Dell’s Alienware laptops has always been a must-have gaming machine for almost every professional or casual gamer, but the 15-inch model has a handful of cool features that need to be in the spotlight and they make this machine more desirable than other Alienware notebooks, at least for now. For starters, the Alienware 15 is the most budget version, but can also be equipped with the latest NVIDIA or AMD GPUs, if you are willing to pay the extra money. Also, the notebook has been praised by many tech blogs and websites during the CES 2015 annual event and we can sure see why.
Nevertheless, the Alienware 15 has been placed in the higher-end segment, but its hardware isn’t as impressive as it should be. The Intel Core i5-4210H dual-core CPU and the powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M graphics card can be found in a much more affordable machines and for the current price (around €1600) you can easily snatch a gaming machine featuring the higher-end GPUs like GeForce GTX 970M or the GTX 980M. Furthermore, the Alienware 15 has a dual-core CPU and not a gaming 4-core i5 or i7 processor, that’s regarding the reviewed configuration, of course. So, what’s the point of buying this gaming laptop then? Well, it is part of the Alienware notebook lineup, that’s believed to have an excellent cooling system, quality build and design that looks like something taken from the latest “Back to the Future” sequel. It really makes you feel good about yourself because every inch of this laptop is built with excellence. Likewise, the Alienware 15 has some other useful and nifty features that can’t be found in other notebooks. Continue reading to find out what makes the Alienware 15 so special.
Before we begin, we suggest you watch Georgi Dobrikov’s video review and get to know better the Alienware 15.
The Alienware 15 comes in a big black box with the Alienware logo on top. Opening the case will surely remind you that you’ve bought a super-expensive gaming notebook, but you won’t find anything special inside. The usual user manuals, charging cable and AC charger are present.
Design and construction
Alienware 15’s chassis is mostly made of plastic on the exterior, but the main frame of the body is carbon fiber and you will find aluminum elements on the top lid and bottom. As always, Dell has put some effort so that the Alienware 15 looks fancy enough to appeal to most gamers and at the same time follows the familiar design signature.
The lid is made of anodized, metallic aluminum with several interesting ornaments that feature LED backlight that can also be adjusted to suit your taste with the additional software, which is pre-installed with the OS. More on that in the “Software” section below. You can also enjoy Alienware’s logo on the top side of the lid, again paired with LED lights. The bottom edges are quite distinctive as they are curved and when the lid is closed they merge with the main body. On the other side of the lid is the usual FHD IPS panel with LED “Alienware” engraved at the bottom and the 2.0MP webcam at the top. The top cover is supported by two stiff hinges and seem sturdy enough for a long and continues use without any problems. The bottom, however, is mainly plastic with only aluminum elements on the side edges. There’s also a huge metal grill that can be used for an external cooling pad and right below it is the main service cover. Opening it will give you access to the usual upgrade storage options and RAM chips.
Quite typical for an Alienware notebook, this one has an impressively thick profile of 34 mm (1.34″) with the usual ports and connectivity options on the sides. On the left are located the DC charging port, two USB 3.0, and 3.5 mm jacks for a dedicated microphone and headphones. On the other side, you will find again two USB 3.0 ports, SD card slot, and LAN. Up front are two decorative grills and under them are located LED lights (again). The back of the machine also contains several useful ports like HDMI 1.4, Mini-Display port and the infamous Alienware Graphics Amplifier port along with the main heat dispersing grills. This notebook is the first one from the lineup to feature this connectivity option. Basically, this port allows you to connect to an external Alienware Graphics Amplifier case with its own power supply and can fit inside dual desktop GPU setups making your Alienware laptop even more powerful and Dell claims that this little box can boost your laptop’s performance making it comparable to desktop gaming machine. Furthermore, the Graphics Amplifier gives your Core i7 CPU more raw voltage and clocking it even higher. This thing definitely sounds interesting and we will try to get our hands on one to see how it performs in real-life usage.
Moving on to the interior of the machine which is made of soft-touch, matte plastic. Near the screen is the Alienware logo with LED backlight and you can turn on the laptop by pressing it. Below is the keyboard, which has big, comfortable keys, but instead of a placing a num pad, Dell put 5 programmable macro keys on the left. Keys feel sturdy, provide long and tactile feedback and you will find them quite good for gaming, but not so for typing. Due to the macro keys, the main keyboard is a little bit on the right and it will probably take some time for you to adjust. We had problems with the placement of the Ctrl, Fn, and Windows key every time we used the notebook. However, the touchpad is shifted accordingly and it’s placed in the center. It feels pretty nice, responsive and has two dedicated mouse buttons with a similar soft and tactile feedback.
However, the LED light options steal the show here. You can choose the color of the LED light in four different areas of the keyboard. You have 3 zones on the main keyboard (left, right and center) and the 4th is the macro keys. Alienware’s logo and inscription are also customizable. The thing we liked most, though, is the touchpad. The whole thing glows in a selected color and lights up when you touch it or use the keyboard. Makes it easy for you to spot in the dark and looks really futuristic. It’s like touching a glowing floating object – pretty nifty!
Despite all the cool design features and awesome LED lights, the Alienware 15 still looks freakishly big for a 15-incher. A lot of manufacturers already moved to a slimmer chassis (Acer, ASUS, MSI, Lenovo) and offer a similar if not more powerful hardware. Nevertheless, the Alienware 15 still excels in the cooling department and stands unmatched when it comes to storage options. Read on the next section to find out why.
Disassembly and upgrade options
If you are going to upgrade your storage or RAM – no worries, the main service lid will take you to your HDD, RAM and two additional M.2 SATA slots, measuring at 80mm. This is really rare, especially considering that you have two NGFF slots at your disposal. You can find more information in this short article:
Nevertheless, the full disassembly of the Alienware 15 is a really tough job. You have to remove the main service cover on the bottom, remove all the screws around the chassis, then the cables, then you have to pop out the keyboard with a plastic tool, and if that’s not enough, the whole lid should be removed too. You will find this quite a hassle and if you need to clean the CPU and GPU fans – this will take a while.
Alienware 15’s display uses Full HD IPS panel manufactured by Samsung with a model number of FYTXT-156HL measuring at 15.6-inch diagonal. Screen ratio is 16:9 (as usual) and the pixel density is 141 PPI and space between each pixel – 0.18 x 0.18 mm.
And here is how the image quality changes when viewed from 45 degree angle.
The maximum brightness we’ve measured is 313 cd/m2 with a deviation of 11% (quite neglectable). Also, 313 cd/m2 is ideal brightness for very bright rooms and even outdoors. The recorded deviation was on the top left corner. We’ve also measured the average color temperature on white screen at maximum brightness and it was 7478K which is significantly coler than the optimal one of 6500K (D65).
Color gamut coverage (CIE)
Alienware 15’s display covers 94% of the sRGB and 73% of the Adobe RGB color gamut. The WEB-based colors are missing only a small portion of the red spectre.
The tone response curve shows us that images with medium and high brightness will appear a bit dimmer than usual.
We created a profile for the panel with 140 cd/m2 (41%) brightness and color temperature of 6500K. The contrast ratio is 750:1.
It appears that after calibration, the panel is able to reproducie really accurate colors (90% of the colors are so well reproduced, that the deviation can only be viewed in lab conditions). That being said, the average DeltaE(76)=0.75.
We repeated the operation with a different calibrator, but this time we’ve measured the color accuracy before calibration.
After the calibration the color accuracy was still good.
You can see the color map below, but we doubt that you will notice the difference easily as the chances of you reading this article on a display with not so accurate color reproduction.
Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM, Screen Flickering)
The panel used in this notebook has PWM (pulse-width modulation) only at low levels of brightness. Screen flickering is absent even at 85 cd/m2, meaning that most common brightness levels will not damage your eyes, making the panel mostly user friendly. We can asess this screen with at least 4 out of 5.
This test is mostly important for gamers and since this is a gaming laptop, we should expect lower response for minimal delay between input and output of the display. We recorded the refresh time of the pixels from black to white and white to black for 10 to 90%. So we were able to measure Fall Time + Rise Time = 33 ms, which is more than 3 times the response time a TN panel would reach. But the TN panel cannot be compared to an IPS panel in terms of image quality.
Alienware 15’s display has high resolution, brightness, contrast, good viewing angles, and accurate colors. The response time is the onlye letdown as this can prove crucial for first-person gamers. But most important thing of them all is the absence of PWM across almost all brightness levels.
|Processor||Intel Core i5-4210H (2-core, 2.90 – 3.50 GHz, 3MB cache)|
|RAM||8GB (2x 4096MB) – DDR3, 1600MHz|
|Graphics card||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M (2GB GDDR5)|
|HDD/SSD||1TB HDD (5400rpm)|
|Display||15.6-inch (39.62 cm) – 1920×1080 (Full HD), IPS matte|
|Connectivity||LAN 10/100/1000 Mbps, Wi-Fi 802.11agn 2×2, Bluetooth 4.1|
|Battery||8-cell Lithium Ion (92 Wh)|
|Thickness||34.0 mm (1.339″)|
|Weight||3.207 kg (7.07 lbs)|
Alienware 15 configurations
For testing purposes we used Winows 8.1 (64-bit) that comes pre-installed with the notebook. However, if you wish to perform a clean installation, you can download all the needed drivers from here: http://www.dell.com/support/home/uk/en/ukdhs1/product-support/product/alienware-15/drivers
Along with the OS, you can find the Alien FX software that enables you to customize all of the LED lights on the chassis and some other security features from Alienware.
The Alienware 15 is a gaming-oriented notebook and we cannot expect a good battery performance considering the power-hungry hardware. In the big chassis, Dell was able to cram up inside a huge 92Wh 8-cell battery, but even that cannot run this hardware for too long. We ran the usual tests like web browsing, video playback and gaming. All test share the same conditions – Wi-Fi turned on, Bluetooth is off, power saver is turned on, and screen brightness is set to 120cd/m2.
In order to simulate real-life conditions, we used our own script for automatic web browsing through over 70 websites.
Browsing time will get you up to 230 minutes (3 hours and 50 minutes), which is a good result for a gaming laptop.
Watching a movie
For every test like this, we use the same video in HD.
Almost identical result – 224 minutes (3 hours and 44 minutes).
For accurate simulation, we used the Metro Last Light benchmark running on loop with graphic settings set to minimum.
You might not end up using the notebook without a power source, but for evaluation purposes the machine sustained for 120 minutes (2 hours).
The Intel Core i5-4210H is a direct successor to the Core i5-4200H, both of which are part of the Haswell generation CPUs, manufactured with 22nm process. It offers two cores clocked at 2.9GHz and can go up to 3.4GHz thanks to the Turbo Boost feature or 3.5GHz for one active core. For the record, the i5-4200H has slightly lower clocks – 2.8-3.4GHz.
The CPU has integrated graphics core – Intel HD Graphics 4600, wich features 20 Execution Units and a base clock of 400MHz and a maximum one of 1150MHz. However, the overall consumption of the SoC with the memory controller and VRMs is 47W, which is typical for quad-core CPUs, so this makes the chip suitable for 15-inch laptops or bigger.
You can browse through our top CPUs ranking: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-cpu-ranking/
Here you will find other useful information and every notebook we’ve tested with this processor: http://laptopmedia.com/processor/intel-core-i5-4210h/
Results are from the Cinebench 15 CPU test (the higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Fritz chess benchmark (the higher the score, the better)
Results are from our Photoshop benchmark test (the lower the score, the better)
Fritz is a chess benchmark which tests the computing capabilities of the CPU with various chess moves. The Intel Core i5-4210HQ managed to get 6.410 million moves per second. For comparison, one of the most powerful PCs, Deep(er) Blue, was able to squeeze out 200 million moves per second. In 1997 Deep(er) Blue even beat the famous Garry Kasparov with 3.5 to 2.5.
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M is a dedicated GPU that’s placed in upper mid-range or high-end gaming notebooks and it’s part of the Maxwell generation GPUs from NVIDIA. In terms of performance, the GPU is right between GTX 960M and GTX 970M, but it has more common specifications to the GTX 970M and 980M. The GPU in the graphics card is the GM204 with the same manufacturing process – 28nm. The processing unit is clocked at 924MHz and can go up to 950MHz when more performance is needed.
The GeForce GTX 965M works with 1024 CUDA cores (shading units), 64 texture units and 32 ROPs. This GPU can be equipped with 2GB or up to 4GB of dedicated memory (GDDR5) along with 128-bus width and 2500MHz of maximum frequency capping 80.2GB/s transfer rate. Like all modern GPUs, the GTX 965M supports features like Battery Boost, GameStream, ShadoPlay, GPU Boost 2.0, PhysX, CUDA, SLI, GeForce Experience, but most importantly, the GM207 is the first chip that supports DirectX 11.2 API.
You can browse through our top GPUs ranking: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-graphics-ranking/
Here you will find other useful information and every notebook we’ve tested with this GPU: http://laptopmedia.com/video-card/nvidia-geforce-gtx-965m/
Results are from the 3DMark: Fire Strike (Graphics) benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Heaven 3.0 benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Heaven 4.0 benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Superposition benchmark (higher the score, the better)
All gaming tests were run with the latest NVIDIA GeForce 350.12 WHQL drivers. For now, we are going to provide only these 3 simple gaming tests and tomorrow we will update the review with more gaming tests including GTA V and Thief.
|Metro: LL (1080p, Low)||Metro: LL (1080p, Medium)||Metro: LL (1080p, Max)|
|56 fps||52 fps||22 fps|
|Tomb Raider (1080p, Low)||Tomb Raider (1080p, Medium)||Tomb Raider (1080p, Max)|
|175 fps||78 fps||37 fps|
|F1 2014 (1080p, Low)||F1 2014 (1080p, Medium)||F1 2014 (1080p, Max)|
|116 fps||94 fps||82 fps|
|Thief (1080p, Low)||Thief (1080p, Medium)||Thief (1080p, Max)|
|54 fps||49 fps||35 fps|
|GTA 5 (1080p, Low)||GTA 5 (1080p, Medium)||GTA 5 (1080p, Max)|
|118 fps||46 fps||23 fps|
We just love torturing notebooks and just like every device we get our hands on, we run series of test to evaluate the cooling system and the overall stability of the hardware. We start off with 100% CPU load to see how the CPU handles higher temperatures and if any throttling occurs. At normal usage, the CPU runs at 45°C and reached 91°C for a few seconds, but when the fans kicked in, the temperature declined below 80°C. Unfortunately, the Turbo frequency didn’t last long and dropped at 2.9GHz. At least that one lasted until the end of the test, so no throttling was recorded. You can see the CPU load (green line) and the temperature (red line) on the screenshot below.
After one hour of CPU stress, we included the GPU stress test to see if both units share the heat. Well, the CPU got a little hotter reaching 85-88°C, but still far from the maximum operating temperature of 100°C and the best part is that the CPU continued working at 2.9GHz. The GPU, on the other hand, remained really cool during the whole test, reaching temperatures of only 60°C while other laptops keep the GPU at around 70-80°C. The results are almost flawless, but let’s take a look at how the inner temperature affects the outer chassis and therefore – user experience.
The coolings system does the job just fine keeping the internals relatively cool without reaching dangerous temperatures and at the same time protects the user experience. In other words, don’t worry for your internals and also, you won’t feel the heat on the surface at all. The hottest point is 39.8°C (near the Alienware logo), but even that is quite impressive. Although, the Alienware 15 is a bit on the noisy side. When we ran the CPU stress test the fans were really quiet, but the minute we turned on the GPU stress test, fans became really noisy. But maybe that’s the price you have to pay for a decent cooling system. Oh, and also the thick profile, don’t forget the bulky and heavy chassis.
Alienware 15 carries the legacy of its predecessors with great design signature, excellent cooling system and nifty LED lights around the exterior and interior. This notebook also carries the negatives of the previous generations like thick profile and big weight, but this comes as a plus when it comes to storage options and cooling system. In both, the Alienware 15 excels with one HDD/SSD slot plus two M.2 SATA slots and flawless cooling system.
The display department is also where this machine beats its competitors to the finish. It has quality IPS panel with good color reproduction, high maximum brightness and it’s user-friendly (it doesn’t have PWM above 26% brightness). This is a rare gem considering most gaming notebooks out there. Still, this screen has its drawbacks and it’s the recorded response time of 33 ms, which would be crucial for a gamer loving the first-person shooting genre.
Spec-wise, this machine has a powerful GPU with overall good performance, but the CPU can’t keep up with most of its competitors. For the price of around €1600 you can easily snatch a notebook with quad-core Core i7 CPU, but you might be disappointed with the GPU performance. So the question here is: Are you willing to trade the CPU for a more capable GPU? IF the answer is yes – go for the Alienware 15. It’s a great notebook and gives you a room for improvement with the Alienware Graphics Amplifier and the CPU will still handle any modern game and it won’t affect your FPS much.
- Great screen quality with accurate color reproduction, high brightness and absence of PWM
- Cool design with beautiful and customizable LED lights
- Comfortable keyboard and touchpad
- Unmatched storage options in its class or any other of that matter
- Excellent build quality
- Well-designed cooling system
- Underwhelming CPU performance
- Bulky and heavy
- We expected at least one SSD in the configuration, instead the Alienware 15 has only one slow 5400rpm HDD