- Build quality, Case and design and looks
- Keyboard and Trackpad
- Sound and Speakers
- General subjective performance experience
- Gaming Performance
- Test methods and drivers
- Synthetic 3D benchmarks
- Summarized gaming performance
- Crysis 3
- Bioshock Infinite
- Civilization : Beyond Earth
- Total War : Attila
- Metro : Last Light
- Battlefield 4 Campaign
- Alien : Isolation
- World of Warships
- World of Tanks
- Elite : Dangerous
- Cities : Skylines
- Shadow Of Mordor
- Dragon Age : Inquisition
- Star Citizen
- Dota 2 Reborn
- Thermals, Throttling & Noise handling
- Screen / Screen quality
- Overlocking GTX 970M 3GB GDDR5
- Competing gaming laptops / alternatives
++ Main reason to consider:
Good package. Very good GTX 965M performance along with very good features, including very good thermals, very good keyboard, build quality and noise handling, Thunderbolt 3 USB-C which will be great for future eGPU and you won’t see in some other higer performance laptops.
-- Main reason to avoid:
For around the same price, you can get a GTX 970M equipped laptop which will be much faster, or GTX 960M for considerably less (check alternatives section) Price is on the problematic side currently, but look for new/refurbished deals and for $1100 or less this could be an excellent gaming machine I’d recommend.
Wait for coupons / outlet deals. Aim to $800-$1000 for the 965M version. Currently, the GTX 970M is available refurbished for around $1000-$1100 which is a very good deal:
Alienware 15 R2 basic version
Alienware 15 R2 GTX 970M version
- Refurbished for around $1000-$1100
- Dell – basic 970M version
- With 256GB SSD and 16GB RAM – B&H, Amazon, $1650-$1800
+ Very good build quality with good hinges robustness
+ IPS display with good viewing angles and high enough contrast and brightness (but colors aren't great and brightness could be higher)
+ Thunderbolt 3 USB-C is future proof feature that may be useful for eGPU solutions
+ Very good thermals. No throttling at all or close to that
+ Very good colorful backlit keyboard, quiet and very comfortable to use
+ Storage options: 1xSata 3.0 + 1xM.2 PCIe v.3 x4 + 1xM.2 Sata
+ HDMI 2.0 and mDP
+ Slick looks
+ TPM 2.0 chip
+ "Killer" 802.11ac wifi card
- Soldered GPU and CPU. No replacement (but, really, eGPU will be nicer)
- Hard maintenance, opening the laptop fully is not easy.
- Screen quality in terms of color coverage is strangely mediocre, unlike the previous generation Alienware 15's display. I think it is an RMA issue
- Some 'hiss' when connecting headphones (unlike in previous generation AW15)
- Looks may be too showoff for some, with the alien head and all
- High weight of above 3.0kg
- No GSync
So, the new Dell Alienware 15 R2 is here. My version comes with the Nvidia GTX 965M GPU and the Skylake I5-6300HQ. The update from the previous generation is mostly the Skylake CPU and the thunderbolt 3 USB-C port. The new Skylake I5 is an excellent update since it is a 4Cores/4Threads CPU vs the 2C/4T in the Haswell version and it makes laptops much more ready for the future gaming. The thunderbolt 3 port, however, is even more interesting in my opinion, as it will allow for a serious standardize external GPU (or eGPU) – this feature is not unique and will be available in other laptops too.
For $1200, it’s hard for the Alienware 15 R2 to stand above the competition, as for a little more you can get a Clevo laptop with a GTX 970M and an IPS too, so why did I get the Alienware 15 R2 for $1200 with a GTX 965M? Well, indeed, the GTX 970M version is much more cost effective in terms of gaming power / performance, but I wanted to test the cheaper version which I guesstimate will get cheaper in the near future, including many refurbished options. The previous generation Alienware 15 could be found for like $800 with one year warranty from Dell – this should be interesting for most. Moreover, the thunderbolt 3 is not available in the lower end Clevos, nor in the MSI GT72/s. Asus new G752 series does include it, though. So, my logic is, if you’d be able to get this laptop for like $800 and you’ll have the future proof Thunderbolt 3 gaming capabilities (given the manufacturers won’t implement some blocks), that could be an excellent gaming machine for a long long time.
Other than that, it’s pretty similar to the first Alienware 15 (R1), with the same case, it seems, and same weight and dimensions.
|Model||Dell Alienware 15 R2|
|Price||As tested, $1200|
|CPU||Intel Skylake I5-6300HQ, 4C/4T, 2.3-3.2GHZ|
|GPU||Nvidia GTX 965M 2GB GDDR5|
|Motherboard / Chipset||Alienware Alienware 15 R2 / Intel HM170 (Skylake PCH-H)|
|RAM||Hynix 2x4GB DDR4@2133MHZ|
|Storage||HDD : 1TB 7200RPM HGST HTS721010A9E630|
M.2 : 1xPCIe + 1xSata
|LCD Panel||In review: 1920x1080 IPS 156HL SDC4C48|
|Weight / Dimensions||3.207kg (~7.07 Lbs.)|
385.8 x 270.2 x 23.9-34 mm
15.19" x 10.64" x 0.94-1.339"
(w x d x h)
|Connection Ports||Right side: card reader, Thunderbolt 3 / USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C, RJ-45|
Left: power-in , 2XUSB 3.0, Lexington key, microphone/headphone, headphone/linein analog
Rear: Alienware Amplifier port, HDMI 2.0
|WiFi / Ethernet||WiFi: Killer 1535 802.11ac 2x2 / Atheros/Qualcomm QCA6174 802.11ac|
Ethernet: Qualcomm/Atheros e2400 PCI-E
|Speakers / Audio||Klipsch 2.0 speakers|
|Bios / EC version (test unit)||1.1.5 /|
The case is the same, maybe minus very minor changes I can’t identify, so I’ll copy paste my last impressions from the first Alienware 15, which were very good:
Mostly excellent, at least from the outside. The case itself is very firm at all points including the outer screen lid which protects the display panel itself. Hinges are firm too and generally I felt very good with this machine. I don’t about the inner parts, but that’s true to other laptops too. Hard drive or fan trembles are minimal and noise from Hard drive operation is also low. So, overall, the feel it very good.
The points of concern is the usual gaps between the buttons where dust can get in. The more acute problem is that getting into the inner parts and the motherboard is a problem. More pictures and description below.
Again, same as the first AW15, as far as I can see and remember (which maybe is not enough). Please read
Maintenance and inner parts
As described before, the AW15 feeling is very good. I didn’t find cricking parts on the case and there is only very low noise of hard drive and fan operations, which means the inner parts are placed well and cared for.
There is a maintenance panel on the bottom of the laptop. Removing it will reveal two memory banks (which is the total of them), the Wifi card and 1xSata 3. + 2xM.2 slots. However, it’s hard to really get to the motherboard. Disassembling the AW15 is quite a job, beyond the maintenance panel.
The CPU and GPU are not replaceable and you cannot change the GPU or CPU later on, in a non-Clevo fasion. Broadwell update is not an option for AW15 owners. Both the CPU and GPU have a connected cooling system, shown here (from myfixguide.com):
Seems to me like they are the same or very similar to the AW15 R1 keyboard and trackpad. Please read. In general, a very good and comfortable keyboard. One of the strongest parts of the AW15.
Please read the previous AW15 speakers conclusion. One difference is that, one of the jacks is more noisy (like a ‘hiss’), seems to me. Use the other and define it via the Recon3D software. Though, generally, the previous AW15 I’ve tested had a better heahphone jack, in terms of background noise.
The AW15 in its basic form comes with a 1TB 7200RPM HDD. That the same HGST HTS721010A9E630 we’ve seen in many many laptops that have a 7200RPM HDD.
My experience was suboptimal with some sluggishness with the Windows 10 UI, but since I had it with several laptops now with Windows 10, I think it is related to Windows 10, including some bugs and stuff like that
Otherwise, I’m pretty ok with the AW15. Here are GPU-Z and CPU-Z screenshots
3DMark performance – link to source:
Octane V2 benchmarks :
Nothing new really in terms of gaming performance – more or less the same GTX 965M performance levels we’ve seen in other benchmarks.
And let’s compare the new Alienware 15 R2 with the Skylake I5-6300HQ (4C/4T) to the first generation with Haswell I5-4210H (2C/4T). Remember that except the sheer DX11/OpenGL gaming performance, there are other advantages to the Skylake CPU – better IPC, higher energy efficiency and a better iGPU with full 4K H.265 hardware decoding capabilities.
Anandtech showed that you’ll gain around 5-6% in IPC (Instructions per clock) compared to Haswell (link) and it shows, but in some games the gains are even higher than that, and it’s probably thanks to the real four cores compared to the Hyperthreading cores. These numbers are the same as in GTX 965M benchmarks with an Haswell I7 (link), So the IPC part is probably not that of a factor in this case.
It is, however, interesting to see that the gains are not huge even though the 4 Skylake cores are much faster. This is, again, the same issue of DX11/OpenGL and also, the issue of being GPU-bottlenecked and not CPU-bottlenecked in large. The DX12 Ashes of Singularity benchmarks analysis over the web showed that AMD GPUs based on GCN architecture will actually gain a lot more from DX12/Vulkan, since they were actually underutilized in a serious way – the more advanced parallelism / Asynchronous computing capabilities of the GCN architecture were not really utilized (read more). So, when coupled with a GCN based card, you should see considerable gains – not that I know of such laptops, but, then again – eGPU.
Same performance as in other GTX 965M benchmarks, including the first AW15 with an I5-4210H. However, the game felt smoother to me. I don’t know if it’s just my imagination, though. I’d go with “high” preset and SMAAx2
The new iteration of Total War : Rome II, Attila is a much more demanding game and FPSs are much lower.
Metro : Last Light is a very demanding game with AO and tessellation taking a lot of the GPU juice. It might be a matter of optimization too.
The new title from the series of “World of [some gun]” herladed by the popular World of Tanks.
The benchmark consisted on a traveling inside and out the Cleve Hub space port which is a taxing graphical environment compared to this game.
This is a new “sim” game only new and much more fancy (link to steam) with vastly positive reviews from people (10/10 on Steam, for example). I run the Los Santos premade city (download here) and run with the camera from the airport to the hills with almost maximal zoom.
Finally, the FPSs are not limited. Gameplay was very smooth. This is version 1.1.0b.
The new Dota2. The characteristics of CPU and GPU usage are strange. Both are underutilized, so something is bottlenecking. But moreover, it doesn’t seem right that the CPU is so stressed in this game, especially since in many points in the game there isn’t a lot of action/effects. I suspect that the new Dota 2 engine is already being readies to Vulkan API and we are seeing here, actually, the different way things are working with Vulkan. We’ll see how my bet pan out.
Star Citizen acts strangely. The difference in FPS between “Medium” and “Very High” is not really that significant. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but it shouldn’t be like that.
The new version of Dota 2, still in beta stage. Dota 2 Reborn is built on the new Source 2 3D Engine which also compatible with the Vulkan API (OpenGL DX12 alternative).
Performance is very good.
Cool air sucked from the bottom of the machine (hence, it’s important to keep its bottom above the sitting surface) and is thrown from th rear ventilation holes.
1. Idle, power saver mode
2. Gaming : Crysis 3 gameplay. “very high” settings with SMAAx2 For Crysis 3, “High performance” power mode.
3. Prime95 torture test. “High performance” power mode.
4. Prime95 + Furmark on 1366×768 test, AAx2. “High performance” power mode.
The Alienware 15 can easily handle the I5-6300HQ + GTX 965M hardware even when maximal load takes place. It does it with rather low noise levels. Crysis 3 is also not a problem and remember that this is a 4C/4T chip, unlike 2C/4T I5-4210H in the previous version. You can safely go with a GTX 970M too. I wouldn’t do it, though, because as I said I’d look ahead for a TB3 eGPU.
Same as the AW15. The Alienware 15 bottom gets a little warm, but nothing you could consider as a threat to your legs. The keyboard and palm rests temperatures remain quite low with little difference between gaming and idle states.
The I5-6300HQ is a 45W TDP part and it barely scratches this, even when running Prime95 and Furmark. While running Battlefield, the readings were around 20-23W tops.
Except from some glitches in clock rate here and there, the clocks of the I5-4210H inside the AW15 are kept at 3.3-3.4GHZ which is very high.
And a table:
|CPU throttle||GPU throttle||Idle|
|No||No||Prime95 + furmark|
|No||No||Battlefield 4 Campaign, Ultra@1080p|
Under light load / watching movies you won’t hear a thing and the cooling system does a good job being quiet and efficient.
Under high load or gaming, the Alienware 15 cooling system keeps it rather quiet too and far from the maximal fans speed. Generally, I’m very satisfied with the cooling and noise performance. Same as the AW15 R1, though I’m not sure it’s the same one.
The Alienware 15 R2 basic version comes with a 15.6″ 1080p IPS display, currently the model is unknown exactly according to HWInfo, marked as SAMSUNG SDC4C48 156HL [DELL P/N: 4NDDJ]. The display is quite bright and I’ve never used more than 50% brightness indoors – however, it seems that the readings are not that good, with rather low maximal brightness.
Unfortunately, unlike the display in the first version of the AW15, this one has quite low color palette, topping ~61% sRGB, which is really low. At least, those are the Spyder4Elite reading.
Viewing angles are rather good (stated 85 degrees), with colors and brightness at minimal distort:
The medicore color readings are too strange and I’ll take it as an issue or some kind of problem with the display or my measurements. No sense that an IPS with good specifications will have such readings and I guess it could be replaced with warranty. Viewing angles and contrast are good.
Other people have reported the same about the colors. However, re reading the luminence with xRite i1Display showed higher results then I previously thought : around 0.19 black and ~195cd/m^2 for white, both at maximal brightness settings, which results around 1:1000 contrast ratio with very good blacks.
With a huge 92Wh battery, the AW15 can hold its breath for quite some time. Idling or doing really low load operations like reading some document with 30-40% display brightness will require only 9-12W (depends whether you turn off Wifi and backlit keyboard) and the AW15 energy supply will linger for around 8-9.5 hours.
Running with a balanced power mode, browsing websites with chrome, running LibreOffice documents and all, you can squeeze a nice 6-7 hours of use (around 14W/h)
I’ve used MSI AfterBurner to overclock the GPU. These are the settings:
- GTX 965M core +135MHZ which is around 14% overclock.
- GTX 965M GDDR5 + 300MHZ, going from 5GHZ to 5.6GHZ effective, around 12% advantage.
I had no stability issues.
Temperatures are very good for the GPU, even when overclocked.
- I’ll regard the screen quality as an issue as the measurements are far away from the specifications for such a display and I see no reason that an IPS display will have such bad colors.
- Hiss from the headphones jack, when connecting headphones
This is a current list which I won’t update probably, so it’s better to search again and look for discounts, even on the forums here.
GTX 970M equipped laptops – just to get a notion of the prices. For around $1400-$1600 which is around 16-25% higher price, you can get 33% higher gaming performance. Not that it is needed to have fun, but I’m just saying.
- Alienware 15 R2 GTX 970M version: $1650-$1700 with 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD + 16GB RAM (B&H, Amazon, Dell) or the basic version with 8GB RAM and no 256GB SSD from Dell. I guess there will be better deals
- Clevo P65X variants with GTX 970M – for around $1300-$1500 from Amazon, XoticPC, Eurocom, Pro-Star and others
- Dell Alienware 17 R3 17.3″ – around $1400-$1500 : with Skylake I7, GTX 970M (Amazon, B&H, Dell)
However, the Clevos and even the MSI GT72S basic models have no Thunderbolt3 USB-C which I really prefer to have, for future eGPU (maybe)
GTX 960M/965M alternatives:
- The new Dell Inspiron 7559 with I5-6300HQ for $800, 1080p IPS, GTX 960M, 1TB SSHD. The cheapest, for $800, very cost effective, but no TB3 I think.
- Upcoming Acer VN7-592G with GTX 960M, IPS, Skylake I7, USB-C and I think a TB3 too.
- Lenovo Y700, the Y50 successor
- Various laptops with GTX 960M and GTX 965M (Amazon)
Generally, I tend to prefer a more modular machine currently – a TB3 or some other option (Oculink maybe in the future), would be nicer, in my opinion, then another 33% in gaming performance, if the price is right.
Well, the Alienware 15 R2 is an update for a very good gaming laptop, the first Alienware 15. It has a very good gaming performance, but also very good peripherals and extra features – very good and comfortable keyboard, good touchpad, good enough speakers, very good build quality, HDMI 2.0 + mDP, TPM 2.0, enough storage options including an 1xM.2 PCIe, Thunderbolt USB-C connection port and an IPS display (which is strangely mediocre in my specific laptop, but I don’t think it is a rule). The big battery and ok consumption levels in low loads result in a good battery performance of up to 8-9 hours for simple reading/office and 5-6 hours for normal use, browsing and running office application, with ease, even more. Add to that very good thermals and noise handling that and you get a very fun to use gaming laptop overall.
The Thunderbolt3 USB-C might prove itself as a future proof for eGPUs, but it depends on Intel and stuff like that. Intel has showed off some external GPU devices, but we’ll have to see if and when an actual product will be available and for what price. I think there will be products available for it, personally. Even the MSI GT72S basic version and the lower end Clevo laptops (with 970M) have no TB3.
The IPS display is strangely mediocre with below average color coverage (61% sRGB!), but good viewing angles and good brightness/contrast. I’ll check again with some other device and let you know. If the readings are correct, I think this is an RMA level issue and the display should be replaced because this series of panel have a much better specifications according to the manufacturer (Samsung), and a variance can’t explain it.
However, the biggest issue for most will be the pricing. $1200 for a GTX 965M, when for $200-$300 more you can get a GTX 970M and an I7, even from the same series, makes this model with a 965M not the most cost effective. I would suggest waiting for new/refurbished deals. The previous model could be bought for like $800 with an I5 and 965M from Dell. Personally, I’d wait to see how it goes with the TB3 eGPU field and then decide.
About the Skylake I5-6300HQ and Nvidia GTX 965M. The Skylake I5-6300HQ is unlike the previous generation’s I5-420YX because it is a 4C/4T and not 2C/4T CPU. It means it has a lot more compute power and it is more ready for future applications/games. I wouldn’t feel any need to get the I7 upgrade which means also more heat. The Skylake I5 will be also future proof when coupled with a powerful eGPU. The GTX 965M has a known gaming performance which is very adequate for 1080p gaming at high graphics settings for most games, including stuff like Crysis 3 and Battlefield 4. You can add to that the GPU overclocking headroom this laptop has for both core and GDDR5. We saw some nice gains in some games which closes the gap between it and the 970M a little.
So, bottom line, this is a very good machine in my opinion, even more than the previous model (except for the IPS quality glitch), but I’d suggest waiting to see how things go in the eGPU field and I’d wait for deals/coupons. For like $1100 I’d say it is a very robust deal and for less it could be considered an excellent deal, in my opinion.
* I’ll just add that the Alienware Amplifier can be purchased for around $120-$130 from eBay, and this will allow you to connect a desktop GPU like the a second hand 290X to this laptop. It is now a more reasonable solution than it was before because the I5-6300HQ is a 4C/4T CPU which is much more adequate for high performance GPUs. I would prefer it to be open-source and standard solution, plus connected to a $500 laptop, not $1200, but that’s a good option for the future as well.