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Alienware m15 R2 Review: Spartan Spaceship

Our Verdict

The Alienware m15 R2 looks nice and offers strong performance, but the RAM is soldered down and the display could be a little brighter.

For

  • Clean aesthetic
  • Strong gaming performance
  • Comfortable keyboard

Against

  • RAM is soldered down
  • Display is dimmer than average

Alienware m15 R2 (
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware))

Yet another one of Alienware’s spaceships has landed, in the form of the Alienware m15 R2, a sleek update to its mainstream gaming laptop. It’s adopted the more refined design we first saw with the Alienware Area-51m, making for a sleek machine. Inside, our review unit packs an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q and Intel Core i7-9750H, making for a powerful rig, though its design doesn’t allow for much in the way of upgrades later on.

Design

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While I’ve generally enjoyed Alienware’s new “Legend” look, with rounded corners, colorful lighting and a cleaner aesthetic, it does, on a sleek laptop, still definitely skew towards gaming.

The lid, which we got in “lunar light” white, is covered in a soft-touch finish, with a light-up Alienware logo and “15” written in a large, military-lite style font in the lower-right corner. Like Alienware laptops of the past, the m15 R2 has a bit of a bump in the back to house ports and cooling. This specific bump has honeycomb designs over the vents and an oval light around the part that juts out.

When unfolded, the first thing I noted was that the bezels were thinner on this model than previous Alienwares, to a level I would call acceptable. The Tobii eye-tracking camera is below that, on the hinge. The deck of our model is white, with honeycomb vents along the top.

At 14.2 x 10.9 x 0.8 inches (360.5 x 276 x 20.1 mm) and 4.9 pounds, the m15 is fairly  normal sized for a 15-inch gaming notebook. The Razer Blade 15 is slightly smaller at 4.7 pounds and 14 x 9.3 x 0.8 inches and the Gigabyte Aero 15 X9 is 0.7 inches thick. The MSI GE65, at 14.1 x 9.8 x 1.1 inches, is heavier and 5 pounds.

The ports on the Alienware are spread across two sides and the back. On the left side are an Ethernet, USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A and a headphone jack. On the right side are another pair of USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports. HDMI, Thunderbolt 3, mini DisplayPort and the Alienware Graphics Amp.

Specifications

CPUIntel Core i7-9750H
GraphicsNvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q
Memory16GB DDR4 2,666 MHz
SSD2x 512GB M.2 PCIe-NVMe SSD in RAID0
Display15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 240Hz
NetworkingKiller Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 (2x2), Bluetooth 5.0
Video PortsHDMI 2.0, mini DisplayPort
Ports3x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A, Ethernet, Headphone/mic jack, Thunderbolt 3, Alienware Graphics Amplifier port
Camera720p, Tobii Eye Tracking
Battery76 WHr
Power Adapter240 W
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home
Dimensions (WxDxH)14.2 x 10.9 x 0.8 inches (360.5 x 276 x 20.1 mm)
Weight4.9 pounds / 2.2 kg
Price (as configured)$3,129.99 (Storage and display options not available in the UK)

Gaming, Graphics and VR

Alienware put an RTX 2080 Max-Q in our review unit, making it capable of playing most games on the highest settings. I played the graphically demanding title Control on high presets with high ray tracing settings. It ran between 40 and 42 fps while exploring, dropping to around 32 fps during combat. At one point, it dropped to 24 fps before rising back up, so lower settings may be a good idea for the highest ray tracing effects.

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On the Shadow of the Tomb Raider (FHD, very high) benchmark, the Alienware ran at 64 fps, one frame lower than the premium gaming average and the Raider (RTX 2070) and below the Blade (69 fps, RTX 2080). It was faster, though, than the Aero 15X (RTX 2070 Max-Q).

On Middle-earth: Shadow of War (FHD, ultra), the m15 ran the benchmark at a flat 100 fps, beating the average (95 fps) and the Blade (84 fps). The Raider came out a frame ahead.

The Alienware m15 ran the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark (FHD, very high) at 74 fps, beating the average and the Aero, but falling just a few frames behind the Blade and the Raider.

The Alienware m15 earned a perfect score of 11 on the SteamVR performance test, as did the rest of the field, with the exception of the Aero 15X (10.8).

To truly stress test the laptop, I ran the Metro Exodus benchmark 15 times on the RTX preset, simulating roughly half an hour of play. The game ran at an average of 51.1 fps across the runs, staying fairly consistent throughout.

During the stress test, the CPU ran at an average speed of 3.5 GHz and an average temperature of 94.5 degrees Celsius (202.1 degrees Fahrenheit). The GPU’s average clock speed was 1349.2 GHz, with a temperature of 71.7 degrees Celsius.

Productivity Performance

Armed with an Intel Core i7-9750H, 16GB of RAM and a pair of 512GB PCIe NVMe SSDs in RAID0, the Alienware is no pushover when it comes to productivity tests.

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On Geekbench 4.1, the m15 earned a score of 22,589, which is higher than the premium gaming laptop average (24,460) as well as the Blade (Core i7-9750H) and the Aero (Core i9-8950HK), but lower than the Raider (Core i9-9980H, 29,220).

It took the Alienware laptop 6 seconds to copy 4.97GB of files, a rate of 848.2 MBps.That’s identical to the Raider and faster than the average of 780 MBps.

On our Handbrake video editing test, the laptop transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 12 minutes and 10 seconds, beating only the Aero 15X (12:47). The average was 9:25, and only the Blade beat it.

Display

The 15.6-inch, FHD display on the Alienware m15 R2 offers vivid colors, and while it’s not the brightest gaming laptop around, it bested the field. When I watched the trailer for murdery mystery Knives Out, a red suit was vivid in the otherwise brown house, and some faces lit by birthday candles were sharp and glowing. But I did wish it were just a smidge brighter. Red was also the color that stood out when i played Control, shining down otherwise spartan hallways.

The display covers 149% of the sRGB color gamut, which is higher than the premium gaming average (148%) but lower than the Raider (152%) and the Aero (187%).

Alienware’s panel measured an average 285 nits of brightness, below the average (318 percent) but higher than the rest of the competition.

Keyboard and Touchpad

With 1.4 mm of travel, the Alienware’s keyboard is clicky and comfortable. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 117 wpm, which is on my high end, with my usual 2 percent error rate.

The 4.1 x 2.3-inch touchpad uses Windows Precision drivers. But at 4.1 x 2.3-inches, it’s only just big enough to comfortably navigate Windows (for gaming, however, you should be using a separate mouse anyway).

Audio

The m15’s speakers are about as solid as I tend to expect from a thin laptop. I listened to Good Charlotte’s “The Anthem,” and the vocals were clear, the guitars were loud and the drums and cymbals were snappy. The song filled the large conference room I was in. The only downside was that it was almost impossible to make out the bass.

When I played Control, character dialog was clear, and gunshots were loud, but without much of a thud. You can make some changes to audio presets in Alienware Command Center, though I didn’t find them to make huge differences.

Upgradeability

There are eight Phillips head screws on the bottom of the Alienware m15 R2. The two closest to the rear are meant to be removed, while the other six are to be loosened. Worryingly, one of the captive screws that isn’t supposed to come out did fully pop out without much effort; There was no washer on the underside to hold it in.

With a plastic scribe, the base cover came right off. The PCIe NVMe SSD slots were immediately accessible, albeit under copper heatsinks. Both of ours were full, but if you got a unit with less storage, it wouldn’t be hard to add more.

Most of the rest of the system is covered in a thin shielding, including the RAM which is unfortunately soldered down.

Battery Life

The Alienware m15 R2 did surprisingly decent on our battery test -- for a gaming laptop, anyway. The test, which browses the web over Wi-Fi, streams videos and runs OpenGL tests (all at 150 nits of brightness) ran until the Alienware conked out at 4 hours and 54 minutes. The premium gaming average is 3:23, and the rest of the field was slightly higher than the average.

Heat

During our Metro Exodus stress test, we also took some skin temperature readings on our Flir camera. The center of the keyboard between the G and H keys measured 47 degrees Celsius (116.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and the touchpad reached 31.5 degrees Celsius (88.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The hottest point on the bottom of the laptop measured 56.8 degrees Celsius (a toasty 134.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

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Webcam

The 720p camera on the m15 R2 is serviceable, but not excellent. In a picture I took at my desk, I found that while the color of my bright red shirt was accurate, it didn’t catch detail in my beard or my hair. Some fluorescent office lighting blew out the photo more than other cameras have suffered from it.

Software and Warranty

Alienware and its parent company, Dell, don’t tend to overload systems with junk. Most of the pre-installed software is useful, including Alienware Command Center for system monitoring, controlling RGB lighting and overclocking on supported models. Alienware Mobile Connect is used to make calls and send texts from smartphones, and SupportAssist is all about getting tech support and running hardware scans.

Of course, Windows 10 still packs in some junk, including Netflix, Hulu, Candy Crush Friends, Bubble Witch 3 Saga and Spotify.

The Alienware m15 R2 comes with a one-year warranty.

Configurations

Our review unit cost $3,129.99 with an Intel Core i7-9750H CPU, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q, 16GB of RAM, two 512GB PCIe SSDs in RAID0 and a white “lunar light” chassis.

The starting configuration is $1,399.99 has a Core i5-9300H, GTX 1660 Ti, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD and a black “dark side of the moon” chassis.

The top-end model will hit your wallet to the tune of $4,409.99, with a Core i9-9980HK, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q, an OLED display, 16GB of RAM, a white chassis and 4TB of storage (two 2TB PCIe M.2 SSDs in RAID0).

Bottom Line

The Alienware m15 R2 is a gaming laptop that looks mature but is powerful enough for some serious play. Its RTX 2080 Max-Q puts up strong numbers, and the comfortable keyboard is good for some productivity.

Unfortunately, the RAM is soldered down, making only the storage upgradeable. The display was brighter than competitors, but dimmer than the average. The Razer Blade 15 Advanced model has upgradeable RAM, as does the MSI GE65 Raider.

The Raider makes for the most likely alternative of the group, except that it maxes out at an RTX 2070 Max-Q, rather than the RTX 2080. If you want that 2080 and the sleek design, the Alienware is a strong laptop that will turn heads and play games well on the road.

Photo Credits: Tom's Hardware

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  • apichai879
    Very good
    Reply
  • TEAMSWITCHER
    .8 inches is thin ... but ... 5.2 pounds is not light. How much does the absolutely required power supply weigh? I want to know the REAL travel weight.
    Reply
  • John Kleitz
    If it's running hot under normal use, like games that it should be designed for, then it's useless.
    Reply
  • mobilnor
    I like this laptop it seems very complete, I have a question the temperatures are higher than the competition, Asus, Razer Blade and Msi
    Reply
  • Daninmo
    Have a previous Alienware m15. (9750, 1660ti, 16gb, 256gb m.2 & 1tb HD) Using it as a portable workstation with now 32gb ram, 2tb m.2 & 4tb Samsung SSD. Dual-boot with Linux Mint 19.2. Seems like end of line for m15 for me. Could live with dual m.2 but not 16gb of ram. Seems too much emphasis on thin and locked down hardware. I know I saved thousands upgrading on my own. I don't game seriously. At 60 years old I've been a modding computers since my Atari 800 but the last m15 was an excellent combination of power, size and battery life for me. The ease of upgrade will be missed.
    Reply
  • thoddiver
    Hi, was a bit confused. The title shows it having a RTX 2060 at around $1k, but the review model is the $1700 one. On Amazon it shows the price and link with the older GTX 1060. Was this just a sale that happened and I missed it?
    Reply