Alienware 15 R4 – first notebook with the Intel Core i9-8950HK

They are there! The new high-end Intel mobile CPUs and thus a completely new generation of notebooks.

Even with the new Intel Ultrabook processors, there was a huge leap from the 7th to the 8th generation and it seems that there is a significant jump in performance even in the high-end CPUs of the 8th Gen.

Intel has now brought for the first time the i9 CPUs in notebooks, in the form of the i9-8950HK.

One of the first laptops with the i9-8950HK is the Alienware 15 R4. The Alienware 15 R4 is an upgrade of the already highly praised R3 with new cooling and more importantly the new 8th Gen Intel CPUs.

In the test, let’s see if the new Alienware 15 R4 can convince with the i9-8950HK and if there are other improvements besides the new processor.

 

The Alienware 15 R4 in the test

The trend is towards ever smaller and lighter notebooks, even gaming-oriented devices. Although the Alienware 15 R4 with 25mm height is not too thick for a gaming notebook, but this is not incredibly compact, just the display edges are very wide.

However, the design Dell / Alienware I think is very well done. The Alienware 15 does not try to look slimmer than it is, as many notebooks from MSI or XMG try. Dell does not work on the Alienware 15 with bevelled edges, which artificially thin the notebook on photos.

For comparison:

  • MSI GT63 8RF-019 – Titanium 39,8mm
  • XMG A517 26.9mm
  • Acer Predator Helios 300 26,75mm
  • Alienware 15 R4 25.4mm
  • ASUS ROG Strix Hero Edition GL503GE 24mm
  • Gigabyte AERO 15 19,9mm
  • ASUS ROG Zephyrus GX501GI 17.9mm

Due to its very edgy shape, the Alienware 15 R4 looks a bit more colossal than it really is in practice, especially compared to GTX 1080 notebooks.

Only the weight is really quite high with a whopping 3,49KG!

However, the high weight also has an advantage, the Alienware 15 R4 seems incredibly massive! I’m inclined to call this the Thinkpad among gaming notebooks. Although sets Alienware / Dell inside the notebook and the basic construction on plastic, however, this affects the Alienware 15 R4 incredibly thick and robust. As if the Dell had filled the notebook inside with lead.

This is no comparison to cheaper gaming notebooks, where you often can not press the lid and case back up. The Alienware 15 R4 is the most massive purebred gaming notebook I’ve encountered so far.

Of course you can argue about the design, especially when it comes to LED lighting. Of course, Alienware uses a “gamer” design, which I found to be successful.

The Alienware 15 looks edgy, massive, “industrial” and also high quality. This is not a 08/15 red illuminated plastic gaming notebook, with a brushed lid. The Alienware 15 stands out from the mass of notebooks, which I like.

A certainly controversial design feature is the extended back or “spoiler” (or whatever you want to call this).

At first, this bothered me a bit. However, in practice this is not a serious criticism. Similar to the Notch in modern smartphones, this spoiler is in practice more or less invisible, especially since the display hinge is thereby a good deal more massive.

What about the connections of the Alienware 15 R4? Basically very good!

On the left side of the notebook there are two separate 3.5mm headphone / headset ports, a USB 3.0 port with charging function for smartphones and a USB 3.0 port.

Most connections are on the back. Here is the connection for the power supply, a LAN port, a mini Displayport 1.2, an HDMI 2.0 output and a USB C port with Thunderbolt 3!

Also located on the back of a connector for Dell’s external GPU housing. On the left is another lonely USB 3.0 port.

Summarized:

  • 2x USB 3.0
  • 1x USB C 3.0
  • 1x USB C 3.1 with Thunderbolt 3
  • 1x Gbit LAN
  • 1x mini Displayport 1.2
  • 1x HDMI 2.0

A connection miracle is the Alienware 15 R4 so not. However, apart from an SD card reader, everything is in itself what you need in everyday life.

 

lighting

The LED lighting is of course a very important and eye-catching feature in the Alienware 15 R4. The emphasis is on striking.

The Alienware 15 has four LED strips, each on the left and right of the display and on the case. In addition, the Alienware logo on the back is lit as well as the Alienware logo on the inside.

 

But it goes on, also the keyboard is illuminated and the trackpad! The trackpad has a kind of “Plexiglas” surface which is illuminated by an LED.

This lights up the entire trackpad, which is extremely noticeable. All LEDs are, of course, RGB LEDs, which can be freely configured according to your wishes.

You could assign a different color to each LED zone, switch off a common color, color change or the whole thing.

There are also various games (according to Alienware in over 150) an Alienware FX integration, the LEDs then reflect colors from the game or your life energy, etc. again.

The opinions will certainly diverge on the LEDs. But I find the lighting of the Alienware 15 R4 so “exaggerated” that it’s cool again!

Especially in the dark looks the Alienware just awesome. The LED strips are not as bright as to be dazzled by them, but bright enough to create a certain pattern of light on a table.

 

software

Of course, Dell is using Windows 10 Home on the Alienware 15 R4. But the really interesting thing is the Alienware Control Center, which has been completely redesigned.

Alienware has without question the currently most beautiful and modern notebook control software! The design is very modern, clear and simply chic. An exemplary Windows 10 application in terms of design.

But also the functional range is top. In addition to the lighting, which can be adjusted to your liking, the Alienware Control Center also offers a fan control and the ability to overclock your notebook.

The latter is only possible on a very small scale, using predefined profiles.

The fan control, however, is a good deal of free possible, with plenty of finished profiles, as well as the ability to create your own profiles.

You can also link games with special profiles. So if you want to run the notebook in silent mode in desktop mode, but if you start a game automatically let the fans turn up to maximum performance, this is possible.

However, not everything is perfect. Maybe this is because I had reinstalled Windows and something was not as set as it should, but sometimes the Alienware Control Center was a bit sluggish as far as adopting the fan profiles / OC profiles.

Also Read:  Gaming notebook under test: MSI GS63 Review

If you have problems here, let’s run a BIOS update. With the BIOS in the delivery state (my Alienware 15 R4 came from the first load) the Alienware Control Center did not really want to work.

 

configuration

Let’s start with the Alienware 15 R4 at a very important point, the configuration! There is the Alienware 15 R4 in various versions, both in terms of CPU, RAM, GPU, memory, screen and even WLAN card.

Pay close attention to Dell’s configurator! Between the version with i5-8300H and GTX 1060 and the version with i9-8950HK and GTX 1080 are worlds, both in terms of price and performance!

The housing and the associated components such as keyboard, battery etc., however, are the same for all versions.

Pay attention to the memory here too! Most configurations of the Alienware 15 are still equipped with an HDD. You do not want a 2000 € + notebook with HDD. Here you can either select an SSD in the configurator, or even upgrade yourself.

Dell’s prices for memory and memory upgrades are relatively fair. There is a small extra charge, but this one is tolerable, especially as Dell usually relies on good Toshiba NVME SSDs.

I have decided on the following configuration:

  • Alienware 15 R4
  • Intel Core i9-8950HK 8th Generation
  • 32GB RAM
  • Hybrid hard drive with 1 TB and 8 GB cache (5,400 rpm)
  • NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1080, 8GB GDDR5X
  • Killer 1550 802.11ac 2 × 2 WiFi and Bluetooth 5.0
  • 15.6 inch UHD (3840 x 2160) 60Hz IPS Display NVIDIA G-SYNC

This is the almost maximum configuration for around 3400 €. I saved only the memory and kept the standard HDD to upgrade to an SSD.

However, this is not the configuration that I would basically recommend. From price / performance point I would advise to a version with i7-8750H and GTX 1070 OC. This costs about 1000 € less, but the difference in performance is minimal.

Memory and hard drives can be upgraded very well on the Alienware 15 R4!  Processor and graphics card, however, are permanently installed.

 

display

You have various display options on the Alienware 15 R4:

  • 1920x1080p, IPS, 60Hz
  • 1920x1080p, TN, 120Hz GSync
  • 3840 x 2160, IPS, 60Hz, GSync

All display options have something. The standard Full HD Panel is already familiar to me from the Alienware 15 R3 and was quite convincing. The Full HD IPS Panel is a good all-rounder, but not absolutely outstanding.

The “TN” panel is one of the best TN panels on the market and can keep up with the IPS panel quality, but of course is aimed primarily at gamers due to the 120Hz repetition rate. If you are an absolute thoroughbred gamer you should choose this display.

However, I have opted for the UHD display. Was this a good decision?

In blazing sun

The UHD display of the Alienware 15 R4 is very handsome, even apart from the high resolution. Although Dell does not rely on the absolute high-end panel, for example from the XPS 15, but the display is already among the better.

 

Subjectively, colors are clear and clean, though not overly satiated. But this comes from the matte display coating. Matte displays reflect much less, but colors and contrasts are sometimes a bit duller.

Nevertheless, the whining is at an extremely high level. This is confirmed by my measurements.

The Alienware 15 R4 achieves 96% coverage of the sRGB color space and 74% coverage of the AdobeRGB color space. In addition, the good calibration comes from home, making the UHD panel quite good for photo and video editing to use very good!

The contrast is solid with 1: 850 for an IPS panel and the maximum brightness is even very strong at 304 cd / m2.

Of course, 304 cd / m2 is not absolutely outstanding, but in combination with the matte display it is even more effective than ever for outdoor use. Even in the blazing sun, the display is still readable.

In short, I would give the display almost full score, for an allround / content creation use, only I have to subtract a few points for the illumination at the end. There are two much brighter “Light Spots” above the two display hinges, which can interfere with black images.

Nevertheless, I can recommend the UHD display!

 

input devices

Alienware puts on the 15 R4 on a pretty classy keyboard. For example, this does not use the currently popular “Chiclet” or island buttons.

The keys have a very small distance to each other, but are very large. The layout largely corresponds to the normal QWERTZ standard.

Nevertheless, it took me a bit of familiarization to write confidently and quickly on the notebook. This is due to the fact that the keys are very close to each other and the other to the Marko keys.

The Alienware 15 R4 has a series of macro buttons on the left edge of the keyboard, separated by a few millimeters from the rest of the keyboard. This makes the Marko buttons very easy to reach, but I use the lower left button as a landmark.

Due to the Marko keys, which are quite close to the keyboard, I just got a bit confused with the Shift key.

But with a bit of getting used to it, you can write very well on the Alienware 15 R4! The keys themselves are in terms of the pressure point and the feeling of pressure as good to very good.

The keys are relatively soft, but constantly fluid with a firm stop. If you like, Alienware uses a “linear switch” here. As a result, the keyboard is not overly “clickie” but also quite quiet.

The travel distance of the keys is very pleasant with 2.2 mm! This is a bit more than a modern ultrabook, but not too much, that the writing is exhausting. Also the button resistance I would call pleasant. This is slightly higher than Utrabooks, but not too high that the letter gets tired.

In short, a good keyboard, if not very good for gamers!

What about the trackpad? This is very solid in itself, but quite small. The tracking is good and fluid. A pointer jumping or similar does not exist on the Alienware 15 R4.

Of course, the laptop can not compete with an XPS, let alone a MacBook.

Nevertheless, the trackpad can be described as well usable, I have already seen much worse here. But with a R5 I would like to have more space. Just because the trackpad has two separate buttons on the bottom, the final usable space for a 15 inch notebook is a little short.

 

speaker

If something on the Alienware 15 R4 disappoints me a bit, then the speakers. The notebook’s two speakers are on the front and sound okay.

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But who now expects that such a big notebook a rich sound comes is simply disappointed. Especially as far as the bass is concerned, even an XPS 13 or an Apple MacBook Pro is superior to the Alienware 15.

To be fair, one must also say that most gaming notebooks from ASUS and MSI can not score well with super-good speakers.

Of course, the speakers are not bad. Watching videos, a little gaming sound, and so on, the Alienware 15 R4 is perfect for that. Just do not go with too much expectations of the notebook, as far as the sound setup is concerned.

Here is the Alienware 15 R4 rather average. This also applies to the headphone output / microphone input. Here is a solid Realtek sound card installed without a special software essay.

And yes Realtek sound cards have become much better in recent years. So it does not need an external sound card.

 

power

My Alienware 15 R4 is equipped with the new Intel Core i9-8950HK as well as the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080.

The Intel i9-8950HK is the bigger brother of the i7-8750H. Both processors are based on the 8th Gen Coffee Lake architecture and for the first time offer 6 cores + 6 virtual cores.

This alone makes for a significant performance leap compared to the old i7-7700HQ, which only 4 cores offered.

The i7-8750H clocks at “up to 4.1GHz”, while the i9-8950HK goes “up to 4.8GHz”. Dell even overclocks the i9-8950HK to “up to 5GHz”, probably just for marketing to be the world’s first 5GHz notebook.

However, there are still differences between the i9-8950HK and i7-8750H off the clock. The most important is the cache. The i9 has 12MB Level 3 cache, the i7 “only” about 9MB. In practice, this is not a huge difference, more on that later, but if you’re using applications that are completely CPU limited, photo / video editing, etc., then those few extra% performance can certainly be nice.

Dell is tricking the graphics card a bit. Although there is the Alienware 15 R4 with GTX 1080, but this is the MAX-Q version, which is very hidden to find.

MAX-Q graphics cards are special “high quality” graphics cards that can run at a very low voltage compared to their normal brothers.

In addition to the tension, however, the clock is also slightly lowered. This makes the GTX 1080 MAX-Q more of a GTX 1070+.

If you choose the version with GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 the world looks a bit different. Dell even overclocks these two graphics cards a bit. Unfortunately, I do not have a tester with GTX 1070 “OC”, but it is very possible that the GTX 1070 option will reach almost the same speed as the GTX 1080 MAX-Q.

Let’s come to performance with it. Let’s take a look at the standard benchmarks.

Intel i9-8950HK Cinebench Alienware 15   

The benchmarks look very impressive! The Intel Core i9 creates a whopping 1251 points in the Cinebench benchmark. This is an increase of 68% compared to the predecessor i7-7820HK! Compared to the I7-7700HQ, the difference is even bigger.

Thus, the i9-8950HK is more on the level of the desktop Intel Core i7-8700K.

Compared to the i7-8750H, however, the difference is a good deal smaller. The i7-8750H creates around 1140 points in Cinebench, ie only about 9% less.

But here is the single core performance very interesting. Because here, the i9-8950HK really shine. 207 points in the single core performance is world class!

For comparison, the i7-7820HK scores 160 points, the Intel Core i7-7700HQ scores 145 points and the i7-8750H scores 173 points.

This is the single core performance higher than the desktop i7-8700K!

The performance in the 3D Mark benchmarks is extremely strong. In the Time Spy benchmark, which primarily pollutes the GPU, the R4 scores about 10% higher than the R3.

Does not sound like much, but it is!

But what about games?

Compared to its predecessor, which was equipped with the i7-7820HK, not much has changed in gaming performance.

With full HD resolution, you can easily see even three-figure frame rates in elaborate games like The Witcher 3 or Battlefield One. Therefore, I narrowed down an Overwatch or CS GO benchmark, here we would see 200+ FPS or 300 FPS.

This looks a bit different with the UHD resolution. Although all games are fluently playable here in maximum quality, but for example The Witcher 3 reached “only” 40FPS on average, Battlefield One at least 54FPS.

Here it is even for a GTX 1080 MAX-Q closely. So if you want to play on the notebook, you better choose one of the Full HD displays. Full HD is also sufficiently sharp at 15 inches, so you can be sure that you will be able to play current tracks in very high details in 3 years’ time, which is unlikely to be the case with 4K.

4K Gaming is currently also possible on the Alienware 15 R4, but the frame rate is just in the green.

 

Clock, temperature and volume

Let’s start with a few problems. Alienware advertises the 15 R4 in combination with the i9-8950HK up to 5GHz. The i9-8950HK has no 5GHz, but only 4.8GHz. The missing 200Mhz come from an OC fashion. This OC mode did not work really well for me. In the Alienware control center this is active, but the clock initially does not exceed 4.8 GHz in any situation. Until then after several Reboots suddenly 4.9GHz were to be seen, but not the advertised 5GHz. Maybe this is because I reinstalled Windows and there is a bug somewhere, but in the end, I decided that this 200MHz would not make the roast fat.

As with all current notebook CPUs you have to enjoy the clock very carefully. The i9-8950HK has no 4.8GHz, but only 2.9GHz.

Anything over 2.9GHz is a bonus, depending on how many cores your load, how the temperature is, etc.

If you only load individual cores and that only for a short time, these 4.8 GHz are also achieved. Therefore, the single core performance of the Alienware 15 R4 is also extremely strong.

However, if all 6 cores are loaded at the same time, as in a video export, the clock falls to 3.0-3.4 GHz. Here the i9 reaches its 45W PowerLimit. 

The temperature settles here depending on the fan setting at 78-84 degrees. For a short while during the boost to 4.8GHz but also just under 100 degrees are reached. But there is no throttling in this sense!

In games, however, the i9-8950HK usually sticks in the 4 + GHz range, as games never load the CPU 100%.

In The Witcher 3, for example, the CPU reaches 68-77 degrees, which is neat, considering that the GPU is still producing decent heat.

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Where we are at the GPU, what about these? The GTX 1080 MAX-Q settles at 1450MHz to 1505MHz clock. It reaches just over 70 degrees.

What about the fans?

When idling, the Alienware 15 R4 is usually more or less silent. It may happen that the fan when installing programs, etc. times up high, but this can be fixed on the “Silent” fan profile.

Under absolute full load, the fans are of course audible, but even then the Alienware is relatively pleasant. The fans have a rather warm tone, so are less shrill than, for example, in a Razer Blade.

This already makes the Alienware 15 R4 much more comfortable than many more compact gaming notebooks. In addition, the fans themselves are not even that loud. Do you have the speakers on 50%, the fans are barely audible.

I would not call the Alienware 15 R4 quiet at full load, but it’s not annoying.

 

battery pack

If you buy a high end gaming notebook, you will not usually put too much emphasis on a long battery life. On the other hand, you might also want to use the notebook on the couch or in the garden without having to carry the charger with you.

So how is the Alienware 15 R4 beating here? This of course depends on the configuration, I have the worst case, 4K display, the big i9, etc. If you choose the notebook with i5, GTX 1060 and Full HD display, the battery life will be a lot better!

All versions of the Alienware 15 R4 are equipped with a 99Wh battery, which is the maximum size. If the notebook had a larger battery, you might not be able to take it with you on board an airplane, for example.

In normal office use, with a low to medium display brightness, I could achieve a runtime of around 3.5-4 hours. If you switch off the various energy-saving plans, as well as the LED lighting, the battery life can be increased by 4.5-5 hours.

But reckons with an office / web browsing application rather 4 hours, especially when still running background programs, etc.

Do not want to play on battery power! Under CPU + GPU full load you get the battery in less than one hour without any problems.

Of course, the battery life of the Alienware 15 R4 is not comparable to an ultrabook, but acceptable for a high end gaming notebook! There are certainly models that create significantly less.

 

upgrades

Opening the Alienware 15 R4 is very easy. On the bottom you will find 7 screws, which you just have to solve.

After removing the bottom you will find two RAM slots, a 2.5 inch slot and three m.2 slots.

However, only two of the m.2 slots have the full length.

So it would be easy to install three SSDs in the Alienware 15 R4, as well as to perform a RAM upgrade. Unfortunately, I could not discover the WLAN card without further disassembling the notebook.

PS. Should you have the problem with the Windows installation that the m.2 SSDs are not found, set the “mode” in the BIOS from RAID to AHCI.

 

Conclusion

The Alienware 15 R4 is a monster! By that I mean both the hardware and the packaging.

Let’s start with the exterior. I think the design of the Alienware 15 R4 is controversial, especially because of the excessive LED lighting. However I like the design very well!

The Alienware 15 R4 stands out from the crowd with its rather edgy and aggressive, slightly industrial-inspired design. There is currently no other manufacturer a similar notebook and this unique design I like. Even the LED strips provide a wonderful atmosphere, especially in the dark.

The Alienware 15 R4 looks just awesome on a dark desk!

Added to this is the very massive and valuable workmanship. I am not aware of a more massive gaming notebook (with a plastic housing). Also the size fits for a notebook with this technical equipment.

Only the weight is very high at around 3.5kg. Time to take the Alienware 15 R4 on the couch or to friends is not a problem, but daily with to school or university, I would not want to drag it.

The battery life is about 4 hours for the top model okay. The smaller versions will certainly do a bit more here.

Keyboard and trackpad I would classify as good, the price range appropriate. The display of course depends on which you choose. I chose the UHD display because I want to use the Alienware 15 R4 for a mix of productive use and gaming.

The built-in Dell UHD display is good! Especially in terms of color fidelity and color space coverage, this is even suitable for semi-professional photo editing! Also, this display looks subjectively class. Only the illumination is moderate.

But also the Full HD IPS display and the 120Hz option are good panels. So you can not really decide wrong.

When it comes to performance, it depends even more on what you choose for a feature. The i9-8950HK is of course a monster! Especially in terms of single-core performance, even in desktops few CPUs can compete with the i9.

However, the extra charge compared to the i7-8750H is only partially justified. If you are not looking for the absolute maximum of CPU power, the i7-8750H is preferable to price / performance.

Nevertheless, about 70% more power than the indirect predecessor of the i9-8950HK (the i7-7820HK) is already impressive. Do not buy a laptop without the 8th Gen Intel CPU, no matter if i7-8750H or i9-8950HK!

The graphics card is either the GTX 1060, 1070 or 1080 used. Basically, the GTX 1060 is good enough for Full HD gaming, but if you’re already buying a notebook like the Alienware 15 R4, at least the GTX 1070 chooses “OC”.

Similar to the CPU, the GTX 1080 MAX-Q brings a nice performance boost compared to the smaller version. However, the GTX 1070 OC is preferable to price / performance.

Although Dell is using a new “Cryo-Tech 2.0” cooling, but the Alienware 15 R4 is already on the limit with the i9-8950HK and GTX 1080. At the limit, yes, but not over it. Both CPU and GPU can get good turbo performance. The volume under load, I would classify as well bearable, no complaints here.

If I had to complain about something beyond weight, these would probably be the very mediocre speakers.

But aside from that, the Alienware 15 R4 is closer to the perfect gaming notebook ever!

Basically, I also agree with Dell’s price expectations. Of course, the i9-8950HK + GTX1080 version is unbelievably expensive with 3400 € , but the more reasonable i7-8750H + GTX1070 version is quite fair with 1999 € (+ SSD).

In short I do not regret the purchase of the Alienware 15 R4! A great notebook!

Kennedy

Hi, My name is Kennedy - a gamer, and blogger. I write everything about gaming from the high-end Intel processors and graphics cards to reviews of the latest AAA games. I am also interested in cryptocurrency (Ripple & Bitcoin Cash). When I'm not on my rig gaming or blogging, you will find me outdoors on my dirt bike!

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