Alienware m15 R6 Review – Too Many Problems!

Alienware’s m15 R6 gaming laptop is basically the same as the m15 R5 that I’ve already reviewed.  The big difference is that the R6 is Intel based while the R5 model is AMD Ryzen based,  so let’s find out what differences this introduces in this review. The configuration I’ve got has an 8 core Intel i7-11800H processor, Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics,  16 gigs of memory and a 1tb NVMe M.2 SSD with a 15.6” 1080p 360Hz screen.

There are of course both lower specced and cheaper options available too,  you can find examples linked in the description below. Build quality feels decent and there aren’t any sharp corners or edges. There’s one finish called dark side of the moon, which is this darker grey.  The exterior chassis materials are listed as plastic, aluminum and magnesium alloy. There was some flex to the keyboard area when pushing down hard, but it  was never a problem during regular use.

There’s some flex to the lid,  but the hinge felt sturdy and it didn’t wobble while typing. The laptop alone weighs less than 2.5kg or 5.5lb,  then 3.2kg or 7.1lb with the 240 watt power brick and cables. The Dell website also notes that there’s a smaller power brick available for $20  extra, but it’s not clear what the size and weight differences are. I think I have the  smaller one here because it’s way smaller compared to the 240 watt brick that came with my m15 R5. The laptop isn’t too large despite the higher end specs inside,  still quite portable for a 15” gaming laptop. The m15 R6 has a 15.6” screen,  there are 1080p 165Hz, 360Hz and 1440p 240Hz options, but I’ve got the 1080p 360Hz one here.

You can only use the BIOS to toggle the MUX switch, but with Optimus enabled you  can use the Nvidia control panel to change this with advanced optimus. My 360Hz screen has G-Sync support. The color gamut was great for a gaming laptop,  contrast was below average, and it gets bright enough at around 350 nits at full brightness,  and still above 300 at 90% brightness. We’re looking at about a 4.

5ms average grey-to-grey response time. There’s a  link in the description if you need an explanation on these numbers,  but yeah that’s not quite matching the 1ms claimed on the Alienware website for the 360Hz panel. It’s a decent looking result compared to other laptops tested,  but below the 2.8ms needed for all transitions to occur within the refresh window.

There are a  number of panels with slower refresh rates that end up having faster response times. The relatively faster screen combined with top end hardware and lack of optimus is why the total  system latency is one of the better results. This is the total amount of time between a mouse click  and a gunshot fired on the screen in CS:GO, so potentially a good option for an esports player. There was pretty much no backlight bleed in my unit,  but this will vary between laptops and panels. There’s a 720p camera above the screen in the middle. Mine does have IR for  Windows Hello face unlock, which worked fine, but it seems this is optional. This is what the camera and microphone look and sound like, this is what it sounds like  while typing on the keyboard, and there’s not really too much screen wobble while doing that,  and this is what it sounds like if I set the fan to full speed.

It takes a good 20 seconds  or so for the fans to ramp up fully, but you can still hear me alright over the fan noise. The keyboard has 4 zones of RGB backlighting, and all keys and secondary functions are  illuminated. The F7 shortcut key can be used to turn the lighting on or off,  but there’s no brightness adjustment shortcuts here, that’s instead controlled through the  Alienware Command Center software, the control panel for the laptop,  and that also lets you change between different effects. I thought the keyboard was fine to type on, the keys felt clicky and have 1.8mm of key travel. The m15 R6 is also available with CherryMX low profile mechanical keys with per-key RGB lighting  too, but it’s a $150 upgrade, so definitely not cheap.

I used this on the R5 version  and while I preferred them, I can’t say I’d personally spend that much for it. The power button is separate from the keyboard and it lights up. You can change the color or effect  based on battery charge level, right now orange light just means it’s running on battery power. Something weird that I noticed was sometimes when pressing the power button to turn the  laptop on it wouldn’t work. This was really hard for me to reproduce and I couldn’t actually get  it on camera. As best I can tell it only seems to happen if you leave the laptop on for like  an hour while being plugged in or something. Then when you press the power button the power  button lights up implying that it’s turning on but then the power button goes back off,  then you have to press the power button again a second time and it turns on properly.

So not the  end of the world, but just a little annoying when you’re trying to turn the machine on. You can set the BIOS so that opening the lid powers the laptop on. There are also air vents above the keyboard to help with cooling. There’s no numpad, so the precision touchpad is found in the middle. It felt very smooth  to the touch and worked well, clicks felt nice and it’s not loose at all. On the left there’s an air exhaust vent, gigabit ethernet port, and a 3.5mm audio combo jack. The right has an air exhaust vent too, along with two USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A ports. On the back between the two air exhaust vents at the corners from left to right we’ve got a USB  3.2 Gen2 Type-C port with Thunderbolt 4 support, something the R5 model doesn’t support, a third  USB 3.

2 Gen1 Type-A port, HDMI 2.1 output and the power input on the right.

There aren’t any icons  above the ports, so you need to look behind it to work out where you’re plugging into. Unfortunately there’s no Type-C charging, and although the spec sheet does list the  Type-C port as having DisplayPort 1.4 support, I wasn’t able to get a display  signal out to my monitor over Type-C. The HDMI port does connect directly to  the Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics bypassing optimus, but I found a problem with it. With optimus disabled in BIOS and an external monitor connected via HDMI,  the frame rate in games takes a big hit for some reason, but if optimus is enabled in  the BIOS then performance is about the same as just using the laptop screen.  I’m not sure what the deal is here, it seems like a bug as both of the results here should be about  the same as HDMI connects to the 3080 graphics, it shouldn’t matter if optimus is on or off.

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There’s nothing on the front of the laptop, which at times felt a little awkward when  opening the lid as there’s nothing to get your finger into but it’s not too bad as it’s angled. As you’ve probably noticed, the back has Alienware’s classic RGB ring light,  and this along with the Alienware logo on the lid,  the keyboard and power button can be customized through the Command Center software.

Underneath just has air vents towards the back, and if we look at where light shines  through we can see these are mostly unobstructed to allow air to flow. Getting inside requires unscrewing 8 Phillips head screws,  but only the 2 at the back actually come out of the panel,  the other 6 stay in the panel and help raise it up, I was able to open it without tools.  But if you are after opening tools, the ones I usually use are linked in the video description.

Inside we’ve got the battery down the front, two M.2 slots just above on the left and right sides,  Wi-Fi 6 card above the left SSD on the left,  and two memory slots in the middle with the rear one covered.

The second M.2 slot doesn’t have mounting hardware or a screw for installing another drive though,  and I didn’t find these in the box either, so presumably you’d have to buy this as an extra. The Wi-Fi performance was great, the second fastest result I’ve recorded so far out of any  laptop. The card installed was slightly different compared to the one in my AMD based m15 R5. Unfortunately like the R5, the m15 R6 is shipped with slower  x16 memory. This is probably a result of supply shortages as many gaming laptops  from popular companies like ASUS and Lenovo are using the same memory too.

We can see the differences between x8 and x16 memory in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.  With its stock memory it was running at 120 FPS, still an excellent result,  but with the simple upgrade we’re able to boost average FPS by 6%. Sure it’s not a whole lot,  but it’s just an example of what may be left on the table, and I’d argue that if you’re spending  so much on a top spec model like this you’re probably after all the performance you can get. The two speakers are found underneath on the left and right sides towards the front.  I found them somewhere between unimpressive and average, there’s minimal bass and they  get quite loud but they weren’t too clear after half volume and above.  The latencymon results were a bit higher compared to others I’ve tested lately, but still not bad. The m15 R6 has a 6-Cell 86Wh battery inside, but despite the relatively larger size,  the runtime was on the lower side when compared to other laptops tested at 4 hours 40 minutes.  Generally I’ve found AMD based gaming laptops to do better in this test compared to Intel,  and we can see this by looking at how Alienware’s own m15 R5 compares.

It’s almost lasting for  twice as long in the YouTube playback test despite having the same sized battery. Sure  its Nvidia GPU is a lower tier, but that’s not active during this test so it shouldn’t matter. The BIOS allows us to change the maximum charge level to help improve battery longevity. I might  be blind, but I couldn’t find these settings available through Windows.  On previous Dell and Alienware laptops this is available through the power manager software,  but my m15 R6 did not have this installed by default.

Let’s check out thermals next. The heat pipes are on the other side of the motherboard,  so any repasting would require you to take out the motherboard. The Alienware Command Center software lets us change between these performance modes,  balanced, full speed, quiet, cool and performance. The ordering of these modes isn’t really clear  based on the name, so they may be a bit confusing, though they have some star ratings for different  aspects under the fusion tab. There’s also a little fan control possible through here too. The Alienware website notes that you can manage the CPU’s  maximum temperature limit by modifying a setting in the BIOS called TCC offset. By default, I found that TCC offset was set to zero,  but can be changed in increments of one up to 15. According to this Alienware blog post, TCC offset set to 0 means a maximum  temperature of 100 degrees Celsius, while a value of 15 means 85 degrees Celsius,  so each increase of TCC offset reduces max CPU temp by 1 degree. I think it’s cool that you’ve got this option, but even though all of my testing here was done  with the default value of 0, I was never seeing higher than 88 degrees Celsius on the processor.

It’s a little warm when sitting there idle in quiet mode, but it still felt cool to the touch so  no problem. I’ve run stress tests with both the CPU and GPU loaded up to represent a worst case,  as well as playing an actual game, with the CPU shown by the blue bars and GPU in the green bars.

Worst case the m15 R6 wasn’t passing 88 degrees Celsius on the processor, which I found extremely  interesting as in the past Dell and Alienware laptops have been known to run hot, easily hitting  100 degrees.

In the stress test quiet, balanced and performance modes were all about the same in  terms of temperatures. Cool mode was cooler, just like the name implies, and full speed was a little  below performance mode as the fans are faster, then using a cooling pad, the one I test with  is linked in the description, helps out a little more. Technically software wasn’t saying thermal  throttling was being hit, but I think there are thermal throttle limits in place to prevent it  getting hot, which is fine, it just might mean some performance is lost, it’s a tradeoff. These are the clock speeds during these same tests. Again quiet, balanced and performance modes  generally weren’t too different here either. Cool mode was way better in terms of CPU clock speed  despite being cooler, but we can see this is a result of the GPU clock speed being lowered a lot,  so worse GPU performance in exchange for a cooler system and more power allocated  to the CPU.

This happened in the game too, but strangely quiet mode also saw similar behavior,  something I didn’t find in the stress test. The fact that the clock speed to  the CPU is increasing by almost 400Mhz in the stress test simply by adding a cooling  pad tells me we must be thermal throttling, however again software wasn’t reporting this. We can see the GPU was running up to 115 watts or so with the CPU also active in the stress tests,  however if the CPU is idle the GPU could get up to 125 watts with Nvidia’s dynamic boost. There’s nothing really to note here, other than the power limit of the CPU  rising with the cooling pad which again kind of implies thermal throttling as  more air allows the processor to use more power and hit higher clock speeds.

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Here’s how a game actually performs with the different performance modes.  Interestingly in this specific game, it basically didn’t matter what mode we tested in,  despite the differences noted in those thermal tests just before. Here’s how CPU only performance looks in Cinebench R23, so the GPU is now idle. The  single core result is decent and better than most of the AMD options, but the multicore  result isn’t as good compared to many others, even compared to other 11800H machines tested. The R6 moves up a few positions in the same selection of laptops when instead running  on battery power. The single core score is still decent, and for multicore it’s ahead  of most other Intel laptops now which are generally on the bottom half of this graph. At idle it was around the 30 degrees Celsius or so on the keyboard that most laptops are,  it felt cool.

With the stress tests going in quiet mode it warms up to around 40 degrees in  the center, though the back was now very hot. Balanced mode was fairly similar,  again hot up the back, but you shouldn’t need to touch there. Cool mode was a little cooler,  as per the name. The fan speed was the same, but as we saw the GPU power limit was lower  to keep temperatures lower.

Performance mode was warmer, getting to the mid 40s in the middle, the  keys felt warm but not uncomfortable or hot, so no problem. With the highest full speed mode it was a  little cooler on the keyboard, but still generally warm, let’s have a listen to the fan noise. The fans were still audible when sitting there idle in quiet mode. Most of the  other modes were basically the same, performance mode was a little louder,  then as you’d expect, full speed was the loudest with the fans at maximum.

Now let’s find out how well this configuration of Alienware’s m15 R6 gaming laptop compares  against others in games. All testing was done with full speed more enabled and optimus  disabled for best results, but also with the stock x16 memory as I wanted the results to  best represent what you would actually see if you were to buy this laptop yourself. Cyberpunk 2077 was tested the same on all laptops, and I’ve got the m15 R6 highlighted in red.  The result is excellent here, as we’d expect from a gaming laptop with RTX 3080 graphics with a mux  switch, though the higher wattage 3070 in the Legion 5 Pro just above it was slightly ahead. The other 3080 options ahead of it are all laptops with both higher tier CPU and higher  wattage 3080s that have double the VRAM, so I’d say this result is about where we’d expect to see. Red Dead Redemption 2 was tested with the game’s benchmark, and the m15 R6 wasn’t doing as well  in this game. I mean it’s just 1 FPS ahead of the 3080 in the much smaller Razer Blade  14 with lower GPU power limit, and there are a number of 3070 laptops outperforming it too,  so what gives? I’m certain the problem here is the slower x16 memory that the  laptop ships with.

I’ve noticed that this test in particular generally sees  reasonable improvements with x8 memory, so that seems to be holding it back.

Control was tested running through the same part of the game on all laptops,  and the m15 R6 was now much higher than the last game. This would be because Control is typically  a very GPU heavy game, even at 1080p, so the slower memory is less of an issue here. Like  Cyberpunk earlier, it’s only getting beaten by larger laptops with higher tier processors  that have higher wattage 3080s with double the VRAM capacity, so a pretty great result. I’ve also tested the m15 R6 in more games at all setting levels and the higher 1440p  resolution in the dedicated game testing video over here, so check that one out after  this video if you want to get a better idea of how well it performs in games.

Here are the 3DMark results for those that find them useful, now for some creator tests. Adobe Premiere was tested with the Puget Systems benchmark,  and the Alienware laptop was doing very well. Intel 11th gen results are dominating the top  section of the graph, so that’s clearly offering the above average score here. Adobe Photoshop depends more on CPU performance,  and although again Intel 11th gen machines are closer towards the top, the maximum CPU power  limit wasn’t as high as some of those others plus I’ve seen x16 memory to negatively affect  the results here compared to x8, so this could be improved with a memory upgrade.

DaVinci resolve is more GPU heavy, though the RTX 3080 is being beaten by higher wattage 3070  laptops just above it, but again I’ve found the slower x16 memory to hold back results here. I’ve also tested SPECviewperf which tests out various professional 3D workloads.

The 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD was doing well enough for a PCIe 3 drive,  but Intel 11th gen offers PCIe gen 4 support, so I was expecting to see faster storage here. The BIOS in this laptop was actually pretty decent, for some reason it has a lot more options  compared to the m15 R5 AMD model and just looks a lot more modern, granted a large number of the  options that are available through here could also be controlled through the software in Windows.

It’s worth noting that the BIOS says that Linux is not supported with hybrid graphics mode,  I could see both the Intel and Nvidia GPUs available through  command line but I couldn’t work out how to actually check which GPU was active. Speaking of software, as is the case with other Alienware laptops, I found the Command Center  software to be, well, garbage. When you open it after turning the laptop on it notes that  it needs 30 seconds to get started, so you wait, and then it prompts you for admin privileges, then  you’re still waiting before you can interact with some of the menus. It might not seem like much,  but no other gaming laptop I’ve had has this, it just feels unacceptable in comparison to wait so  long before you can get in and do anything.

Not to mention the “overclock” menu is either useless  or just named wrong because you can’t overclock anything in there, it’s just for viewing stats. Linux support was tested by booting an Ubuntu 21 live CD. By default the keyboard, touchpad,  Wi-Fi, ethernet, speakers and camera all worked fine. The key shortcuts for volume  adjust and screen brightness worked, but the key lighting on and off F7 shortcut did  not work as that requires software support, and the F1 shortcut to max out the fan still works. Alright, let’s discuss pricing and availability next. This will of course change over time,  so refer to those links in the description below for updates. At the time of recording, the m15 R6 starts at $1380 USD, and while that’s with the same  i7-11800H processor, that’s with RTX 3050 Ti graphics, half the RAM and half the storage.  I’ve seen 3060 laptops for less money and a 3060 will absolutely destroy the 3050 Ti in games.

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The 3060 model is around $1740, kind of expensive for a 3060 gaming laptop compared to others,  granted some like Lenovo’s Legion 5 are starting to go for this much, supply shortages I guess,  or just over priced Alienware pricing, it’s hard to say. The US site only has the 3080  model with double the RAM and SSD space that I’ve tested for $2860, so yeah definitely not cheap. So is Alienware’s m15 R6 gaming laptop worth buying?  Let’s recap both the good and the bad to help you decide.

I was impressed that it wasn’t getting as hot on the internals compared to other  Dell/Alienware models, I didn’t even have to adjust the TCC offset which could be  used to control temperatures at the expense of performance. The screen had decent brightness, color gamut and advanced optimus with MUX switch.  The response time is decent, but it’s not quite the 1ms they claim on the website.  Realistically, I think a 360Hz screen on a laptop only makes sense if you’re playing esports titles. The keyboard and touchpad were decent,  though I can’t see myself paying $150 USD more for the upgrade to Cherry keys. As a gaming laptop, with this top end configuration it was running  games well, though the x16 memory could hold it back.

At least you can upgrade that,  but at the same time I think it kind of sucks when you’re paying Alienware money.  These machines aren’t cheap and as I’ve shown, that simple upgrade can boost performance in  many games. Again I can’t blame Alienware too much here as other big brands like ASUS  and Lenovo are in the same boat. That’s just what happens with supply shortages. Now generally speaking, I just think there are  far too many issues with this laptop for the money that you’re spending.

Battery life isn’t amazing,  though I suppose to some degree that’s to be expected from Intel models these days. There’s no mounting hardware or screw included for the second M.2 slot,  pretty much any other laptop I’ve had comes with what’s needed to upgrade. DisplayPort output over Type-C wasn’t working in my unit, hopefully that’s just mine. Gaming on an external screen with HDMI plus optimus off was slower than optimus on for  some reason, hopefully that’s just some sort of buy that can be fixed. Having to press the power button twice to turn the laptop sometimes on was annoying, and the software  to manage the machine just isn’t as good compared to a lot of other gaming laptops out there.

So the main differences between this Intel based R6 model and the AMD based R5 model  that I’ve previously tested are basically that the Intel one has worse battery life,  but it does also have Thunderbolt support and  it seems to run cooler. Those are the main trade offs as far as I can tell. Check out this video next if you want to see how well the m15 R6 performs in more games at all  setting levels and the higher 1440p resolution, or this one to see how the Intel processor compares  against AMD, maybe you should get the AMD based R5 instead. Make sure you’re subscribed to the  channel for future laptop reviews like this one, and come and join me and the  community in Discord and get behind the scenes videos by supporting the channel on Patreon.

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