The overall system performance of the Alienware 15 is quite good even with the entry-level Intel Core i5-4210H dual-core processor. You may want to upgrade to a Core i7 quad-core CPU if you’re planning to run a variety of applications that require significant processing power, but most games rely on the graphics card far more than the CPU.
The standard storage solution for the Alienware 15 is a hard drive with a 1TB capacity, but our review unit features a 128GB M.2 format solid state drive (SSD) as the primary boot drive and the 1TB hard drive is just used for storing files. The SSD is a good option for anyone looking for the best possible performance.
In the same way that the Alienware 15 is the middle-of-the-road between the Alienware 13 and the Alienware 17, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M is a happy medium between the lower performance of the GTX 965M and the overpriced GTX 980M. The GTX 970M inside our review unit is more than capable of handling any game we threw at it running at 1080p and high detail settings. The average frame rate in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was around 70 fps while a more demanding game like Dragon Age: Inquisition runs at around 50 fps.
Of course, the gaming performance changes dramatically once you add the Graphics Amplifier to the picture. We consistently experienced a boost in performance of between 60 and 70 percent after switching to the Graphics Amplifier equipped with the GeForce GTX 980 desktop card. The average frame rate in Dragon Age: Inquisition jumped from 50 fps to 83 fps on the high detail settings. Our only complaint about the Graphics Amplifier is that you need to restart your computer every time you want to use it.
- Windows 8.1 (64-bit)
- Intel Core i5-4210H dual-core processor (3MB Cache, 2.9 GHz up to 3.5GHz w/ Turbo Boost)
- 6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS anti-glare 300-nit display
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M with 3GB GDDR5
- Alienware Graphics Amplifier with PNY XLR8 GeForce GTX 980 card
- 16GB DDR3L RAM at 1600MHz
- 128GB M.2 SSD
- 1TB 7200 RPM SATA hard drive
- Killer 1525 802.11ac 2×2 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1
- 8-cell Lithium-Ion (92 Wh) battery
- 1-year Alienware Basic Support
- Dimensions: 34 x 270.2 x 385.8 mm (1.339 x 10.64 x 15.19 inches)
- Weight: 3.207 Kg (7.07 lbs)
- Price as configured: $2,449.97
- Starting price: $1,199.99
PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):
Heat and Noise
Our editors were pleasantly surprised with how well the Alienware 15 managed the heat output from the processor and graphics even when the notebook hardware was stressed with games running at maximum detail settings. The internal temperatures for the GPU never went above 30 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit) and the maximum reported CPU temperature was just 86 degrees Celsius (186 Fahrenheit) … both of those numbers are downright chilly for a stressed gaming notebook.
The external chassis temperatures were likewise cool as long as you don’t touch the heat exhaust for the cooling fans. The warmest parts of the chassis measured just 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) although the heat exhaust vent measured a toasty 54 degrees Celsius (129 degrees Fahrenheit).
As with most gaming laptops, the Alienware 15 suffers from a noisy fan once the CPU and the GPU start to heat up during gameplay. The average fan noise at idle was roughly 30 dB but that shot up to just under 55 dB while gaming at maximum detail settings.
In short, this laptop runs cooler than most of its competitors, but that excellent thermal management comes at the price of noisy cooling fans.
Battery Life and Power Adapter
Gaming laptops have always struggled with finding the perfect balance between providing great battery life and delivering high performance (which reduces battery life as processors and graphics cards consume more power when they work harder).
The Alienware 15 solves this by use of graphics switching between the Intel integrated graphics and the discrete GPU. In this case, the GeForce GTX 970M uses Nvidia’s Optimus technology to cut the idle power consumption to between 10 and 26 watts while still allowing the system to crank up the GPU to a higher power consumption of between 90 and 165 watts.
Our aggressive Powermark battery test shows the Alienware 15 delivers good battery life compared to other modern gaming laptops, but it certainly isn’t designed for all-day web browsing or office work.
In terms of real-world battery life, what you can expect depends on how you use the notebook. We consistently drained the battery in roughly 90 minutes if we played a modern game like BioShock Infinite or Thief at high detail settings. You can expect a more useful battery life of about five hours if you just want to browse the Internet and watch a couple TV shows on Netflix. On the other hand, the battery can last almost 12 hours if you just turn it on and let it run idle until it dies.
The power brick for the Alienware 15 is remarkably simple. This one is marginally smaller than the power adapter that comes with the larger Alienware 17, but it’s still significantly bigger than the small adapters you’ll find on most budget 15-inch laptops. Of course, this power adapter supplies 180W of power while most 15-inch consumer laptops run on a power supply of just 90W or even 65W.