The new Alienware M15 R5 Ryzen Edition is a small undo of progress, depending on how you look at it. Since many gaming laptops are getting thinner, it is heavier and thicker than previous generations. The design has been tweaked slightly in both good and bad ways, and it also has fewer ports than before.
Despite all that, it’s cause for celebration because of the Ryzen processor it uses, bringing AMD back to Alienware products after a 14-year hiatus when the brand used exclusively Intel CPUs. And it’s a welcome return, even if this laptop won’t appeal to everyone. AMD’s advanced mobile processors have been a boon to gaming laptops in recent years, with long battery life and fast performance that sometimes outperform or undercut laptops with competing Intel processors.
The Ryzen 7 5800H processor brings that magic to the M15 R5 Ryzen Edition, and the gaming performance with its RTX 3060 has no trouble getting above 60 FPS in graphically demanding games – all thanks to a high wattage component. This R5 I tested has 16GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD for a total cost of about $1,616 right now, which isn’t cheap, despite being close to the most affordable version Alienware makes. If money isn’t an issue, it can be upgraded to the more powerful Ryzen 9 5900HX with Nvidia’s RTX 3070 and more storage and RAM for $2,379.
The high price was something I couldn’t help but notice when testing this laptop, especially since Dell (Alienware’s parent company) has a $1,225 G15 Ryzen Edition that has comparable GPU specs that should be close to what this more expensive M15 R5 can do. And if you can settle for a slightly lesser processor, a $900 model is in the works with the RTX 3060, but it’s not available yet.
The value doesn’t do well outside of Dell’s world, either. Asus is currently the go-to brand for excellent AMD-based gaming laptops that are easier to recommend for people who want something portable and feature-packed, without sacrificing battery life. Compared to a comparable M15 R5 configuration, the ROG Zephyrus G15 offers a QHD display, more storage, a better processor and a powerful RTX 3070 (albeit a lower-power GPU than you’ll find in the M15 R5) for a few hundred dollars less. The new Strix G15 Advantage Edition looks more flashy next to Alienware’s laptop, but also has fast gaming performance and high-quality features at a lower price. None of these models have a webcam, but you might be able to do without one.
The M15 R5 is 19.25mm (0.75in) thick for most of the machine (thinner in the front, but slightly thicker in the rear) and weighs 5.34 pounds. Some configurations weigh more, up to 5.93 pounds. The weight is shocking if you’ve recently bought an ultrabook, but it’s an asset to help its high-wattage RTX 3060 graphics chip (125W maximum graphics power, 1,702MHz boost clock) perform similarly to a low-wattage RTX 3070. wattage. Compared to thinner laptops with a low-power 3070, such as the TUF Dash 15 from Asus, the Alienware laptop makes up for the difference in CUDA cores with pure power. It will likely deliver solid performance well into the future – perhaps longer than some lower-powered 3070s – despite having a less technical part. It just becomes more of a chore to lug around.
The M15 R5 Ryzen Edition did well while running some demanding games on the highest settings. Red Dead Redemption 2 managed to reach 63 frames per second. Shadow of the Tomb Raider Rai ran at about 80 frames per second with its raytracing shadow feature and DLSS enabled. Horizon Zero Dawn ran at an average of 68 frames per second. None of them came close to taking full advantage of the 165Hz refresh rate of the standard 1080p display, but most people probably have older games in their library that should be able to run at very high frame rates on this laptop.
It didn’t take long for this laptop to make a good impression with gaming performance. It took even less time to learn that it feels warm even when idling with no apps, and that when running games (especially graphically demanding) it can get very loud. A fast and quiet gaming laptop is an oxymoron, and the M15 R5 is really just one of many offenders. But I didn’t notice any signs of thermal throttling after long periods of gaming, nor did I experience any unexplained lag. You may just want to wear headphones while gaming. The speakers shoot sound from the sides of the laptop. It’s usable for YouTube videos or video calls, but it doesn’t deliver enough depth or bass for entertainment purposes.
This Ryzen-based gaming laptop can handle any kind of casual browser-based workflow with ease. It shouldn’t surprise me that the M15 R5 has great battery life, as AMD’s processors have proven to offer efficiency to other gaming laptops, but it still did. This 86Wh battery lasted about seven hours in mixed use, through extended use of Microsoft Edge with about 10 tabs, Spotify, Slack, and some video calls. That’s great for an Alienware laptop. The M15 R3 I tested last year clocked in at just one hour. However, other AMD-based gaming laptops have the M15 R5 beat. The Strix G15 Advantage Edition lasted over nine hours for my colleague Monica Chin.
One area where the Ryzen edition got a bit stuck is with a video export test in Adobe Premiere Pro. Our video team’s five-minute, thirty-three-second 4K file took just over seven minutes to export. That’s not a bad result, but it won’t be fast enough for creators to turn projects around quickly and nowhere near as fast as laptops with Intel processors can handle.
The design of the M15 R5 differs from previous models in minor points. Sometimes it’s for the better. For example, this newer model has a matte texture all around, including on the screen edges, which looks better than the glossy bezels used in previous generations. Some people may like the two-tone color design of the M15 R3 and R4, but the R5 comes in a gunmetal silver color that is eye-catching, and the black plastic covering the keyboard is relatively distraction-free apart from the backlit keyboard and the illuminated Alienware logo . One of my favorite changes is the inside of the laptop: Alienware lets you easily upgrade the RAM and storage if you want. Some previous models had RAM soldered to the motherboard, but this one is more future-proof.
However, Alienware shuffled through the keyboard layout and it’s off worse than before. The M15 R5’s keys are still nice to type on, but I’m making more typos because the volume keys are delegated to the right side of the keyboard instead of the top. Also, the arrow keys used to be positioned slightly lower than the rest of the keyboard for easy access, but have been moved upwards in this model, resulting in a smaller right shift key. This may not be a problem once you get used to typing on the M15, but it still feels like a step back.
The port selection isn’t that generous either. The Ryzen Edition has three USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, one USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port, an HDMI 2.1 port (capable of 4K output up to 120Hz), a headphone jack, and a 2.5Gbps Ethernet port . It’s not a bad lineup, but it could be better.
Missing from this model, and all the other new models Alienware has recently unveiled, is the proprietary amplifier connector for the external GPU enclosure, which has been officially discontinued. Intel-based versions of Alienware’s latest laptops, such as the M15 R6, X15, and X17, supports Thunderbolt eGPUs, but the M15 R5 does not because it does not have a Thunderbolt port. So you’re just stuck with the GPU inside. Thankfully, the graphics performance is great by default, but there’s a lot of unused space in the back of the R5 where that amp port used to be. It would have been nice if Alienware had stocked it with an SD card reader and an extra USB-C port.
The performance of the M15 R5 was not discussed during my testing. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing the great battery life that AMD’s processors bring, and it’s great that this GPU can hold its own alongside more expensive components like the RTX 3070.
But as a whole, Alienware missed the landing when it comes to value. If you want more features for your money, even if you have to trade some of the power of the M15 R5 for a QHD display and better portability, look elsewhere. The M15 R5 isn’t the overwhelming value it needed to be (and I’d hoped it would be) to steer everyone away from the 2021 front-runner for gaming laptops (so far), the Asus ROG Zephyrus G15.
Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge