I’ve been away from the world of performance PCs for a long time. I used to be an avid PC gamer, I’ve built several gaming PCs in the past, but economics and the state of PC gaming 10 years ago pushed me away from the scene. These days we’re in the middle of what can only be described as a renaissance in PC gaming. There’s more parity with releases on consoles and PCs than ever before, so missing out isn’t a concern, and the price of performance PCs has dropped significantly.
To that end I asked our friends at Dell to send us an Alienware 15 laptop for review. For the last 3 weeks I’ve had the chance to live with it, and play games on it. Game Moose’s hardware reviews aren’t going to focus on performance numbers: for that there’s websites out there that focus solely on that, and quite frankly, can do a WAY better job than we can. Instead, this review focuses on the experience of what it’s like to use a performance laptop.
Broadly speaking, the Alienware 15 is a wicked fast desktop replacement. Aside from the obvious disadvantage that laptops aren’t as customizable and upgradeable as desktops, the Alienware 15 really performs like what I’d expect a desktop would. The experience using it is similar as well. Because of the cooling requirements, you’re not going to be sitting in your living room with it on your lap blasting on 60 FPS in Doom (2016); but, would you want to anyway? Unless you’ve got a solid lapboard, that’s not happening. Of course if that’s your thing, go for it, but I don’t think you’re going to have the best time.
Make no mistake: this laptop is fast. WICKED FAST. Games flew, and the thing I wanted to do the least, tweaking settings for the best performance, was something that I didn’t have to focus on. If that’s your jam, you totally can. Alienware comes packed in with a suite of optimization software that lets you fine tune power usage and focus on game performance. Me? I want to turn the damn thing on and for the games to look incredible, and the whole thing to be a smooth process. The Alienware 15 did that, in spades.
Like many of my big city dwelling friends, I live in a small condo in the heart of a big city. Space is at a premium, and as someone with an unreasonable number of hobbies, having a space saver is VITAL. The Alienware 15 is no ultrabook, it’s weighty, and bulky; but, that’s not it’s job, it’s a muscle car, not a compact racer. It’s portable enough that you can throw it in your laptop bag and set it up on your hotel desk and be playing Starcraft II in full 1080p in no time. On the train or the plane it doesn’t fit in so well, this thing is for a different application. If you want to watch movies on your Chicago to Boston business flight, pull out a tablet. If, however, you need a PC that’s going to crunch through games and you don’t want a giant box under your desk: the Alienware 15 is for you.
I was recently at a live event and all of the AV crew had Alienware laptops. Here’s where the Alienware 15 really surprised me: media editing and presentation. As a streaming platform it was brilliant. We used it to stream all of our E3 reaction broadcasts on Mixer and it exceeded my expectations. I was fully prepared for us to have to contend with tons of fan noise coming from it during the streams, but it handled the 1080p streams with ease.
I also fired up the Adobe Creative Cloud suite on the Alienware 15. I ran some video transcode tests, and edited a few short videos. The combination of Adobe’s Mercury engine and the super beefy graphics card meant it could easy edit some really demanding video. I used to have to choose between getting a media editing machine, or one that was gaming focused. I’m pleased to see that’s no longer the case. The Alienware 15 can happily do both.
While it may do a lot of things, especially, performance tasks, well, it comes at a price. When really pushing the graphics capabilities, the fans kick in, and they can get noisy. It's unfortunate, and had me worried that it would affect our lives streams, like I mentioned above. Running Diablo III maxed out had my desk heating up, and the laptop sounding like it was a jet engine. Streaming a game maxed out meant I had to keep my mic good and far from the laptop, especially the fan output on the rear.
Aesthetically, the new line of Alienware’s are quite nice. They certainly have that unique Alienware look, like they’re something that designed somewhere in the New Mexico desert by a skunk works effort. There’s a lot of hard edges, that sadly, can are ergonomically unfriendly, especially for someone like me who likes to lean a little on the keyboard. I found my wrists sore from leaning on the keyboard's hard edge. The touchpad also feels nice, and is responsive, but if you’re going to be doing some heavy gaming with it, an external mouse is a must; and again, it's affected by that hard edge, a gentle slope would have been much better. The RGB stuff is a fun gimmick, and one I hope lasts for future iterations. You can turn it off if it rubs you the wrong way, but you can do fun stuff like we did for our live streams and match the colours to your particular branding or style.
If you’re looking to get into gaming, and also are in the market for a PC, you can’t go wrong. Starting at 1599.99 CAD for the Alienware 15 is pretty amazing, you can add additional customization options, but the base unit is fantastic. When you compare the cost that to a new 4k tv, and gaming console, and the fact that this laptop can handle live streaming and killer video editing, it’s a winning package, and a competitive price.
The Alienware 15 is a solid, well rounded, powerhouse. Especially if you’re looking into expanding your gaming experience into media editing and live streaming. It’s portability and small size make it a good competitor for desktops, and something you should seriously consider if space is at a premium in your living arrangement. It’s really opened my eyes about what the PC gaming experience has become.