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Dell Alienware 15 (R3, 2016) review:

A 15-inch tank, ready to roll into battle

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The Good The Alienware 15 makes the most of its components, and it has a well-designed lighting scheme. Plus, it comes with a decent G-Sync monitor, and it can drive an external display at a high refresh rate and with G-Sync.

The Bad It's on the heavy side at 7.8 pounds, the battery life is middling, and its fans are loud.

The Bottom Line A solid if somewhat uninspiring gaming laptop, the Alienware 15 is a good choice when you need fast performance but not the big screen.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Battery 7.0

Alienware is a veteran in gaming systems, and that's reflected in its R3 version of the Alienware 15. A solid, substantial design packed with midrange components and accented with an ample array of accent lights and backlight zones, it's basically a tank covered with Christmas lights. 

The 15-inch model starts at $1,200, but keep in mind that the lowest-end configurations abut those of the cheaper Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming Laptop, with a GTX 1060 at about $1,250 --  just without all the bells and whistles -- as well as the bigger Alienware 17, which starts at $1,300. You can equip the 15 with up to an overclockable Core i7-7820HK and GeForce GTX 1080 with Max-Q, 32GB memory and additional storage for $3,850. 

Our test configuration costs about $2,425, which is on the expensive side. In contrast, the 15-inch HP Omen with relatively comparable specs and we reviewed recently is only $1,700, though its gaming performance is notably worse. If you're tastes run more to Little Nightmares than Overwatch, you can probably get by with the cheapest configuration.

The closest configuration in the UK is £2,190, with a different version of Killer wireless; prices start at £1,300. In Australia, it's about AU$3,690, with alternatives starting at AU$2,700.

There are various display options: a basic 1,920x1,080 60Hz IPS 300-nit panel, the same but G-Sync enabled, the same resolution but a TN 400-nit 120Hz G-Sync panel, and a UHD (3,840x2,160) IGZO 300-nit IPS panel. You can also opt for an AMD Radeon RX 570 GPU. 

Alienware 15 (R3, 2016)

Price as reviewed $2,424.99
Display size/resolution 15.6-inch 1,920x1,080 display
PC CPU 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ
PC Memory 16GB DDR SDRAM 2,666Mhz
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
Storage 1 TB HDD+512GB SSD
Connectors 1 x Ethernet; 1 x Mini DisplayPort; 1 x HDMI; 2 x USB-C (1 x Thunderbolt/DP); 2 x USB 3 Type-A (1 charging); mic; headphone/audio; dedicated eGPU connection
Networking Killer E2500 Gigabit Ethernet, Killer Wireless 1535, Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)
Weight 7.8 pounds/3.5kg

4K on this system is probably overkill, especially since you're sacrificing refresh rate and G-Sync compatibility to get it. For gaming, 1,920x1,080 on a screen this small suffices, and you don't have the performance penalties of the higher resolution. Pixel density is relatively high at about 141ppi (a pixel pitch of 0.18), so it's fine for non-gaming activities --  you know, like work -- as well. You can always attach a big, high-resolution display to it, and if you do it via the Mini DisplayPort, you'll get G-Sync support. Plus, the battery life isn't great with this low-power panel: Imagine what 4K would do to that.

Our test system came with the TN+WVA display, which turns out to be a pretty nice compromise if you want speed and don't care about color accuracy. In this case "WVA" stands for "wide viewing angle," not to be confused with VA (Vertical Alignment) panels. Viewing angle is better than a cheap TN panel, but I still wouldn't call it "wide." 

Its color gamut measures 93 percent of sRGB, which puts it between the lower-end TN panels and IPS, and hits a peak luminance of about 420 nits -- typical is closer to about 315 nits. There's little ghosting, and at 120Hz games run quite smoothly. If you want better color you can always connect it to an external monitor; I had no trouble running an LG 34UC89G off the Mini DisplayPort at 144Hz with G-Sync. You can connect a display via USB-C/Thunderbolt, but that's not on the GPU bus; it can only run off the Intel HD 630 integrated graphics, so no G-Sync.

Looks aren't everything

Without the lighting effects it's an almost old-fashioned looking system, and feels really solid -- it should at almost 8 pounds/3.5Kg, and that's without the heavy-enough-to-weaponize power brick.

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