Tech review: Slimmed-down Alienware m15 just as capable

The 2019 version is getting a major performance boost, offering a new six-core Intel processor and can be configured with Nvidia's latest GeForce RTX 20 Series of graphics chips, including the flagship RTX 2080.
The 2019 version is getting a major performance boost, offering a new six-core Intel processor and can be configured with Nvidia's latest GeForce RTX 20 Series of graphics chips, including the flagship RTX 2080.PHOTO: DELL

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

This was around the time that I received my Alienware m15 review set - not the newer version, but the original m15 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, 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 that 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 on when it will launch in Singapore.

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. This matt screen is bright, has very good viewing angles and looks vibrant.

  • 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

    Ratings

    Features: 5/5

    Design: 3/5

    Performance: 4.5/5

    Value for money: 2/5

    Battery life: 1/5

    Overall: 4/5

But the 4K screen comes with a 60Hz refresh rate, making it not as suitable for gaming as the cheaper 1,920 x 1,080-pixel, 144Hz screen option. I would take the 144Hz screen over the 4K display any day.

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

Both the old and new m15 models have a similar design, one billed by Alienware as its thinnest-ever laptop. However, given that Alienware's gaming laptops have usually been chunky hulks of plastic, the bar is set rather low. In fact, the m15 is around 21mm thick, which is slim, but hardly groundbreaking 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 head logo (backlit) on the lid. Build quality is good, with nary a creak from its stiff 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 the m15 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 also becomes very noticeable, though it is not as loud or as annoying as the din from some other 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.

It performed very well in my gaming tests, scoring around 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, which houses a desktop graphics card (sold separately), via a proprietary port. Alternatively, a third-party external graphics enclosure like the Razer Core should also work with the m15 using the Thunderbolt 3 port.

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