Alienware continues to hit it out of the park with their gaming laptops. I was incredibly impressed with last year’s m15 R4, and that sense of power meets portability doesn’t change with this year’s high-spec 2021 model. Having spent close to a month churning through productivity work and heavy bouts of gaming, the 2021 model continues to improve on the fundamentals of a great gaming laptop.
The sleek design seen in the recent wave of Alienware gaming laptops understandably doesn’t change this year, and that’s for the better. I’m a big fan of the futuristic design the company have gone with over the last couple of years, cramming high-spec tech within a sleek frame. It’s a far-gone change from what used to be the go-to for the brand, though that is definitely for the best — you still get a lot of cooling space for the machine to breathe while the design isn’t an ugly behemoth from yesteryear.
Cooling space is needed, too. Packing an 8-Core Intel i7-10870H, a GeForce RTX 3080, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, the top-of-the-line 2021 Alienware m15 R4 is an absolute beast of a machine. Whether it’s productivity work, high-level video editing or gaming, this laptop has more than enough under the hood to be the jack of all trades you’d need.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a good amount of I/O on the machine. The laptop packs a dedicated ethernet port, a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port, two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports, a Thunderbolt 3 port, a microSD card reader slot, a 3.5mm audio combo jack, an HDMI 2.1b port, while also sporting a MiniDisplay Port (1.4).
A notable change from last year’s model comes by the way of the laptop’s webcam. Tobii Eye Tracking is only included in the OLED screen models this time around, making for a run of the mill webcam above the screen in the m15 R4 I received. I never found much interest in the tech, though, so this omission isn’t something that had any negative impact on my experience with the laptop. It’s something that I found interesting for a few hours but was never a feature I cared much for.
Something I do really care for is the laptop’s screen, which is an absolute treat. A 300hz refresh rate accompanies a full HD 1080p IPS display, and, when games hit that higher refresh mark, there’s nothing quite like it. While the display has a 3ms response time, titles like the ever-excellent Rocket League – where quick movement and last-minute changes in direction are vital – felt extremely responsive when using a gamepad, while Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War was great to play through with the M&K combo. Neither would consistently maintain such a high frame rate, but having the headroom to support over 120fps was something I appreciated.
Gaming performance across most of the games I played was excellent, as is to be expected. Titles like Horizon Zero Dawn and Cyberpunk 2077, both on ultra settings at 1080p, averaged around 94fps and 70fps respectively, whereas the vanilla Metro Exodus easily maintained a constant 65fps with ray tracing on ultra. For some reason Metro Exodus’ Enhanced Edition wouldn’t update in my Steam library so I didn’t have a chance to check out the performance on that version of the game. Grand Theft Auto V, one of my go-to performance testers, stood no chance against the m15’s spec, easily averaging over 80fps. In short, the i7-10870H and RTX 3080 combo is one that will stand the test of time – whether it’s AAA or indie, solid gaming performance shouldn’t be a concern for years to come.
Fan performance wasn’t particularly surprising given what’s under the hood. The m15 makes quite a bit of noise when put under pressure, though the noise of the fans aren’t as loud as other gaming laptops on the market. There’s an audible hum while you play anything strenuous, though this is all mitigated through headphones. I would recommend a pair of decent PC speakers if you were looking at gaming without headphones, however, as the hum of the fans can be distracting during gameplay. Cooling is important, of course, and while the computer did get hot – especially around the WASD keys and fan grills above the keyboard — I found the fan cooling performance to be excellent.
On the topic of keyboards, I found the typing experience on the m15 to be great, too. Once again, the keyboard is tactile and has a great actuation point that allowed me to type at my normal typing speed without floundering about. I found the typing experience to be much better than my current gaming laptop, the 2020 Razer Blade Advanced, as the layout and spacing between keys is a bit more generous than Razer’s offering. Perhaps more importantly, the m15 is perfect for those who want to balance exceptional gaming performance with regular office or education use.
Using the m15 as a productivity and gaming machine over the last month has made me appreciate just how bloody nice is to have a gaming laptop that packs so much power within the chassis while working with the thin and light design philosophy. My tower rarely got any attention throughout the month, and I think it’s becoming extremely easy to make the justification to purchase a gaming laptop rather than build a tower. The price difference is still there, of course, but the sheer power and portability of the m15 makes it a great long-term investment – especially when it houses a top-level processor and graphics card. There’s nothing quite like being able to hit the road and travel with the knowledge that when it comes to dedicated downtime I can still fire up a round of Warzone or dive deep into Geralt’s adventures in The Witcher 3.
My time with Alienware’s m15 R4 has been great. The 2021 model houses some top-level spec and sticks with the company’s striking lunar design, expertly pairing power with portability. The new 300hz IPS display makes gaming an absolute treat for titles that support it, while the omission of Tobii Eye Tracking in this configuration is something I doubt many users will miss.
You’ll be shelling out quite a bit for this piece of kit, especially when comparing parts to build a traditional gaming tower, but there’s certainly long-term value here.
Needless to say Alienware has, once again, done a fantastic job with the m15 -- the machine is packed with features, capable of dealing out all the frames while also being an exceptional productivity machine. If you’ve got cash to splash, it’s hard to look past the m15 R4.