Alienware Picked a Good Time to Get Back on Board With AMD

The m15 R5 is Alienware's first laptop with an AMD CPU in more than a decade.

Alienware m15 R5 lead review photo.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

It’s been more than a decade since Alienware last put an AMD CPU in any of its laptops, but all that is changing with the m15 R5. Not only does the m15 R5 support a range of AMD’s latest Ryzen processors, it also sports a revamped design, a bunch of new display options, better cooling, and even a mechanical keyboard if you care to pay extra. And while there’s a small part of me that wishes Alienware had fully embraced AMD silicon for both its CPU and GPU, the m15 R5 delivers excellent performance in a sleek, updated package.

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An Unapologetically Alienware Design

For the m15 R5, Alienware kept the same basic design as its predecessors, but made a few tweaks that result in a unique design language. For better or worse, this won’t get mistaken for any other laptop brand on the market.

With RGB lighting built into the logo on the lid, its power button, keyboard, and a strip that runs around the rear of the system, there’s certainly no shortage of neon, though sadly, the lighting in the keyboard is restricted to a few zones instead of being full per-key RGB. And while Alienware relies on a membrane keyboard for its base config, you still get a nice bouncy feel that works for both typing and gaming. Due to the m15 R5's upward firing speakers (which sound pretty good), the m15's touchpad does feel a bit smaller and more cramped than you might expect.

Along the sides, Alienware rearranged its connectivity, moving everything but Ethernet, audio, and two USB-A ports to the back. Alienware says this was done to help streamline the system, and overall, I think the company largely succeeded. That said, I wish Alienware hadn’t axed the built-in microSD card slot available on previous models, and I think swapping the placement of the rear USB-C port with the side-mounted Ethernet jack would make more sense based on how often those ports are typically used.

The front of the Alienware m15 R5.
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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On the inside, Alienware has redesigned the m15 R5's cooling with a large vapor chamber and more powerful fans, so even though the m15 R5 can get a bit steamy under full load (but honestly, what gaming laptop doesn’t), in more normal use, fan noise is less distracting than on many of its rival.

Weighing in at around 5.5 pounds and measuring 14.02 x 10.73 x 0.9 inches at its thickest, the m15 R5 isn’t an especially small or large laptop for its size (it’s just a touch thicker than Asus’ ROG Strix G 15 Advantage). Thanks to its darker color scheme, if you can bear disabling your RGB lights for a time, you might even call it stealthy.

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Fast, Faster, and Fastest Displays

Sporting a matte coating across its 15.6-inch non-touch display, the m15 R5's screen is clearly designed for gaming. Our $1,650 review unit came with the system’s base 165Hz 1920 x 1080 full HD screen, which offers good brightness that tops out at 354 nits and a relatively wide though not overly saturated color gamut.

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To me, that base 165Hz screen is a solid choice for general gaming because it’s a good match for the performance from our review unit’s Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU. But for those looking to hit really high frame rates in more competitive games like CS:GO, Alienware also offers a higher-res 2560 x 1440 display with a 240Hz refresh rate and G-Sync support, or an even faster 360Hz display with G-Sync, which matches the best panels on other gaming notebooks when it comes to the fastest refresh rates you can get on a laptop.

A Good Time to Embrace AMD

Even though Alienware doesn’t include options for an AMD-based GPU, including support for an AMD CPU for the first time in more than a decade is a refreshing change—and a well-timed one at that. AMD’s latest batch of Ryzen 5000-series mobile CPUs have really started challenging Intel’s chip for gaming superiority, and we can see a lot of those benefits already, especially when it comes to general productivity.

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In Blender, the m15 R5 posted faster CPU and GPU render times than both the MSI GP66 Leopard and the Razer Blade 15 Advanced, despite both having even more expensive Intel/Nvidia setups. The m15 R5 took just 3 minutes and 27 seconds to complete the CPU render test and 5:58 for the GPU test, compared to 3:55 and 6:39 for the GP66, and 5:59 and 8:14 for the Razer Blade 15, respectively. And despite the fact that the GP66 boasts an as-configured price tag $250 higher than the m15 R5, the Alienware still managed to eke out a slightly faster time in our video conversion test, taking 7:17 to encode a 4K movie to 1080p versus 7:19 for the GP66.

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When it comes to gaming, the combination of a Ryzen 5800H CPU and Nvidia 3060 GPU held its own, with the m15 R5 pumping out an average of 95 fps in Far Cry 5 at full HD and ultra settings, compared to 120 and 109 fps for the GP66 and the Razer Blade 15. That’s pretty good considering both systems cost a lot more than our m15 and both include RTX 3070 graphics cards. It’s a similar story in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, where the m15 R5 posted an average fps of 93 fps at 1080p and highest settings, versus 112 for the Blade 15 and 118 for the GP66.

Alienware m15 R5 ports.
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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The one small wrinkle is that when compared to Asus’ ROG Strix G15 Advantage, which features both an AMD CPU and GPU for a similar price, the G15 routinely edged out the m15 R5 in every test, which really does show off the perks of AMD’s new AMD Advantage platform. In Far Cry 5, the G15 Advantage posted an average fps of 98 (versus 95 for the m15 R5), an average fps of 109 in Shadow of the Tomb Raider (versus 93 for the m15), and a really strong average fps of 80 in Metro Exodus on Ultra (versus just 50 fps for the m15).

Now technically, the m15 R5 was announced almost two months before AMD even took the wraps off its new 6000-series mobile GPUs, so it’s hard to harp on Alienware too much sticking with an Nvidia GPU. But still, this really underlines the need for all the major gaming laptop makers to embrace components from all the big chip makers. Seeing AMD CPUs again is certainly an encouraging start, but I’m really hoping Alienware will expand that support to GPUs soon too.

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Decent Battery Life for a Gaming Laptop

Alienware m15 R5 power button.
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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One pleasant surprise with the m15 R5 is that it offers pretty decent battery life, even for a gaming notebook. On our video rundown test, the m15 R5 lasted a respectable 7 hours and 27 minutes, which is less than what I got from the G15 Advantage (8:22), but better than both the Razer Blade 15 (7:10) and the GP66 (4:35).

A Tough Choice

If you’re just looking at systems with Nvidia GPUs, the Alienware m15 R5 offers a compelling value, coming in at hundreds less than more powerful systems with RTX 3070 cards while offering 90% to 95% of the performance. However, if you’re really looking for the best bang for your buck, the G15 Advantage reigns supreme, costing about the same as the m15 R5 while pumping out even better fps in games and faster times in productivity benchmarks.

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The issue is that there aren’t a ton of other AMD Advantage laptops on the market just yet, and going with the G15 Advantage means you’ll also have to accommodate some of its quirks, like the lack of webcam and even more aggressive styling.

Alienware m15 R5 lighting
Photo: Sam Rutherford
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The M15 R5 remains an attractive choice, but the real smart money suggests you might want to wait until later this summer when even more AMD Advantage laptops become available. The m15 R5's starting price of $1,300 is tempting, but that base model’s RTX 3050 Ti GPU probably isn’t what you want. If you’re already sold on Alienware’s styling and aesthetics, it’s also worth considering the new X15, which crams a lot of Alienware’s best bits and updated components into an even thinner design.

You can’t really go wrong with the m15 R5, but with so much competition in this space, its support of only AMD CPUs at this time results in a system that isn’t quite as enticing as it could be. But with Intel and Nvidia having had such a lock on gaming laptop parts over the last few years, it’s nice to see Alienware fire up support for AMD again, even if it’s only AMD CPUs for now.

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DISCUSSION

By
Richard Dawson's Ghost

Looking at the Alienware website, does this configuration really only have a 256 gb SSD?

That’s flatly unacceptable at this point, and absurd at a $1600 price point. SSDs aren’t even expensive anymore.