The M15 gaming notebook is the new face of Alienware
Alienware has always been a particularly rarefied brand of gaming laptop. Located somewhere in the stratosphere when it comes to pricing, the brand has consistently boasted top-of-the-line specs and a high-end design.
That said, the old m15 has been wanting a design refresh for a while now, and it’s finally getting it. Back at CES 2019, Alienware unveiled its new Legend industrial design language, which rolled out to the m15 last May. The m15 R2 is Alienware’s sleekest gaming notebook yet, and I really enjoy how it manages to look both contemporary and futuristic at the same time.
Here’s an overview of its specifications:
- Intel Core i7-9750H (2.60GHz, 12MB L3 cache)
- 15.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080-pixel 144Hz display with Tobii Eye Tracking
- 16GB DDR4-2666 dual-channel RAM
- NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q
- 512GB PCIe M.2 SSD
- 360.5 x 276 x 20.5mm
- 76Wh battery
The laptop doesn’t come cheap though – it costs S$4,498, which is considerably more expensive than many similarly configured gaming notebooks on the market. But this is Alienware we’re talking about here, so you’re really paying for the brand and street cred.
The new Legend design language is a big step in the right direction for Alienware, and it does a lot to give the m15 a unique look that no other laptop has.
I particularly like how the sharp, angular lines on the old m15 have been dropped in favour of softer and more modern curves. The lid is also a nearly uninterrupted slab, which is particularly stunning on the white Lunar Light model. The previous m15 resembled the outer hull of some sort of space ship, and while that was kind of cool, I much prefer the cleaner look of the m15 R2. An illuminated alien head sits near the top, and a futuristic number 15 is etched in the bottom right corner.
The other colour available is Dark Side of the Moon, which is of course, black. Together with Lunar Light, Alienware is clearly sticking to its outer space theme here, and it’s a naming convention that really works for its gaming laptops.
One distinctive design element of the Legend aesthetic is the rounded, elongated bar. This bar runs down the front of Alienware’s Aurora gaming desktop, and it’s found along the back of the m15. It actually houses the hexagonal mesh vent through which hot air leaves the laptop, and it’s a key part of the laptop’s look.
This bar is ringed by LEDs too, which can be customised in the Alienware Command Center. The AlienFX lighting system covers this bar, the alien head on the lid, the power button, and the keyboard, so there’s a lot to play with here.
My review unit comes with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel 144Hz display with a peak brightness of 300 nits. It’s brighter than the screen on most other gaming laptops, and colours appear vivid and punchy without any obvious skew toward either the warmer or cooler end of the spectrum. It’s a good display, one that’s framed with thankfully slim bezels. This still isn’t quite the edge-to-edge display you see on laptops like the Gigabyte Aero 15, but they’re slim enough that you won’t find them much of an eyesore.
The display sports fairly slim bezels for a more compact form factor.
The Alienware m15 does come with one feature you won’t find on most other laptops though, and that’s support for Tobii eye tracking. This sounds like something that’s possibly a gimmick, but it’s actually fairly cool in practice. For starters, the calibration process has you look at dots on the screen until they pop, and it feels pretty impressive and accurate.
Once you’ve got Tobii set up, you can do nifty things with it like turn the screen on simply by looking at it. Your computer will also notice when you’re not around and automatically dim the screen to save battery. You can even use it to switch applications when you hold down Alt + Tab, and the system will switch to whichever application you’re looking at in the grid.
There are more gaming-specific capabilities too. Tobii can tell you which areas of the screen you’re looking at, and you can use this information to see if you’re focusing too much on one area or neglecting another, which could help improve your gameplay. Streamers can take advantage of Tobii as well as it can show viewers what they’re looking at. It may not be particularly useful or life-changing, but it’s a pretty interesting feature nevertheless.
Elsewhere, Alienware has upgraded the keyboard on the m15 R2. The keys now sport a slight concave design, which make them that bit more comfortable to use. In addition, key travel distance is now further at 1.7mm, compared to 1.4mm from before. I can’t really say that the extra 0.3mm makes a huge difference, but I found the keyboard overall rather pleasant to type on.
Of course, there’s per-key RGB customisations available as well, so you can go to town tweaking the lighting effects to suit you.
The precision glass trackpad is excellent too. It isn’t quite as large as I’d like it to be, but it’s really more than sufficient, complete with integrated buttons that click satisfyingly.
The two bottom-firing speakers are fairly loud and clear, for a gaming laptop that is, but they’re unsurprisingly lacking at the low end. They’re perfectly serviceable for games and movies, but you’ll still want to put on a headset if you really want to feel the kick of bass and explosions.
The Alienware m15 has quite a few connectors at the rear, including the Alienware Graphics Amplifier, Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0b, and Mini DisplayPort 1.4 output. The port placement is pretty thoughtful since these are the exact ones you’ll use when docking the laptop. Putting them on the back makes cable management slightly tidier, especially if you intend to continue to use the laptop’s display as a secondary screen.
How fast is it in games?
The gaming numbers are more or less what you’d expect from a GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q notebook. This means you’ll have no trouble running all the latest games at 1080p, although you won’t always be able to maximise the 144Hz refresh rate in the more demanding titles.
Powerful and stylish
The Alienware m15 R2 is one of the better-looking gaming laptops around today. If you found something like the Razer Blade 15 or Aftershock Vapor 15 Pro too plain, the m15 R2 may be right up your alley. Its design is both tasteful and futuristic, helping it stand out from the crowd in a big way. Build quality is absolutely stellar too, and it truly feels like a premium product in hand.
But design aside, the laptop kind of fades into the background when compared to the competition. Gaming performance is good, but it’s not significantly better than what other similarly configured notebooks offer. Furthermore, its thermal design isn’t the best either and it could use some improvement when it comes to noise and heat.
One unique feature is the support for Tobii eye-tracking, but this really isn’t much of a game-changer in the overall scheme of things. It’s cool and nice to have, but it doesn’t quite make up for Alienware not really taking care of more fundamental issues such as cooling and battery life. I’m not saying that the m15 R2 does terribly in these areas. The problem is that the competition does it better, and for a lower price too.
At S$4,498, this is the most expensive GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q laptop I’ve reviewed so far (by a considerable degree) and it seems like the Tobii eye-tracking tech commands quite a premium. That’s unfortunate since Tobii really doesn’t offer enough core functionality to justify the higher price. While I totally understand that the level of integration does justify the premium, it’s just that the applicability isn’t as extensive for you to appreciate it all the time. Let’s not forget that the fans can get fairly noisy too.
The Alienware m15 R2 feels like a luxury machine, and it’s priced accordingly. If price is no object for you, I think you’ll be very happy with Alienware’s unique look and build. But if you’re looking to get a more well-rounded laptop for your money, this isn’t quite it.