(Pocket-lint) - The Alienware m15 R2 has been revamped and built "from the ground up" with a new design and form based on the Legend format. This new ethos sees the stylish and snazzy m15 being crafted from a lightweight magnesium alloy to shed weight and size.
Alienware says this m15 and the Alienware m17 are the thinnest and smallest gaming notebooks the company has ever made, but they certainly don't lack presence.
The Alienware m15 R2 is a striking gaming laptop both outwardly and in terms of internal spec. It's certainly a head-turner, but is it all style over substance?
A refreshed lightweight design
- 9th Gen Intel Core i processors, from Core i5 to Core i9-9980HK, with 8/16GB DDR4 2666Mhz RAM
- Nvidia Geforce GPU, including GTX 1650/1660 Ti, RTX 2060/2070 or RTX 2080 Max-Q
- Magnesium alloy chassis with Lunar Light and Dark Side of the Moon finishes
- Killer Networking E2600/E3000, Intel Dual Band Wireless, Bluetooth 4.2
- Dual Raid 0 SSD storage with various size options
It's the colours of these new laptops that really stand out. There are two main options to choose from with the m15: Lunar Light and Dark Side of the Moon. The former is a clean white design which really shows off the awesome aesthetic of this laptop. The latter is, of course, a much darker finish (or a Pink Floyd reference, take it as you will).
The Alienware M15 also sports some interesting accents, including an alien's head as the power button, honeycomb-esque venting, RGB lighting on the keys and rear vents and another Alien on the rear panel. There's also a rather snazzy customisable RGB strip around the rear venting which makes the laptop stand out from the crowd.
Certain design aspects of this new laptop work towards performance, even on the more basic models. For example, Alienware has designed these gaming notebooks with SSD-only storage options. There are no slow platter-based hard drives here, only swift and nippy SSDs and PCIe M.2 drives. One downside, however, is you really have to stump up a bundle of cash to get enough storage space. The default is a single 512GB drive which is far too easy to fill up with just a handful of games.
Other specs are built around a range of specification options using the 9th Gen Intel Core i processors and Nvidia graphics cards. You can select everything from Core i5 CPUs right up to the high-end i9-9980HK, in addition to a choice of GPUs from GTX 1650 to RTX 2080. Of course, if you want the most from this device you'll want to stump up the extra for the top-end of those specs. Although the RAM spec tops out with a maximum of 16GB, which seems a bit odd when stacked up with the rest of the power under the hood.
Smashing visuals on screen and off
- Updated 15.6-inch OLED panels with a choice of Full-HD or UHD 4k display options
- Improved screen visuals with 60/144/240Hz refresh rate options
- 240Hz panel includes sRGB 100 per cent colour gamut
- 1000:1 contrast ratio, 400-nit brightness and 7ms response time
- Tobii eye-tracking tech as standard
The new Alienware m15 R2 comes with a range of screen options depending on your needs and gaming desires (as well as the size of your wallet).
The base model features a Full HD display with a 60Hz refresh rate, but that's not the end. There's also a version with OLED panel with 4K resolution. This is the one we had in for testing and we were blown away with just how impressive it is. It's vivid, colourful, bright and just a joy. The superior visuals on this option include a fast 1ms response time, 100,000:1 contrast ratio, 400 nit brightness and 60Hz refresh rate.
Of course, 4K gaming is a mixed bag: the image quality is certainly stunning, but even a small screen like this needs some seriously beefy specs to power it. The result is lower-than-preferable frame rates. We're talking console-level counts here, but if a game isn't running smoothly enough you can always switch to 1080p and get more frames in double-quick time. The choice is therefore between beauty and responsiveness. Of course, if you want speed, then you're better off opting for the 240Hz refresh Full-HD panel instead.
The difference between how the laptop performs in 4K versus 1080P can be quite different depending on the game you're playing. Playing and benchmarking with Rainbow Six Siege we saw an average of 48fps at 4K but as much as 170fps at 1080p. Assassin's Creed Odyessy is a different story, with below 30fps at 4K and a smidge over 40fps at 1080p. That's with the graphics cranked up to the highest possible settings though.
Another highlight to this laptop is its HDR (high dynamic range). If you have the right games, you can run with HDR turned on for an even richer visual experience. We tried it out with Shadow of the Tomb Raider and found ourselves blown away. There's a lot to be said for 4K HDR gaming on this machine, that's for sure. The addition of the Nvidia RTX GPUs also means you can enjoy glorious ray tracing if you have the games to run it. With all this turned on and visuals set to ultra, there's no doubt that the Alienware m15 R2 is all about graphics. Stunning, stunning graphics.
As if that wasn't exciting enough, there's also Tobii eye-tracking technology bolted on to this laptop too. This technology has some basic functionality in Windows, meaning you can do things like setting the laptop wake up when you look at the Alienware logo, make it dim the screen when it notices you aren't in front of it, and more. This is also useful for streamers as you can use it in your streams to show where you're looking when gaming via a plugin that works with YouTube, Twitch and Mixer.
When playing, this device tracks head pose, position, eye gaze and movement and translates that data into the game. It's a technology that's been around for a while now and is integrated into a number of the latest games including the Division 2, Shadow of the Tomb Raider and more. We tested it out in Tomb Raider and were impressed by what it adds to the gaming experience. Without even putting your hands on the keyboard or trackpad, you can move your eyes to the edges of the screen and adjust the camera view. It also assists with things like aiming, making it quicker and easier to acquire targets before shooting which is really nifty.
As well as delivering excellent visuals, the Alienware m15 also does a brilliant job with audio. We were surprised by how they managed to handle surround sound in games, despite only using a 2.0 setup. Audio is seemingly beamed out of the edges and off nearby walls in a way that's both satisfying and convincing. These speakers are also loud enough and capable enough to drown out the sound of the cooling fans, even when they're running at max tilt.
Thermal performance and software overclocking
One of the other highlights of the Alienware m15 is the accompanying software. Most of the controls and customisation options happen within the Alienware Command Center and there's very little in the way of keyboard shortcuts or extra buttons like you might find on other devices.
However, launching the Command Center, you suddenly have a lot more access to more power and controls all at your fingertips. There are overclocking settings to give you a power and performance boost, as well as the ability to change cooling, audio and power settings between balanced and high performance.
You can also dive further into settings to see the performance of overclocking profiles. The thermal profiles are shown with ratings on things like thermal comfort and acoustic comfort, with full speed obviously being the best for thermal performance but the worst for acoustic comfort. So you can pick and choose until you get the right balance of performance and cooling for your needs.
Further customisation options include simple things like changing how the device responds to your touch. For example, setting it to either hibernate, shut down or go to sleep when you close the lid.
Sound can also be tweaked from the Command Center, with various equalisation profiles available to cater to different game types - racing, role-play, shooter, strategy, as well as one for music, movies or just Alienware. All these tweaks can also be set so the laptop automatically adjusts to your favourite/chosen settings when you launch a specific game. For example, adjusting power, thermal performance and overclocking to maximum when you launch a game and reverting to standard, quiet modes when you're just in Windows.
Improved gaming keys
- Increased key travel with new-and-improved concave design
- Precision point glass trackpad
- Per-key RGB illumination
- N-key rollover
Alienware says it has spared no expense on the design and format of the keyboard on the m15 R2. Indeed, the company is also making some bold claims, stating that these new devices sport "best keyboard in a gaming notebook".
This new design includes increased key travel with 1.7mm distance, an enhanced concave texture, per-key RGB illumination, and a tactile touch and feel. It's certainly snazzy and comfortable, but it's also positioned slap, bang in the middle of the machine, which takes some getting used to. We're also surprised by the lack of extra keys - like macro keys, media playback buttons or function keys for adjusting RGB lighting on the fly - that you might find on normal gaming keyboard.
That said, it's comfortable to use and pleasant for gaming as well. The RGB lighting is also stylish, bright, yet easy-on-the-eye at the same time. You can tweak the lighting within the Alienware Command Center and set different colours for different keys. There are also several themes to choose from, although not as many as you'd normally see on a gaming keyboard. We especially liked the Knight Rider mode that sees lights dashing up and down the keyboard like the lights on the front of Michael Knight's car.
Another thing we like about this keyboard is a slight rubber-eque feel to the surround. This makes it comfortable to rest your wrists and hands upon and also likely makes it easier to keep clean. It certainly didn't get dirty during our testing time and you'd certainly expect a white laptop to do so when resting under a normal gamer's paws.
Connectivity options and occasional oddities
- RJ-45 Ethernet Port, Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port, Wedge-shaped lock slot
- 2x USB 3.1, 1 x USB 3.1 with PowerShare technology
- 1x HDMI 2.0b, 1x Mini-Display Port 1.4
- 1x Thunderbolt 3 Port (USB-C support)
The Alienware m15 is not only a powerhouse, but it also bristles with ports and connectivity options. There's plenty of USB inputs here as well as an Ethernet port if you're the type of gamer who prefers to be plugged in rather than relying on Wi-Fi.
The addition of both HDMI and Mini Display Port options means this machine is also capable of outputting to external monitors or powering the latest and greatest VR headsets with ease. We tested with both a 34-inch monitor running at 3440 x 1440 and the Oculus Rift S and the laptop performed well in both instances.
For the most part, the Alienware m15 is a fantastic bit of kit. That said, there were occasional issues with this laptop that we spied during testing. When the screen brightness is turned down, occasionally when we moved the mouse cursor around we'd see a glint of brighter pixels inexplicably appearing on the screen. Another strange occurrence happened when trying to capture game footage with OBS Studio or Nvidia's ShadowPlay: Some things just refused to record when they would have been capturable on other devices. Possibly a driver issue there.
Another downside of the m15 is its paltry battery life. Under normal use, with the screen brightness dimmed, keyboard and RGB lighting turned off and other settings tweaked for battery life, it quickly ran out of juice in just two hours. That is, of course, pretty standard for high-specification, ultra-thin gaming laptops, but worth knowing if you're hoping to use the m15 for anything other than gaming.
We were immediately impressed by the Alienware m15 R2 when we first saw it at Computex 2019. Now having used it at home in the real world, it certainly didn't disappoint. Apart from a few minor niggles with battery life, a small main drive, and odd issues with footage capture, it's an absolute marvel of a machine.
The 4K display option is absolutely stunning, HDR, ray tracing and eye-tracking are all added bonuses. The m15 R2 manages to perform well under pressure and without a typically obnoxious loud fan. Not that things don't get noisy if you really want them to of course.
There's no doubt that on looks alone, both on-screen and off, the m15 R2 is well worth your investment. It will cost you a pretty penny though.
This article was first published on 29 May 2019 following a Computex preview and has since been updated to reflect its full review status.
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