Update (5/24/2019): We tested the Alienware m15 OLED model released in 2019. Does OLED make for a better gaming experience? Check out our review.
Alienware’s lineup of gaming laptops, while generally excellent, has always been thicker than many competing machines. But with the Alienware m15 ($1,379.99 / £1,599.00 to start, $3,759.99 as tested), that’s over. This is the company’s first truly thin gaming machine at 0.8 inches thick. And while it has a thinner design, it still gets strong performance with an overclocked Intel Core i7-8750H and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU. But that smaller design means a lot more heat. And while the overall design is sleek, its bezels are an unfortunate carryover from thicker times.
Alienware m15 (2018) Specifications
|Display||15.6-inch FHD (1920x1080) resolution, 60Hz refresh rate (144Hz optional)|
|CPU||Intel Core i9-8750H|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q (8GB GDDR5)|
|SSD||2x 1TB PCIe M.2 SSD|
|Networking||Killer 1550 802.11ac 2x2 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0 Ethernet jack|
|Video Ports||HDMI, Mini DisplayPort|
|USB Ports||3x USB 3.0 Type-AThunderbolt 3|
|Audio||2.0 Speaker configuration with subwooferHeadphone/mic jack|
|Battery||Optional 90Whr, 60 Whr standard|
|Power Adapter||180W (130W standard)|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||14.3 x 10.8 x 0.8 inches|
|Weight||5.2 pounds (2.4kg)|
|Other||Alienware Command Center|
|Price (as configured)||$3,759.99|
Not only is the m15 Alienware’s thinnest laptop ever, it’s also the most attractive. The m15 carries over the standard Alienware spaceship theme (including an RGB-lit alien logo on the lid), while adding a few curves to its otherwise angular design. The lid on our review unit came in silver with the spaceship motif. You can also get it in a brighter “Nebula Red.”
Under the lid, there’s less to brag about. The 15.6-inch display is surrounded by a shiny, black, plastic bezel that’s very thick on the top and bottom. The deck is made of a black soft-touch plastic that’s comfortable against the wrists and contrasts nicely with the RGB lighting below the keyboard and the alien-shaped power button.
Despite its thin profile, there are still a bunch of ports. On the left side area lives an Ethernet port, USB 3.0 Type-A and a headphone jack, while the right side houses another pair of USB 3.0 ports. In true Alienware fashion, there are more ports on the back (though they don’t jut out like on bigger, older models), including HDMI and mini DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3, the Alienware Graphics Amplifier port and the power jack.
Weighing in at 5.2 pounds (2.4kg) and measuring 14.3 x 10.8 x 0.8 inches, the m15 is a little bigger and heavier than some competitors, like the Razer Blade 15 (4.6 pounds, 14 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches) and MSI GS65 Stealth Thin (4.1 pounds, 14.1 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches). But the Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 is heavier (5.5 pounds, 10.3 x 5.3 0.7 inches). The Origin EVO 15-S is 5 pounds even (14.9 x 9.9 x 0.7 inches).
Gaming, Graphics and VR
With a GTX 1070 Max-Q (8GB), the m15 can run most games on high settings without an issue. When I played the Blackout battle royale mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, I cranked all of the settings as high as they could go at 1080p resolution, and the game ran between 90 and 110 frames per second (fps), except for the initial drop onto the map, which briefly dipped as low as 53 fps.
It ran Rise of the Tomb Raider (1920 x 1080, very high) at 49 fps, falling below the premium gaming average (62 fps), as well as the Zephyrus and the Blade (competitors that also use GTX 1070 Max-Q GPUs).
On Hitman (1920 x 1080, Ultra), it ran at 79 fps, below the premium gaming average (92 fps) and tying the GS65 Stealth Thin. The Blade and EVO15-S tied at 82 fps, and the Zephyrus reached 88 fps.
The m15 ran Grand Theft Auto V (1920 x 1080, Very High) at 66 fps, below the average (73 fps) but above both the GS65 and the EVO15-S. It tied the Blade, but the Zephyrus again outperformed the group at 70 fps.
With a SteamVR Performance Test score of 10.1, the m15 is VR-ready for an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. It outperformed the EVO15-S (9.3), GS65 Stealth Thin (9.4) and Razer Blade (an even 10), but it’s below the average (10.4) and the Zephyrus (10.9).
Beyond the regular benchmarks, we also ran a stress test with 10 runs of the Metro: Last Light benchmark that simulates roughly half an hour of gameplay. The game hit a steady state quickly and ran at an average of 59.1 fps across the 10 runs. After dropping from 60 fps, each following run was between 57 and 59 fps. According to HWInfo, the CPU ran at an average of 3.4GHz (it typically ran closer to 3.9GHz but suffered from some hiccups and drops below base clock before becoming steady again). The average CPU temperature was 84.7 degrees Celsius (184.5 degrees Fahrenheit).
The m15 rocks a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H CPU with 32GB of RAM and a pair of 1TB PCIe NVMe SSDs. That makes for a powerful workhorse that can breeze through simple workloads, like when I have multiple tabs open and a video playing in the background.
On Geekbench 4.1, the Alienware earned a score of 22,873, surpassing the premium gaming average (21,849) and the rest of the field (the Zephyrus came closest). Each laptop was running the same Core i7-8750H.
The m15 copied 4.97GB on our file transfer test in 5 seconds--a rate of 1017.9MBps. That’s far speedier than average, as well as the EVO15-S and Zephyrus.
Alienware’s machine took 1 minute and 3 seconds to pair 65,000 names and addresses, which is slower than the premium average (0:44) and every other competitor in the fray.
On our Handbrake video editing test, the m15 took 9 minutes and 51 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p. That’s a few seconds faster than the average (9:59) and faster than all of the competition except for the Zephyrus.
The 15.6-inch, 60Hz FHD display on our review unit of the Alienware m15 is colorful and bright, so it’s great for games and multimedia. When I watched the trailer for Captain Marvel, the blue Blockbuster Video sign popped against the night sky, and Carol Danvers’ suit was the perfect shade of Kree green. When I played Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, the skies were bright blue as I jumped out of a helicopter in Blackout mode, and I could see all of the detail in the buildings and foliage on the ground below.
The screen covers 150 percent of the sRGB color gamut, tying the GS65 Stealth Thin and surpassing the premium gaming average (132 percent). The rest of the field was dimmer than average.
Alienware’s panel measured an average 284 nits on our light meter, making it more luminous than average (278 nits) and just 2 nits dimmer than the Zephyrus. The Stealth Thin was the brightest at 293 nits.
Keyboard and Touchpad
There’s a big change here. Alienware has been a holdout with its traditional keyboard, but with the m15 it has finally changed over to the chiclet style that its parent company, Dell, uses on premium laptops like the XPS line.
Despite just 1.1 millimeters of travel, the m15’s keyboard is surprisingly tactile. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer something with more travel, but I can live with this. The keys have a clicky sensation and even made satisfying sounds as I typed. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I hit 117 words per minute, the high-end of my average, with my normal 2 percent error rate.
The 4.1 x 2.5-inch touchpad has also been radically redesigned. Alienware usually goes with physical buttons here, but the m15’s entire touchpad clicks. I much prefer this, as it provides more space to navigate. With Windows precision drivers, every single gesture I tried worked the first time.
The speakers on the Alienware m15 are more impressive than the average ultraportable but not as powerful as I’m used to on most machines from the company. That thin size means less room for speakers. When I listened to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” it easily filled a mid-sized conference room, and while the vocals and guitars were clear, the drums were slightly lost in the mix and the bass was difficult to discern. I changed the audio profile in Alienware Command Center to one specifically for music, but that didn’t provide any discernible benefit.
While playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, rock music in the background and crackling calls over radio comms came through with crisp sound that was just loud enough for me.
The m15 has a few more screws than most gaming notebooks, but with patience and a Phillips head #1, you can upgrade this machine pretty easily. You need to remove six screws from the bottom of the notebook (the three furthest from the vent only need to be loosened) and another two from the back of the laptop on either side of the ports. Then, the bottom pops right off. The RAM is easily accessible (our was dual-channel), but the PCIe M.2 SSDs require unscrewing two more screws in order to remove a copper heat spreader secured by two adhesive thermal pads.
If you get a version with a smaller battery, there’s room for a hard drive in there as well.
Talk about longevity. The Alienware m15 is one of the longest-lasting gaming laptops in its class at 6 hours and 25 minutes on our battery test. Our test browses the web, streams videos and runs OpenGL graphics tests all over Wi-Fi with the screen at 150 nits of brightness. That’s longer than the premium gaming average (3:37) as well as the Zephyrus, GS65 and Blade. However, our review unit was equipped with an optional 90Whr battery (a $50 upgrade), which gave it some extra endurance. Those with the standard 60Whr battery will see less time. If we get that model in, we’ll update this review with that time.
Like most gaming machines, the Alienware m15 heats up while you play. When I played Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, the bottom of the laptop by the vent hit 62 degrees Celsius (144 degrees Fahrenheit). That's hotter than most gaming notebooks that I’ve tested.
The touchpad reached 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit), and the center of the keyboard between the G and H keys hit 47 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit).
The m15’s 1920 x 1080 webcam is pretty solid. I took a picture in our lab--sans windows or any non-fluorescent light source--and everything came out clearly. I could see the blue in my eyes and individual hairs on my head, as well as some stitching on my sweater’s collar.
Software and Warranty
As usual, Alienware is judicial about the software it includes on its systems. Just about everything that it added is useful. Alienware Command Center is a catch-all program that lets you launch any game from your library and control RGB lighting with AlienFX. It also enables one-click overclocking, but that isn’t an option on the Intel Core i7-8750H CPU in our review unit.
Alienware Mobile Connect is basically the same as its parent company’s Dell Mobile Connect, which lets you sync your phone and get notifications and text messages. The Killer Control Center allows you to choose which programs get network priority.
Of course, not even Alienware’s understated approach can prevent the bloatware built into Windows 10, like two separate versions of Candy Crush, Royal Revolt 2: Tower Defense and Drawboard PDF.
Dell sells the Alienware m15 with a one-year warranty.
Our m15 was maxxed out with an Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU, 32GB of RAM, an FHD display with a 60Hz refresh rate and two 1TB SSDs. That will set you back $3,759.99. If you opt for the UHD display with these same specs, you’ll pay $3,949.
The $1,379.99 / £1,599.00 base model also has a Core i7 but boasts an overclocked GTX 1060, a 60Hz FHD display, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hybrid drive with an 8GB SSD cache.
There are models in between those extremes, including a $2,409.99 config with a GTX 1070 Max-Q, UHD display, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB HDD and 512GB SSD. If you’re looking for a high refresh screen, Alienware also offers an FHD display with a 144Hz refresh rate.
If I were buying one of these, I’d go with a 1080p display and less storage to keep the price down. The configurations in the U.S. and UK differ. So options, including our review unit, aren’t yet available across the pond.
Alienware’s first attempt at a thin-and-light gaming notebook is mostly a winner. It’s far less bulky than previous models. And with that thin redesign comes strong performance and long-lasting battery.
But the new design also brings a bit of heat. Those bezels are really big too. While the unit we reviewed will be prohibitively expensive for many, it’s more reasonable if you buy it without a pair of 1TB PCIe SSDs. In performance, only one competing system reliably defeated the m15: Asus’ ROG Zephyrus M GM501. That laptop can be bought for less than our Alienware configuration and also offers a sleek design. It doesn’t, however, come close to the m15 on battery life.
Those looking for a premium experience with enduring battery life, a vivid screen and a thin chassis who don’t mind dealing with a bit of heat should strongly consider the m15. Alienware has created a strong contender in a growing world of slim and powerful gaming laptops.
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