Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5 (2021) full review
Alienware gaming laptops are huge and expensive, right? That may have been the case a few years ago, but that’s certainly not true anymore.
Take the new Alienware m15 R5, the latest model for 2021, which costs just £1,499 or $1,599. That makes it one of the most affordable laptops that Alienware has ever produced, and it plants this machine firmly into the mid-range market rather than the more unattainable high-end arena.
This alone makes this a tempting proposition but has Dell made sacrifices to achieve these prices?
Design & Build
The m15 R5 adheres to Alienware’s familiar design language, so it doesn’t introduce anything new. That’s not necessarily a problem: it still has the hexagonal grilles, rear-mounted RGB LEDs and futuristic logos.
Build quality is good, if not infallible. The Alienware is sturdy enough to sling into a bag without worry, but there’s noticeable movement around the keyboard deck and base. And, at 23mm thick and with a weight of 2.47kg, this isn’t the slimmest or lightest notebook around. These issues aren’t ruinous, they’re not unique to Alienware, and they’ll only be solved by spending more cash.
It’s good-looking, and the m15 also includes decent gaming connectivity. At the rear, you’ve got a full-size USB 3.2 Gen 1 port and a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C with power delivery. The HDMI output is at the rear, too.
That’s smart because it means you can connect peripherals and displays without the cables interfering. The right-hand side has two more full-size USB connections, while the left-hand edge has the 2.5Gbps Ethernet and an audio jack. There’s a webcam, too, and it supports Windows Hello login.
For everyday gaming, that’s everything you need. But if you need a laptop for work too, the Alienware isn’t quite so suitable: those USB ports could be faster, the USB-C port doesn’t support Thunderbolt, and there’s no card or fingerprint readers.
Keyboard & Trackpad
The standard m15 R5 comes with a chiclet keyboard offering four-zone RGB lighting. As with most laptops of this size, you don’t get a numberpad, but the Alienware does include extra volume keys and full-size cursor buttons.
The keys have a generous 1.8mm of travel and they’ve got a bouncy, consistent and comfortable action that has a pleasing crispness when bottoming out.
It’s about as good as it gets for a chiclet keyboard on a gaming laptop. However, for £100 or $100 you can upgrade this machine with low-profile CherryMX mechanical switches that are faster, crisper and more satisfying. If you’re keen on eSports, that’s a worthwhile investment.
The trackpad is mediocre. Its surface could be a little smoother and more responsive, and the buttons push down too far. No matter what gaming you’re planning, a USB gaming mouse will be better.
Screen & Speakers
As the name suggests, the m15 has a 15.6in display. It’s an IPS panel with Nvidia G-Sync that peaks at 165Hz alongside a 3ms response time. G-Sync means that games are butter-smooth and have no tearing.
Quality levels are good, too. The Delta E of 2.09 means accurate colors, and the high contrast ratio of 1454:1 ensures the display has loads of punch and vibrancy. The backlight strength of 349 nits is good enough to enable outdoor usage, and the panel displayed 97.5% of the sRGB gamut, so it produces virtually every shade required by mainstream games.
This display isn’t good enough to handle HDR games or Adobe RGB workloads (73.8% coverage), but that’s no surprise at this price – instead, it delivers the quality required for mainstream gaming.
The speakers aren’t great, though: the bass has no subtlety and muffles mid-range sounds, and the top-end is a little tinny. A gaming headset would be a wise investment.
Specs & Performance
This may be a gaming laptop, but its most interesting component is the processor rather than the graphics card. AMD’s Ryzen 7 5800H has eight multi-threaded cores, speeds of 3.2GHz and 4.4GHz, plus the brilliant Zen 3 architecture.
Geekbench testing shows the speed of this CPU. In the multi-core benchmark its result of 7,362 was around 1,000 points beyond the Intel Core i7-10750H used in lots of affordable gaming laptops like the Dell G5 15 Gaming (5500).
It offers comparable performance to Intel’s new eight-core i7-10875H, and that chip is found in machines that cost more than £2,000 like the XPS 17 9700.
Amazingly, it’s only about 800 points behind the Core i9-10980HK, which is reserved for bigger laptops at twice the price, like the Alienware m17 R4.
AMD has historically been weak in single-core tests, but that’s not the case here either: the 5800H’s single-core Geekbench result of 1,403 outpaced all of the Intel chips mentioned here. It’s also faster than all of the Core i7 processors in PC Mark.
Here are all the benchmark results compared with some rivals as well as the m17 R4. Note that Night Raid is a new test and therefore has limited comparisons.
You’ll never encounter gaming bottlenecks with this machine, and it has no problem zipping between dozens of browser tabs and a bevvy of everyday applications. It’ll tackle mainstream content-creation, too, so it’s ideal for photo- and video-editing.
The rest of the specification is unsurprisingly mid-range. There’s 16GB of dual-channel memory and a 512GB SSD with read and write speeds of 2,316MB/s and 1,053MB/s. Those mediocre results are good enough to keep the machine snappy, but a few big game installs will have the drive feeling cramped. Connectivity comes from dual-band Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless and, impressively, 2.5Gbps Ethernet.
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card in this gaming laptop has the usual 3,840 cores, 1,702MHz boost speed and 6GB of memory, and it has a power level of 125W – as high as this chip can go. So it's not a lower power version that would have previously been called 'Max-Q'.
It’ll play the vast majority of AAA single-player titles at smooth framerates of 60fps and high-quality levels. In Far Cry: New Dawn, for instance, it ran at 76fps at Ultra settings. If you’re an eSports fan, the RTX 3060 will scythe through every game at the speeds required by the 165Hz display.
When gaming, fan noise is present, but it’s no worse than anything else at this price, and the speakers or a headset easily drown out the noise. As with most gaming laptops, the underside of the machine is too hot to use on your lap and the area above the keyboard is too hot to touch. The m15 R5 is better suited to a desk or table.
Alienware’s Command Center app can deliver a little extra GPU speed in a high-performance mode, but the noise and heat output both increase, so it’s not worth it for a couple of extra frames.
There are no surprises from the battery. The Alienware m15 R5 lasted for just under five hours in a moderate work benchmark, but just under 90 minutes in a gaming test. In our usual video loop, it lasted a reasonable six hours and 21 minutes.
As with most gaming laptops, you might make it to lunchtime if you’re not playing the latest blockbuster, but you’d better stay plugged in if you want to play games.
Price & Availability
Add £100 or $100 to the price and you’ll get double the SSD capacity, and another £100 to the UK price improves the display to a 1440p model with a 240Hz refresh rate. However, if you’d like that screen in the US, expect to spend more than US$2,000.
If you’re willing to pay more than £2,000 or US$2,000, you’ll get the 240Hz display and RTX 3070 graphics, so you’ll also be able to run more games at a higher resolution and refresh rate.
The priciest R5 models pair the RTX 3070 with a beefier AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX processor. That’s an excellent specification, but it’s only worth the cash if you need a laptop for content-creation workloads alongside gaming responsibilities.
Check out our chart of the best gaming laptops to see what other options you have.
The Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5 gets plenty of things right considering its low price.
On the inside, the RTX 3060 delivers solid mainstream gaming ability and the AMD Ryzen 5 5800H is a superb option for mainstream workloads and content-creation (if 74% Adobe RGB is ok), and the Alienware also serves up a good IPS display, a satisfying keyboard and bold, familiar aesthetics.
In some areas, there are inevitable compromises. The trackpad and speakers both disappoint. External connectivity is good for gaming, but not for some workloads. Battery life is fine, if underwhelming, and this machine does get hot under duress. It’s thicker and heavier than plenty of 15.6in gaming laptops, too.
These are not surprises, though, and they’re not issues that you’ll solve without lots more cash. The m15 R5 gets the most important things right making it an ideal candidate if you want a gaming laptop that won’t break the bank.
Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5 (2021): Specs
- Screen: 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080 Nvidia G-Sync 165Hz IPS
- Processor: 3.2GHz AMD Ryzen 78 5800H
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Laptop 6GB
- Memory: 16GB 3,200MHz DDR4
- Storage: 512GB Kioxia SSD
- Ports: 3x USB 3.2 Gen 1, 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C/DisplayPort, 1x HDMI 2.1, 1x audio jack
- Connectivity: Dual-band 802.11ax WiFi, Bluetooth 5.2, 2.5Gbps Ethernet
- Dimensions: 356 x 273 x 23mm (WxDxH)
- Weight: 2.47kg
- Warranty: 1yr RTB
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