a pro gamer who needs a portable battle station. For everyone else, it’s size, weight, poor battery life and noisy fans, disqualify it for the majority of workplaces or school use.
We recommend getting the new Alienware m15 and Alienware m17 instead. The offer performance equity but give greater portability, better RTX graphics and battery life making them much better buy for the money.
The Alienware 15 R4 is a bonkers machine that we love and a fitting end of a generation. Excepting the new Area 51m, there will never be anything quite like it again.
The Alienware 15 R4 review unit was provided by Alienware ANZ for the purpose of this review.
Product Name: Alienware 15 R4 Gaming Laptop
- Built like a tank, looks suitably alien
- Performance: Muscle car of gaming laptops
- Portability and Battery: Forget it
- Ultra Gaming at 60FPS
- Connectivity options for days
- RGB For Life