Alienware m15 R3 Review: Gotta Go Fast

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As the best gaming laptops get thinner and lighter, the companies that make them are pushing new features to stand out and provide a competitive advantage. On the Alienware m15 R3 ($1,371.99 to start. $2,165.79 as tested), that includes options for a 300 Hz 1080p display or 4K OLED.

This year’s model also comes with Intel’s 10th Gen H-series processors, and, in our review unit, a full-sized Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070. That all makes the Alienware m15 R3 a portable, powerful eSports or AAA gaming machine. But the thin chassis does have some disadvantages, as it got hotter than we would like.

Alienware m15 R3 Design

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Alienware m15 R3

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

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Alienware m15 R3

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Alienware m15 R3

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Alienware m15 R3

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The Alienware legend aesthetic is in its second year, and the Alienware m15 R3’s design isn’t tiring just yet. It’s very similar to last year’s model, featuring a “lunar light” white lid with a soft-touch finish and, new for this year, an extra clear coat to ensure that it stays pristine (the laptop is also available in black). There’s a light-up Alienware logo and the number “15” in an aggressive, stenciled font on the lid. 

A bump in the back holds cooling and ports with honeycomb designs over the vents that stand out, as well as an ovular light that looks futuristic, as if this thing could take off on its own at high speeds.

Our review unit, with a 300 Hz display, doesn’t have the Tobii eye tracking you can find on configurations with a 4K display. But the bezels are thin, and the screen stands on a centralized hinge that looks like it’s on a pedestal.

The deck on our model was also white, but with a splash of color, thanks to the per-key RGB keyboard. The honeycomb motif is continued here, with some ventilation just under the screen.

There’s ports-a-plenty on this laptop, with a bump on the back allowing them to be spaced out. The left side has the Ethernet jack, a USB 3.1 Type-A port and the headphone jack. Two more USB 3.1 ports and a microSD card reader are on the right side. On the back are all of the ports you may use with a display, including HDMI, Mini DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3, as well as the power jack and proprietary Alienware graphics amplifier for external GPUs.

The Alienware m15 R3 weighs in at 4.7 pounds and measures 14.2 x 10.9 x 0.8 inches. The Asus ROG Zephyrus M15 is a bit smaller at 4.2 pounds and 14.2 x 9.9 x 0.8 inches, while the MSI GS66 Stealth is also slightly smaller at 4.6 pounds and 14.2 x 9.7 x 0.7 inches. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, with a 14-inch screen, is 3.5 pounds and 12.8 x 8.7 x 0.7 inches.

Alienware m15 R3 Specifications

CPU Intel Core i7-10750H
Graphics Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super (8GB GDDR6)
RAM 16GB DDR4 2666 MHz
SSD 2x 512GB NVMe SSDs in RAID 0
Display 15.6-inch, 300 Hz, 1920 x 1080
Networking Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 (2×2) 802.11ax Wireless, Bluetooth 5.1
Ports 3x USB 3.1 Type-A, Thunderbolt 3, RJ45 Ethernet, Alienware graphics amplifier, HDMI 2.0b, Mini DisplayPort, 3. mm headphone jack, lock slot, microSD card reader
Camera 720p
Battery 6-cell, 86 WHr
Power Adapter 240W
Operating System Windows 10 Home
Size 14.2 x 10.9 x 0.8 inches (360.3 x 276 x 20.5mm)
Weight 4.7 pounds (2.1 kg)
Price (as Configured) $2,165.79

Alienware m15 R3 Gaming and Graphics

For gaming, our unit paired the Intel Core i7-10750H with a full-sized Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super (no Max-Q business here). It proved to be a fairly potent combination. In conjunction with a 300 Hz display, this is a strong setup for esports, like Overwatch, in which I was able to hover around 250 fps while playing at 1080p on low settings in a Payload match, where I used Reinhardt’s shield to lead my team’s defense.

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Alienware m15 R3

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On Grand Theft Auto V (very high settings, 1080p), the Alienware notched an average score of 80 fps, falling only behind the Zephyrus G14 with a Ryzen 9 4900HS and RTX 2060. It barely lost to the GS66 (RTX 2080 Super Max-Q) but beat the Zephyrus M15 (GTX 1660 Ti).

The Alienware led the pack in Far Cry New Dawn (ultra, 1080p) at 89 fps, beating back the Stealth (86 fps), as well as both the G14 (73 fps) and M15 (77 fps).

Alienware and MSI tied on the Red Dead Redemption 2 benchmark (medium, 1080p), running the game at 49 fps. The M15 hit 49 fps, while the G14 ran it at 35 fps.

On Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the Stealth (66 fps) edged out the Alienware (63 fps).

We also stress tested the m15 by running the Metro Exodus benchmark 15 times on a loop at the RTX preset to simulate roughly half an hour of gaming. The laptop achieved an average frame rate of 48.2 fps. It started at 50 fps on the first run, dropped to between 47 fps and 48 fps until the last few runs, where it evened out at just over 48 fps.

The CPU ran at an average clock speed of 3.9 GHz and an average temperature of 88 degrees Celsius (190.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Our logging did note some thermal throttling across the runs. The GPU ran at an average of 1,390 MHz and an average temperature of 72.4 degrees Celsius (165.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Alienware m15 R3 Productivity Performance

The Intel Core i7-10750H paired with 16GB of RAM and two 512GB NVMe SSDs in RAID 0 mean that the Alienware m15 isn’t a slouch when it comes to productivity performance. What? You thought gaming laptops could only play games?

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Alienware m15 R3

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On Geekbench 5.0, the Alienware m15 R3 earned a multi-core score of 6,244, just beating the MSI GS66 Stealth (6,238) and the Asus ROG Zephyrus M15 (6,031), each with the same processor. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, with an AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS, outperformed at 7,895.

Our file transfer test requires computers to copy 4.97GB of files. The Alienware, with its dual SSDs in RAID0, reached speeds of 1,209.91 MBps. That’s similar to the Zephyrus G14, but far faster than the Zephyrus M15. The Stealth completed the test the fastest.

It took the Alienware m15 8 minutes and 17 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p using Handbrake. That’s ahead of both the Zephyrus M15 and the GS66 stealth, but the Zephyrus G14 was even faster.

Alienware m15 R3 Display

Alienware’s 15.6-inch, Full HD display comes armed with 300 Hz speeds, though it’s also pretty solid for more casual computing. For instance, when I watched a 1080p trailer for Hamilton on Disney Plus, the colorful colonial clothes, including blue soldier’s jackets with red accents, popped out against a dark stage. I do, wish, however, that the screen would get brighter. When I played Overwatch, the game was incredibly smooth at 250 fps thanks to the display, but the colorful levels would have looked even better if they were brighter.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

According to our testing, the m15 R3 covers 77.4% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, which is far better than the Zephyrus M15’s 46% and on par with the Stealth’s 79%. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 was higher at 82.9%.

Brightness was a different story. Our review machine measured an average of 285 nits, beating the Zephyrus M15 (234 nits) but falling behind both the Zephyrus G14 and MSI GS66 Stealth.

Alienware m15 R3 Keyboard and Touchpad

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Alienware’s keyboard offers 1.7mm of travel and is nice and clicky. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I zoomed along at 110 words per minute with my standard 2% error rate. On our model, the keys were individually backlit, though that’s an upgrade. The laptop comes standard with four lighting zones. My only complaint is that when the computer is under stress, the keyboard can get far warmer than I would like.

The 4.2 x 2.4-inch touchpad could stand to be a little larger. It’s big enough for navigating Windows 10, but I personally like something a bit bigger. Thanks to Windows precision drivers, I had no problem with gestures.

Alienware m15 R3 Audio

The speakers on the Alienware m15 R3 get nice and loud, though they’re not the most detailed. I blasted Halsey’s “Without Me,” and it easily filled my apartment. But the singer’s voice definitely overpowered the synths and drum beat during the chorus. When I opened up Alienware Command Center, I found that the music preset allowed for a slightly more even mix.

For gaming, Overwatch got so loud I had to turn it down. The characters’ calls for healing were clear over the gunfire and lasers, though most music wasn’t as vibrant as it is from real speakers.

It can be distracting to play music while you type, though, as the speakers are located in the wrist rest and reverberated through the chassis.

Alienware m15 R3 Upgradeability

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Getting the Alienware m15 R3 open is easy enough. Of the eight Phillips head screws on the bottom of the unit, only the two closest to the back need to be removed completely. The rest simply loosen, decreasing the chance you’ll lose a bunch of screws. You’ll need a spudger or pry tool to get the base off, but it’s not on too tight.

When you get in, you’ll notice that only the battery and SSDs are easily accessible. Since we had a unit with dual 512GB drives, both slots were occupied and covered with copper heatsinks. If you get a single drive, you’ll need to remove the second heatsink to add more storage space. The RAM, sadly, is soldered to the motherboard.

Alienware m15 R3 Battery Life

Out of the box, the Alienware m15 R3 had low endurance. It lasted for 2 hours and 39 minutes on our battery test, which continuously browses the web, streams video and runs OpenGL benchmarks all at 150 nits over Wi-Fi.

Here’s the catch: that’s likely because the laptop was exclusively using the Nvidia RTX 2070 GPU. Alienware’s 300 Hz panel requires the RTX GPU, so it doesn’t switch to Intel’s integrated graphics. Other configurations without this panel allow for the use of integrated graphics.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

The MSI GS66 Stealth endured for 6:36, while the Asus ROG Zephyrus M15 ran for 7:32. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 lasted the longest at 11:32, which is incredible for a gaming notebook.

Alienware m15 R3 Heat

We took skin temperature measurements while running our Metro Exodus benchmark and found that the machine gets quite toasty while playing intense games.

The center of the keyboard, between the G and H keys, measured a steamy 51.7 degrees Celsius (125.1 degrees Fahrenheit), which explains why the laptop was sometimes uncomfortable to use while it was under load. The touchpad hit 36.9 degrees Celsius (98.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

The hottest point on the bottom of the laptop reached 63.8 degrees Celsius (146.8 degrees Fahrenheit), which is quite hot. Keep this one on your desk.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Alienware m15 R3 Webcam

There’s a 720p webcam right above the display, and let me tell you, it makes a grainy image. In a picture I took in a well-lit area of my apartment, I could see the individual pixels making up my face. It’s not pretty. At least colors, like the blue of a teapot behind me (did I take a picture near my kitchen? You bet I’m working from home), were accurate.

Alienware m15 R3 Software and Warranty

Alienware adds software with a light touch, and most of the utilities that come with the laptop are renamed versions of applications you find from its parent company, Dell.

Alienware Command Center is the big name here. This app serves as a central location to launch games, change thermal and audio settings, adjust RGB lighting and see CPU and GPU usage.

My Alienware is a bit of a waste, with some Windows tips and links to the company’s social profiles and attempts to sell accessories.

Alienware Mobile Connect lets you see notifications and even mirror smartphone app screens, which others haven’t been able to match just yet.

Of course, the laptop also came with bloat built into Windows 10, including Hulu, Hidden City: Hidden Object Adventure, PicsArt Photo Studio and Adobe Photoshop Express.

Alienware sells the m15 R3 with a 1-year warranty.

Alienware m15 R3 Configurations

We reviewed a $2,165.79 version of the Alienware m15 R3 with an Intel Core i7-10750H, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super, 16GB of RAM, a pair of 512GB NVMe SSDs in RAID0 and a 15.6-inch, 300 Hz FHD display. Ours also came in white, which is a roughly $30 extra cost.

The base model runs for $1,371.99 and has the same CPU and RAM. For that price, you get an  AMD Radeon RX 5500M as your GPU and a 256GB NVMe SSD, plus a 144 Hz, FHD display. For $1,469.99, you get this model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti. These versions only come in black.

The top-end configuration uses an Intel Core i9-10980HK, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q, an OLED 4K display, 32GB of RAM, Tobii eye tracking, a pair of 2TB PCIe M.2 SSDs in RAID 0 as a boot drive and a 512GB PCIe M.2 SSD for storage. That costs $3,978.79.

Bottom Line

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

The Alienware m15 R3 is still among the sleekest gaming PCs out there, with a slimmed-down design that strays from the gamer aesthetic but doesn’t eschew it altogether. The option for a 300 Hz display is a boon for eSports players, though it won’t make as meaningful a difference for those who stick to high-end, big budget titles. It’s also a bit of a battery hog.

The full-sized RTX 2070 Super does a great job with games, on par or better than the MSI GS66 Stealth’s RTX 2080 Max-Q. Both machines have the same processor and tend to run quite warm. But with its 144 Hz panel, the Stealth offers better battery life (a 1080p 144 Hz option of this PC would also likely offer far more endurance).

If you want better CPU performance, the cheaper Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 with AMD’s Ryzen 9 4900HS is a better pick, but you can’t get that with a 300 Hz screen, and it only goes up to an RTX 2060.

For those looking for pure power, the Alienware m15 R3 delivers. Just be ready for a bit of heat.