Alienware Alpha R2 Review: Big Screen Gaming In A Little Package

Alpha R2 Bioshock, Thief And Shadow Of Mordor Performance

BioShock Infinite was game-of-the-year material back in the day. The floating city of Columbia is one of the most evocative, intense, and gorgeous environments we've ever seen in a PC game -- but how much you like it may depend on what sort of visual wizardry you prefer. BioShock Infinite is built on Unreal Engine 3, and while it pushes that framework's capabilities into the stratosphere, there's a clear difference between BioShock Infinite and, say, Crysis 3. BioShock Infinite emphasizes light, color and motion, and while the characters look more exaggerated and cartoon-like than some other games, they still look great. We tested the game at various resolutions with its DX11 code path with DOF effects enabled.

Bioshock Infinite
DirectX Gaming Performance

Bioshock Infinite

Alienware Alpha R2 Bioshock Infinite

Alienware Alpha R2 Bioshock Infinite Resolutions

Bioshock Infinite Ultra Preset2

The Alpha R2 with its GeForce GTX 960 GPU destroyed all similar sized PCs using integrated graphics and averaged just over 107 frames per second. It's not surprising to see the Alpha R2 lead the pack from a distance, but it's impressive considering its tiny footprint. This type of performance isn't coming from a mid-tower or even a typical SFF system, but a little squared shaped box that's smaller than the ones your local pizza joint serves a personal pan pizza inside.

We also tested the Alpha R2 at different resolutions to see how it scales. And though it's only intended for 4K gaming with an Alienware Graphics Amplifier attached, we tried it anyway. At 4K, things were almost playable, but as you can see the framerate drops in certain scenes make it an exercise in futility, at least with the graphics set at High. Still, not bad for such a small system.

Finally, in the Ultra Quality preset test, you can see how the Alpha R2 hangs versus larger, more powerful mid tower and mini ITX systems. Here the machine puts up respectable numbers and caps 60 FPS at 1080p. 

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Performance
Glorious Orc-Slaying Vengeance
Monolith's surprisingly fun Orc-slaying title delivers a ton of visual fidelity even at the lowest quality settings. So, to maximize eye candy while also heavily taxing the cards, we typically run the game's built in benchmark with its Ultra quality settings at various resolutions, topping out at 4K on these tricked-out dragster gaming PCs. For the Alpha R2, we dialed things back to Medium quality settings.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Alienware Alpha R2 Shadow of Mordor

Alienware Alpha R2 Shadow of Mordor Resolutions

Here again we see the Alpha R2 flirt with being playable at a demanding 4K resolution and if it weren't for the framerate dips during more demanding scenes, it could pull it off. But while it can't quite muster 4K visuals at consistently smooth framerates, the Alpha R2 has no trouble running at 2560x1440, averaging over 75 FPS. And at 1920x1080, the average jumps to over 137 FPS. Compare that to the Skull Canyon NUC, which is almost 100 FPS slower on average.

DirectX 11 Gaming Performance
Square Enix set the tone for Thief noting: "Garrett, the Master Thief, steps out of the shadows into the City. In this treacherous place, where the Baron’s Watch spreads a rising tide of fear and oppression, his skills are the only things he can trust. Even the most cautious citizens and their best-guarded possessions are not safe from his reach." The Thief series has been popular for years, not only for its interesting story lines and unique gameplay, but because the games have consistently featured excellent graphics and imagery, and leverages bleeding-edge technology, like AMD's Mantle API, for example.

thief screenshot

Alienware Alpha R2 Thief

Alienware Alpha R2 Thief Resolutions

Thief is a bit more taxing on systems than Shadow of Mordor, yet the story is the same. The Alpha R2 pulls way ahead of the Skull Canyon NUC at 1920x1080 and stops just shy of consistently being able to deliver playable framerates at 4K. 

One final note on all of these tests above are that many of the benchmark scores were recorded at Medium and Normal image quality presets (to compare to the Skull Canyon NUC scores). If you dialed things up for the Alpha R2 to High quality settings, you'd lose some performance but gain fidelity, obviously. Regardless, the Alpha R2 is more than capable of full 1080p gaming at high image quality settings across virtually all current game titles. For a reference point, in Thief at 1920X1080 with the High image quality preset, the Alienware Alpha R2 scores 53.8 FPS.

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