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Alienware x15 R1 review: The most powerful gaming laptop yet

10 Nov 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
2,149
inc VAT

The Alienware x15 is a smart, super-thin gaming laptop with a top-notch display

Pros 
The most powerful laptop we’ve tested
Superb 250Hz QHD display
Surprisingly quiet fans
Cons 
Soldered RAM
Average battery life
Parts of the keyboard deck can get hot
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Alienware, the hardcore gaming arm of Dell, is a late arrival to the world of ultra-thin gaming laptops. While many of its competitors have launched slender high-performance notebooks, Alienware has soldiered on with the rather portly m16, a machine that hasn't changed much in appearance for several years. 

However, with the m16 finally being put out to pasture, it’s been replaced by a new machine that Alienware hopes will become the must-have gaming laptop for anyone wanting a thin but powerful machine: the Alienware x15 R1.

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Alienware x15 review: What you need to know

It is a truth universally acknowledged that gaming laptops are getting thinner. Once upon a time, a high-end gaming notebook would be a heavy, unwieldy beast and hardly a truly portable device. That’s changing, however, with machines such as Razer’s Blade 15 and MSI’s GS66. Less than 20mm thick, these laptops still offer high-end performance thanks to their Nvidia GeForce RTX 30-series GPUs.

Of course, squeezing powerful processors and GPUs into tight spaces involves careful thermal management and very efficient cooling systems. Likewise, finding the space for a quality sound system and decent size battery is another challenge. Making a powerful but slim gaming laptop isn’t an easy thing to do.

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Alienware x15 review: Price and competition 

The x15 range kicks off at £2,149, which gets you a machine with an Intel Core i7-11800H chip, Nvidia RTX 3070 GPU, 512GB SSD and an FHD 165Hz display. Upgrade options include a 320Hz FHD or 240Hz QHD panel, an i9-11900H CPU, 1TB of SSD storage and an RTX 3080 GPU. My review machine had the QHD panel, RTX 3080 GPU, 11800H processor, 32GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. Dell has yet to announce the price of this version, but if you order the 32GB, RTX 3070 version it will set you back £2,474. Expect the RTX 3080 model to punch a big hole in £3,000.

The obvious competition comes in the form of Razer’s Blade 15 Advanced. For £2,900, you get the same CPU and GPU, a 15.6in QHD 240Hz display and a 1TB SSD. Lighter than the new Alienware, the Razer also has a wider selection of ports. However, if you want something more portable than the Blade 15, then its £2,800 little brother, the Razer Blade 14, is well worth considering as well.

A little chunkier than the x15 is Lenovo’s new Legion 7. For a penny under £2,000 you get an excellent display and sound system and again an RTX 3080 GPU. The model we tested also comes with a generous 1TB of storage, but only 16GB of system RAM. Luckily, you can whip the bottom panel off and upgrade the RAM and add a second SSD without too much bother.

The Asus ROG Strix Scar 15 was for some time the most powerful gaming laptop we’ve tested here at Expert Reviews and benefits from a superfast RAID0 SSD array. Bigger and heavier than the x15, it also lacks any sort of biometric security, and the 1440p display, though visually impressive, only refreshes at 165Hz.

Finally, the Asus Zephyrus M16 deserves a mention. With a 16in, 165Hz display and a superb keyboard, the M16 weighs less than 2kg, making it just about the lightest full-size gaming laptop you can buy. As with the Razer Blade 14, you have to make do with the Nvidia RTX 3070 GPU, but that really doesn’t give much away to the RTX 3080 when it comes to gaming performance.

Alienware x15 review: Design and build quality

The new Alienware x15 is all about being thin. At 15.9mm, it vies for best-in-class honours with the Razer Blade 15 Advanced, while the width at 360mm is normal for a 15.6in laptop. However, it’s deeper than most at a measured 277mm. 

The design is clearly Alienware through and through, with all the expected design cues innate to Dell’s design language, down to the hexagonal grille above the keyboard, the Alienware logo power button and the matching logo on the reverse of the lid. 

However, it’s a cleaner design now, with the rather cheap-looking gloss strips of the m15 replaced by a wholly matte finish. The inset hinge, which sits 30mm forward from the rear of the chassis, is still the main design feature. Sadly, there isn’t a fingerprint scanner, although the webcam does at least support Windows Hello IR face recognition.

The magnesium chassis and part aluminium, part ABS plastic body makes for a solid and robust machine, while the black and white colour scheme – Lunar Light in Alienware speak – is very smart. It’s not the lightest machine, though, tipping the scales at 2.27kg. For comparison, the Blade 15 Advanced weighs 2.01kg.

The x15’s selection of ports is not overly generous, only running to one 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A USB port, one 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C and one Type-C Thunderbolt 4 port. There’s also an HDMI 2.1 port and a microSD card slot. Razer manages to fit three Type-A ports along the sides of a chassis of similar size, and you might also notice the lack of an RJ45 LAN port, but Alienware does include a Type-C Ethernet adapter.

The keyboard is spacious, solid and responsive, with a 1.5mm key travel and per-key RGB LED lighting. My only criticism is that the backlight doesn’t illuminate any of the secondary icons on the keys. The touchpad isn’t the largest I’ve used at 105 x 60mm, nor is the corner click-action the sweetest.

Like any other gaming laptop, the x15 can put on a pretty decent light show thanks to the Tron LED that circles the base of the laptop and the Alien head on the lid. Lighting effects can be set to throb and pulse in various ways.

Inside the x15, you’ll find that the RAM is soldered in place, so you're stuck with whatever you specify at purchase, but there’s space for two M.2 2280 SSDs so increasing storage is simple. The Micron 2300 512GB SSD in my review machine recorded sequential read and write speeds of 2,687MB/sec and 1,687MB/sec respectively, which is pretty middle of the road and doesn’t begin to compare to the RAID0 storage in the Strix Scar 15.

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Alienware x15 review: Display and audio

The Alienware x15’s IPS display is an unqualified success. The QHD (2,460 x 1,440) panel and maximum 240Hz refresh rate should satisfy any gamer. It’s colourful, too, with 99% sRGB gamut coverage and 137% sRGB gamut volume. The same measurements for the DCI-P3 colour space are 94.8% and 97.3%.

Brightness maxes out at a reasonable 431cd/m² and contrast ratio is acceptable rather than outstanding at 987:1. Delta E colour accuracy is also on the weak side, with a measured 2.94. 

Being more subjective, the x15’s display looks beautiful when playing visually adept games. I spent quite some time just wandering around parts of Metro Exodus gazing at the scenery and lighting effects and enjoying the super-smooth animations, rather than simply looking for the next thing to shoot at.

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The Alienware x15 is one of few gaming laptops with Nvidia’s Advanced Optimus tech, though it’s only available on the 240Hz QHD and 360Hz FHD models. This works like regular Optimus but with the benefit of simultaneous G-Sync support. Normal Optimus systems would have to forsake G-Sync or require a Multiplexer switch and system reboot to switch to it. Advanced Optimus does this on the fly. A little window pops up in the lower left of the screen to tell you that GPU duties have been handed over to either the Nvidia GPU or integrated Intel Xe GPU.

The audio system is a mixed bag. The overall soundscape is a little harsh and lacking in bass, which can make music rather tiring on the ear. However, the upside is that gaming sound effects are rendered with startling clarity, and the two 4W speakers generate an impressive amount of stereo separation.

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Alienware x15 review: Performance and battery life

With a Core i7-11800H chip and RTX 3080 GPU with 32GB of RAM,  the x15 was always going to be a potent beast and so it proved, recording the highest ever score for a laptop in our in-house productivity test of 350 points. The previous record-holder was the Asus ROG Strix Scar 15 with a score of 331 from its Ryzen 9 5900HX and RTX 3080 platform. The GeekBench 5 test told a similar story, again pushing the previous top dog ROG Strix Scar into second place.

The first key to this impressive performance could be the x15’s  “Advanced Alienware Cryo-Tech” cooling system, which involves four fans and something called a gallium-silicone thermal interface material – with the mysterious moniker Element 31 – which draws heat away from the CPU and GPU more efficiently than other substances with less exotic names.

The second is the option to marginally overclock the processor and increase the thermal thresholds using the Alienware Command Centre. The short and tall of it is the x15 runs harder and, rather surprisingly, quieter than most high-power gaming notebooks. Even with all four fans running at full blast, there’s remarkably little noise.

The only note of caution I’d make is that when running the x15 with the performance turned up to 11, the aluminium deck above the exhaust ports next to the top half of the keyboard on both sides can get rather hot, to the point that you really don’t want to rest any part of your hand on it.

How does that potency transfer into actual gaming? Well, our usual Wolfenstein: Youngblood managed to run at 96fps at 1440p with ray tracing on and DLSS off. Switch to DLSS Quality mode and that number jumps to 136fps. Drop the resolution to 1080p and you’ll see frame rates up to 180fps. The Hitman 2 Mumbai benchmark, meanwhile, recorded 68fps at 1080p and 43fps at 1440p. The Rise of the Tomb Raider test hit 64fps at 1440p with ray tracing on and DLSS off. Those results are again the best we've seen from a laptop.

Considering the performance and display specification of the x15, I wasn’t expecting great things when it came to battery life but it actually performed quite creditably, lasting for 5hrs 57mins in our usual battery-rundown video test. That’s only four minutes worse than the Lenovo Legion 7 and just 12 minutes behind the Asus Zephyrus M16.


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Alienware x15 review: Verdict

The Alienware x15 is a smart, super-thin gaming laptop with a top-notch display that runs faster than any laptop we’ve ever tested. That’s pretty much all most potential buyers will need to know.

The speaker system could be more accommodating to non-gaming sources, the port selection could be wider and the keyboard backlight could light all of the key labels, but I think these are ultimately rather minor quibbles. None of this detracts from a notebook that quantifiably improves your gaming experience, and if performance is at the top of your laptop-buying agenda, there’s simply no better choice.

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