Alienware’s m15 R7 gaming laptop prioritizes performance on the go, but also rocks efficiency
By: Chris Angelini
Sponsored by Alienware
The year is still young, and we’ve already ridden an exhilarating wave of new mobile CPUs, graphics processors, memory technologies, and wireless networking standards. Alienware’s m15 R7 gaming laptop packs all those innovations into a 15” form factor that purrs at peak performance thanks to higher wattage limits than the previous generation and improved cooling.
The m15 R7 also knows how to maximize its battery life better than previous models. Alienware makes NVIDIA’s Advanced Optimus technology a standard feature, giving Intel’s Iris Xe graphics engine the reins for power-saving in Windows. Then, when you fire up a game, the discrete GeForce GPU automatically takes control.
Between the m15 R7’s roster of cutting-edge parts, efficiency-oriented intelligence, and meticulous engineering tying it all together, now is a great time to be working from home, gaming on the road, or vice versa.
The m15 R7 boosts performance and power without affecting size or weight
From the outside, the m15 R7 strikes a handsome pose with its familiar Legend 2.0 industrial design. This model sports Alienware’s Dark Side of the Moon color scheme with a high-endurance clear coat and silky-smooth finish, just like the previous-gen m15 R6.
In fact, with both laptops in opposite hands, you’d have a difficult time telling them apart. The m15 R7 increases performance and peak power in the same exact form factor. Really, all the magic happens under its hood.
Engineering for a better computing experience
Inside the m15 R7’s chassis is an all-new beast of a system based on Intel’s Alder Lake performance hybrid architecture, NVIDIA’s refreshed GeForce RTX 30-series GPU family, upgradeable DDR5 memory, a pair of M.2 slots for up to 4TB of PCIe-based SSDs, and up to Wi-Fi 6E networking.
Alienware zeroed in on Intel’s Core i7-12700H CPU to power its m15 R7. The potent processor wields six Hyper-Threaded Performance-cores (operating at up to 4.7GHz), eight Efficient-cores (with a 3.5GHz maximum frequency), and a spacious 24MB of Smart Cache. Sitting idle on the Windows desktop, the E-cores handle background tasks like checking email and syncing cloud storage to keep power consumption low. More intensive workloads are assigned to the P-cores by Intel’s hardware-based scheduler called Thread Director. And with all its cores active, the -12700H can work on a staggering 20 threads at a time.
Most of the m15 R7’s remaining power budget goes to its GeForce GPU. I ran my benchmarks on the new GeForce RTX 3080 Ti with 16GB of GDDR6 memory. However, there are GeForce RTX 3070 Ti 8GB, 3060 6GB, and 3050 Ti 4GB options as well.
Together, the m15 R7’s CPU and GPU can dissipate up to 170W. Alienware collects telemetry from both subsystems to balance their interactions quickly and intelligently. In general-purpose compute tasks, for example, the Core i7 uses up to 115W for bursts of extra performance. Conversely, the GeForce gets priority in most gaming workloads. My sample’s GeForce RTX 3080 Ti regularly reached its 125W limit, and then used NVIDIA’s Dynamic Boost 2.0 technology to reallocate an extra 15W from the CPU. That extra power translates to higher GPU frequencies, which drive faster frame rates.
How’d Alienware pave the way for more power consumption in the same-sized chassis? It applied some of the cooling tricks first introduced on the premium x15 and x17 models: improved fans with a greater number of thinner blades, load-balancing heat pipes, and Alienware’s exclusive Element 31 encapsulated gallium-silicon thermal interface material (on configurations with GeForce RTX 3070 Ti and 3080 Ti graphics).
Combined, those enhancements help the m15 R7 dissipate thermal energy away from sensitive components faster. Its two fans then pull cool air in through a pair of intakes and blow the waste heat out through four exhaust points. Best of all, the m15 R7 makes about as much noise as the m15 R4 in our lab tests. (More on those results shortly.)
More premium features and the right combination of I/O
In addition to its leveled-up Cryo-Tech cooling technology, the m15 R7 boasts a handful of upgrades that gamers are going to really appreciate.
For example, the m15 R7 can be built with three different panels: an FHD display with a 165Hz refresh rate, an FHD screen able to refresh at 360Hz, and a QHD panel that refreshes at 240Hz. All three options support NVIDIA’s G-SYNC and Advanced Optimus technologies, enabling a mix of fluid gaming action and extended battery life that was previously only available on the highest-end configurations.
G-SYNC synchronizes the display’s refresh to your GPU’s output, putting new information on-screen precisely when it’s ready. Linking both components eliminates artifacts like tearing and stuttering, and it reduces input lag. With G-SYNC enabled, games run much more smoothly.
Using G-SYNC requires NVIDIA’s GPU to control the display, which is great for gaming performance but not so good for battery life on the road. In the past, getting the best of both worlds required a hardware-based display multiplexer (which the m15 R7 has) to switch between discrete and integrated GPUs, with a reboot in between. Advanced Optimus technology facilitates this hand-off dynamically, though. The m15 R7 uses Intel’s Iris Xe most of the time, and automatically switches over to the GeForce when you launch one of the applications in NVIDIA’s pre-qualified list.
Including G-SYNC and Advanced Optimus as standard features means every m15 R7 can jump back and forth between gaming and mobility, free from compromise.
The whole m15 R7 line-up also gets two zones of programmable AlienFX lighting (you can control the Alien head and Tron ring independently), plus three keyboard options that include RGB lighting. The standard M-series AlienFX keyboard offers one lighting zone, and there’s an upgraded version with per-key RGB customizable through the AWCC software. But once you get your hands on the third option—Alienware’s Cherry MX mechanical keyboard with per-key RGB—there’s no going back. The satisfying click and defined feedback of a mechanical switch are a palpable advantage whether you’re playing a first-person shooter or composing an email.
Another upgrade worth considering is the m15 R7’s wireless networking module. By default, Alienware includes Killer’s Wi-Fi 6 AX201, which delivers up to 2.4 Gb/s of throughput over the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Those frequencies accommodate a lot of legacy standards, though, and they’re prone to congestion in crowded areas. Wi-Fi 6E sets out to fix that with 1200MHz of pristine spectrum in the 6GHz band. If you’re already in the market for a new Wi-Fi 6E router, arming the m15 R7 with Killer’s optional Wi-Fi 6E module is a good first step in building a faster, more reliable wireless network.
There’s an RJ-45 port on the m15 R7’s left side for gaming on wired networks. Configurations with GeForce RTX 3080 Ti, 3070 Ti, and 3060 graphics include Killer’s E3100 2.5 Gb/s Ethernet controller, while the GeForce RTX 3050 Ti is complemented by standard gigabit-class Ethernet.
A 1/8” jack next to the RJ-45 port combines headphone and mic functionality—perfect for gaming headsets. On the m15 R7’s right side, you’ll find a pair of USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports that both offer 5 Gb/s data rates. One of the two adds PowerShare, which allows it to charge your phone, even when the laptop is turned off. Around back, there’s a full-sized HDMI 2.1 interface, another USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 1 port, and a USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2 port. That Type-C port supports DisplayPort 1.4 and Power Delivery up to 15W (3A/5V) on every m15 R7. When you select a GeForce RTX 3080 Ti, 3070 Ti, or 3060, the Type-C port adds Thunderbolt 4, too.
Although most components in a laptop aren’t easily serviceable, enthusiasts do like the option to swap in system memory. Alienware sells the m15 R7 with anywhere from one 8GB module to two 32GB modules. Regardless of how you buy yours, easily accessible SO-DIMM slots right under the bottom cover simplify upgrades.
The same goes for storage. You can configure an m15 R7 with up to 4TB of SSDs split across a pair of M.2 slots. But if you’d rather start with one or two terabytes today and add a drive once you start running out of space, the upgrade is an easy do-it-yourself project.
Putting Alienware’s m15 R7 to the test
Ready to see how the latest CPU, refreshed GPUs, and improved cooling come together to improve performance? I ran an especially well-appointed m15 R7 through a battery of general-purpose and gaming benchmarks to quantify Alienware’s efforts. I even took some acoustic measurements to make sure Cryo-Tech’s advances weren’t counterbalanced by more noise.
The system I tested included Intel’s Core i7-12700H CPU, NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 3080 Ti 16GB, 32GB of DDR5-4800 memory, a 1TB SSTC NVMe-based SSD (x4 PCIe 4.0), and the 240Hz QHD display.
I ran these tests two ways: with Intel’s Core i7-12700H CPU at its stock power levels, and then with those limits removed. Again, the host processor can burst up to 115W by default. This is referred to as its Turbo Boost Short Power Max, or PL2. So long as the CPU doesn’t throttle for some other reason, it can hold PL2 for a window of time called Tau. The stock setting for Tau is 56 seconds. Once that time passes, a 75W Turbo Boost Power Max, or PL1, kicks in (as of BIOS version 1.1.0).
As you might imagine, short, bursty workloads that start and finish before the Core i7 shifts from PL2 to PL1 behave differently than tasks that take longer to complete. Fortunately, it’s possible for anyone to tweak those power level parameters using Intel’s own Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU). Setting both to Unlimited shifts the bottleneck away from Intel’s default power cap. If you compile big coding projects or render video, this might be an experiment worth running.
The m15 R7, armed with the fastest mobile graphics processor in the world, has no trouble rendering smooth frame rates in the latest games using their highest quality presets at 1920x1080.
In Cyberpunk 2077 and Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition, that means activating real-time ray tracing for the ultimate in realism and still averaging 60 frames per second or more.
Games that are limited by graphics horsepower run best using the m15 R7’s stock settings. Dynamic Boost 2.0 kicks in to give NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 3080 Ti a bit of extra wattage, which helps in Assassin’s Creed, Metro Exodus, and Red Dead Redemption 2.
Conversely, if you play fast-paced e-sports titles like CS:GO, which aren’t as graphics-intensive, lifting the Core i7’s power limits may give you a boost. Then again, average frame rates approaching 450 FPS are already pretty ludicrous without targeted optimizations.
Now that we’ve seen the m15 R7 handle gaming inside of a 170W envelope with finesse, general-purpose workloads that don’t use its potent GPU are going to look easy by comparison.
Right out of the gate, a 100-pass run through 7-Zip’s built-in benchmark puts all the Core i7-12700H’s resources to work. Alienware’s default power limits for the m15 R7 are clearly well-optimized; giving the m15 R7’s CPU access to an unlimited power budget doesn’t do anything to improve performance.
Rendering a project in Blender gives us another good basis for comparison. Using the Balanced thermal profile, the m15 R7’s Core i7-12700H finishes the job in 139 seconds. Looking back at some of my archived benchmark data, that’s an astounding 57 seconds (or almost 30%) faster than what I measured from Intel’s Core i7-11800H at the same power level.
I have lots of additional benchmark results (and corresponding charts) that work well for drawing comparisons between mobile platforms. Many of them tell the same story as Cinebench R23. That is, the P-cores in Intel’s Alder Lake architecture are crazy-fast in single-threaded tasks (of which there are many).
Threaded performance is also impressive. According to Cinebench’s built-in results database, the Core i7-12700H beats a host of high-end desktop CPUs just one generation old.
And again, giving the CPU access to unlimited power doesn’t increase the score any. Alienware has its m15 R7 optimized for peak performance with 115W PL1 and 75W PL2 settings.
How does the m15 R7 sound?
Performance, power, cooling, and noise are all closely related. When I first realized that Alienware was increasing the m15 R7’s maximum power in the same-sized chassis as the m15 R6, I wondered if the new system’s fans would get louder to keep up. Fortunately, that isn’t the case at all. In fact, it seems like Alienware made some improvements compared to the year-old m15 R4 I have in my lab.
I set up a series of tests to replicate specific conditions on both systems, including:
- Baseline, quiet room, no sound
- m15 R7/R4 at idle using the Balanced thermal profile
- m15 R7/R4 at idle using the Performance thermal profile
- m15 R7/R4 in a gaming workload (Metro Exodus built-in benchmark, looped 10 times)
- m15 R7/R4 running Prime95 (Small FFTs) and FurMark using the Full Speed thermal profile
Using a calibrated Extech 407768 sound level meter (‘A’ frequency weighting) placed 24” from the front edge of both laptops, I then measured sound amplitude.
At idle, using the Balanced thermal profile, Alienware’s m15 R7 and R4 both run cool enough that their fans spin down completely.
Activating the Performance profile causes the m15 R4’s fans to accelerate to a 68%/72% duty cycle. The m15 R7, on the other hand, responds quietly. It remains just a whisper louder than the Balanced profile’s passive mode. Alienware clearly put in work to optimize the m15 R7’s behavior so its fans only spin up when they need to. This is a big advantage over prior generations.
A higher power budget means more performance; a new platform means better efficiency
Alienware calls the m15 R7 its most powerful 15” Intel-based laptop, ever. Why does the m15 R7’s big power budget matter? Access to more power allows this system’s components to achieve greater performance when it’s needed. Whether you’re rendering a video or playing the latest first-person shooter, the m15 R7’s 14-core, 20-thread Core i7-12700H processor and up to GeForce RTX 3080 Ti GPU spring into action with unprecedented speed.
Just as quickly, Alienware’s exclusive Element 31 thermal interface material moves heat away from those performance-oriented parts into load-balancing copper composite heat pipes. A pair of fans blow fresh air through fin stacks attached to the pipes using 2.3x as many blades as the previous generation. And carefully tuned software profiles give you control over how the cooling system responds to your favorite tasks. Together, these innovations make it possible for Alienware to boost the m15 R7’s power in a similar form factor as the previous generation 15” M-series gaming laptop
Extra power reserves come in most useful when you’re plugged into the wall. Out on the road, efficiency matters more. Alienware scores several wins on that front, too. To begin, the m15 R7’s Core i7-12700H combines a mix of Performance- and Efficient-cores. A hardware-based scheduler works in harmony with Windows 11 to use the right resources for every job. When the P-cores aren’t needed, they stay idle to save power.
Alienware also makes NVIDIA’s Advanced Optimus a standard feature across all its panel options. That means every m15 R7 owner gets the convenience of dynamic display switching. In most productivity workloads, the Core i7’s integrated GPU gets exclusive control of the screen to extend battery life. When you fire up a game, ownership is handed over to NVIDIA’s GeForce automatically, engaging maximum performance and G-SYNC variable refresh technology.
The m15 R7’s hardware advancements extend beyond its CPU and GPU. There’s an option for Wi-Fi 6E networking on the newest 6GHz wireless band. Plus, for the first time, a Killer 2.5 Gb/s Ethernet controller graces the top-end configurations. Alienware preserves upgradeable DDR5 SO-DIMMs for do-it-yourselfers. And if you don’t order two SSDs, there’s a second M.2 slot just under the bottom cover for expanding the m15 R7’s storage. But if you only treat yourself to one upgrade, make it the low-profile mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches. It’s magnifique!
Appendix: How we tested
Gaming benchmarks include the following:
- Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
- AnvilNext 2.0 engine
- DirectX 11
- Ultra High-Quality Preset
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Source engine, DirectX 9, High Global Shader Preset
- Cyberpunk 2077
- REDengine 4
- DirectX 12
- Ultra Quality Preset, Ray tracing enabled
- Far Cry 6
- Dunia 2 engine
- DirectX 12
- Ultra Quality Preset, Ray tracing enabled
- Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition
- 4A Engine
- DirectX 12
- Ultra Quality Preset, Ray tracing enabled
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- RAGE Engine
- Quality Preset Slider: Max
General-purpose compute benchmarks include the following:
- 7-Zip 21.07, compression and decompression benchmarks
- Blender 2.93.1, bmw27 benchmark
- Corona Renderer, 1.3 core
- y-cruncher 0.7.8, single and multithreaded, 1 million decimal digits
- UL PCMark 10 v.2.1.2532
- UL Procyon Office Productivity v.1.0