Alienware m15 R4 review: a premium gaming machine

If you want a serious gaming machine that looks and acts the part, look no further than the Alienware m14 R4

T3 Platinum Award
Alienware m15 r4
(Image credit: Michelle Rae Uy)
T3 Verdict

All mighty, all-powerful, the Alienware m15 R4 remains a top dog in the world of gaming laptops. It's missing a few features you’d expect from portables of its caliber, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a laptop that’s designed to impress, especially in gaming.

Reasons to buy
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    Beautiful performance

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    Stunning design

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    Plenty of customization

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    1080p display is vibrant

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Can get hot

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    One of the priciest laptops out there

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    Battery life could be better

With so many excellent yet affordable gaming laptops out there, not many people can justify shelling out for the Alienware m15 R4, especially since they can get the same specs from one of its highly capable yet cheaper rivals. After all, Alienware laptops aren’t exactly the most affordable gaming portables; they’re quite the opposite, in fact.

However, if you do decide to splurge and get one for yourself, you can hardly be blamed for it. The Alienware m15 R4 isn’t only one of the most spectacular-looking laptops out there, with its space-age design that has only aged like fine wine, but it’s only among the best performing. It’s that superb combination of beauty and beast that’s made it legendary, and perhaps uniquely worthy of its steep price.

To be very fair, the Alienware m15 R4 isn’t designed to be perfect. However, it is designed to impress, and that it does very well.

Alienware m15 R4 review: Design

Alienware m15 r4

(Image credit: Dell)

Whether or not you’re all about the gamer aesthetic, you’ll find the Alienware quite the head-turner. That’s because, while most gaming laptops take the all-too-common RGB-on-black (or dark gray) approach with tapered trimming, Alienware has veered off from that a few years back, perfecting that space-age look on its portables and desktop PCs. It took more than a couple of years for these gaming devices to look the way they look now, and I have to say, they’re looking more attractive than ever.

In fact, it looks more appropriate for gaming than most of the laptops out there touting that “gamer aesthetic,” in my opinion. I can easily imagine lugging this around in-game as I carry and deliver packages across hostile terrain in Death Stranding, carrying out missions in Cyberpunk 2077, or exploring or colonizing planets in No Man’s Sky.

There are seven RGB lighting zones (four on the keyboard, three on the chassis), a lot more than you’d see in other gaming laptops, which makes it a compelling choice for those who love their RGB lighting. In the dark, this laptop lights up, especially with the oblong-shaped RGB zone that juts out on the back, helping to bounce some of that lighting off the wall to spread the love around.

You do have to upgrade to get per-key RGB lighting customization on the keyboard, but the four lighting zones are enough to satisfy any RGB lover. Besides, not a lot of people have the time to do per-key lighting customizations anyway.

As I mentioned, the Alienware m15 R4 isn’t perfectly specced in terms of features. Perhaps I was expecting more from a laptop that could cost you more than $2,000/£2,000 (my review configuration, which is unavailable in the UK, costs $2,155) but it only makes sense for a premium laptop to also have at least some of the premium trimmings.

A Windows Hello login would have been nice, for example, considering there’s plenty of space around the keyboard and on the top display bezel. However, neither facial recognition nor fingerprint scanner is present.

To be fair, what it does have has been executed well. The non-mechanical keyboard is already excellent and comfortable to use, but if you want the best, you can upgrade to Alienware's CherryMX ultra-low-profile mechanical laptop keyboard with per-key RGB customizations. The trackpad also feels nice and responsive, although its presses could be more satisfying.

There are also plenty of ports at your disposal. There’s a host of them, in fact. More than you’ll find in many of its rivals. There are three USB-A ports, an HDMI, a mini-DisplayPort, a Thunderbolt 3 port, one Ethernet, one microSD slot, and an audio port. Rounding those out is an Alienware Graphics Amplifier port, as well as a Wedge-shaped lock slot. In short, there’s plenty of connectivity options here, should you choose to equip it with things like a gaming keyboard, a gaming mouse, and a gaming headset.

Alienware m15 R4 review: Screen and Speakers

Alienware m15 r4

(Image credit: Dell)

If you’re hoping for a faster, high-resolution display, you’ll have to further customize the Alienware m15 R4’s existing configurations. Just keep in mind that while options do range from 1080p 144Hz to 4K 60Hz, not all options are available for every configuration.

Only certain configurations of the Ryzen version, for example, offer a 1440p 240Hz screen. Meanwhile, the OLED 4K display option seems to no longer be available for all the Nvidia versions in the US except for the $3,110, fully kitted-out configuration. It’s all a bit bizarre, but I'm chalking it up to the production issues most tech-related manufacturers are experiencing.

Because I fully intend to hook this laptop up to a bigger dedicated display for more screen real estate goodness, I stuck with the 1080p 144Hz display. And, I must say, it’s already pretty great. Dell, Alienware’s parent company, has always done well with fitting its flagship laptops with impeccable displays, so this isn’t a surprise. This 15.6" 1080p 144Hz 3ms display is vibrant and smooth, doing justice to games like It Takes Two and Cyberpunk 2077, with the latter set on ultra with ray tracing turned all the way up.

That 300 nits of brightness is a boon for gamers who prefer things on the bright side, and while its 100% sRGB color gamut might not be enough for photographers and video editors, it’s certainly plenty for gaming and consuming video-based media.

While you’ll usually want to go with headphones to avoid listening to those loud fans, the R4 actually has plenty of volume on tap. And, it sounds pretty decent for a laptop, gaming or otherwise.

The high end is not particularly detailed, but it’s bright enough without being piercing. The mids are well represented, so that audio has a level of richness not present in most laptops (though still not on par with standalone speakers or headsets), and there’s enough low end to keep the audio from sounding thin. That said, there’s not a lot of low-end so don’t expect to feel or hear a lot of rumble when playing games.

Alienware m15 R4 review: Performance

Alienware m15 r4

(Image credit: Dell)

Being a premium gaming laptop, you’d naturally expect the Alienware m15 R4’s performance to be top-notch, and you won’t be disappointed. My review unit isn’t even fully fitted out, touting an 11th-generation Intel Core i7 chip, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 GPU, and 16GB of memory, putting it somewhere in the mid-range, and it’s already incredible in terms of performance and power.

This laptop loads up quickly and can take on pretty much anything from Flower and Valheim to Sims 4, It Takes Two and Cyberpunk 2077 on high or ultra. In fact, playing Cyberpunk 2077 at the highest settings with ray tracing on ultra is an incredibly smooth and immersive experience. I haven’t experienced any slowdowns or stuttering, which is saying a lot, considering that, not only is that game incredibly detailed and graphically demanding, but is an open-world title as well.

The heat management could be a little better, I must admit. The Alienware m15 R4 does tend to get hot when it’s tackling the more demanding games. Although the heat doesn’t get too hot to cook your fingers when you’re using the keyboard, there’s plenty of heat emanating from the inside.

The fact that gaming laptops produce a lot of heat is understandable. After all, they are working with a much smaller chassis than their desktop counterparts. However, this laptop is also fairly big and Alienware talks a big game when it comes to its cooling technology. Words like “Vapor Chamber” and “load-balancing heat pipes” have been name-dropped, so you’d think it would fare better than the competition when it comes to keeping the heat down.

Still, you have to give credit where it is due. This laptop has yet to experience any thermal throttling even tackling the most demanding games at the highest settings. So, even if it does get hot outside, you can rest assured that it will keep those components in tip-top shape and working optimally inside.

Alienware m15 R4 review: Battery and Software

Alienware m15 r4

(Image credit: Michelle Rae Uy)

Perhaps the Alienware m15 R4’s biggest failing is its battery life. Don’t get me wrong; I love this gaming laptop, thanks to its incredible performance and stunning design. I only wish I could game on it longer without needing to connect it to a power outlet.

Doing the PCMark 10 battery test, this laptop only lasted 4 hours and 28 minutes on the Modern Office test, and just one hour and 27 minutes on the Gaming test. Bear in mind that this is a 15-inch laptop that isn’t aiming to be the thinnest and lightest, which means that it is working with a bigger chassis than others.

To put that into perspective, a 2020 Asus Rog Zephyrus G14 could deliver more than 8 hours of battery life. Granted, that model has an RTX 2060, but the difference is still pretty big (almost half, in fact) and the G14 is a lot smaller and slimmer. Not to mention the fact that the RTX 3070 is supposed to bring massive improvements in power efficiency as well.

The Alienware Command Center app is a surprisingly intuitive app that allow you to adjust various settings of the R4 to your liking. Those settings are split up into four tabs: Home, Library, FX, and Fusion. The Home tab lets you quickly launch or adjust performance and profile settings for your top games. For example, if you want the computer in performance mode or to have a certain RGB profile only while playing Cyberpunk 207, you can easily do that here. You can also choose system-wide default preferences for overclocking, thermal settings, audio profiles, and power settings. The Library tab is essentially an expanded version of the Home tab where your entire library of games can be accessed.

Meanwhile, the FX tab lets you adjust the RGB lighting and create lighting themes that can be assigned to specific games. Though you don’t have quite the control you would in something like Corsair’s iCue – there are only seven different effects here – you can customize the RGB settings for each of its seven lighting zones (upgrading the keyboard will give you per-key RGB customization options).

The last tab, Fusion, is probably the most important. It’s here where you can monitor your computer’s vitals, such as CPU and GPU speed and usage as well as fine-tune overclocking, thermal, power, sound and audio recon profiles.

Alienware m15 R4 review: Verdict and Price

Alienware m15 r4

(Image credit: Dell)

The Alienware m15 R4’s unique design and sheer performance are enough to tempt gamers but it does come at a hefty price. In the US, models start from $1,548, for the i7 processor with 16GB RAM, GeForce RTX 3070 graphics and 144Hz display. If you want the top specs, you can pay up to $3,037.99 for the i9 version with 300Hz display and 32GB RAM. In the UK, the only models currently in stock are the higher end i9 processor versions, starting from £2,949.

There are a few things I would have loved to see implemented on the Alienware m15 R4. Facial recognition or a fingerprint login would have been neat, or perhaps a more satisfying-to-click trackpad. More importantly, battery life could have been longer.

This is not a cheap gaming machine but if you can afford it or are able to save up for it, the Alienware m15 R4 is definitely worth every penny. You’re not just paying for sheer power here – although based on its performance tackling graphically demanding games like Cyberpunk 2077 on ultra, you’re definitely getting it. You’re also getting a laptop that looks good enough to showcase at a cafe and feels great enough to use without extra peripherals. Though if you do want them, you also have a plethora of ports on hand.

Alienware m15 R4 review: Also consider

The 2021 Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, which is among the most highly praised gaming laptops at the moment, comes in at a similar price as the Alienware m15 R4. It does however, have a smaller 14-in screen and far more pedestrian looks.

If you’re looking for a thinner bodied device, it’s worth a look at the brand new Alienware X15 gaming laptop. This still features the performance you’d expect from an Alienware but in a new ultra-thin body, making it much easier to travel with.

Michelle Rae Uy
Michelle Rae Uy

Michelle Rae Uy is a tech and travel journalist, editor and photographer with a bad case of wanderlust. She is a regular contributor for IGN, TechRadar and Business Insider, and has contributed to Thrillist, Paste Magazine, Nylon, Fodor's and Steve's Digicams. Living mainly in California with her adorable cats, she splits her time between Los Angeles, London and the rest of the world.