Review: Alienware M15 R4 gaming laptop is a speedy beauty that burns too

It's stylish, bright and packs a punch - but is it worth it for gaming on the go?
It's stylish, bright and packs a punch - but is it worth it for gaming on the go? Photo credit: Newshub

I can't quite recall the first time I noticed Alienware's stylish line of laptops, but I still remember my first instinct: I wanted one.

For a change the sensible side of my brain won over, though, and with gaming opportunities limited and shared with my growing son, I invariably chose consoles over computers.

However, last year I invested in a home gaming desktop PC for the first time in decades, largely because I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands while I was on gardening leave from a previous job. 

That and I really wanted to play Flight Simulator 2021, which requires a decent specification of graphics card to run.

All things considered, I've been pretty happy with that set-up and hadn't even thought about the alternatives until I was offered the chance to have a play with Alienware's new M15 R4 gaming laptop.

Suddenly the extra noise coming from the large rig in the corner started to bother me and its flashing lights went from being cool to reminding me of a 1980s school disco. 

Could it be time for something a little more subtle? A little smaller? And a little more... Alien-y?

I've been using the Alienware M15 R4 gaming laptop for a couple of weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good

If my desktop PC is a 1980s school disco, then the much gentler and softer Alienware glow that illuminates the logo and backlights the keyboard is more like I'm having a solo rave.

Alienware laptop
Photo credit: Newshub

They can, of course, be turned off if you're wanting to be more discreet but I found it a lovely Zen-like lead into what becomes a full-on power play from this lightning-quick white demon. 

And so it should be, with Intel's 10th Generation i7-10870H processor powering it, coupled with 32GB RAM and a 1TB SSD.

As consumers I think we've become a little impatient. Or maybe it's just me. Games used to take five minutes to load when I first started, now if there's a few seconds of waiting then I audibly moan.

The closest thing I got to what I'd consider a delay was opening Flight Simulator 2021 from the gaming bar - but still, it was much quicker than my desktop. Older, less graphically intensive games, opened up as quick as I thought they should.

Switching between applications and multi-tasking was, as expected, no issue for this combination of power and performance. I mean, this is a gaming laptop but you can easily use it for intensive processing applications like Adobe's Creative Suite.

And, oh boy, the screen. It's a 15.6-inch display offering 1920x1080 resolution that looks absolutely stunning.

Alienware laptop
Photo credit: Newshub

Bezels are minimised and if it wasn't for the big hinge at the bottom then I would have considered it bordering on perfect for my usage.

The performance while playing was equally impressive. The graphics, courtesy of the NVidia Geforce RTX3080 on-board, envelop you in the world more than any other laptop I've used.

In a darker room, with my choice of gaming headset, it truly felt I had the entire world in my hands. I flew around the pyramids of Giza, past the Statue of Liberty and buzzed Ben Nevis, all accompanied by the soothing drone of my light aircraft. It was exhilarating.

One of the criticisms of modern laptops is that in their desire to be as thin and small as possible, they skimp on the ports. This means external hubs and docking stations become a necessity. Not here.

There's an ethernet port, an audio port, three USB-A ports, a microSD reader, an Alienware Graphics Amplifier port, a Thunderbolt USB-C port, a Mini-Display port and an HDMI 2.1 port.

In fact, any more and it would have resembled my dad's liquor cabinet in the early 1990s before I found my taste for a particular type of fortified wine.

To see how far I could push the Alienware M15 R4, I plugged it into my external monitor, a curved widescreen offering 3840x1600 resolution.

Alienware laptop
Photo credit: Newshub

Connection was easy via USB-C and it worked flawlessly. A couple of the high graphics intensity games looked ridiculously good, but I had to massage the performance slightly to avoid a bit of lag and jittering in control.

But everything else worked as it should and, in fact, the monitor gave the laptop a whole added dimension I hadn't previously considered.

The bad

Normally the lack of being able to login via Windows Hello facial scan would bother me, but it turns out there's a couple of other major flaws with this laptop.

The front camera resolution is terrible - offering just 0.9MP 1280x720 stills. Any streamer worth their weight is going to be plugging in an external cam with a much higher performance. 

But again, it's a mere distraction.

This laptop gets hot. I mean 'oh look, I've lifted it up and there are quite a lot of red marks on my legs' hot.

Alienware laptop
Photo credit: Newshub

I didn't try frying an egg on the underside of the Alienware, but I'm pretty confident that with the right kind of pan I could have made a bowl of porridge or two.

Of course, that's a price you pay for having such a quick and graphically impressive computer on your lap. The heat has to go somewhere. But the level of discomfort really pushes this into requiring specialist laptop stands or being a device that sits on a desk when in use.

Another reason for that is its weight, coming in at well over 2kgs. After a bit of time you start to notice that, and it's not the easiest thing to carry around.

Throw in the power adapter, which looks like it could have its own screen and full-size keyboard, and "portable" suddenly becomes a bit of a stretch.

Alienware laptop
Photo credit: Newshub

The high performance also means a speedy draining of the battery, too. If you like gaming on the go you're going to get, in my experience, at most 90 minutes with high-performance games, so you're likely going to need that power brick handy.

Lastly, the speaker system when on a desk sounds just fine. My old mate Ozzy Osborne belted out his hits and left me happy. But bringing it on to your lap and I'm laughing maniacally with the Prince of Darkness - and not in a good way.

The two speakers on either side of the front of the laptop get too close to your body, causing a muffling and loss of fidelity and you'd be as well not bothering.

It's a slight disappointment to end what's been a heck of a journey. One might even say crazy train ride...

The verdict

It would be too much of a pun to describe the performance of the Alienware M15 R4 as other-worldly, but it's certainly impressive.

The keyboard is really nice to type on, the variety of ports and connections means you're unlikely to have to worry about external hubs - and the speed is just lovely.

Combine all of that with one of the more impressive screens I've seen on a laptop and normally you'd have me seriously considering forking out the $4,128.98 or so it costs to purchase this machine.

Alienware laptop
Photo credit: Newshub

But it's not quite that simple.

If I'm buying a laptop it's for one of two reasons (or a combination of both) - and that's space and mobility.

This is a heavy machine and not one I want to be carrying around with me. I'm used to holding devices in one hand and I didn't feel comfortable doing that here. In a backpack you quickly start to notice it, particularly with that brick of a charger too.

And with the heat just too much to bear on my legs when sitting on the couch, it means I'm self-limiting its use to when it's sitting on a desk in my home office.

So not particularly mobile and, although it saves space over a desktop, suddenly it's a high price to pay for, essentially, a slightly smaller footprint.

I think if I was considering a career in gaming and wanted to take my own set-up with me everywhere, I'd be very prepared to put up with those limitations. 

With my terrible gaming performance and a desktop that handles the games I want to play perfectly well? It's too much of a luxury for me.

Newshub was supplied an Alienware M15 R4 powered by an Intel Core i7-10870H chip, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD and a NVidia Geforce RTX3080 graphics card for this review.