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
more details

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.

35 47 30
36 40 34
32 29 27

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 levels
770 300 0.39
sRGBadobeRGBNTSC
92 71 67

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).