The Alienware m15 R6 is somewhat of a miracle machine given the guts of the unit that’s wrapped up inside such a small frame. The company has been making some of the best gaming laptops that come with the best graphics cards and best CPUs for gaming around for a very long time, and this model is no different from its predecessors in that respect. This is often tempered by a well-known fact: Alienware gaming laptops have always been on the expensive side of things. Again, the m15 R6 is no different here too.
But is such a beastly Alienware gaming laptop worth your money in 2021? The Alienware m15 R6 seeks to answer this - and does so with a show of force.
Alienware m15 R6 review: design and features
There’s very much a love-it or hate-it design with Alienware laptops, but looks are subjective, so this will be in the eyes of the beholder. Personally, I like the design, but I am a little disappointed in the plastic construction. For the money, I anticipated an all-metal chassis for this price, one that would feel more premium, much like a Razer Blade laptop, for example. And though that aesthetic certainly cuts an intimidating figure, especially with its black-on-black color scheme and subtle ‘15’ decal on the lid, the overall construction is serviceable but not too exciting or innovative.
But one thing of note on the build, however, is that despite its heft (and it is considerable) when factoring in the specs under the hood the laptop is surprisingly thin. Now I won’t go so far as to say it’s lightweight, and the bulky and outdated generic Dell power adapter certainly doesn’t do it any favors, but it’s still a triumph in design that it's this thin given it has to accommodate a beefy set of components and the mechanics to cool them all inside.
Processor: Intel Core i7-11800H
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
Memory: 32GB DDR4 RAM (3200MHz)
Display: 15.6-inch, 360Hz 1ms
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Storage: 1TB PCIe M.2 SSD
Ports: Left: 1x RJ-45 Ethernet NIC Port, 1x Global headset jack; Right: 1x Type-A USB 3.2 Gen 1 Port, 1x Type-A USB 3.2 Gen 1 Port w/ PowerShare 2; Back: 1x Power/DC-in Port, 1x Type-C (Thunderbolt 4, USB 3.2 Gen 2, 15W (3A/5V) Power Delivery) Port, 1x Type-A USB 3.2 Gen 1 Port, 1x HDMI 2.1 Output Port
Connectivity: Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 (2x2) 802.11ax Wireless and Bluetooth
OS: Windows 10 Home
Weight: 5.93lbs (2.69kg)
Delving deeper into the potential offered by the specs, and there's a lot to be impressed by from a sheer technical perspective. An 11th generation i7 is certainly no slouch for gaming, browsing, or more creative tasks such as video rendering, for instance. This is definitively an enthusiast's gaming laptop, built for hardcore gamers, through-and-through and that's due in part to the borderline-ridiculous amount of power on offer, especially relative to its 1080p panel. In other words, the Alienware m15 R6 doesn't really break a sweat.
What is exciting in the laptop's design is the amount of RGB present. Not only is the Alienware head logo fully illuminated, but the whole keyboard is as well, and there's a full strip around the back I/O, too. Through Alienware Command Center you can mix and match the colors to get your battle station to look however you want. It’s genuinely really cool.
Elsewhere, I’m not much of a fan of the small, plastic trackpad (especially compared to the much larger glass ones on similar Razer Blade models) or slightly mushy membrane keyboard. As with any single-piece trackpad (one with clickable corners instead of dedicated buttons underneath), there’s the issue of not being able to aim and shoot at the same time - if you attempt to use it for games. Though, of course, it’s likely that PC gamers will either have one of the best PC controllers or are teaming the best gaming mouse and best gaming keyboard together to negate this issue.
I found that using the trackpad and keyboard for everyday web browsing and general navigation, outside of gaming, was pleasant enough, though typing for long periods when the thermals began to climb, did become a little uncomfortable. The former was capable, if unexceptional with its small surface area, but it got the job done where it mattered most and was responsive to multi-touch gestures with a good amount of sensitivity control out of the box.
Alienware m15 R6 review: performance
It should come as little surprise that the hardware inside means that this Alienware m15 R6 gaming laptop absolutely destroys anything thrown at it in its native resolution. Indeed, we were able to decimate even the most GPU-demanding games on the market fully maxed out. The RTX 3080 card really is a stand-out performer, particularly at 1080p.
Here's how the Alienware m15 R6 fared on some well-known tests and benchmarks (all games at 1080p):
PCMark 10: 5572
CrystalDiskMark: 3014.31MB/s read; 3121.65MB/s write
Cinebench CPU: Multi-core: 10,998cb; Single-core: 1,437cb
Tom Clancy's The Division 2: Ultra: 100 fps; High: 127 fps
Metro Exodus: RTX (ray-tracing on Ultra): 95 fps; High: 122 fps
Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Highest: 132 fps; High: 133 fps
Total War: Three Kingdoms: Ultra: 92 fps; High: 93 fps
Red Dead Redemption 2: Ultra: 85 fps; High: 116 fps
Framerate is prioritized over higher resolutions with this gaming laptop, as we’re confined to that Full HD (1080p) resolution, but the compromise is catered for in bombastic 360Hz refresh rate which means the panel is about as speedy as it's possible to get on a gaming laptop. It also means that the screen is just as pleasing to the eye when scrolling through web pages as it is when gaming. But, equally, the screen quality itself is both crisp and bright and is a pleasure to use for just about anything.
Now, the vast majority of games are going to get nowhere near the FPS range to take full advantage of the refresh rate in practicality, but the silky smooth nature of a display that quick is sure to make a difference in twitch-based FPS and other competitive games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Valorent, and Call of Duty: Warzone. With more frames, the game runs smoother and as a result, the limitations of lagging and visual artefacting are all but none exist. Paired with Nvidia G-sync (to eradicate screen tearing and ghosting which would otherwise occur at those frame rates).
It’s not all about the graphics card though. The 32GB RAM (over the typical 16GB included on most gaming laptops) proves to be lightning quick with general navigation, as does the CPU with processor-intensive tasks (as the benchmarks show). It doesn’t matter what you do on the system, it never stutters or slows; a prowess that’s demonstrated, too, in just how quickly it boots up and is ready to go.
The same goes for the 1TB M.2 SSD installed into the system, it's as fast as you would want it to be for running games (most loading screens were almost non-existent especially in older titles like Dead Space and Dishonored).
When testing games on the laptop maxed out to their absolute extremes, it comes as no real surprise to see triple digits of frame rates on some of the most intensive titles on the market currently. If anything, it shows that this gaming laptop is easily futureproofed for a good while. The 3080's 8GB VRAM will rise to the challenge of most games for easily the next 5-7 years.
However, it’s not all good news. Let’s talk for a moment about the thermals and heat dissipation of the device. It isn’t uncommon for the Alienware m15 R6 to reach temperatures as lofty as the high-90s while gaming or doing intensive tasks. This is while set up on a flat desk, with the fans manually set to 'Full Speed' via the Control Center. I should add, the automatic heat management is sufficient at cooling the computer down, but it frequently reached sky-high temps under relatively tame circumstances; despite idling between 38-42 degrees when left to its own devices.
As you may expect, with a ton of air cooling comes a hell of a lot of noise. This Alienware model isn’t quite as deafening as some gaming laptops that I’ve owned and used in the past when running at maximum overdrive, but it’s far from pleasant in everyday use. You'll need to add one of the best PC headsets for gaming, or best wireless gaming headsets if you want to cut cords, to drown out the fan noise completely.
Alienware m15 R6 review: should you buy it?
High-end gaming laptops don't get much better than this. The Alienware m15 R6 is absolutely one of the best premium gaming laptops currently available on the market, offering performance levels often only seen in the realm of the best gaming PCs. However, it does fall victim to some notable drawbacks given the amount of power that it's rocking at its heart: namely how hot it gets, and how loud it runs. But when games look and run this good on the device, it's definitely a trade-off that, for those who can afford it, will be able to make.
However, as with much of Alienware's gaming gear, it's worth recognising the pricing. Our review model retails for $2,859.99 / £2,448.99. This is a lot of money but is also very much the upper echelon of the price range: you can enjoy the same excellent laptop with a 3050 Ti (or a 3060 in the UK) from a starting price of $1,379.99 / £1,549 and you can tinker with the build from there, as you wish. It's all going to be dependant on what you want it to do at the end of the day, from casual to hardcore gaming and everything in between.