Thanks to design tweaks and new parts, Alienware’s genius 15-inch gaming beast, the Alienware M15 R3 gaming laptop, just got a little bit better. But, it is still painfully costly.
Quick Review: Alienware M15 R3 Gaming Laptop
You have to ask how much? You’re probably unable to afford it. So it goes with the most recent revision for 2020 of the fabulous Alienware M15 gaming laptop.
For this loaded analysis setup, at least it does. This 15-inch beast is full of almost the finest elements known to science, man, Christianity, you name it. The Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card is the first, provided that this is a gaming laptop.
It is the top mobile graphics chip for Nvidia, and therefore, practically, the best currently available. However, Alienware has opted for the low-clocked Max-Q variant of the 2080 Super for the relatively slim M15 chassis, which restricts performance somewhat. Nvidia has some other graphics chips from the 3000 series, such as the RTX 3080, but there’s some way off for smartphone models. So, the Super 2080 is quite strong as it has been for some time.
It is a 15-inch 4K OLED screen rated at 400 nits, and, in this sense, it is entirely glorious and troublesome, more of which momentarily. Then there’s the Intel Core i9-10980HK 10th-gen CPU, no less than Intel’s adequate eight-core mobile processor. 32 GB RAM and a 512 GB M.2 SSD round things out in the primary specs department. You’re looking at a reasonable pricing tag starting with a ‘3’, be it in bucks or old-world pounds.
Anyway, how do they all stay together if the core components look sweet in isolation? The M15 is simply the best, not to mention the thinnest 15-inch chassis yet, from Alienware. It has a premium vibe that has eluded the engineers of Alienware before and some clean info, including the natty RGB ‘halo’ ring on the rear.
It feels robust, more importantly. Even if the original keystroke is arguably soft and not as crisp as some gamers want, the keyboard bed is completely rock solid. You also get all the ports you might reasonably ask for, including three USB A sockets, USB-C, Mini DisplayPort, HDMI, Ethernet, and MicroSD (we’d prefer full DisplayPort).
But what about results, the most important thing of all? The new M15 cranks out some very nice numbers in our benchmarks, topping an average of 60 fps in Metro Exodus and Total War: Three Kingdoms and 1080p at ultra settings, both very demanding titles. Any snags? The ‘Max-Q’ thing means this 2080 Super works more like a handheld component of the 2070 Super.
What’s more, the 15-inch panel’s native resolution is 4K, not 1080p. Crank it up to 4K and sustain ultra settings, and in the high 20s and low 30s, you are looking at barely playable frame rates. Knockdown some settings, and, of course, you can smooth things out. And let’s be honest, at 4K on a 15-inch screen, the pixel density and in-game detail will blow your mind. They’re unbelievable.
But the ultimate point is that 4K is still a bit too much display for the Max-Q GPU in pure gaming terms. Maybe that will be resolved by Nvidia’s next-gen mobile graphics. A 1080p or 1440p display, preferably with a far higher 60Hz OLED panel refresh rate than the M15 R3, would be a better match on this chassis for now and for most gamers. Indeed, for the M15 R3, Alienware provides a 300Hz 1080p option. However, there are still exceptions, and in this case, if you consider the present limitations of a 4K OLED screen, this is a fantastic computer.
- CPU: 2.4GHz Intel Core i9-10980HK (eight cores, 16MB cache, up to 5.3GHz Turbo)
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q
- RAM: 32GB
- Screen: 15-inch 4K OLED, 60Hz, 1ms
- Storage: 512GB M.2 SSD
- Ports: 3x USB-A 3.1, USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, MiniDisplayPort, MicroSD, ethernet
- Connectivity: Wifi6AX, Bluetooth 5
- Camera: HD Webcam
- Weight: 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg)
- Size: 14.19 x 10.87 x 0.807 inches (360 x 276 x 20.5 mm; W x D x H)
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At $3,299, the Alienware M15 R3 isn’t exactly cheap when tricked out with top-end modules. In reality, it can start at less than $1,500, but that’s with either a GeForce GTX 1650 Ti graphics or Radeon RX 5500M, neither of which in gaming terms are great shakes.
You will inevitably access the same Processor and GPU, as other gaming laptop providers, such as MSI and Gigabyte, offer this top-tier configuration for less money. Quite the same pro vibe and overall feel-good aspect are what you won’t get. Just how much emphasis you put on that is a subjective decision.
We would suggest thinking hard about the value of the costly 4K OLED option concerning our test setup. Lordy, that looks fantastic. But it produces an enormous GPU load. Alienware’s 1080p 300Hz screen would be the best bet for most gamers.
Design: Alienware M15 R3 Gaming Laptop
This is easily the best 15-inch design yet from Alienware. This isn’t super-slim. Nor is it a member of the trendy zero-bezel brigade; it is pretty beefy, lower bezel and hinge in particular. But it’s not a giant either, at just below an inch thick and tipping the scales at 2.5kg.
Meanwhile, the 240W power supply has been relatively flat and wide and relatively small. Compared to a narrower but thicker brick, that helps with portability. However, the lack of straps to help keep the cables tidy in transit is a shame, to be sure.
It’s also merely much slicker and sexier than the Alienware laptops of previous generations. And the standard is undeniable if the actual design is a subjective decision. This is especially noteworthy in the rock-solid keyboard room, which suffers from virtually no flex or bounce. The keys themselves have a reasonably generous 1.7mm of movement. The action is prolonged, with low noise on the upside. But it might require a little adjustment time for gamers who prefer a more crisp and mechanical feel. As for the glass-topped trackpad, it’s an excellent touch, even though it’s probably going to see little if any gaming action.
Elsewhere, the proof of acceptable engineering is legion. With six phases for the CPU, Alienware has built-in 12-phase graphics voltage control. An innovative approach involving copper heat pipes, vapor chambers, and more giant fans than before manages the cooling. And the chassis coating has been modified by Alienware to minimize smearing and staining.
Alienware also says the four-way stereo speaker configuration packs 2.5x more bass and 2x more treble than before and 30 percent more volume overall. These, frankly, are just some of the highlights. There’s an extensive list of features and revisions.
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The RGB lighting for both the keyboard and the rear ‘halo’ contains other specifics of arguably more aesthetic importance. Via the Alienware AlienFX software, both are configurable. They’ll be a little showy for others. But then, via a quick keyboard shortcut, all the effects can be immediately disabled.
We’re talking about a MicroSD card reader, three SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, HDMI 2.0b, Thunderbolt 3 Mini-DisplayPort 1.4, USB-C, Alienware Graphics Amplification Port, Gigabit Ethernet, and a headphone jack. Your entire base belongs, you might suggest, to Alienware.
Performance: Alienware M15 R3 Gaming Laptop
The Alienware M15 R3 Gaming laptop for 2020 has the measure of just about any game you throw at it at 1080p and with all the settings set to ‘ultra.’ The Nvidia GeForce RTX (2080) Super-mobile graphics chip is mainly down to that. It is as good as mobile GPUs are having at the moment.
At least, it’s almost. This is the 2080 Super’s ‘Max-Q’ variant, and its clock is slightly lower than the regular version. In reality, quiet enough, that gaming performance is about the same as a 2070 Super non-Max-Q fitted to the large M17 chassis of Alienware.
The slight issue with this unique design is that the glorious 15-inch OLED display is 4K. That has two immediate implications. Next, you need to run at native resolution for the best image quality, and that crushes frame rates slightly down to the high 20s or low 30s, again assuming ultra setups.
There is something unique about the visual quality at 4K. This is partially due to the characteristics of OLED – the vibrant colors, the almost infinite contrast, the super quick reaction. But that’s also the insane density and detail of the pixels. Don’t let anyone convince you that 4K on a 15-inch screen is overkill in that respect. Compared to 1080p, you can see a huge difference. It’s amazing.
But it is not convenient to pay this much for a laptop and have to turn off or knock off any of the in-game eye candy. In the most demanding games, the sour reality is that the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 (Super) in Max-Q format missed the graphics chops for totally smooth gaming at 4K, not in mobile form. Maybe the incoming RTX 3000 Series of Nvidia will cross the hurdle. But perhaps six months out, at least, are the smartphone versions of the new Ampere family of GPUs.
Of course, you can choose to run the 4K OLED panel of the M15 at 1080p. However, the effect is the soft quality of non-native images and a refresh rate limited to 60Hz. One of Alieware’s high-refresh 1080p screen options would probably be a better all-around choice for many gamers. The 300Hz panel sounds pretty sweet if online shooters are your thing.
An eight-core gaming laptop with a considerable GPU is not the best starting point if you want better battery life. That said, in the PC Mark 10 battery test, the M15 puts on a decent showing away from the mains, managing more than five hours and watching movies not far away. That’s a few full-length blockbusters on a trip on a plane. Just don’t need more than a few brief seconds to play or crunch a battery power video.
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