Gaming laptops used to be rare, but today that is no longer the case. It would seem everyone from really small specialist brands to giant manufacturers want a piece of the action and systems available at every price point. These days if you are a gamer you are spoilt for choice and one could argue that gamers are actually too spoilt. With such a wide variety, how much should you spend? If that is what is concerning you then the Alienware 15 might have an answer for you. You can get affordable entry level machines with specs climbing up to high end monsters that cost a lot but offer good value for money.
Meet the monolith
The Alienware 15 is not a slim laptop but it is thinner than some big bruiser gaming laptops that are available on the market. This laptop is 3.4 cm thick and weighs just over 3.4 kilograms. The chassis is made from tough carbon fibre composite. The big advantage with this design is there is lots of room form high end components and cooling, plus you get a rock solid build quality. You won’t be able to feel any flex in the lid and the base itself is rock hard. The rubber coating surrounding the keyboard offers plenty of comfort. Whilst it is not the most elegant machine in the world, something about the monolithic style of this design works.
The chassis basically acts as a lighting vehicle for the Alienware logo and keyboard backlight plus two thin strips on both the front of the base and on the lid, all of which glow blue to match the touchpad which also glows whilst active. If you don’t like the colour blue, you can choose your own colour instead.
Full HD display
Alienware has been intelligent and decided to go with a 15.6-ich full HD IPS panel. Whilst there are clearly screens out there with higher resolutions, gamers tend to be more concerned with frame rates and visual quality rather than high resolution. If you are looking to run games with 30 frames per second (fps) up to 60 fps with settings at their maximum, then 1080p is where it’s at. Whilst the panel is not as bright as some rival screens on the market, we have to say this is a cracker of a display. There are rich and vibrant colours and loads of clarity with extremely wide viewing angles. When you run Full HD video it looks fabulous.
The audio system makes use of Klipsch speakers and software powered by Soundblaster from Creative which is quite effective. There is both power and volume and you do get some badass boom for your buck. The sound system is perfectly adequate for gaming or watching movies, though for the latter you may want to dial the volume down a little. There is an array microphone which will be useful for Skype or in-game chatting.
You are in control
The keyboard of the Alienware 15 is perfect for both work and play. The keys are very responsive and relatively light which is good if you are typing whilst trying to avoid incoming rockets in a game. Like with many other gaming machines there are five extra programmable buttons which means you can create 15 different shortcuts or macros for any application or game. There is lots of space on the keyboard and the layout does not feel cramped. Alienware should be congratulated for making the cursors so distinct though Enter key is no longer the big L shape.
A speedy machine
The Alienware 15 comes in a range of configurations beginning with a quad-core Core i5 sixth generation processor and NVIDIA Geforce GTX965M and then progressing all the way up to the Core i7/GTX970M. The version that was tested had a Core i7 chip with four cores running at speeds of as fast as 3.5GHz. The sample machine had 16GB of DDR4 RAM and the GTX 980M, complete with 8GB of DDR5 RAM. These are the sorts of specifications you would expect has the ability to cope with anything that is thrown at it with full HD resolution which is what Alienware manages to achieve in reality
When you start playing actual games on the machine like Assassins Creed Unity which is one of most demanding PC games available on the market you will find things run very smoothly and at the extremely high detail setting at 1080p. Basically this machine will run all this year’s most popular games at very high 1080p and will likely to be able to do so for at least another couple of years. It’s not quite as powerful as some rival machines but it does not get sand kicked in its face and at roughly $1500 cheaper than those machines it sounds good.
Decent battery life
In general gaming laptops tend not to perform well when it comes to battery life but the Alienware 15 does rather well in this regard. When the rig was tested it was happily able to run over six hours when used lightly or playing Full HD video. This is a huge improvement over rival machines though we have to say when you start gaming on battery, it sucks up a lot of power and without a charger plugged in on a graphics hungry game you will be lucky if you hit two hours before Windows battery saver kicks in.
Despite the fact that there is ample space on the Alienware 15, there aren’t a huge amount of connections. There are three USB ports plus a USB C connector. There is really no need for more with networking needs well covered by a killer Gigabit Ethernet port plus an 802.11ac WiFI module.
The really cool stuff is located on the back where an HDMI port sits next to the optional Alienware Graphics Amplifier. This is an Alienware branded box which you plug in a full length double width PC graphics card. The adapter is not cheap and any card that would improve on the in-built graphics is going to cost a bomb. However, purchasing the gadget is going to ensure you future proof your machine and may even give you the kind of power to run an Oculus Rift, something which few stand-alone laptops currently have the ability to achieve.
Currently gamers have to grapple with the dilemma of storage and whether to go for speed and purchase an SSD or go for space and opt for a conventional hard drive. Alienware has chosen to go with the latter in the sample device that was tested which came with 1 TB HDD which offers plenty of space for games. However, you can specify a combination of HDD and SSD which gives you the best of both worlds. Windows will boot quicker and it is unlikely that you will run out of space.
Alienware 15 verdict
The Alienware 15 does not aim to be the ultimate gaming laptop or the world’s sleekest and most powerful machine. It is trying to offer value for money and a machine that is really nice and well-built that has the capability of running the latest games at full HD 1080p without much fuss that looks cool as well.
It’s not a cheap gaming machine, but in a world where gaming rigs can cost north of $3,000 it really does offer decent value. Sure you could opt to stump up the cash to pay for a higher resolution screen or slightly better performance, but because the Alienware 15 is fast enough for a great high definition gaming experience and many of its rivals are struggling with 4K, you must ask the question whether it is worth it.