A few months ago, I reviewed the excellent Alienware m17 R2 which was a geeks wet dream. Much of what applied to the m17 also applied to its smaller sibling the m15. Both use the same gorgeous Legend design language for a package that packs a ton of power and looks unlike any other gaming laptop on the market today.
Alienware has since refreshed the m-lineup with Intel’s new 10th Gen processors and NVIDIA RTX 20-SUPER graphics. Today, we’ll have a look at the refreshed Alienware m15 R3 and what you’ll find is that everything that made the original good has been made ever slightly better in this new iteration.
However, the question still remains, should you buy this beast that starts at an eye-watering $3,200 for the base configuration?
Alienware m15 R3 Review
The Alienware m15 R3 is physically identical to the m15 R2 that it replaces and in a sea of gaming laptops that are all trying to look a Razer Blade, this is a good thing. It’s still a stunning design that’s only 0.8 in thick and weighs just over 2kgs. Ours was the Lunar White version which is an eggshell white with black flourishes here and there.
The lid has the signature glowing alien head logo and the number ‘15’ elegantly etched in one corner. Open the lid to reveal the book hinge mechanism that does a great job of keeping the lid rigid and in position. The black hinge also houses some key I/O ports as well as the striking RGB oblong ring all around its edges.
There’s more I/O on the sides of the m15 as well as exhaust grills that you’ll definitely need. Underneath is a large honeycomb-shaped air intake that sucks all the cool air into the m15. The same honeycomb pattern lines the top of the keyboard deck with the power button disguised as another glowing alien head. The deck is clean with large flat keys that are a delight to type on and still my favourite laptop keyboard.
The keys have just the right amount of travel at 1.7mm which makes them feel meaty and substantial when you type. The keys each have their own RGB AlienFX backlight so you can customize them to your heart’s delight. Gamers will enjoy the N-key rollover and anti-ghosting on every key. The touchpad remains good although I really think Alienware should supersize it as Razer and Apple do. That way, you’d make more use of gestures.
Looking up away from the keyboard deck is the lovely 15.6 in FullHD display with a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Being a gaming laptop, the Alienware has gone with a fast 144Hz refresh rate and 7ms response time. There is an option for an even faster 300Hz display but I never found the 144Hz inadequate in any way. It’s got great colours with 72% NTSC gamut and 300-nits of brightness.
Everything from videos, pictures and games looked really great on this screen. And thanks to the powerful RTX 2080 Super and NVIDIA G-SYNC, games ran smoothly at close to or over 144fps with no stuttering or tearing. I’d personally pick the OLED panel for its gorgeous colours, HDR and infinite contrast levels but that would set you back a pretty penny.
New engine under the hood
While everything up top is much the same, it’s under the hood that Alienware has made the most important changes. Let’s start with the brand new 10th Gen Intel Core i9-10980HK which has a turbo boost up to 5.3Ghz. The processor is unlocked so you can overclock it using the Alienware Command Center by fiddling with the sliders for clock speed, voltage and cooling. Alienware improved the power management allowing the processor to run faster for longer. An improved Vapor chamber cooling with dual intake and exhausts keeps things from exploding under load.
Additionally, our unit has 32Gb of RAM and 1Tb NVMe M.2 drive which removes any data transfer bottlenecks. And it does run fast as you can see from our benchmarks above. It also ran very hot. I saw temperatures frequently reach 99C on the CPU core which was quite scary, to be honest, but the chassis remained quite cool to the touch and I never noticed any performance degradation as a result. The GPU faired much better maxing out at around 75C after an hour of intense gaming at Ultra settings.
Speaking of which, the RTX 2080 SUPER did not disappoint in my game tests. Most games run comfortably above 100fps with only Shadow of the Tomb Raider slowing down with RTX On but still a very good 62FPS. You will not be disappointed with the gaming experience here. Furthermore, fan noise wasn’t too bad at all and Alienware gives you plenty of fan profiles to use as well as the ability to customise your own fan curve. The only odd thing was I noticed the fans would randomly flare up when the m15 was just sitting idle or I was browsing the web.
Keep your charger close
So power and performance are exceptional on the m15 but that comes at the cost of a very high power draw. The battery on my unit couldn’t even make two hours of light use or even on my battery rundown test with the laptop running in aeroplane mode and all RGB off, screen set to 50%. It’s honestly unacceptable for such a premium gaming laptop in 2020. A little research on Reddit suggests the problem is due to NVIDIA Optimus not working with NVIDIA G-SYNC panels. I hope this can be fixed with a firmware update but till then, stay close to a power outlet. Just note that the power brick is a, well, brick-sized and weighs close to half a kilo, so road warriors beware.
But that’s ok because the m15 belongs firmly planted on a desk connected to two external monitors and a bunch of high-end peripherals. It certainly has the ports for it. There are three of the latest USB Type-A ports, one with Powershare technology for fast charging your smart devices. There’s also USB Type-C for fast data transfer and driving compatible monitors. You can also use the HDMI 2.0 or Mini Display 1.4 to power 4K monitors at 120Hz refresh. And if you feel the onboard graphics power is lacking, there’s an Alienware Graphics Amplifier port on the back so you can connect an external GPU.
Audio is available via 3.5mm headphone/ microphone combo jack but you’d be surprised to know that the built-in speakers are actually quite good. The m15 uses a 4-way stereo speaker design which Alienware says has twice as good bass and treble performance. Well, they do get plenty loud and have a warm sound output which I can’t say is bassy but it’s far from the tinny sound you get with most laptops. The highs do get a bit harsh at louder volumes but overall, they sound quite good. You can actually use them in gaming too as the fans won’t drown them out.
I loved the Alienware m15 R2 and I love the R3. The Legend design language is just wicked cool and stands out in the plenty of skinny, black business/gaming laptops. There’s a ton of power on tap for every AAA game and all your productivity apps removing the need for a full desktop PC. However, it will cost you an arm and a leg for the privilege. The m15 R3 starts at $3,200 and our unit will set you back just over $6000 which is an absurd amount of money.
Alienware does offer a number of configurations to mix and match your budget but it’ll still be a lot of mullah. I can not justify anyone spending over $3000 for a laptop that can’t even last four hours per charge. Even more so when laptops like the Asus Zephyrus G14 exist that can almost match the performance of the m15 R3 dollar for dollar and will last over seven hours on a charge.
But this is an Alienware and for some people, like me, cost is inherent to the name and it’s not the point. The point is that there simply isn’t any gaming laptop quite like an Alienware and that’s why you buy one. It literally is like using something from out of this world.
Alienware loaned the Alienware m15 R3 to PowerUp! for the purpose of this review