Alienware 15 R3 Review (GTX 1060, I7-6700HQ)

++ Main reason to consider:

Feature rich (TB3 port, HDMI 2.0, mDP, 3xM.2), good looks

-- Main reason to avoid:

Performance/price is not as good as other machine, while not offering much more (and in some cases, less). Plus, the gamer-teenager-fanboy styling probably is a deal breaker for some

Availability

Mostly from Dell:

Pro : + Under gaming (Ahes Of Singularity), clocks remain maximal
+ Very good keyboard and touchpad, very comfortable and quiet
+ Relatively bright IPS display, with high contrast. No PWM (no flickering).
+ Good connection ports selection - mDP v1.2, HDMI 2.0, Alienware Amplifier, Thunderbolt 3
+ The multicolor backlit delivers pleasant colors that can be configured by area and color.
+ Chassis and screen's outer lid are rigid (will protect the screen), hinges are strong. Keyboard does not yield under pressure
+ Tobii eyetracking system which is quite nice (but I couldn't make it work)
+ Many hotkey custom configuration options
+ 3xM.2 slots (1xM.2 2240, 2xM.2 2280), at least one of them is NVMe PCIe slot
+ eGPU options via TB3 or Amplifier
Con : - CPU temperatures can get very high under very load of the GPU and CPU (like in Furmark + Prime95)
- Relatively high price for the offered performance (but there will be discounts probably)
- The 2.0 speakers are a little bit of disappointment - not too bad, but certainly far from high quality
- The Alienware styling could be a little too much for some
- CPU & GPU cannot be replaced nor upgraded
- Quite heavy, at around 3.5kg + PSU
- Battery performance seems to be a bit lower in low load scenarios, for some reason. Couldn't make it better.
- No GSync
More Reviews :

Introduction

alienware-15-r3

Welcome to the Alienware 15 R3 Review. The AW15R3 is the latest iteration of Dell’s 15.6″ top gaming laptop. The specific reviewed model is almost the most basic version of them, sporting an I7-6700HQ CPU, GTX 1060 6GB GPU, 1080p IPS display and 1TB 7200RPM HDD. It is one step up from the version with the I5-6300HQ CPU.

The Alienware 15 series is branded as a high quality, feature rich gaming laptops and its repertoire includes latest connection ports like mDP (only v1.2 in this model), HDMI 2.0, Alienware Amplifier port (eGPU), Thunderbolt 3 port, 2xUSB type-C ports, 3xM.2 storage ports and more. The Alienware series also excels in high finished looks (although styling may be too heavy for many).

Finally, the Alienware series brand is very strong, but a gaming laptop should be measured by the basic capabilities such as 3D performance, thermal performance, display, keyboard and noise levels. Let’s see how the Alienware 15 R3 fairs!

ComponentDescription
Model NamesAlienware 15 R3
PriceBasic version: $1250-1400 (1x8GB DDR4 RAM, GTX 1060, I7-6700HQ)
CPUI7-6700HQ (2.6GHZ-3.5GHZ, 45W)
MotherboardAlienware 060W4T / Intel CM236 (Skylake PCH-H)
4xPCI Express x1, 2xPCI Express x4, 1xPCI Express x8, 1xPCI Express x16
GPUNvidia Geforce GTX 1060 6GB GDDR5, 1280 shadars core@1405-1671MHZ, GDDR5@2GHZ, 192-bit bus
RAMAs configured: 1x8GB Samsung 2400MHZ DDR4 (M471A2K43BB1-CPB)
In my tests, I used 2x8GB 2400MHZ DDR4 modules.
2 total memory slots
StorageHDD : HGST HTS721010A9E630 7200RPM 1TB HDD
SSD:
M.2: 1xM.2 PCIe NVMe 2280, 1xM.2 NVMe 2280, 1xM.2 SATA(?) 2240
LCD PanelIn review: 1080p 15.6", 156WF6 [DELL P/N: F7HH2], IPS, 30-pin eDP, GSync disabled
Weight / Dimensions~3.49kg / ~7.69 lbs, PSU ~0.8kg
389 x 305 x 25.4 mm
15.3” x 12” x 1.0”
(w x d x h)
Keyboardmulticolor backlit, 4 levels including off
Connection Portsright side: Type-A SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Port
Left: Noble Lock port (cable and lock sold separately), Type-C SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Port, Type-A SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Port with PowerShare technology, Headphone 1/8" Port, Audio Out 1/8" Ports
Rear: RJ-45 Killer, mDP 1.2, HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt™ 3 Port, Alienware Amplifier Port, Power/DC-in Jack
Camera1080p@30FPS camera
WiFi / EthernetWiFi: Atheros/Qualcomm QCA6174 802.11ac Wireless Network Adapter
Ethernet: Qualcomm/Atheros e2400 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller
Speakers2 front panel speakers
Battery4 cell, 65Wh
Bios / EC version (test unit)1.0.6 /
Extra featuresEmbedded TPM 2.0, Tobii eyetracking

Build quality, Case, design and looks

The chassis build quality of the massive Alienware 15 R3 is relatively good from what I can judge. It is very firm and won’t easily yield. The hinges are strong, the screen won’t tilt so easily and the outer lid is rigid and will protect the screen from high pressure. The keyboard surface is remains in place under pressure, which is good also.

Overall, I’d say that externally the build quality is relatively good and the laptop gives a good sense of rigidity.

Looks

The looks of the Alienware 15 R3 is one of its strong points. It chassis looks slick, the outer lid is metallic and the combination of black and silver is always good. However, the Alienware branding might be too heavy on some.

Maintenance and inner parts

The Alienware 15 R3, like its predecessors, has limited maintainability. The bottom cover can be removed by removing 6-7 screws. Under the hood, there are 3xM.2 ports, one of the is a 2240 port (shorter) and two 2280. At least one 2280 is an NVMe M.2 slot.

GPU and CPU are soldered and cannot be replaced. They both share two heatpipes and two fans.

alienware-15-r3-review-motherboard-cooling-system-m-2-ram

Keyboard and touchpad

The keyboard is really nice. It has very fast response (keys returning fast to place). Keys feedback is also relatively good, giving good sense of the typing, though it could have been a little stronger, or, alternatively, a higher key resistance when pressured would suffice. The keyboard is relatively quiet, keys are big and their surface is nice on the fingers. the multicolor backlit is well implemented and colors are very pleasant (better than the Clevo keyboard, for example). One problem that I encountered, is that sometimes, some keys can get a little stuck, like the backspace key – but nothing alarming.

The touchpad is very nice and smooth and buttons are relatively comfortable – not too stiff.

Sound & Speakers

Well, I really expected more than that. The Alienware 15 R3 speakers don’t surprise for either direction. The sound is “boxy” and muffled and it doesn’t sound like they can handle many sound types at once. Even the feature rich sound software didn’t help much. They are ok, not more than that. A stronger side of these speakers may be the low-mids or mid-mids, but as I said, whenever there are several sound types, the speakers can’t handle it. Also, it sounds like there is a variation in the power of various frequencies, meaning that some are underpowered.

They do sound better when faced directly, but the bottom line is that the 2.0 speakers of the AW15R3 just don’t cut it for a high quality and expensive machine. Saying that, I want to clarify that the speakers are not unpleasant to listen to.

General subjective performance experience

Added CPU-Z and GPU-Z screenshots

Gaming Performance

Test Methods & Drivers

OS : Windows 10, fully updated, 1607 version

Drivers: Nvidia Geforce 375.95

Synthetic 3D benchmarks

luxball-gtx-1060 hotel-gtx-1060 compubench-2-0-i7-6700hq-hd530-opencl-2 compubench-2-0-i7-6700hq-hd530-opencl-1 compubench-2-0-gtx-1060-opencl cbr15 3dmark

Summarized gaming performance

Alienware 15 R3 GTX 1060 -  I7-6700HQ gaming benchmarks

Shadow Of Mordor

Metro : Last Light

The Talos Principle

Alienware 15 R3 Review - The Talos Principle 1080p gaming benchmarks

Total War Warhammer

Alienware 15 R3 Review - Total War Warhammer 1080p DX11 gaming benchmarks

Bioshock Infinite

Alien : Isolation

Alienware 15 R3 Review - Alien Isolation 1080p gaming benchmarks

Deus Ex : Mankind Divided

Ashes Of Singularity

Alienware 15 R3 Review - Ashes Of Singularity 1080p gaming benchmarks

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Thief

Alienware 15 R3 Review - Thief 1080p gaming benchmarks

Crysis 3

Alienware 15 R3 Review - Crysis 3 1080p gaming benchmarks

Battlefield 4

Alienware 15 R3 Review - Battlefield 4 1080p gaming benchmarks

Battlefield 1

Obduction

Alienware 15 R3 Review - Obduction 1080p gaming benchmarks

Star Wars : Battlefront

Alienware 15 R3 Review - SW Battlefront 1080p gaming benchmarks

Doom 2016

Only Vulkan performance here, because it is consistently higher

Thermals, Throttling & Noise handling

As described before, the GPU and CPU share one heatpipe. The GPU has two dedicated fans and the CPU has one. 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 the rear and side (in GPU case)

Four tests:

1. Idle, power saver mode

2. Gaming : Ashes Of Singularity benchmark. “Crazy” settings, “High performance” power mode. Four consecutive runs.

3. Prime95 torture test. “High performance” power mode.

4. Prime95 + Furmark on 900p test, AAx4. “High performance” power mode.

alienware-15-r3-review-cpu-and-gpu-temperatures-under-load

The results have surprised me a bit. I don’t understand why is the AW15R3 is such a big machine and the thermal performance is like that. There have been some talks over the web about thermal paste poorly applied, but these are very high temps for the basic configuration. I’m not sure if it’s the rule or something is wrong with my specific machine.

Heat

The Alienware 15 R3 has relatively kept low chassis temperatures even under high load. These are the temperatures of the keyboard surface. The keyboard center and the center of the stripe between the screen and the base unit are relatively hotter, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable.

354730
364034
322927

Throttling

While gaming, the CPU and GPU clocks remain very high. Even on Ashes of singularity, the CPU will maintain 3-3.1GHZ clocks, which are the maximal clocks. Only under Furmark + Prime95 load, the clocks will get lower, but that’s ok. The problem is the CPU temperatures.

Considerably lower temperatures were achieved by downvolting the CPU by 100mV (via Intel XTU freeware). I would certainly recommend it.

alienware-15-r3-review-cpu-gpu-temperatures-ashes-of-singularity alienware-15-r3-review-cpu-gpu-clocks-ashes-of-singularity
prime95-furmark

prime95

Prime95 + Furmark, CPU voltage -100mV
prime95-furmark-100mv

Noise

The AW15R3 fans are pretty quite under low load, but fans can be sometimes heard even when load is minimal, especially if “high performance” power plan is selected. Under high load, like gaming, they will spin very fast and the noise levels are relatively high (compared to the GT62VR and Clevo P650RP6/RS).

Screen & Screen quality

The AW15R3 1080p display is – again – an LG LP156WF variant ([F7HH2] by Dells’s name). These models are good, but not great (almost all the variants). Colors coverage is relatively high, but calibration is problematic and the screen will show some kind of color bias.

PWM could not be detected by me.

Overall, the screen is a good IPS display, but not the high quality display you’d want in a $1300-$1500 machine. That’s true to all other laptops I’ve covered for the same price, from the new generation.

ContrastBrightnessBlack levelssRGBadobeRGBNTSC
7703000.39927167

Battery Performance

alienware-15-r3-review-battery-performance

Issues

  • Tried to activate the Tobii feature and couldn’t make it work. I know it can be activated, but it seems that it’s not straight forward, even in games with specific support for it (Deus Ex) and with all the necessary stuff installed
  • The high CPU temperatures maybe due to poorly assembled machine (?). It’s unclear to me how this machine can handle a hotter CPU well.

Competing gaming laptops / Alternatives

    1. Clevo P650RP6 (review) and Clevo P650RS (review), both offered for around the same price or less, but are less heavy and have better thermal performance. Have GSync. The only real disadvantages is no Thunderbolt 3 port and no global warranty coverage. looks are not as slick
    2. MSI GT62VR with an MXM GPU, but no Thunderbolt 3 port. Has better thermal performance. Include GSync
    3. Others like the Gigabyte P55Wv6, MSI GE62VR which are cheaper sometimes, but missing some key features like Gsync, MXM GPU, TB3 and have no real advantage in performance

Conclusion

Well, the AW15R3 is a fine laptop, with good chassis build quality, keyboard, touchpad, relatively good display (no PWM), many connection and storage ports (including Thunderbolt 3 and Alienware amplifier port). However, it is pretty heavy compared to some others, has no thermal performance advantage with CPU getting pretty hot under Furmark + Prime95 load (maybe my unit is faulty?) and no option to upgrade the CPU/GPU (soldered to the motherboard). Speakers are nothing special. Looks are quite good with obvious high finish, but the alien styling may be too much. Also, no GSync is available for the built-in display

Bottom line, the AW15R3 is not as cheap as other laptops, and doesn’t offer almost nothing above the competitors like the GT62VR and Clevo P650RP6/P650RS. Not only that, some machines with GTX 1070 can be found for the same price from time to time. I think that for many, the extra connection ports may not be as important as lower price and better thermals and GSync, like in the case of the MSI GT62VR (which has an MXM GPU that can be upgraded).

I guess that in time, there will be some more serious discounts on this machine (10% off can be expected every 2-3 weeks), but still, the AW15R3 is a hard choice with unclear victories over the other machines (except the very pleasant keyboard lights).

  • Neil England

    The extended battery for a mere $50 and the dirt cheap external graphics enclosure that outperforms TB3 solutions make this a more interesting choice than you’ve let on. The thermals though are weird. You’d think we were looking at something svelte like a Razer 14 or an MSI GS63VR. I’ve seen the forums with similar temps. Hopefully Dell figures something out and corrects the issue.

    • Hi Neil!

      1. I actually have the Amplifier here, with a desktop GTX 1060. It seems that the performance is not as good as the built-in GTX 1060. I think that the PCIe x4 v.3 is a limitation. I think that the amplifier is great for the first and second generation AW15, though

      2. Yes, temps are strange – why would it be such a big a and heavy machine without having a good cooling system? moreover, how can it handle a GTX 1070 + I7-6820HK?
      mobiletechreview said their temps are lower, but I think they didn’t check it well or they simply have a different machine

      • Neil England

        Hi Junky 🙂

        I guess it’s not too surprising that an internal 1060 bests an external 1060 because of the overhead. My understanding was though that the Alienware eGPU solution over their proprietary port was benchmarked higher than the Razer Core over Intel’s standardized TB3 at considerably less cost. If anyone was interested in running something like a 1080 then this would be the best bang for buck way of doing it on a laptop.

        I saw mobiletechreview as well… which was weird…

        You mentioned in the conclusion there is no GSYNC option offered but in the intro said you were reviewing the GSYNC model. I know they offer it as an option here in the US… Which panel did you test? If you used the 60hz panel non-GSYNC were you then able to push it any faster than 60hz?

        • you’re right, I made a mistake there. My model doesn’t have GSync, but they do offer it.
          I didn’t try to overdrive the panel, but it probably wouldn’t go a lot more than 60HZ..

    • Lirkun

      Have read a lot of forums about this model and high temps is a common problem. Looks like they will not fix it. Dell try to ensure users that 95 C is max acceptable temp for 6700 according to the documentation. It can be true, but overall, I think more than a half of this AW15 and 17 have awful thermals. Some people have shut downs during gameplay because of temperature. With 6820 situation is even worth … Also i can’t get what for there are 4 HHD slots and as a result heavy and bulky laptop overall. GS63VR with same specs almost 2 times lighter and much smaller and have better or same thermals (yes build quality is not so good, but I’m not going to use it as a hammer). I was going to buy it, but after closer look i regret my decision. Now watching at gs63/73 or razer blade, but all of them have a lot of other problems. IMHO all these machines are pretty expensive, but non of them is good for the value, that’s weird.

      • Thanks for the info!

        1. I don’t think the bulk is a result of having 3xM.2 slots (which are really small)
        2. No for Razer Blade, it’s mostly marketing
        3. Why the GS? are you looking for something slim in particular?
        4. There are GTX 1060 laptops for $900-$1100 now..

        • Singh KP

          900-1100$ GTX 1060 laptops?!? I’ve not seen any; which ones are that cheap?

          • http://amzn.to/2fFEWKR was $900 few days ago
            Also, cyberpowerpc has 5% off for laptops above $999, and they have one for $1000 I think

        • Lirkun

          Just searching smth with good case quality and not too bulky + TB3 is a must. I had asus g750, so I don’t want such a big laptop again and case build was not good enough. Like the Aorus, but no TB3 for such a price… If i got it right, with Kabu Lake most of laptops will get TB3 by default, so I decided to wait next gen to have better verity of choice.

      • Neil England

        I’m a big fan of Razer too but “value” is certainly not the reason. The only consistent problem on the Blade 14 I’ve read was a performance issue on the 1060 which was painfully obvious on the Firestrike benchmark. They posted a BIOS update last week and people in the forums seem to be seeing an improvement and are quieting down a bit.

        I think we’re all agreed the thermals on the Alienware 15 R3 should be much better than something thin like a Blade 14 or a GS63VR and there are plenty of reviews and forum posts with high temperatures and low temperatures to make it a confusing choice. That said, Dell is usually known for solid support. I’d be surprised if they weren’t swapping hotter systems out just to keep their customers happy.

        • but that’s reallllly strange..
          I think this kind of issues are apparent more when the marketing is based on powerful branding and (shhhh lies), like in the case of Alienware, Razer, MSI, Gigabyte and Asus.

          • Neil England

            Maybe. For the bigger manufacturers I think it’s right to have higher expectations on quality control and a product with little compromise. For the boutique companies like Razer I appreciate how a product’s feel and unique features might overcome some more glaring issues like an undersized PSU or a buggy BIOS at launch. I can’t believe how stupid that sounded as I typed it…

            • I understand you, but frankly, I’m sick of how this kind of business works. I want a company that work with the people. minimal marketing – no need to our tens of millions on crap and brochures with big monsters that show how your products is “strong”. Constant communications with the people who are using, and be transparent with us, like Fairphone who say we get 25% over the production costs.
              And, I want the companies to have fair use on their mind, not because it is good for business, but because it is a principle

              Talking about sounding stupid – I’m running a consumer blog while “opposing” to the system, only by typing..

              • Neil England

                Thanks for the blog. Because of it I bought an Asus N56DP some years ago and I’m still pretty happy with the purchase. This site has been a good resource.

                • Thanks!
                  the nice replies of people is what keeping me going really..