Alienware m15 R2 (2019) full review

It feels like only last year that Alienware totally revamped its m15 laptop design. Which is, uh, because it was. And yet here we are, not even 12 months later, with yet another design for the m15 and its big brother m17, this time taking design cues from the flagship Area-51m unveiled at CES.

Such a rapid redesign is sort of a tacit admission from Alienware that last year's models weren't too well received by fans, but we're not complaining: the new models look slick and science fictional, along with updated specs and cooling that should keep them competitive with some increasingly stiff competition. 

It was enough to win the laptop one of our Best of Computex awards - read on to find out why.

Price and availability

When Dell announced the m15 and m17 at Computex it said that the new laptops will be available from 11 June with prices starting from £1,349/$1,499.

That's close to the £1,399/$1,379 starting price of the previous m15, which is still on sale, but broadly in line.

Legendary looks

The big changes here are admittedly cosmetic, but that's underselling things slightly. January's Area-51m introduced the new Legend industrial design language to the company's products, and new m15 and m17 see that aesthetic jump from that mammoth laptop and down into these more portable form factors.

Last year's m15 was the company's first attempt at shrinking its form factors and adding some modern touches, but the sparse style and big bezels felt a bit like a halfway house, lagging behind more streamlined competition from day one.

The new models go a long way towards addressing that. The bezels are all but gone, with the nearly edge-to-edge display sitting up slightly from the main body thanks to a slick cut-out hinge. That lets it sit closer to the keyboard, and not quite at the back of the body: instead the rear ports stick out like a spaceship exhaust, in just one of the many nods to classic sci-fi aesthetics.

The aesthetic is still fairly minimal, with big blocks of solid black or white depending on your colour choice (or 'Dark Side of the Moon' and 'Lunar Light', to use the official names) and relatively subtle strips out RGB lighting around the exhaust, keyboard, and Alienware logos.

At around 20mm/0.8in thick it's not quite the slimmest gaming laptop around but it's getting close, and even the fully-specced out version caps out at 2.16kg/4.75lbs - heavy, but certainly not back-breaking. This is a laptop that you genuinely won't mind carting around with you, and the look is just about subtle enough that you probably won't mind taking it out at work or a coffee shop when you're not using it for actual gaming.

The keyboard's gotten a bit of love in all of this too. Despite the slimmed down body Alienware has actually managed to increase key travel to 1.7mm, while also making each keycap larger and introducing N-key rollover and per-key RGB lighting. The company has sort of been playing catch-up with the competition here, so none of these features are groundbreaking, but it's great to see them make it into the m15. Even the trackpad got a bit of attention, with a new glass design that's supposed to be more precise.

Solid specs

For all that attention it's paid to the outside of the design, Alienware naturally hasn't ignored the internals - though there's less here that stands out from the competition.

9th-gen Intel chips sit at the heart of things, ranging from a 4-core i5 up to an 8-core i9 that runs at up to 5GHz. Graphics options range from a GTX 1650 up to the RTX 2080 Max-Q, so you should be able to push performance pretty far. Dynamic overclocking and voltage regulators should also help you eke out extra power as you go.

Storage ranges from 256GB all the way up to 4TB with dual SSDs, so there's no need to run out of space, but RAM is surprisingly limited, with only the choice between 8GB and 16GB. 8GB frankly isn't enough, and given how OTT the rest of the specs go it's really suprising that there's isn't at least a 32GB config available - especially since there's a 32GB option for the petite XPS 13 2-in-1 that Dell announced at the same event.

Last year's m15 had similar potential performance, but the slim design seemed to cause some airflow problems, so it ran pretty hot. Things should be improved this time around though - there are bigger fans for both the CPU and GPU for a 20 percent increase in airflow. Obviously we'll need to test how well that holds up in real usage, but fingers crossed it should keep things a little cooler.

The biggest internal changes are probably in the display though. There are a few options available, but the two standout choices are a full HD panel with a 240Hz refresh rate for silky smoothness, or a 4K OLED at 60Hz if resolution and colour range are your priorities. Either of those top displays also comes with Tobii eye-tracking tech - a first for a 15in laptop apparently - giving you another way to control your games if you so desire.

Finally, there's the inevitably mammoth selection of ports. Three USB 3.1, one USB-C Thunderbolt 3, along with ethernet, audio, HDMI, and Alienware's proprietary Graphics Amplifier Port if you want to use the company's eGPU system to amp up the power even more.

Early verdict

Until we spend more time with the m15, we can't really judge how well it holds up - but on paper it has top specs for the form factor (except for that pesky RAM cap) and some seriously tempting display options. The only question mark is really how well the new cooling design manages the power on hand.

From the outside though, there's not much to complain about here. Those big ol' bezels are gone, the keyboard's stepped up, and the Legend design looks lush. This is exactly what an Alienware laptop should look like in 2019 - let's just hope it delivers on the promise.

Specs

Alienware m15 R2 (2019): Specs

  • Windows 10
  • 15.6-inch FHD LCD or 4K OLED display
  • Optional Tobii eye-tracking
  • 9th Generation Intel Core i5, i7 or i9 processor
  • Up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU
  • 8/16GB RAM
  • Up to 4TB storage
  • 3x USB-A 3.1
  • 1x USB-C 3.1 with Thunderbolt 3
  • 1x Mini-display 1.4 port
  • 1x HDMI
  • 1x audio out
  • 1x Global headset
  • 1x Alienware Graphics Amplifier port
  • 1x RJ-45 ethernet port
  • Full size, per-key RGB backlit keyboard
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • 360.5x276x20mm
  • 2.16kg