Alienware m15 full review
With very few exceptions, gaming laptops are big, bulky, and blocky, tipped firmly towards one end of the power/portability scale. To be frank, so is the Alienware m15. But it’s at least a little less so, shaving off some of the size and a surprisingly impressive amount of mass for a gaming laptop that’s lighter, if not quite lightweight.
There’s still plenty of power - though it’s missing some of the very top tier CPU and GPU options of its bulkier siblings - but this is very much the Alienware laptop to look at if you’re actually planning to carry it, well, anywhere.
Price and availability
The m15 is available right now, with prices currently starting from £1,399/$1,379. That starting price gets you an i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a GTX 1660 Ti graphics card, along with a 1TB hybrid drive, with 8GB SSHD storage.
There’s plenty of scope for upgrades too, and fully kitted out the m15 can set you back as much as £2,734/$3,879 - though the top spec models vary between the US and UK, which explains that big gap in max prices. That’s not counting any warranty, software, or peripheral add-ons either.
It's worth noting that Alienware has since introduced the m15 R2 - sometimes known as the New m15 or the m15 2019 - which has an entirely new design and different spec options available, though naturally tends to cost a little more.
In terms of other manufacturers, the closest comparison is probably the similarly sized Razer Blade 15, though that starts from a steeper £1,699/$1,899. There’s also the slightly thicker Gigabyte Aero 15X v8, but again, that costs more at £1,999/$1,999, or the Asus ROG Strix Scar II, which is also slightly thicker but tends to run a bit cheaper than the Alienware at similar specs.
Either way, Dell has priced this model competitively - it’s not cheap by any means, but if you want a light(ish) gaming laptop this might be one of the most cost-effective ways to do it, which isn't something you can often say about Alienware.
Float like a feather
So just how light is it? The base weight (it will vary a bit by specs) is 2.16kg (4.78lbs). By comparison, the regular Alienware 15 weighs in at 3.49kg, so more than a third of that weight has been shaved off. This is actually even lighter than the Alienware 13, which is 2.6kg, which is a testament to just how much more comfortable this thing is to carry round.
The m15 is also smaller across the board, measuring 363x275x17.9mm, compared to its bigger brother at 389x305x25.4mm. The difference in height is especially noticeable, and probably where most of the weight loss comes from, but reduced screen bezels and a redesigned heating system make the whole laptop feel substantially more streamlined.
There’s still a lot of bezel below and especially above the screen, which is a shame compared to the likes of the Razer equivalent, but the sides aren’t far off edge-to-edge now. Speaking of the display, it’s 1080p by default, but if you’re in the US there’s an optional upgrade to 4K, though no sign of that option in the UK.
During our testing the 1080p screen seemed about what you’d expect from a device like this. It’s not as bright as the screens on some of the more portable ultrabooks, but the colour range is good and viewing angles are more than good enough for a gaming device.
Otherwise, the design cues are familiar from Alienware’s recent models - a soft-touch internal finish, and matt exterior - in your choice of silver or red. For some reason this is also tied to the display’s refresh rate - the silver model gets 60Hz, while the red one is 144Hz.
The lid is trisected by inlaid lines, and dominated by the familiar alien head - complete with glowing AlienFX lighting effects, of course. They extend to the keyboard, and the smaller alien head power button, though, you no longer get lights along the edge of the lid itself.
None of it’s subtle, but gaming laptops rarely are, and (along with Razer) Alienware is still one of the companies with the keenest design sense in the sector. Even as someone who normally hates glowing keyboards and transparent PC cases, it’s hard not to admit that there’s something very cool about how the m15 looks.
It doesn’t skimp on ports either. There’s ethernet, a headphone jack, three USB-A 3.1 ports, Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, Mini-Display Port, a Noble Lock port, and Alienware’s proprietary Graphics Amplifier port - in case you want to connect an external GPU to amp things up ever further. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 come as standard, but if you pay a little more you can jump up to Bluetooth 5.0, which is a little faster and more reliable.
The keyboard stretches across the full body, including a numpad and a few macro keys, and it feels phenomenal to type on - Dell remains the company to beat when it comes to laptop keyboards. Obviously if you’re used to a full-size mechanical it won’t feel the same, but there’s enough travel and clickiness here to be the next best thing.
The off-centre numpad (well, centred to the space bar, but not the whole body) is big and responsive, but let’s be honest - you’ll want a mouse for gaming. Buy a mouse.
It’d still be a stretch to call the m15 portable, but I’ve carried it around in a backpack a few times without feeling like I was going to do my back in, which is honestly a result when it comes to 15in gaming laptops. This can be a desktop replacement, but it really doesn’t have to be, and you won’t resent carrying it round (too much).
Sting like a bee
That portability has to mean a loss of performance, right? Well, not really - unless you’re looking for absolutely top of the line specs.
Every model of the m15 comes with an 8th-gen Intel Core i7-8750H processor, which should hopefully handle most things you throw at it - though there are no other options here, unlike some of the other Alienware laptops which can go down to an i5 or up to an i9.
For graphics you choose between a GTX 1060 (6GB) or a GTX 1070 Max-Q (8GB), while RAM ranges from 8GB DDR4 all the way up to 32GB. Storage options vary, but cap out with a pair of 1TB SSDs (though they don’t come cheap).
Our review model is pretty much top spec, with 32GB of RAM and a GTX 1070. Unsurprisingly, it picked up top scores on most of our benchmarks, including running Total War: Warhammer 2 on Ultra with an average of 66fps, and a slightly lower 45fps average on Ghost Recon: Wildlands.
That’s pretty much exactly in line with the results we saw from a very similarly specced Razer Blade 15, though the Alienware actually outperformed it on our artificial benchmark tests.
Whatever way you look at it, this thing is capable of some serious performance, and you won’t find anything much more powerful in a 15.6in laptop - and certainly not one this size. Yeah, you can’t get a 1080 or an i9, but that’s the price you pay for this sort of form factor (and besides, most of us really don’t need them anyway).
As you’d expect, all that power does take a serious toll on battery life though. The m15 lasted just over five hours in our continuous video playback test, and that’s roughly how long we’ve been able to use it for basic word processing or internet browsing when it isn’t plugged in. That’s bad for a laptop, but actually pretty good for something this powerful.
You won’t want to get caught without your charger, but at least it won’t be the end of the world if you are. There’s also the option for a fairly cheap upgrade from a 60WHr battery to a larger 90WHr one, which will probably be worth it if you expect to try and use this for non-gaming stuff on the go - not least because the power brick alone is heavy enough that you might not always want to carry it around with you.
One quick caveat: the big downside of form factors like this is always the heat. And yeah, this thing runs hot, and loud. There are fan exhausts dotted all around the body, which should give it away, but even playing Total War: Warhammer 2 on Medium was enough to see the fans crank up and the body get hot to the touch.
I’m not too worried about longevity here, but it’s worth noting that if you’re playing on any serious settings you will have to get used to a toasty keyboard.
If you don't mind paying for portability, the Alienware m15 is one of the best light(er) gaming laptops around right now. The slimmer, lighter design hasn't brought any serious compromises on power or performance, and even battery life is surprisingly strong.
It's not cheap, but then no gaming laptop is - especially in a slim form factor. The only real downsides here are the outsized top bezel - which rival manufacturers have managed to avoid - and the fact that it runs hot - which other manufacturers haven't really been able to avoid either.
Still, since the new m15 R2 has mostly fixed those two problems, if you can afford to spend a little more you might be better off going for later model.
Alienware m15: Specs
- 15.6in (1920 x 1080) Full HD IPS, 60Hz or 144Hz
- Intel Core i7-8750H (4.1GHz Turbo Boost) 6 cores, 12 threads
- Windows 10 Home or Pro 64-bit
- Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU with 4GB RAM or GTX 1070 Max-Q with 8GB
- Up to 32GB 2666MHz DDR4 RAM
- Up to 1TB+1TB SSD or HDD storage
- 802.11ac 2x2 MU-MIMO WiFi
- Bluetooth 4.2 or 5.0
- 1x Thunderbolt 3
- 3x USB-A 3.1
- HDMI 2.0
- Ethernet RJ45
- Mini DisplayPort 1.3
- Alienware Graphics Amplifier port
- Noble lock slot
- Stereo speakers
- FHD webcam
- Array mic
- 3.5mm combo jack
- AlienFX RGB keyboard
- Two-button trackpad
- 363 x 275 x 17.9 mm