Alienware’s finally ditched the bulky designs of its older laptop models in favour of something as stylish as it is powerful. Housing some of the best tech you can currently get under the hood, the m15 and m17 range of laptops can handle anything and everything — whether that’s recent titles like Doom Eternal and Resident Evil 3 or an old favourite like The Witcher 3. It’s not all perfect, of course, but Alienware’s come some way in laying the groundwork for a fantastic set of gaming laptops.
Sporting the futuristic look the brand’s known for without the bloat and overwhelming size, Alienware’s finally delivered a design that won’t immediately yell ‘gaming laptop’ in a uni classroom or coffee shop. It’s not as stealthy as something like a Razer Blade or MSI GS65, but it’s certainly an upgrade from the hulking size and RGB-laiden Alienware laptops from yesteryear.
What matters most isn’t the looks in this range of tech, of course. And I’m pleased to report that the Alienware m15 — the unit I’ve had for the last few weeks — delivers brilliant gaming performance across a multitude of genres and titles. My model, while a little older compared to the upcoming suite of new gaming laptops, was kitted out with an RTX 2080 Max-Q (a graphics card specifically designed for thin and light gaming laptops, which axes quite a bit of a traditional 2080’s power in the process), a 240hz 15.6” IPS 1080p display, 16GB of DDR4 RAM running at 2666mhz and a 9th generation Intel i7-9750H processor. Impressive specs by any stretch, which also drives the price of this particular model up to around $4,500+ AUD at the time of writing, depending on where you can get it.
What you get from something like this, though, is a truly fantastic portable piece of kit. Being able to take the m15 around my two-storey townhouse and play on the dining table, on the TV, or even at a mate’s place (if we weren’t in such a dire circumstance right now) opens up a range of possibilities for multiplayer gaming and, of course, single-player play too. Further to this, games like Rocket League and Left 4 Dead 2 ran incredibly smooth, putting that 240hz screen to proper use. More demanding titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Doom Eternal were less inclined to take full advantage of the display’s capabilities, but regularly tapped into triple-digit framerates without a sweat — a massive win for anyone used to playing at 60fps.
The display itself, while falling into the same caveats as most IPS displays with a bit of IPS glow and some ghosting, was also great to play on. The colours were vibrant, the contrast was great after some fiddling around in-game and I found the 7ms response time paired with the 240hz refresh rate to feel generally fine to game on. Coming from a 4k60hz BenQ monitor paired with my current tower, the change from a 4ms to 7ms response time wasn’t as noticeable as I expected.
Playing a game like Doom or Modern Warfare on the laptop’s trackpad was never an option, of course, and it’s important to note I was also sent out a few Alienware peripherals to pair up with the m15 to fully kit out my setup. The two headsets the local team sent out, the AW988 and the 510H, worked great. I particularly liked the dynamic sound you’d get out of the latter, making games like Doom especially immersive across all facets of gameplay.
As well as this, the wired Elite Mouse complimented the laptop well. It felt great in the hand and had a nice weight to it (which can also be adjusted). While basic when compared to some other flagship mice on the market, I found the simplicity complimented the design nicely. The macro buttons on the left-hand side of the mouse allowed me to perform quick actions in games like Doom and Modern Warfare, with a variety of DPI options on offer to fully cater to my play style.
General productivity tasks thrived on the m15, too. The laptop’s trackpad was very responsive, making for a seamless experience browsing the web, organising files and navigating through documents. The keyboard was also fantastic, sporting tactical feedback with responsive actuation. The keyboard’s equipped with fully customizable per-key backlighting, of course, allowing me to program specific profiles depending on what I was playing.
The only major issue that I had with the laptop — which will come with any gaming laptop — was the battery life. It was an expectation that gaming while on battery power would drain the laptop in under an hour, and that expectation was met. I did, however, expect more than 2-3 hours of battery life while doing the aforementioned productivity tasks. Even at 50% brightness and scaling the display’s refresh rate to 60hz, battery life was, for the most part, quite poor when compared to other gaming laptops on the market.
As well as this, the 512GB SSD struggles given the sheer size of games these days. Installing Red Dead Redemption 2, Forza Horizon 4 and Call of Duty Modern Warfare effectively filled the entire drive. Luckily enough you can upgrade the SSD if you’re a little tech savvy, and I’d certainly recommend at least moving up to 1TB if you intend on using this laptop as your main driver for games and productivity.
It should come as no surprise to know the m15 makes a bit of noise during performance-heavy tasks, such as gaming or rendering videos. Like most gaming laptops, it’s advised to always have a lapboard or chill mat hooked up as the internals do get quite hot — with the CPU regularly hitting 80 degrees during any session of a AAA title. The surface temperature never reflects the internal temps, but the keyboard and general frame become quite warm to the touch.
In saying that, I was impressed at the general noise levels from the fans given I’m used to the high-pitched, loud buzzing emanating from my older MSI GS65 Stealth laptop. The fan noise was a lot more subdued with the m15 even during the most intensive levels of Doom Eternal, and generally stayed a lot quieter than most gaming laptops I’ve spent a decent amount of time with.
With a piece of kit like this, I found it hard not to be genuinely impressed with how well it performed during my testing. I played through a bunch of titles over the few weeks I had it and it never really let me down. Further, it’s mighty impressive to deal somewhat comparable results with what I’d regularly get out of my tower — which is equipped with an RTX 2080, 32GB of DDR4 ram and an i7-8700k. While it’ll never fully hold a candle to that machine, it was refreshing to be able to take my games with me anywhere I went, even if it meant a bit of quick setup with the hulking charging brick and peripherals.
The m15 feels like such a refreshing change for Alienware. Gone are the days of hulking machines and in comes a design that’s as eye-catching as it is powerful. It’s an expensive investment, no doubt, but that’s to be expected with the internals and the portability of the machine. It’s one of the best gaming laptops out there right now, and with work at home setups becoming a norm this year I can’t see it being a bad purchase for both office and gaming use for the foreseeable future, or a purchase for those wanting to jump into PC gaming on a portable level. With the next set of gaming laptops with updated CPUs and GPUs bound for release soon, you may even be able to pick it up at a bargain price.
The Alienware m15 is a brilliant gaming laptop. It’s sturdy, well designed and, most importantly, can play whatever you throw at it without really breaking a sweat. Whether you’re looking for a new gaming computer or a do-it-all setup, if you can get around the high price tag, it’s hard not to recommend.