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Alienware 15 R3 review

Gaming laptop[1] brands dont get much bigger than Alienware. If you want a computer from a name like this, you know youre going to have to pay for it. However, when a laptop is much more than a box of ‘standard’ parts like a desktop PC[2], paying the extra can be worthwhile.

The Alienware 15 R3 is an excellent gaming laptop, with more class than an Asus ROG. It‘s also a true showcase of what Nvidias latestp graphics cards can do. The ’15’ refers to screen size, and there are 13in and 17in models to choose between if you prefer.

There are three problems with the model we tested, so let’s get these out of the way before we get to the good stuff. First, the fans are loud and pre-emptive. Second, the price is a little high and third, display contrast could be greater.

Oh, and like most high-end gaming laptops it‘s very heavy. But its also great, and you’ll want one. Read on to find out why.

Alienware 15 R3: Price and availability

To think of the Alienware 15 R3 as one laptop is to mis-represent it.

This is really a family of laptops that caters for everything from the mid range buyer to those after all but the very top-most gaming laptops in the world. It misses out on the top slot as theres no current Alienware 15 R3 that uses the GTX 1080 GPU. The model were reviewing has the next best thing, though: a GTX 1070, backed by a high-end Intel Core i7 CPU and 16GB RAM.

It costs ?1849 from Dell.[3] If you’re in the US, it’s £2209 from Dell[4] at the time of writing. There are eight versions of the 2017 Alienware 15, though. They start with a ?1349 model (£1225 in the US) which has a Core i5 CPU and GTX 1050 Ti GPU.

Each base model is highly customisable. All versions are covered by a one-year onsite warranty. This can be extended, but its not cheap.

A 4-year warranty will cost you ?973. Frankly, that is mad. If even ?1349 is too rich for you, check out our list of the best gaming laptops[5].

Alienware 15 R3: Design

A lot of laptops are made using aluminium these days.

Acer and Asus have brought the entry price for one of these fancy model to ?500-600 in recent years. However, the Alienware is one of the only gaming laptops to make extensive use of metal. Even top-end models costing ?2500 tend to use high-quality plastic rather than metal.

The Alienware 15s shell is a mix of aluminium and magnesium on the outside, although the keyboard surround is still soft-touch plastic. Build quality is excellent. Alienware 15 R3 review

The look hasnt changed all that much from Alienwares norm, with familiar lines and sharp angles, but theres a sense Alienware is trying to make the Alienware 15 R3 seem a little more grown-up than its rivals. Laptops with giant glowing insignia have never done the argument that games arent just for kids any favours. The look is less aggressive than most, without stripping out the gamer gloss entirely.

LEDs are the key. Light-up strips border the sides of the lid and base, and sit under both the keyboard and trackpad. A preinstalled Alienware app lets you choose the colour of each.

The keyboard also has three LED zones, each able to display a different colour. Alienware 15 R3 review With these on the Alienware 15 R3 looks like a party machine.

Turn the lot off and the Alienware could almost pass for a high-end workstation rather than the sort of machine a competitive gamer might use. Aside from the ‘alien headAlienware logo on the back, anyway. Dont take this as a sign the Alienware 15 R3 is meant to be used for trips out to Starbucks, though.

It‘s not that thick (25.4mm) but is heavy, at 3.49kg. This kind of laptop is great for students who want to be able to carry their gaming setup between university/college and home, or those who might end up working away from home for long stints. Insert you own comparable situation here.

Ports and Connections

The Alienware 15 R3 is big.

It’s nothing like the Dell XPS 15[6], but it also makes great use of the space. Instead of just filling the back with a giant fan outlet, there is a slew of connections along the rear, complementing the basic array on the sides. Alienware 15 R3 review

You get two USB 3.0 ports and a USB-C on the left/right sides, and mini DisplayPort, HDMI 2.0 and Thunderbolt (USB-C) ports on the back.

There‘s also an Ethernet socket and a special connector to let you hook up to an Alienware Graphics Amplifier. This is a box that holds a desktop graphics card, which might be a sensible idea if you buy an Alienware 15 R3 with a lower-end graphics card and later want to add more graphical grunt. The box itself costs ?254 though.

There are a few obvious omissions in the Alienware 15 R3 hardware. Optical drives are left out, which seems acceptable at this point, but were baffled by the lack of memory card slot. Some may not mind, but itd put us off using this as a day-to-day workstation.

Display One of the slightly odd, but explicable, elements of high-end gaming laptops is that the majority of them continue to use 1080p displays while often much cheaper, smaller style models have ultra-high res displays. The Alienware 15 R3 has a 15.6in 1080p anti-glare LCD screen.

It‘s a non-touch display that looks good in person, but is actually something of a middle-weight in terms of pure quality. Its a not an ultra-wide colour gamut display, covering a satisfying but not sensational 86.7% of sRGB, 63.4 percent of Adobe RGB and 68.6 percent of DCI P3. This is enough for the screen not to appear obviously undersaturated, but, no great surprise, clearly signals its not meant for photography, video or design pros.

Dells top-end XPS 15 with 4K screen is a much more capable panel, with far deeper colour as well as a much sharper picture. The other limited stat you might notice is the Alienware 15s limited contrast.

600:1 is not great for a laptop as expensive as this. We‘d like to see a ratio much closer to 1000:1.

A much lower score means raised (grey-ish) blacks will become apparent if you like to play in a dark or dimly-lit room. The Alienware 15s brightness great, though. We recorded 429cd/m2.

That‘s bright enough to use outdoors. Again: you probably dont want to use a laptop this heavy and chunky out in the park. There is an explanation for both the limited contrast and high brightness, though.

Alienware offers IPS LCD and an advanced 120Hz TN panel with (for TN) wide viewing angles. Our model uses the TN version. While often considered a dated tech, it‘s a ?200 upgrade if you pick a starting config with the IPS panel.

The benefit of TN is very fast response times, a great win for competitive gamers. However, those who play for pure enjoyment may be better off with the IPS version. It will have better viewing angles, and possibly better contrast too.

The screen tits back 180 degrees, and pushing it back a good way shows theres still some contrast shift in the TN version. It is less apparent than virtually any other TN laptop screen weve seen to date, though. Alienware 15 R3 review

Making the ultimate gaming laptop doesnt mean maxing-out every component, not when you want normal people to be able to buy the thing. The screen does have G-Sync, though. This is Nvidias hardware alternative to V-sync, synchronising the display refresh with frame rendering to avoid screen tearing.

Theres also a sensor above the screen that stops the display going off while youre reading something. Some will find it annoying, though, as it uses a blinking red IR light above the screen.

Keyboard and trackpad

Like previous Alienware 15 R3 generations, the keyboard and trackpad are excellent. The keys are much deeper and chunkier than normal laptop keys, with some of the key-feel character of the mechanical keyboard some gaming nuts swear by.

As mentioned earlier, theres a 3-zone keyboard backlight that can be customised using an app. Theres an air of indulgent silliness to this kind of backlight, but it does let you just light-up the WSAD key area if thats all youll need. To the left of the normal keyboard layout, the Alienware 15 R3 has a series of five macro buttons.

These can be programmed to perform whatever series of presses you like, and can double up as app shortcuts when you‘re not gaming. Alienware 15 R3 review Below the keyboard, the trackpad looks fairly small by the standards of todays style laptops, but is perfect for gaming.

The buttons are separated, sitting below the pad, and have a much deeper, softer click feel. It makes quick presses easier and more comfortable. The pad itself has an excellent textured surface too, and feels great to glide your finger across.

Alienware 15 R3: Performance

The first priority for a laptop in this category is, of course, gaming performance.

Alienware 15 R3 specs start with an Intel Core i5 CPU and Nvidia GTX 1050Ti GPU but we were sent a higher-end model with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ and Nvidia GTX1070 with 8GB RAM. There is a still higher-end laptop GPU ou there, the GTX1080, but its use in laptops is relatively rare compared with lower-end versions. Theres no Alienware 15 R3 with one at present.

For playing on the laptop itself rather than an external 1440p or 4K display, the benefit would be minimal anyway. Gaming performance of the GTX 1070 is fantastic, to the extent that we had to turn off the screens G-Sync feature to see its real potential. G-Sync caps the frame rate at 120fps.

Thief runs at an average 93.8fps with all settings maxed at 1080p, creeping up to 107.8fps at 720p. This is a fairly CPU-intensive benchmark, with usage at over 90%. Few games will cause this effect, but its proof of quite how powerful Nvidias latest laptop cards are.

Alien: Isolation puts less strain on the CPU and runs at 120fps at 1080p with all settings maxed, and 175fps at 720p. Anyone complaining the GTX 1070 isnt really a top-end GPU is missing the point. For todays games, even the laptop version of the GTX 1070 isnt really challenged at 1080p.

There‘s enough spare power to make this a good brain for a 1440p monitor setup, and some games will run very well at 4K. The Alienware 15 R3 is a killer gaming laptop, among the most powerful youll find under ?2000. Alienware does focus on the CPU and GPU speed, though.

The SSD in our model is fast, but not as fast as, for example, those used in MacBooks. It reads at a blistering 1610MB/s, but writes at a more conventional 422MB/s. There are many storage config options, though, if you want to upgrade.

Productivity performance is among the best weve seen from a laptop. It scores 4196 points in PC Mark 8 (Home test) and 13128 points in Geekbench 4. For all its gamer cred, the Alienware 15 R3 would also make a great laptop for video editing and other processor-intensive work.

Under pressure, the Alienware 15 R3 is loud, although its the largely inoffensive whoosh of a large diameter fan pair. Its important not to block the underside, as a large part of it is taken up by a fan outlet. It appears to be a secondary one, though, with the main air intake on the sides and the mainexhauston the back.

In our testing, the Alienware 15 R3 seems to be a little louder and fan-use-happy than the top Asus RoG models. Laptops like the Asus RoG G753 dedicate the entire backside to the heat-dissipating cause, and it works better than this system. However, we didnt experience any overheating and the heat doesnt bleed onto the keyboard much.

Battery life The serious power of the Alienware 15 R3 makes great battery life highly unlikely, although we did hold out some hope after the Dell XPS 15 (a sister laptop of sorts) proved itself surprisingly long-lasting despite using a powerful CPU. This laptops battery life is rather more conventional, though.

Playing a 720p video on loop with the screen brightness set to 120cd/m, the Alienware 15s battery lasts three and a half hours. There is a version of the laptop with a much larger 99Wh battery if you need longer battery life. While we have a lot of admiration for this laptop, we have to end on a slightly sour note as the Alienware 15s speakers are pretty disappointing given its size.

They fire out from each side of the front, delivering a fairly narrow soundstage.

Top volume isn‘t impressive and the sound quality is pedestrian, lacking the power and bass of the best.

Still, it isn’t something we imagine will prove a deal-breaker since youd be mad to spend ?1899 on a gaming laptop and then make do with built-in speakers.

References

  1. ^ Gaming laptop (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)
  2. ^ desktop PC (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)
  3. ^ ?1849 from Dell. (www.dell.com)
  4. ^ £2209 from Dell (www.dell.com)
  5. ^ best gaming laptops (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)
  6. ^ Dell XPS 15 (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)

How to increase fps in PC games

Want your games to run faster, with more frames per second? Try these tips and tricks to increase your fps before shelling out on a new graphics card.

Make your favourite games run faster for free


By | just now

Unlike a games console where developers optimise their games for a specific set of hardware, PCs come in all shapes and sizes. Some rely on a graphics chip that’s integrated into the main CPU, while others have blazing-fast PCI Express graphics cards.

No matter your setup, here are some general tips on how to eke out extra fps (frames per second) from what you have. Of course, if you’ve just bought the latest shooter, MMO, or racer and have found that it’s completely unplayable even after trying all these tricks, you may need to invest in better hardware. The graphics card is the first place to start, and you can find graphics card buying advice and reviews right here[2] – and here are our tips on installing a new graphics card[3].

You might also get a boost in fps if you install a faster processor or more RAM. However, here’s what you can do without spending a single penny on new hardware.

1. Get the latest drivers for your graphics card

Running old drivers isn’t a good idea if you want the best performance, but a surprising number of people fail to update to the latest versions.

It’s much easier these days (with certain brands, at least) since pop-up notifications tell you when a new driver is available. First, find out which graphics card you have, and also check which version of Windows your PC is running. Head to Device Manager in the Control Panel and click on Display adapters.

You’ll see the name of your graphics card. Improve fps - check graphics card

To find out the specific version of Windows, right-click on My Computer and choose Properties (or click on System in the Control Panel). This will tell you whether you have the 32- or 64-bit, as well as exactly which version of Windows is installed.

Then, head to the relevant website to get the latest drivers. This will be either Intel, Nvidia or AMD. Don’t go to the card manufacturer’s site, such as Asus, MSI, Gigabyte or Sapphire.

Be sure to choose the correct model of card, and the appropriate operating system. Once downloaded, install the drivers and reboot your PC if necessary. Depending on the game, you might get up to 30 percent better performance with just a driver update.

Improve fps - drivers

Similarly, check if there’s an update to the game itself. If you bought it via Steam, it should be updated automatically. Otherwise, check the game developer’s website.

Finally, make sure Windows itself is fully up to date. Unless you chose to disable the feature, updates should be installed automatically. If they’re not, search the Start menu (or Start screen in Windows 8) for Windows Update.

2.

Optimise game settings

Updating drivers will get you only so far. The biggest gains in frames per second come from tweaking and compromising on graphics settings. Ideally, you want to run your game at your monitor’s native resolution.

For most PCs that’s 1920×1080; on a laptop it’s likely to be 1366×768. To find out your monitor’s resolution, right-click on the desktop in Windows 7, 8 or 10 and click on ‘Screen resolution’. In earlier versions, click ‘Properties’ instead.

The highest selectable resolution should tell you the native resolution, and should say ‘recommended’. You can also search Google for your monitor’s make and model if you’re still unsure. Lowering the resolution should give you more frames per second, but don’t adjust the resolution here.

Instead, load your chosen game and look for the graphics settings. Here you can change the resolution and many other settings. Anti-aliasing is one setting to watch out for.

AA smoothes out jagged lines, but incurs a performance penalty. Typically you’ll see a slider, but it might be just a number, such as 2x, 4x 8x etc. First, try disabling AA altogether and see how your game plays.

If it’s fast enough, you can enable AA again at the lowest setting and progressively increase it until you find the best balance between quality and performance. Improve fps - game settings

The same sentiment goes for most other graphics settings, including draw distance and shadows. Lighting effects, including shadows, tend to be real performance drains, so if you can live with basic effects, you can make the difference between a game being unplayable and playable.

Essentially, it’s a process of trial and error. Unless, that is, your graphics card drivers can optimise each game’s settings to work well using the hardware available. For example, the Nvidia card in our test PC has drivers which can do precisely that.

Improve fps - automatic optimisation

3. Check and benchmark performance

If your game has an FPS readout (you will need to enable this somewhere in the options, or install a third-party utility such as FRAPS[4]), you’ll be able to see how fast it’s running. The minimum figure (on average) that you want is 25 frames per second.

Anything less looks jerky. The fps will vary depending on what’s happening on-screen. When there’s lots of action, it can drop considerably, so aim for graphical settings at which the game will run acceptably when that happens.

4.

Overclock your hardware

This isn’t something we recommend for everyone, but if you know what you’re doing and understand that there’s a risk of breaking your graphics card, CPU, and RAM, you can run them faster. This should give you a few extra fps. Your first port of call should be the graphics card, since this has the most direct impact on fps.

You may find an option to overclock the GPU[5] in the driver itself (launch the interface from the relevant icon in the Windows Notification area). Alternatively, you might need to track down third-party software. Overclocking the CPU[6] and RAM is easier, as you should find the settings in your PC’s BIOS.

Simply reboot, press Delete (or whichever key takes you to the BIOS) and look for the performance settings.

5. Use optimisation software

Lots of programs run in the background in Windows, and they use up resources including memory and CPU time. You can use PC optimisation utilities to ensure there are no superfluous processes running that could hamper game performance.

You can also clear out temporary files and defragment your hard drive (don’t do this on an SSD though). Windows includes some optimisation tools, but you can also try Razer Cortex[7], which does a lot of the hard work for you, and is compatible with Windows 7, 8, and 10. If you have Windows 10, you should make sure to install the Creators Update[8], released in April 2017.

This includes a Game Mode feature, which prioritises your computer’s resources on whatever game you’re playing, delegating background tasks to specific CPU cores for an overall performance boost.

References

  1. ^ (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)
  2. ^ graphics card buying advice and reviews right here (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)
  3. ^ installing a new graphics card (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)
  4. ^ FRAPS (www.fraps.com)
  5. ^ overclock the GPU (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)
  6. ^ Overclocking the CPU (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)
  7. ^ Razer Cortex (www.razerzone.com)
  8. ^ Creators Update (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)

AMD Ryzen 5 1600X review

We said it before and we’ll say it again, this really is an exciting year for desktop PCs. We haven’t been able to say that since, well, forever. It’s mainly because Intel has been so dominant in the CPU arena, but AMD Ryzen[1] is turning everything on its head.

We’ve already reviewed the Ryzen 7,[2] which offered essentially the same performance as Intel’s best at half the price. Now it’s the turn of Ryzen 5. Because mid-range processors are much more competitive on price, we weren’t expecting Ryzen 5 to come in and undercut Intel’s Core i5 by half.

No, here AMD competes by offering more cores and threads at a similar price to Intel. We’ve tested the Ryzen 5 1600X against the Core i5-7600K because of their prices. But the Intel chip has only four cores to play with and doesn’t support Hyper-threading which doubles the number of threads.

The 1600X, on the other hand, has six cores and does support AMD’s version of Hyper-threading, which is called SMT. This gives the 1600X 200 percent more threads than the 7600K. So it should be an easy win, right?

AMD Ryzen 5 1600X: Price and availability

Before we get to the benchmark results, let’s talk price and features.

You can buy a Core i5-7600K for ?224.99 from Overclockers UK.[3] The Ryzen 5 1600X costs a bit more: ?248.99, also from Overclockers UK[4]. That’s ?1 less than the RRP: it’s brand new, so don’t expect to see any discounted prices for a while.

AMD Ryzen 5 review

Here’s a summary of the Ryzen 5 range to show you how the 1600X compares with its siblings:

Model

Cores / Threads

Base Clock (GHz)

Boost Clock (GHz)

TDP (Watts)

Included Cooler

Price

Ryzen 5

1600X

6 / 12

3.6

4.0

95

N/A

?249 / £249

Ryzen 5

1600

6 / 12

3.2

3.6

65

Wraith Spire

?219 / £219

Ryzen 5

1500X

4 / 8

3.5

3.7

65

Wraith Spire

?189 / £189

Ryzen 5

1500

4 / 8

3.2

3.4

65

Wraith Spire

?169 / £169

Separately, we’ve compared the latest Core i5 range with the Core i3[5].

AMD Ryzen 5 1600X: Features

Look closely at the specifications, and you’ll quickly realise that the 1600X seems a lot like a Ryzen 7 1800X. And there’s a reason for that. The 1600X is basically an 1800X with two cores disabled.

The 1800X is configured as two quad-core chips. AMD calls these Core Complex (CCX) units. In a 1600X, one core from each CCX is turned off, effectively making it a dual-tri-core CPU, if that’s not too confusing.

These cores run at the same frequency as the 1800X: 3.6GHz base, rising to 4GHz (or 4.1GHz when using XFR). For more details on XFR and the SenseMI features, read our Ryzen 7 review. The Intel 7600K is also a 14nm chip like Ryzen, and runs faster at 3.8GHz, with a boost frequency of 4.2GHz.

Both chips are also unlocked and therefore overclockable.

AMD Ryzen 5 1600X: Performance

How we tested

Rather than using the X370 motherboard as for the Ryzen 7, AMD sent us an Asus Prime B350-Plus board with a newer BIOS that would allow for the best performance. (The tweaks in this BIOS version have subsequently been made available for X370 boards, we’re told.) The B350 is the other chipset which supports overclocking and is a better match for the cheaper Ryzen 5 chips as it costs just under ?100. AMD Ryzen 5 review

We used the stock AMD cooler on the 1600X and installed a pair of GEIL 8GB DDR4 memory modules, setting the timing to the figures AMD specified, and found they were stable at 3200MHz.

Then we stuck with the same GTX 1080 Founders Edition graphics card that we used for the Ryzen 7 tests. Windows 10 was clean installed on a 256GB Kingston HyperX SSD, again just as we did for the Ryzen 7 review. For the Core i5-7600K, we used an Asus ROG Maximus IV motherboard, 16GB of Corsair DDR4 RAM at 2933MHz, a GTX 1080 Founders Edition and a 256GB Kingston HyperX SSD with a fresh install of Windows 10.

Benchmark results

As you’d expect, the Cinebench single-thread result for the 1600X is pretty much identical to the 1800X as the individual cores are the same.

But armed with just six instead of eight of them (and 12 threads rather than 16) the 1600X could muster ‘only’ 1246 in the multi-threaded test. The i5-7600K, with only four cores and no Hyper-threading is around half as quick, scoring just 691.

7-Zip’s built-in benchmark also shows the benefit of those extra cores and threads, with the 1600X being – almost -twice as quick as the i5-7600K. The Ryzen’s advantage lessens in the synthetic Geekbench 4.1 test, but the 1600X still commands a good lead.

But again, when only one thread is used, the Core i5 skips back in front. PCMark 8 is a much more real-world test, and here the Ryzen 5 displays its prowess in the Creative test (which includes encoding, photo editing and other ‘creative’ tasks). It doesn’t out-punch the i5-7600K in the Work test which is made up of those undemanding tasks like web browsing, spreadsheet work and Skyping.

When it comes to gaming, 3DMark offers some insight as to how Ryzen has the advantage when games take full advantage of every core and thread. Overall, the FireStrike scores are similar, with Ryzen having a small lead. The Physics test (not shown in the graphs) demonstrates the theoretical performance advantage: the 1600X scores a whopping 16688 against the i5-7600K’s 6687.

But this isn’t a real-world test, and until real games start using all 12 threads, it’s rather a moot point. In Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation, which has been optimised for Ryzen since the 1800X came out, the scores are virtually identical. But when you lower the graphics quality and use the mode which tests the CPU more than the graphics card, Ryzen pulls further ahead.

In the DirectX 12 mode of Mankind Divided, Ryzen loses, but not by much.

As AMD has been at pains to point out, games are being optimised for Ryzen and performance will improve.

If you’re concerned that developers might not bother doing this with older titles, it’s nothing to worry about since – as long as your PC is equipped with a decent graphics card, games from a few years back should run smoothly no matter which processor you have: Ryzen 5 or Core i5.

References

  1. ^ AMD Ryzen (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)
  2. ^ reviewed the Ryzen 7, (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)
  3. ^ ?224.99 from Overclockers UK. (www.overclockers.co.uk)
  4. ^ ?248.99, also from Overclockers UK (www.overclockers.co.uk)
  5. ^ compared the latest Core i5 range with the Core i3 (www.pcadvisor.co.uk)