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15.6-inch gaming notebook shootout: Hitting the sweet spot

By Koh Wanzi - 3 Jun 2017

Alienware 15

Alienware 15

Alienware 15

Alienware is something of a pedigreed brand, even if it now lives under the Dell umbrella. It has long been associated with premium performance and a stiff price tag to go with, and the Alienware 15 does not disappoint. It costs a heart-wrenching S$3,752 to begin with, just behind the Aorus X5 v6 that costs S$3,799.

The laptop’s design is a nice combination of flair and elegance, and it stands out without being overtly garish. It certainly helps that Alienware has eschewed a familiar color like red in favor of a gunmetal gray finish all around. Even then, the laptop has a decidedly futuristic feel with a chassis built from daring angles and lines.

Alienware 15

Still, it only really starts to pop when you power it on, when you’ll discover cooly glowing light bars on the edges of the lid and base. The Alienware logo on the lid pulses quietly as well, as does the power button that is shaped mischievously like an alien head. All in all, there are a total of 12 discrete lighting zones, including the five on the keyboard itself, the trackpad, and the Alienware lettering below the display.

Alienware 15 trackpad

All this can be customized in the Alienware FX software, although one limitation is that you’re stuck with the colors on the color wheel, unless you opt to tinker around with 8-digit hex codes and custom themes.

Alienware FX

The Alienware 15 may also just be the most solidly constructed notebook tested here. The chassis comprises parts made of anodized aluminum and magnesium alloy, and there is even a steel plate below the keyboard for extra reinforcement. There was almost zero flex to the chassis, but the trade-off is its quite hefty 3.49kg weight.

The keyboard gives a good amount of key travel distance, which made typing quite enjoyable, and Alienware says the steel plate also helps create more consistent feedback across all the keys. It is missing a number pad however, but you do get a dedicated column of programmable macro keys on the left. This leaves thick borders of underutilized space on the sides, which seems quite an inefficient use of all that real estate.

Alienware 15 keyboard

And speaking of a waste of space, the display is framed by thick bezels as well, which we’d preferred to have seen dispensed with.

When it came to the front-facing speakers, audio quality was sadly lackluster, with obvious distortion in the vocals even at low volumes.

That aside, another design decision worth mentioning is the more forward location of the display hinge, resulting in a compartment that juts out at the back. This is where the thermal system is housed, and it was shifted to the back to make way for the Pascal GPU and allow Alienware to make the laptop even thinner than before. The hinge placement does not affect the freedom of movement available to the display, and you can push it down to a 180° angle.

Alienware 15

Having said that, this is truly one of the most feature-rich laptops in this shootout, with a 120Hz G-Sync 1080p IPS display and Tobii eye-tracking technology. The high refresh rate display is a welcome upgrade from the usual 60Hz screens, and when combined with G-Sync gives you an extremely smooth gaming experience. Tobii eye-tracking is a little more gimmicky, but it does enable support for Windows Hello face authentication and can perform nifty tricks like automatically dim or turn off the screen when you step away.

When we tested it out, the eye-tracking feature was responsive and worked as it was supposed to, but we ultimately opted to turn it off because it’s simply more convenient to have the screen remain on when you’re only going to be away for a short time.  

It delivers on the hardware as well. In addition to an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070, it ships with an Intel Core i7-6700HQ (2.60GHz, 6MB L3 cache) processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB PCIe SSD and 1TB 7,200RPM HDD. Needless to say, gaming performance was excellent given the top-end hardware, so you’re likely to spend more time thinking about what game to play instead of whether or not it will run.

There are plenty of vents to help the Alienware 15 get rid of excess heat, including intakes at the sides and at the rear, and a large full-length exhaust vent on the bottom.

Alienware 15

There’s also a good selection of ports and connectors, including two USB-C ports, one of which supports Thunderbolt 3. A bunch of these ports – including the Thunderbolt 3 port, Gigabit Ethernet port, and display outputs – are located at the rear, and the placement of these connectors would appear to make cable routing neater when you’re hooked up to an external display. You’ll also find here Alienware’s proprietary connector that enables support for its external graphics amplifier.

This leaves the sides of notebooks looking considerably cleaner than most of the other notebooks, which is a small but nice touch.

In addition to the Thunderbolt 3 port, there is a separate USB-C port on the left.

Alienware 15

Alienware 15