Alienware has announced a new laptop powered by AMD’s Ryzen Mobile 5000 family, while Dell has added a new AMD gaming system to its own product matrix as well. In Alienware’s case, it’s the first time the company has offered an AMD-powered product since 2007.
When AMD’s Ryzen Mobile 4000 failed to get much market uptake last year, there were fears that the company was the victim of a plot between Intel and Nvidia to block it from gaining market share. While there are some historical reasons why people are afraid of that issue where AMD is concerned, the company has openly stated its own explanation: Ryzen Mobile 4000 was the platform that showed OEMs was serious about competing in mobile and capable of fielding a product that could power high-end designs.
We’re seeing more Ryzen 5000 systems rolling out this year because the Ryzen Mobile 4000 convinced the various OEMs AMD could power high-end systems. Winning the Surface Laptop 3 also helped establish AMD’s credentials, even if that system used a Ryzen Mobile 3000 CPU instead of a 7nm Zen 2 core.
Both the Alienware m15 Ryzen Edition R5 and the Dell G15 Ryzen Edition will offer Nvidia GeForce RTX 3000 series GPUs. The new Alienware system will offer displays with 240Hz (1440p) or 360Hz (1080p) refresh rates “to deliver smooth gameplay.” Phrasing like this is a bit like saying an RTX 3090 “delivers smooth 720p performance.” The problem with the statement isn’t that it’s wrong, per se; it’s the implication that one needs an RTX 3090 to get smooth 720p performance in the first place.
A screen with a 60Hz refresh rate is redrawn once every 16.6 milliseconds. At 120Hz, it’s redrawn every 8.3ms. At 240Hz, every 4.15ms. At 360Hz, every 2.7ms. The ever-increasing Hz numbers hide the fact that the real amount of latency reduction shrinks the higher you go. Moving from 30Hz (33.3ms refresh rate) to 60Hz (16.6ms refresh rate) is a larger improvement than moving from 60Hz to 360Hz. Keep in mind that the degree of difference you’d see in any given title depends very much on how fast the game’s engine can run in the first place. There are a lot of titles that do not run at 240-360fps at 1080p or 1440p unless you have deliberately wrecked detail settings to maximize frame rates.
There’s nothing wrong with Alienware marketing its systems to e-sports fanatics chasing every last frame, but 240-360Hz refresh rates are not required to “enable smooth gameplay.”
Alienware also claims that this is “User-upgradeable 3200MHz DDR4 memory for the first time on an Alienware 15-inch notebook.” This is an absurd untruth. iFixit has multiple teardowns and manuals of how to upgrade the RAM inside various 15-inch Alienware systems manufactured over the past decade. Alienware moved to soldered DRAM several years ago and it’s trying to spin this reversal as a new feature being added rather than the restoration of an expected baseline capability.
Thankfully, the actual system designs look better than the marketing. The Alienware m15 offers a Ryzen 7 5800H or a Ryzen 9 4900HS paired with an RTX 3060 or RTX 3070, starting at $ 1,794. The Dell G15 Ryzen Edition will use a Ryzen 5 5600H or Ryzen 7 5800H with up to an RTX 3060, reportedly starting at $ 900. The G15 will also be available with 120Hz or 165Hz panels, with a 360Hz panel option coming later this spring.
Anyone who buys a laptop with a high refresh rate display should be aware these panels will absolutely chew through your battery. Most games allow you to set your refresh rate in-game, but some titles lock your refresh rate to your Windows desktop refresh rate. I’m not sure Windows offers a way to automatically cut the refresh rate when on battery, so anyone using >60Hz on AC might want to double-check their panel settings before switching to battery.
If you’re looking at a laptop, you’re probably planning to buy an OEM system no matter what, but the incredibly high price of retail channel GPUs has made OEM systems the only game in town as far as reasonable prices are concerned. In this case, I’m grumpy about the marketing, but I’ve tested gaming PCs from both Dell and Alienware before and been pleased with the end result.