Gaming

Alienware m15 set for major upgrade

Dell announced new hardware upgrades for its 15-inch Alienware m15 gaming laptop last week at the CES trade show in Las Vegas.

This was around the time that I received my m15 review set - not the newer version, but the one launched here at the end of last year.

Understandably, the announcement casts my review set in a different light. After all, the 2019 version is getting a major performance boost. For one thing, it offers a new six-core Intel processor. But more importantly, it can be configured with Nvidia's latest GeForce RTX 20 Series of graphics chips, including the flagship RTX 2080 model.

There is also a new display option for a 4K screen that supports high-dynamic-range games and videos.

In comparison, the m15 I tested is powered by an older Intel chip and Nvidia's last-generation GeForce GTX 1070 (Max-Q) graphics chip.

Dell says the new m15 will be available in the United States at the end of the month, though there is no indication when it will launch here.

But while no longer the shiny new toy, the current m15 is far from shabby - its graphics hardware is on a par with other gaming laptops.

My review set has been souped up with the highest-end options, including a 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) display. The matte screen is bright, has very good viewing angles and looks vibrant. But it comes with a 60Hz refresh rate, making it less suitable for gaming than the cheaper 1,920 x 1,080-pixel, 144Hz screen option. I would take that over the 4K display any day.

  • SPECS

  • PRICE: $5,564

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i7-8750H (2.2GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with Max-Q design 8GB GDDR5

    RAM: 32GB DDR4

    SCREEN SIZE: 15.6 inches, 3,840 x 2,160 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: Thunderbolt 3, 3 x USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0, mini-DisplayPort, Alienware Graphics Amplifier port, Ethernet port, audio jack

    BATTERY: 60 watt-hour


    RATING

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4.5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 1/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Surrounding the display are relatively thin bezels at the sides, but the top and bottom ones remainthick.

Both the old and new m15 have a similar design, one billed by Alienware as its thinnest laptop. However, given that its gaming laptops have usually been chunky, the bar is set rather low. The m15 is 21mm thick - slim, but hardly ground-breaking for a gaming laptop. It is also not the lightest at 2.16kg.

It is still recognisably an Alienware gaming laptop, with its sharp angles and exhaust vents. It is also hard to miss the trademark alien logo on the lid. Build quality is good, with nary a creak from its chassis.

It has a clicky and tactile keyboard, while the palm rest has a soft-touch finish that feels smooth. But I was disappointed that it does not have per-key RGB backlighting, a feature available on even mid-range gaming laptops nowadays. Instead, the keyboard has six lighting zones, customisable via the Alienware Command Center app.

The keyboard gets fairly warm while the laptop is running at full throttle. The noise from the cooling fan becomes noticeable, though not as loud or annoying as the din from some gaming laptops. But the area above the keyboard becomes too warm to touch for more than a few seconds - I would not recommend placing the laptop on your lap.

The m15 performed very well in gaming tests, scoring 93 frames per second (fps) in Crysis 3 at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels with graphical settings at maximum. In Doom (2016), the m15 managed 117fps.

If you need more graphical horsepower, the m15, like recent Alienware laptops, can connect to the Alienware Graphics Amplifier, an external graphics enclosure that houses a desktop graphics card (sold separately) via a proprietary port. Alternatively, a third-party external graphics enclosure such as the Razer Core should also work using the Thunderbolt 3 port.

• Verdict: While it is expensive and not as thin as its rivals, the m15 does perform to expectations. But as it is due for a hardware refresh in the next month or two, it is probably best to adopt a wait-and-see approach.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2019, with the headline 'Alienware m15 set for major upgrade'. Print Edition | Subscribe