Two minute review
The Alienware m15 follows squarely in the footsteps of the Alienware Area-51m. When that absolute unit of a laptop was revealed back at CES 2018 we were completely blown away not only for its upgradeability but also its clean ‘Legend ID’ design language. And now that design language is present in a gaming laptop you can actually carry around with you.
That design language carries over remarkably, making it one of the most stylish gaming laptops on the market right now, and even rivals the MSI GS65 Stealth – the difference between those two laptops is ultimately going to boil down to taste.
On top of that raw, unadulterated style, of course, is the power that this laptop holds. To be fair, the Alienware m15 we tested was the most expensive model in the lineup, but it was able to absolutely destroy basically any game we threw at it – even the incredibly demanding Red Dead Redemption 2.
One thing that may disappoint some folks (but excite others) is the display. At this price point, some may be expecting to see a 4K OLED panel at 60Hz, and while that sounds good in theory, laptop computing hardware isn’t exactly great at that resolution yet, especially in games. Instead, you’re getting a 1080p display at 240Hz – something much better for gaming, though at a lower resolution.
In a lot of ways, the Alienware m15 is the new gold standard for thin and light gaming laptops in 2019. We just wish that it had a better trackpad and speakers to really take the experience to the next level.
Price and availability
Here is the Alienware m15 R2 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: Intel Core i7-9750H (6-core, 12MB cache, up to 4.5GHz w/ Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 (8GB GDDR6); Intel UHD Graphics 630
RAM: 16GB DDR4 (2,666MHz)
Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) @ 240Hz
Storage: 2 x 512GB SSDs in RAID 0
Ports: 3 x USB 3.1 Type-A, 1 x HDMI, 1 x Mini-DisplayPort,1 x ethernet, 1 x Alienware Graphics Amplifier, 1 x 3.5mm Audio, 1 x Thunderbolt 3
Battery: 76 Whr (Integrated)
Connectivity: Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 (2×2) and Bluetooth 5.0
Camera: widescreen HD (720p) webcam; dual array digital mic
Weight: 4.75 lb pounds (2.16kg)
Size: 14.19 x 10.9 x 0.80 inches (360.5 x 276 x 20.55mm; W x D x H)
It’s probably not terribly surprising that the Alienware m15 is an expensive piece of kit. Even at the entry level, with an Intel Core i5 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, you’re facing a hefty $1,399/£1,349/AU$2,099 price tag. Just looking at Dell’s own lineup, you can get the exact same specs (though with a slower and less color-accurate display) for $869 with the Dell G3 15 at time of writing.
Now the Dell G3 15 is a thicker affair, and it doesn’t have the eye-catching design laced with RGB either. But if all you’re after is the ability to run your games, you can get the same hardware elsewhere for less.
Since this is a gaming laptop from Alienware, you can obviously stuff this laptop with the most powerful laptop hardware on the market, but you’ll have to pay for it. The highest-end configuration you can buy in-store – which is the version we reviewed here – will set you back $2,979/£2,518/AU$5,898, but there are even higher-tier options if you buy online. (Also, keep in mind that in the UK, that high-end price tag only comes with a 256GB SSD, compared to the 1TB provided for both the US and Australia.)
If you go to Dell’s website to pick this laptop up, you can go into the configurator to spec it out even higher. You can upgrade from two 512GB SSDs in RAID 0 (which essentially gives you one 1TB drive) to two 2TB SSDs for an extra $800. What gets us here is that this is the “Alienware recommended” spec. Trust us – you don’t need 4TB of SSD space.
You can also upgrade to a 4K OLED display with a 60Hz refresh rate if you really want that eye candy. Again, we’d only recommend that for creative professionals as the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q isn’t quite ready for 4K gaming, though it gets close.
As the years go on, Alienware design keeps getting better. Now, we should explain that we prefer cleaner aesthetics when it comes to gaming laptops – those edgy “gamer” designs just turn us off. The new Legend ID design language that Alienware has been using throughout 2019 works extremely well for a laptop in this category.
The laptop comes in two finishes – Lunar Light and Dark Side of the Moon – which are essentially white and black, respectively. The model we got in for review is the Lunar Light model, and if you like the aesthetic of white-colored tech like we do, it’s definitely a looker. The chassis of the laptop is all white except for the slim back bit that sticks out of the back. There’s also a strip of black with a nice glossy finish on the front of the chassis.
There is a ton of ventilation here, too. The back of the laptop has two strips of honeycomb-shaped vents, which are interrupted by a small assortment of ports. This is where you’ll find the power, Thunderbolt 3, Mini DisplayPort, HDMI and the Alienware Graphics Amplifier ports. Ventilation doesn’t end there, however – keep in mind that this is an extremely powerful laptop without a ton of room for cooling.
There are two more cooling vents on either side of the laptop, along with more ventilation on the bottom. When the laptop is open, you’ll see even more honeycomb vents above the keyboard, which act as an intake, sucking in cold air and blasting the hot air out the back. This cooling system does its job, as much as any cooling system could do in this form factor. More on that later.
The keyboard is almost ludicrously comfortable to type on. In a laptop this thin, we simply don’t expect a ton of key travel, but not only do these keys go deep, they’re also comfortable as hell to type on. They’re not clicky, nor are they loud, and almost feel cushiony; the Alienware m15 keyboard really is the best of both worlds, and should make a lot of people really happy.
We just wish we could say the same thing about the trackpad. While it’s true that many people will just be plugging a mouse into this laptop for gaming, the unit is portable enough that it should be usable as a mobile workstation – especially with this class of hardware. The trackpad is simply not great for doing anything: it’s way too small for the chassis and kind of laggy from time to time. If you go with this laptop, trust us, you’re going to want to pick up one of the best gaming mice.
The other major issue here is the speakers. Bear with us for a minute: gaming laptops are ostensibly machines that are designed first and foremost for entertainment. Whether you’re playing games, watching movies or listening to music, you should be able to do it without having to rely on headphones. That’s a hill we will totally die on – bottom-mounted speakers are simply inexcusable in 2019, and they’re inexcusable here.
When we first opened the laptop, we even got excited at the honeycomb vents at the top, thinking it’d be a speaker grille. Alas, all the sound gets blasted out of the bottom of the laptop and it’s a damn shame, especially since there’s ample room on either side of the keyboard for speakers – just look at the speaker setup on the Razer Blade or MacBook Pro. As a result, sound isn’t quite the premium experience you would expect from a product in this class.
Luckily, the display is generally excellent, so if you pair it with a gaming headset, you should still expect a nice experience. And, while it is only 1080p, the display covers 100% of the sRGB color gamut, so games really pop, especially colorful experiences like World of Warcraft.
It’s probably not hugely surprising that the Alienware m15 achieves strong performance given the hardware inside. No matter what game we threw at it, this gaming laptop absolutely dominated in terms of performance.
Even Red Dead Redemption 2, which is probably the hardest game to run – at least in the mainstream – is a breeze at the native resolution. With all the settings turned to high, we get a flawless Red Dead Redemption 2 performance of 68 fps, and then 63 fps in Total War: Three Kingdoms. Both of these titles give desktop gaming systems a hard time, so it was nice to see a laptop this portable able to power through them.
Here is how the Alienware m15 fared in our suite of benchmark tests:
3DMark: Sky Diver: 40,326; Fire Strike: 17,676; Time Spy: 7,810
Cinebench R20 Multi-core: 2,575 points
GeekBench 4: 25,585 (single-core); 4,995 (multi-core)
PCMark 8 (Home Test): 4,142 points
PCMark 8 Battery Life: 4 hours and 46 minutes
Battery Life (techradar movie test): 2 hours and 45 minutes
Total War: Three Kingdoms (1080p, Ultra): 63 fps; (1080p, Low): 139 fps
Red Dead Redemption 2 (1080p, High): 68 fps; (1080p, Low): 91 fps
However, because this laptop has a high refresh rate, we of course had to test it out in World of Warcraft. In most situations, we were able to get upwards of 120 fps with all the settings turned up to 10. Even in Orgrimmar, on an extremely high-population server, we were able to sit comfortably at 60 fps flying above the entrance to the Auction House. It’s an old game to be sure, but anyone familiar with it should know how demanding that area of the game is.
However, this strong performance resulted in some high temperatures. Out of sheer curiosity for the special cooling system, we decided to stress test the laptop by making Cinebench R20 run on a loop for 300 seconds. Using the balanced power profile in the Alienware Control Center, the CPU temperature immediately jumped up to the Thermal Junction Max temperature at 99°C, before evening out to 91°C after a few seconds of running the test.
This tells us that basically every laptop these days is going to thermal throttle when pushed to its absolute limits, and even impressive cooler designs won’t stop powerful hardware from generating a ton of heat.
Realistically, though, it’s unlikely that you’ll do much that will pin the CPU to 100% usage like that, so it’s probably not something you really have to worry about, unless you’re planning on doing some hardcore video editing on the machine. Luckily, the laptop is extremely easy to open up and clean out, so keeping the fans clear of dust should help temperatures in the future.
Software and features
We’ll never understand why laptop manufacturers feel the need to throw a ton of bloatware onto a laptop as expensive as the Alienware m15. It makes sense when you’re selling a budget device, but when you’re dropping this much cash, you should be able to expect a relatively clean experience.
Unfortunately, there are a ton of Dell-provided programs loaded onto the laptop here. It’s just a ton of bloat taking up hard drive space that will likely be all but useless to a vast majority of users. Still, at least you can uninstall it.
There is a piece of baked-in software that genuinely useful, though: Alienware Command Center. The Alienware m15 is packed front to back with RGB lighting, all of which can be controlled and customized through this software. The command center will also let you overclock your CPU and GPU – though we would recommend not doing that unless you’re willing to crack the laptop open and put higher-quality thermal paste on the CPU and GPU.
The laptop also includes Tobii eye tracking technology, which will track eye movement to enhance certain gaming experiences. For instance, in a game like Far Cry 5, you can move your eyes to move the camera. It’s definitely a unique technology, and it works quite well. Personally, we just didn’t like it, so we kept it disabled most of the time. It is useful for one thing: a setting that brightens the display when you look at it and dimming it when looking away.
It’s probably not terribly surprising, but the Alienware m15 isn’t exactly a laptop that you’ll be able to work on all day without needing a battery. In our anecdotal battery test, where we loop a video over and over until the laptop dies, the Alienware m15 only manages 2 hours and 3 minutes. That’s barely enough time to even watch one film.
The PCMark8 battery test doesn’t fare much better, either, only lasting 2 hours and 26 minutes. This is all with the display turned down to 50% brightness and all the external lighting disabled. We honestly weren’t expecting much out of this laptop in terms of battery life, and this is about what we expect. If you’re going to be carrying this laptop around, just be ready to haul around the power brick as well.
Buy it if…
You want to game on the go
Because the Alienware m15 is packed with the best mobile components on the market, you’ll be able to play the best PC games on a laptop that’s easy to carry in your backpack.
You’re into the aesthetic
Among gaming laptops, the Alienware m15 is one of the best examples of how to build a lovely piece of hardware. Everything from the color to the classy lighting really takes it to another level.
You appreciate good support
Because Alienware is owned by Dell, you can take advantage of its nearly peerless support network. If anything goes wrong with your laptop, Dell is one of the companies we trust the most to fix problems.
Don’t buy it if…
You need good speakers
Unfortunately, the Alienware m15 has bottom-firing speakers, which makes the audio experience a bit lackluster. If you’re going to buy this laptop, you’re going to need some good headphones.
You need long battery life
This basically goes for any gaming laptop – though there are some exceptions out there. This laptop only lasts a couple of hours on battery, and that’s without running games on it. If you carry this laptop around, you’ll need to carry the charger, too.
You’re on a budget
Alienware makes some of the best hardware on the market, but you’ll have to pay a premium for it. If all you’re after is the components in this laptop, you can get it for less in another laptop. But, no other laptop looks like the Alienware m15, either.