Alienware m15 R4 Review: A GeForce RTX 30 Series Invasion

Alienware m15 R4: System, Gaming And Battery Life Performance

Before running our selection of benchmarks, we apply the latest Windows and driver updates to the system we are testing (in this case, the Alienware m15 R4). Other than that, we run all our tests with out-of-the-box settings. Our goal is to test the system as it ships, but after auto-updating, to accurately reflect what buyers can expect from a retail experience.

ATTO Disk Benchmark
Peak Sequential Storage Throughput
The ATTO disk benchmark is a fairly quick and simple test which measures read/write bandwidth and IOPS across a range of different data sizes. While we don't typically compare these results across multiple machines, it's useful to gauge whether a particular notebook's storage subsystem can handle being put under pressure. 


atto bandwidth alienware m15r4

atto iops alienware m15r4


The SSD in this machine is a Samsung P981a, which is a very fast PCI Express 3.0 NVMe drive. 

Speedometer Web Application Benchmark
Browser Performance
We recently moved on to BrowserBench.org's Speedometer test, which takes a holistic look at web application performance. This test automatically loads and runs several sample web apps from ToDoMVC.com using the most popular web development frameworks around, including React, Angular, Ember.js, and even vanilla JavaScript. This test is a better example of how systems cope with real web applications, as opposed to a pure JavaScript compute test like JetStream. All tests were performed using the latest version of Chrome. 

chart speedometer alienware m15 r4

Right out of the gate we see really nice performance from the Alienware m15 R4's Core i7-10870H CPU with its strong single thread performance. Web browsers are one of the few non-gaming tasks where we expect big things from any notebook. In this case, it's right in line with all of the high-powered Intel options, including the Dell XPS 15 7590

Cinebench R20 and R23
3D Rendering Performance
The previous version of Maxon's rendering benchmark, Cinebench R20, takes longer to complete, so this is a better test of a notebook's cooling system. This release also drops the OpenGL test, making Cinebench a pure CPU benchmark this time. We tested both single-threaded and multi-threaded performance here. 

chart cine r20 alienware m15 r4

Cinebench has favored AMD's Zen-based processors since the first Ryzens hit the scene, so it's not surprising to see the Alienware m15 R4 take a back seat to several AMD-powered notebooks. On the other hand, it's not like these numbers are soft, and the new m15 R4 rings in quite a bit faster than the Core i9-9980HK in the XPS 7590, though admittedly that is a thinner and lighter machine. 

The newest benchmark from Maxon, Cinebench R23, renders the same scene as R20 but with the company's latest rendering engine with support for all current gen hardware. 

chart cine r23 alienware m15 r4

We don't have as many results in Cinebench R23 since it's such a new benchmark, but the m15 R4 puts up respectable numbers here, too. For all the praise we heaped on Apple's M1 processor, its 4+4 layout holds it back. The Alienware system is also more than 50% faster than the fastest Intel Tiger Lake system we've tested, MSI's Prestige EVO 14. This of course should be expected from an eight-core processor with a bigger thermal budget afforded by the Alienware m15 R4's chassis design and cooling solution. Still, all good here.

Geekbench 5
Single and Multi-Core Performance
Geekbench is a cross-platform benchmark that simulates real world processing workloads in image processing and particle physics scenarios. We tested the notebooks featured here in Geekbench's single and multi-core workloads. We've retired Geekbench 4 because version 5 performs many of the same tests, which have been updated with the latest CPU architectures and features in mind. 

chart geekbench alienware m15 r4

Geekbench is another synthetic test where some AMD systems have a slight advantage, but we're talking about a couple of percentage points. In both single-threaded and multi-threaded tests, the m15 R4 is right on the heels of other systems like the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14

PCMark 10
Productivity and System-level Benchmarking
PCMark 10 uses a mix of real-world applications and simulated workloads to establish how well a given system performs productivity tasks, including image and video editing, web browsing, and OpenOffice document editing.  While these scores appear to be all over the place, the systems are sorted by their overall PCMark score, which is the third (gray) bar in each cluster. 

UL’s well-known 3DMark benchmark suite features tests that target different types of computing devices. We selected the Time Spy, Fire Strike Extreme, and Port Royal tests for a synthetic look at the Alienware m15 R3's potential gaming performance in DirectX 12 and DirectX 11 scenarios. We also have a fair amount of comparison data these tests..

Alienware m15 r4 geforce rtx 3070 pcmark 10 score

The new Alienware m15 R4 is basically tied for the fastest gaming notebook when it comes to PCMark's productivity tasks. Where it wins big is the Digital Content Creation (DCC) test, where we would expect NVIDIA's Ampere GPUs and that RAID 0 storage subsystem to perform well. The most notable loss is in the productivity test, but again it's still in the hung, and ione of the fastest notebooks we've test in PCMark 10 overall. The Essentials component was a veritable tie, where the larger HP Omen 17 is well within the margin of error for this benchmark. 

Now it's finally time to get down with some 3D graphics and gaming tests.

3DMark Benchmarks
3D Performance
3DMark has several different graphics tests which focus on different types of systems. We start with Time Spy, which is 3DMark's headline benchmark. This test presents a pretty significant challenge for the system's CPU and GPU using DirectX 12's APIs... 

chart 3dtimespy alienware m15 r4

The Alienware m15 R4 is just in a different performance league than its competition. It's a full 30% faster than the Origin PC EVO17-S, and easily boasts itself as the favored candidate for fastest gaming gaming laptop we've ever tested here. The previous-generation Alienware m15 R3 was a very capable GeForce RTX 2070-powered machine, but the newer generation, which in this case has two additional CPU cores along with the newer GPU, is just on a different level. 

Next up, let's take a look at the Extreme preset for the punishing 3DMark Fire Strike test. This DirectX 11 test has been around for a while, but it's still pretty challenging. 

chart 3dfirestrike alienware m15 r4

Once again, we've got around a 30% advantage over the fastest gaming notebooks in our test. Before adjusting the scale on this graph, the bar for the Alienware m15 R4 literally went off the chart. And the Origin PC EVO17-S is by no means a slow machine, so this is quite a feat. 

Lastly, the Port Royal test uses DirectX Ray Tracing (DXR) to illuminate a scene. So far, the only notebook GPUs that can power this benchmark come from the NVIDIA camp, since AMD's Big Navi graphics core architecture hasn't made it into a mobile platform yet. 

chart 3dportroyal alienware m15 r4

The win this time is a bit more modest, as the Alienware m15 R4 beats out the Area-51m, which is basically powered by desktop-class components, by only around 12%. However, once we make our way down to notebook GPUs, the next tier includes GeForce RTX 2070-powered laptops like the older Alienware m15 R2. Here, the margin of victor inches up to the 20% mark. That's still a huge generational leap in performance, and its encouraging to be sure. 

Far Cry 5
Gaming Performance
Far Cry 5 takes the franchise to Montana with lush environments and incredible graphics fidelity. We ran this laptop through the built-in benchmarks with Ultra Quality settings.

chart far cry 5 alienware m15 r4

Our first true gaming benchmark is a big win for Alienware, and our first look at this machine's overclocking profiles as well. In fact, we found the OC2 profile to be perfectly stable in our time with this review unit. The frame rate in this test was already over 100 fps, though, so we didn't really need much of it. 

The stock setting was around 11% faster in Far Cry 5 on average, over the previous generation, and the OC2 profile gave it a few extra frames per second, just shy of a 5% boost. It may not be practical to engage overclocking in these game setting, when the performance is already so solid, but once we get to a point where performance is on the edge, this might just give it the extra kick needed to get smoother gameplay. 

Gears 5
Gaming Performance
Gears 5 was one of the fall blockbusters we had a chance to dig deeply into, and on top of looking great, it's a blast to play. Due to the relative newness of the game, we don't have a ton of notebooks represented, so we intermingled some desktop GPU results for reference. We used the High preset at 1920x1080, same as before, to test this game. 

chart gears 5 alienware m15 r4

In Gears 5, we see much the same story as in Far Cry. The Alienware m15 R4 gets a big win over its predecessors, and the OC2 profile provides a modest but measurable bump. Performance here shows that we're far outstripping what the display can give us at 1080p. Gears 5 has a dynamic resolution scaling option in the settings, so we'd probably just crank the resolution to our review unit's native 4K setting, and let the game engine figure out how many pixels to draw. This kind of added flexibility is always a bonus. 

Middle Earth: Shadow of War
Gaming Performance
Middle Earth: Shadow of War is a fun and and beautiful title set in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings universe. To test the game's performance relative to other systems, we set the resolution to 1920x1080 and turned the visuals up to the High preset. The frame rates here are the average reported by the built-in benchmark.

chart shadow of war alienware m15 r4
Shadow of War was again no contest for this new Alienware gaming laptop. We're guessing that at 140+ fps we're actually running into a CPU bottleneck, rather than a GPU limitation, which probably explains why the OC profile gave us so little extra oomph. 

Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Gaming Performance
The finale in the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is easily the best-looking of the bunch. It's also brimming with Tobii eye-tracking hardware support, and leading edge graphics technologies. To test this game out, we again turned the visuals up to High and tested at the Full-HD resolution of 1920x1080.

chart shadow tomb raider alienware m15 r4

Much like the games before, Shadow of The Tomb Raider at 1080p was no match for our review unit. You probably don't need us to tell you at this point how fast NVIDIA's new GeForce RTX 3070 mobile GPU is at 1080p, but that's where our comparison database currently resides for this game title. 

Alas, let's check out one more AAA game title with more punishing graphics settings and resolution.

Metro Exodus
1440p Performance 
Metro Exodus is based on author Dmitry Glukhovsky's series of Metro novels that started with Metro 2033 back in 2005. The first installment in the series was Metro 2033, which was then followed by Metro Last Light (and later, Last Light Redux). Like other games in the series, Metro Exodus follows a post-apocalyptic story line that takes place in the former Russian Federation. The game features advanced graphics and visuals and also supports NVIDIA’s RTX and DLSS technologies.

alienware m15 r4 metro exodus no rtx

We start out with a 1440p resolution and the Ultra quality preset without any ray tracing effects enabled. We've got our desktop GPU rig, as well as NVIDIA's MSI-based prototype. For reasons we'll get into on the next page, we think that the Alienware m15 R4 has a more robust cooling solution, and that MSI system may not be a shipping configuration. Whatever the reason, the m15 R4 scores really, really well here, almost catching the mobile GeForce RTX 3080 in both average and minimum frame rates. 

However, since this GPU supports DXR and the game features extensive use of ray tracing, let's turn on the effects and also enable DLSS so that the frame rate is still somewhat playable. 

alienware m15 r4 geforce rtx 3070 metro exodus with rt scores

Again we find ourselves in a dead heat between the MSI RTX 3080 prototype and the Alienware system punching above its weight class, with Excel awarding the win to the Alienware m15 R4, thanks to its higher minimum frame rate. We'd like to think the RTX 3080 has a little more in the tank than this, but we can't deny the excellent performance that Alienware machine put on display here. 

Battery Performance
Gaming and Video Playback Performance
We ran a pair of battery tests with the Alienware m15 R4: our own custom video playback loop and PCMark 10's Gaming test. In both instances, we had to turn off the Tobii eye tracking so that it wouldn't dim the screen more than normal, which in retrospect might be somewhat unfair, even if it keeps all participants on a level playing field. Windows 10's Focus Assist was enabled to block all notifications and the screen was calibrated to as close to 115 lux as possible according to our light meter. On the battery slider built into Windows, we selected the middle option of the three available, which is labeled "Better Performance" and we stuck to the default "Performance" profile in Alienware Command Center which is how Dell ships it out of the box. 
 
chart battery alienware m15 r4

Considering the 4K display that the Alienware m15 R4 has to draw all those pixels on, the battery life wasn't bad. Still, this system has an 86 Wh battery, and we had expected a little bit more longevity out of this machine. It bested the last-generation m15 R3 by more than an hour and a half, though, which worked out to be close to 80% longer. That's a nice improvement, even if the bar was pretty low. Regardless, for better battery life, we'd encourage users to fire up Alienware Command Center and dial things down to the m15 R4's Balanced thermal and power profile, for a bit more endurance, when you're not gaming. 
chart pcmark battery alienware m15 r4

Speaking of gaming, the result isn't quite so rosy in this test - because "horsepower." We couldn't muster 50 minutes out of the battery while running PCMark's gaming test, which cycles through the Fire Strike test. It came in dead last with the default Performance profile, and we didn't get much more out of the Better Battery profile. Regardless of the result, the battery in a gaming laptop is better treated as a UPS backup, rather than a traditional battery while gaming. Performance always dropped off considerably to conserve power, so we recommend playing while plugged in. 

Overall, the Alienware m15 R4 is a ridiculously fast notebook. Now let's move on to investigate its innards with a little tear-down action, and see if we can figure out what makes it tick. 


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