Its performance is certainly there and it is light compared to previous Alienware laptops but it could still stand to lose a few pounds – and that applies to the price tag as well.
Alienware is Dell’s gaming brand and the m15 is the latest addition to its range of laptops and PCs. It’s a premium gaming laptop with a 15.6in FHD IPS display with a refresh rate of 144Hz.
The specification is accordingly powerful and, inside the sturdy metal chassis of my review model is an Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 graphics and a hefty 32GB of RAM. There’s also plenty of storage space for your games library on this configuration, with two 512GB PCIe SSDs giving you a total of 1TB to play around with.
These specs are impressive but I’ve reviewed a slew of high-end gaming laptops recently, and in 2019 the Alienware faces stiff competition.
Shop around and you could spend a lot less. Various manufacturers are selling gaming laptops with near-identical specs and performance to the Alienware m15, but at a more reasonable price. Take the HP Omen 15 (£1,600), a speedy laptop with expansive storage that has the same processor and GPU (Intel Core i7-8750H and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070) as this Alienware m15 model, but is £850 cheaper.
Your options don’t end there, however. For £2,330 you can also pick up the latest Razer Blade 15, a stunning gaming laptop which has – you guessed it – the same GPU and CPU as the Alienware m15, and also comparable gaming benchmark scores. In addition to saving you a couple hundred quid in cash, the Razer Blade 15 is slimmer and lighter, has considerably longer battery life and a better quality display.
Alienware never skimps on design materials, and the m15 is more of the same. The chassis is made almost entirely from magnesium alloy, meaning it’s solid, yet light. Well, light compared with previous Alienware gaming laptops at least. At 2.16kg we’re not quite into MacBook territory but the m15 is 20% lighter than the Alienware 13 from 2017.
There are other aspects of the Alienware m15’s design I like, too. I’m a big fan of the Nebula Red colour scheme on the laptop’s lid, which pairs nicely with the jet black interior. A silver finish is also available but the red is the more fetching of the two. I also like the rubberised material on the palm rests and base of the m15, which give it a feeling of added quality.
But I don’t like the bezels surrounding the display. Although they aren’t too thick at the sides, the upper and lower bezels are chunky and ugly, making the Alienware m15 appear outdated, particularly when compared with the Razer Blade 15. The surface of said bezels is glossy and reflective, too, which can actually be distracting in bright lightly lit conditions. I’d have preferred a matte finish.
Many of the Alienware m15’s ports are situated on the laptop’s rear edge, a sensible design feature that helps keep your desk clear of cable clutter. Hiding back there are the HDMI 2.0 and mini-Display Port outputs, the power port and one USB-C socket with Thunderbolt 3. In case you wanted to use the Alienware Graphics Amplifier (£168) there’s also a proprietary eGPU port.
Thanks to the Thunderbolt 3 USB-C, any Windows 10 laptop can connect any eGPU, so you’re by no means stuck with Alienware’s graphics amplifier. On the left-hand edge are two USB 3.0 Type-A sockets, with one more on the opposite edge alongside a single Gigabit Ethernet port.
When opening the laptop you’d assume the speakers sit above the keyboard, where there is a grille panel spanning the width of the m15’s broad body. But they’re actually closer to the user, more in line with the touchpad, with one speaker on either edge of the base. I found the m15’s dual speakers to be adequate and nothing more, producing moderate volume levels but without much clarity. A decent headset will be required to get the most out of your gaming.
Keyboard and touchpad
As laptop keyboards go, the Alienware m15’s is pleasant to type on. The click-clack of the keys is satisfying and individual keya feels sturdy, as if they can take a real beating. I’m not so hot on the inclusion of a number pad to the right. Certain keys have been shrunk down to accommodate it and I find my fingers keep missing the half-sized backspace key and hitting NumLock instead. Over time I’d probably adapt but I’d rather not have to.
As with so many gaming laptops these days, the keyboard also has RGB backlighting and this is adjustable via the Alienware Command Center software. The LED array behind the keyboard is split up into four sections, which can all be customised with separate colours and effects. On this laptop, I enjoyed going for a single green colour across the board to match the whole alien aesthetic. Likewise, with the two glowing Alienware logos on the laptop. The keyboard ‘FX’ can be switched off with an F12 shortcut.
Thanks to the presence of that number pad, the touchpad has also been pushed towards the left. Being right-handed, I’d like it to be more centred but this is by no means a huge issue. It’s a diving board style touchpad meaning there are no buttons as such. The whole touchpad depresses with the bottom third activating the left and right click functions. For gaming, though, you’re obviously best getting yourself a quality gaming mouse to go with the m15.
Display quality is crucial for gaming laptops and, for the most part, the Alienware m15’s 15.6in IPS panel doesn’t disappoint. While you could opt for the 4K 60Hz model, it’s better to go with the 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080 144Hz display. Without the 144Hz refresh rate you never get ultra-smooth, higher-than 60fps gameplay, no matter how much power you’ve got under the lid.
The maximum display brightness of 327cd/m2 isn’t great. It isn’t the lowest I’ve seen by any means but neither is it bright enough to comfortably use in bright ambient light. In the garden, for instance, or next to a window on the train on a sunny day.
More importantly, at least for those looking for a multipurpose machine for photo and video editing, is that colour coverage and accuracy isn’t wonderful. The sRGB coverage is a disappointing 80.5% and the average Delta E only 3.64. Contrast is fine, with a measured contrast ratio of 1,338:1 but this display is never going to blow you away with its vibrancy.
Performance and battery life
Numbers don’t lie, and in our benchmark tests, they are very much in the Alienware m15’s favour. CPU performance is fantastic, as demonstrated by our in-house media benchmarking tests in which the m15 scored a huge 191. That’s a class-leading result, beating even the Dell XPS 15 and leaving the Razer Blade 15 to eat its dust.
I’ve seen a couple of YouTube reviews where people have complained about overheating when the CPU is maxed out but I can’t say I have experienced this myself. At no point did I find the m15 to be overly hot, while CoreTemp showed no individual core exceeded 70 degrees centigrade during my tests. The laptop’s dual cooling fans are exceedingly noisy however, especially when you set thermals to “Performance” mode using the Alienware Command Center software.
The Alienware m15 has two separate 512GB PCIe SSD, allowing it to read files at an outstanding rate. In the AS SSD benchmark, the sequential file read speed clocked in at 2,560MB/sec, easily outstripping its rivals. The sequential write speed was less impressive, coming in at 709MB/sec, however.
On-screen gaming performance is top notch, too, thanks to the discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU (with 8GB of DDR4 RAM) and the silky-smooth 144Hz display. It ran the demanding 1080p Metro: Last Light benchmark on high settings at an average of 110fps. As shown in the chart below this is on par with the Dell XPS 15 and Razer Blade 15.
And in the GFXBench Manhattan tests the m15’s performance was right up there with its rivals, cranking out an average of 127fps on-screen and 452fps off-screen. Point being, the Alienware m15 can handle any Triple-A game you throw at it and still maintain a high frame rate.
Gaming laptops are not known for their long battery life and, with a few exceptions, you won’t squeeze out more than a couple of hours worth of play-time before the power dies. In the Expert Reviews standardised battery test the Alienware m15 lasted 4hrs 21mins before running out of juice, which is a middling result compared to the competition. Bear in mind, though, that the laptop was set to ‘Quiet’ mode here and was only running a low-res video on a loop. When gaming you shouldn’t expect the m15 to last anywhere near that long.
It’s true that the Alienware m15 packs a heavy performance punch and it’s also a fact that this is one slim 15in gaming machine. But the Razer Blade 15, which is arguably more stylish and just as slim but £200 less? I’d say there’s simply no competition.
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Ryan Stevens Sunday, 03 February 2019 11:56 Comment Link
It's a brilliant bit of kit!