Alienware M15 R6 review: Keyboard overlord - MrLiambi's blog

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Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Alienware M15 R6 review: Keyboard overlord

The Alienware M15 R6 is a high-end gaming laptop that isn't terrifyingly huge or heavy. But is it terrifyingly expensive like some other Alienware kit?

Our review model features an Intel Core i7 CPU, Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics card and 2TB SSD storage. It's high-end stuff. And, yes, it's headed towards the three grand mark, so it's far from cheap. Go for a smaller SSD, however, and the price can be much closer to two grand.

So at this cost should you consider buying one? The real performance hounds might be better off with the Lenovo Legion 7. That line gets you a much sharper screen and a faster version of the RTX 3080. 

However, the Alienware M15 R6 has a secret weapon: its keyboard. This thing offers deep-action keys and a very satisfying feel, and our review sample doesn't even have the special Cherry MX key design, which is likely to be even better. 

Design

  • Dimensions: 356.2 x 22.85 x 272.5mm / Weight: 2.478kg
  • Aluminum, magnesium alloy and plastic construction

Alienware laptops have gone through a visual evolution over the last few years. We've seen a maturation of sorts, a small move away from the gaudy towards a look those who don't worship at the altar of RBG will find easier to appreciate. 

Alienware's M15 R6 lives in a sort-of middle ground. There's no embarrassing G4M3R font on the keyboard keys, and from the inside it could almost pass for a stylish ultraportable were it not for the hexagonal heat grille and light-up alien head power button. 

The back has the great big heat exhaust, but it's only particularly eye-catching if you leave the LED ring around its perimeter switched on. You can alter its colour and intensity. 

We got in contact with Dell to find out exactly what the Alienware M15 R5 is made of. It's a combination of aluminium, magnesium alloy and plastic. You'll have to trust our hands for the next bit, but we believe the lid is aluminium, the underside magnesium alloy and the keyboard plate plastic. 

You could accuse Alienware of cheaping out in making the part you touch the most out of plastic. And, no doubt, using plastic for the most intricately carved part will reduce manufacturing costs. However, the soft-touch finish feels good and the use of plastic means the keyboard plate is the least heat-conductive part of the base. Makes sense, right?

The Alienware M15 R6 does lack the keyboard rigidity we'd hope for in a laptop this expensive, though. Press down in its centre and the keyboard bows a bit, something you just don't see in the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro. Or, heading back to the series's older days, in the Alienware 15 R4. 

Build quality is decent, but not impeccable like some of the chunkier old Alienware models. 

Screen

  • 15.6-inch LCD display, 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • 360Hz refresh rate
  • Matte finish

This Alienware M15 R6 has a 1080p LCD screen. You can get it with a QHD resolution panel instead if you want, which a laptop this powerful deserves really.

A few years ago ultra-high resolution gaming laptops seemed a bit pointless, but as this thing has an RTX 3080 it's pretty punchy. At some point in the near future we'd like to see Alienware's high-end gaming laptops start out with perhaps a 1440p resolution screen. 

At 1080p pixellation is noticeable around Windows 10, and in games without a particularly good application of antialiasing. The screen's contrast is also not amazing, pretty much bog-standard stuff for an LCD. 

This is no ordinary laptop screen, though. It has strong colour reproduction and a maximum refresh rate of 360Hz. That is ridiculously rapid, allowing for proper display of frame rates so high they must surely be beyond the bounds of human perception. 

The Alienware M15 R6's maximum brightness is good, and like almost every other gaming laptop the screen surface is matte rather than glossy.

There are enough strengths here, but we'd be happier with this entry-level display option if the resolution were higher, even if it came at the cost of a lower refresh rate. Alienware knows what it is doing, though. Right now the Alienware M15 R6's upsell QHD option is highly attractive. If the lower-spec version were sharper, the upgrade would not be nearly as appealing. 

Keyboard and touchpad

  • 1.8mm Cherry design keyboard
  • 4-zone RGB backlight
  • Plastic touchpad

You probably approach gaming laptops looking for the best possible performance but, in an unusual twist, the Alienware M15 R6's keyboard is probably its most notable part. 

There's deep key action here; each depress comes with an unusually refined mix of springiness and a good clonk at the actuation point. 

The result is the M15 R6 feels meaty and fast at the same time. This is a more satisfying keyboard than those of almost all rivals. It also makes the slightly flex-happy keyboard base all the more grating. That said, you don't actually notice the bowing effect during use much, unless you type in a state of rage. 

We had initially assumed our review sample had the keyboard Alienware co-designed with Cherry, using mechanical switches. But it doesn't: even the 'basic' mSeries keyboard is great. The Cherry one is likely to be even better. 

However, perhaps surprisingly, this laptop does not have per-key lighting. There are instead four zones, spreading horizontally across its keys. This limits the kind of out-there effects you can create, but each of the zones can be animated, and set to any colour of the rainbow, using the Alienware Command Centre app. 

The Alienware M15 R6's touchpad is much less interesting than the keyboard. It's the classic old-school gaming laptop pad that seems crammed in under the assumption it's not going to be used that often. 

This is a fairly small pad with a squeaky plastic surface, not a smooth piece of glass. The clicker is inoffensive, if slightly loud. Just don't expect it to feel as good as the pad of a slick portable laptop like the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4. 

Performance

  • 115W Nvidia RTX 3080 GPU
  • Intel Core i7-11800H CPU
  • 32GB RAM DDR4 RAM

The Alienware M15 R6 is a bad-ass performance laptop, but there is one crucial part you need to consider that we'll get onto in a moment. 

We're using a very high-end spec of this laptop. It has an Intel Core i7-11800H CPU, 32GB RAM ,and two 1TB Samsung SSDs. It has double the RAM and storage of the version you'll find sold commonly online, but in most use cases the performance will be similar. 

The Nvidia RTX 3080 is the crown here, though. It's so powerful, even in its laptop form, many recent games won't get close to challenging it even at max settings - in part thanks to the 1080p display resolution. The Witcher 3 pushes at 100fps with everything maxed. Subnautica is well over that. You can play Control with ray-tracing enabled, all the fancy stuff turned on, and won't even have to use the performance-enhancing DLSS to get great frame rates. 

However, the Alienware M15 R6's RTX 3080 appears to be hard capped at 115W power consumption. Other comparable laptops with this card can push up to around 150W, when the fans are allowed to create more of a racket. While this laptop has various performance profiles, and even a keyboard button that makes the fans spin at their hardest, the 115W cap remains.

We could already tell this was going to be the case by the power supply shipped with the Alienware M15 R6. It's a 240W brick, where a power supply closer to 300W is required for the most power-hungry version of the RTX 3080. 

In many games the difference in actual frame rate may not be all that massive. This remains a real bruiser of a gaming laptop, just be aware that some rivals similar in size and weight may have a performance advantage. The Lenovo Legion 7 and Asus ROG Strix Scar are two examples, and the 17-inch Alienware M17 R4 also uses most powerful laptop version of the card available. 

The Alienware M15 R6's cooling system is pretty effective. It brings cold air in from the top, primarily by the top-left part of the keyboard, then blows hot air out of the grille at the back. Heat does spread across the keyboard fairly swiftly as you play, making the entire laptop feel a bit warm, but it didn't get hot during testing, like some genuinely thin and light gaming laptops can. There is a high-pitch element to the fan noise, which we think sounds more glaring, but the system appears to do its job well. 

Battery life

  • 240W power adapter, 86Wh battery capacity
  • Ports: HDMI 2.1, Ethernet, 3.5mm jack, 1x USB-C (Thunderbolt), 3x USB-A

Our Alienware M15 R6 has a pretty large battery, but you may find it drains quickly unless you put this laptop in the right mode. The first test we tried didn't end too well. 

Just streaming YouTube at middling brightness saw it die, from a full charge, in just under three and a half hours. That was using Windows's Battery Saver profile too. 

We didn't think this was the best it could do, so we did some more fiddling. First, we set the refresh rate back to 60Hz, and used the Nvidia Control Panel tool to set the graphics integrated into the main processor as the primary GPU. 

The same video streaming test then worked a whole lot better, letting the Alienware M15 R6 run on for seven hours and six minutes. That's more like it. While you shouldn't expect this laptop to last through a full day of work away from the adapter, we think seven hours isn't a bad result for a full-on gaming laptop. 

Fingers crossed you shouldn't generally need to do all the tweaks we did, as it seems the Nvidia GPU was draining more power than it should have in our first test. But it may be an idea to switch to a standard 60Hz refresh rate when you need the Alienware M15 R6 to last. 

The Alienware M15 R6 does not go all-out on connections, but there's probably enough to satisfy most of its audience. You get an Ethernet port on the left side, next to a headphone jack. Two USBs sit on the other side. The rest of the connectors are laid across the back: a USB-C with Thunderbolt, an additional USB, and a classic HDMI. This is an HDMI 2.1 connector, which is good. 

And the speakers? They're not good. Just as Alienware hasn't been too dynamic in switching to a top-tier touchpad or taming the 'gamer' design completely, the M15 R6's speakers remain bass-free and have an enclosed, boxy sound. 



Source : https://www.pocket-lint.com/laptops/reviews/dell/158837-alienware-m15-r6-review-gaming

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