What is the Alienware m15?

The Alienware M15 is a new breed of laptop made by Dell that is meant to compete in the “high performance, thin & light” category of laptops such as the MSI GS65, Gigabyte Aero 15X, ROG Strix Scar II and many more. How will this new challenger hold up? Let’s find out.

Packaging, Design & Build Quality.

Package.

Our package comes in a pretty sizable box, quite a bit larger than anything I’ve seen for this class of laptops. Opening the packaging is simple and easy, just pull over the front cover like you would a pizza box and voila! You’re in. No tabs to pull, no disassembly required. I can appreciate that, Dell; props to you.

Opening it reveals the cause of the large size; there is an almost-excessive amount of foam padding that surrounds the interior of the box that provides Indiana Jones’ Fridge levels of protection. No need to worry about any damage due to shipping. I am tempted to do a drop test with the box to test its durability but my paycheck currently doesn’t allow me to.

If you’re afraid your investment might be damaged, stash it in the box and you’re safe.

Chassis.

Moving on, our test unit came in Nebula Red but you could get one in the more classic Epic Silver as well if that suits your tastes. The chassis comes with very familiar shapes and angles as all the other laptops in the Alienware lineup together with the iconic Alien head that lights up to the color of your choosing.

Lid.

Trying to open the lid reveals a higher than average force needed to open it up; the hinge design and the stability of the screen seem to be quite strong as a positive trade-off for this. The hinges open smoothly and stay in their position (barring any strong impact of course), which is great if you’re using the machine on a plane or train…or even a car.

Weight.

The weight of the laptop itself is listed as 2.16Kg and their 180W power brick weighs approximately the 280g bringing their system to just under 2.5Kg for travel; a good enough result if you ask me, considering the level of performance you are going to be able to get. It’s not an ultralight portable, but it’s not meant to be. This is a gaming machine, with a serious amount of power behind it, and that hardware means a bit more weight.

Keyboard/Trackpad.

Dell has gone for a full keyboard layout for this model and the key travel is listed as 1.4mm which is quite satisfying to type on for a laptop. There is some tactile feedback when actuating the keys on the keyboard and there is an audible, but not noisy bump sound to indicate that the button has been pressed; overall it feels decent enough to use as a portable keyboard.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a slight learning curve to this keyboard. To me, it feels like they have gone for slightly too much actuation force as it is definitely harder to press down on the key than your typical scissor-switch design keyboard; for users like me, this would take some getting used to.

On a game of type racer with 5 game averages, it performs decently and I was still typing at acceptable speeds (76.8 compared to 88). That said, I think it would still require some amount of use before one gets used to typing on this particular keyboard. Then again, that’s pretty much the standard with all keyboards on notebooks, so there’s not much to worry about here. I acclimated after a few days, and I suspect any potential owner will too.

Wi-Fi, Connectivity & Storage.

Wi-Fi.

In our Wi-fi tests, the Killer Wireless AC 1550 achieved astonishingly good results using a 5Ghz network placed about 5 meters away from the router. It scored an average of 18MB/s in our steam download test and achieved a peak download of 25MB/s, the highest result over the few laptops we’ve covered on the site.

Connectivity.

The Alienware m15 has an adequate selection of ports; although some may prefer a more traditional design of placing most of the ports at the sides of the laptop instead of the back. In total we have:

  • 2x USB 3.0
  • 1x HDMI 2.0
  • 1x Mini DP 1.3
  • 1x Thunderbolt 3
  • 1x Alienware Graphics Amplifier port
  • 1x Power connector
  • 1x Noble lock port
  • 1x Gigabit Ethernet
  • 1x USB 3.0 Type-A Charging port
  • 1x Audio combo jack

The lack of SD card slot is a tad troublesome, but it’s not difficult to realize that most people wouldn’t really care to have one on a gaming laptop.

Storage

In our current configuration we are running a Toshiba 256GB m.2 NvMe drive along with a Seagate 1TB drive. Both drives achieve typical speeds of what you would see in storage these days; with the SSD primarily being used as the OS storage, while games are stored on the bigger Seagate HDD. I’ve no issues with it at all, though with games the size they are now, 1TB will surely fill out fast. It’s probably wise to invest in an external HDD.

Pricing, Specs and Comparison.

Here’s a handy breakdown of the Alienware machine, alongside similar machines for a handy comparison.

Device Alienware m15 MSI GS65 Stealth
Thin
Gigabyte AEero 15x
Processor I7-8750H I7- 8750HI7-8750H
Graphics Card GTX 1070 Max-Q GTX 1070 Max-QGTX 1070 Max-Q
Memory 32Gb 16Gb16Gb
Display HD 144Hz IPS HD 144Hz IPSHD 144Hz IPS
Storage 1Tb HDD + 256Gb NvMe SSD 512Gb NvMe SSD512Gb NvMe SSD
Wi-Fi Killer AC 1550 Killer AC 1550
Intel AC-8265
Battery 60Wh 82 Wh91Wh
Warranty 1 Year Unconfirmed1 Year
Price $ 5356 SGD$3799 SGD$3799 SGD

The Alienware m15 is pricier than its competitors, which is a bit of a disappointment but for the extra cash, you do get significantly more RAM, two types of storage and most importantly, the ability to connect to the Alienware Graphics Amplifier to augment the hardware.

In that light, the Alienware m15 is actually a decent value, especially you’re not one to upgrade your gaming hardware with every new GPU release. Hell, even if you do, you can just get a desktop GPU, slot that in the Alienware Graphics Amplifier, and STILL play the latest games on quality settings. True, you won’t be playing it on the same settings on the road (unless you lug around the Amplifier), but the fact that you can augment your experience at all is a definite BIG plus in Alienware’s favor.

Performance & Synthetic Benchmarks.

Note: all performance are tested with NVIDIA 417.35 drivers

In our testing, we’ve found that the machine runs quite hot when under strain. With its sleek chassic, compromises undoubtedly had to be made. There are exhaust vents everywhere except for the front flat side of the laptop that faces the user, which do tend to get quite warm after while. It’s not going to burn you or anything, but you’ll definitely feel the heat if you touch it.

On the GPU front, it is noted that Dell has set a reasonably high max-temperature limit for the 1070 Max-Q of 91 degrees Celsius. However, we were never once able to reach this thermal limit (only reaching a max of 86 degrees) where it will begin to throttle itself, indicating excellent cooling for the GPU. You can rest easy that heat is being dissipated efficiently (hence the warm exhausts) that it’s not affecting the innards at all.

On the CPU front, we noted in our Cinebench R20 benchmark that the i7-8750H initially achieved a 3.2Ghz all core turbo speed but had to throttle down slightly to 3.1Ghz all core turbo after about 30 seconds into the benchmark. The CPU had reached a scorching hot 100 degrees Celsius from the stress test (even at maximum fan speed), only a few degrees away from activating the overheat shutdown protection function. While it did achieve a decent score, it indicated to us that the machine was definitely running on the hot side for the CPU.

However, do note that this was under benchmarking conditions, which are intentionally done to push the hardware to their limit. Regularly gaming won’t be as stressful on the machine and I doubt the CPU will get as hot while gaming.

Gaming Benchmarks – Great combination for 1080p/144Hz.

In our gaming benchmark tests, we try a splattering of games both new and old to give you an idea of how the 1070 Max-Q performs in a variety of titles. Being a relatively high-end GPU, the 1070 Max-Q had no problem slicing through any game we threw at it. Expect to drop a couple of settings if you really want to hit 144Hz, though.

As a rule of thumb, we will also be targeting a minimum of 30 fps during general gameplay or benchmarks to ensure a minimally smooth gameplay experience.

Legacy Titles.

In our Legacy Titles testing, GTA V performed very well but there were some performance dips (perhaps due to data streaming) when traversing the city. It still managed very good frame rates with everything maxed out together with 4x MSAA and sometimes even hitting over 100 fps during certain scenes.

It also achieved a pretty decent score of 5722 in our Final Fantasy 15 benchmark test.

New Titles.

In testing out our newer selection of titles, it again had no trouble with any of them. For the most part, gameplay was buttery smooth at above 60fps and we only see occasional dips that hit a high 40s minimum fps; again we suspect this is a data streaming issue. If you’re using an SSD, it’ll probably be a non-issue.

Display & Sound.

I love how the Alienware m15 looks; all glossy and sleek, with clean lines and tasteful coloring. I’m a bit disappointed that the glossy finish is a fingerprint magnet, which detracts from some of its inherent coolness. You’ll definitely want to carry a wiper (I recommend a microfiber cloth) with you to keep the back clean.

Display.

Our test unit came with a 1080p 144Hz IPS screen with matte finish manufactured by AUOptronics (part number: AUO80ED; model number: B156HAN, unknown version). My god, this thing is bright (bolded and italicised for importance), any brighter at 100% would definitely cause the Knight of Astora to burst out from an unseen angle to worship its brightness. Its recommended for users to stick to 30/40% brightness for the sake of your eyes. Heck, even at 0% its not that difficult to see the screen.

The display quality is also great, I do not see any sort of discoloration from extreme viewing angles nor any kind of over saturation of Red-Green hues. I had no complaints using this screen for gaming or consuming content.

Be smart, be like Chang. Turn this thing off.

Sound – Better than expected.

Just a quick note, for users who want a more neutral sounding experience (like me, who found the echo effect to be slightly annoying to the listening experience), additional sound effects can be turned off in the “fusion” tab within Alienware command centre under the sound icon.

Listening to Back in Black by AC/DC from a lossless source, was a great listening experience. It produced a pretty neutral sound signature indicated by the initial drum and electric guitar rift which are clear and concise without any bias in volume for both instruments.

This continues well into the vocals although it does lose some lustre when its unable to sufficiently produce the high-pitched screaming of the lead singer. The electric guitar instrumental was also pretty good, again only lacking in clarity on some of the higher notes. There does not seem to be any audible distortion playing the song on max volume except getting the electric guitar uncomfortably loud relative to the other instruments.

Of course, don’t expect things like extreme punchiness from the drums which can only be produced with decent quality subwoofers and I guarantee you won’t walk away disappointed with these excellent 2.0 speakers.

Battery Life.

Don’t expect anything amazing from this considering the fact that its driving a high brightness, high refresh rate monitor. Expect about 2 ½ hours of low to moderate usage doing productivity tasks and watching videos. Coincidentally, it also lasted about the same amount of time during our battery test where we played YouTube music videos on a loop.

The battery can take about a little over an hour to charge depending on whether you have it turned on or not; typical results for such a device.

One good thing I’ll commend about Dell is that they allow the option of putting in a bigger battery in exchange for removing the Hard Drive bay, I think more companies should do this as nowadays with affordable SSDs. One really only needs 2 NvMe slots to fulfil their storage needs for the most part.

Alienware Command Centre.

Since this is part of the suite that Dell offers to its consumers who buy Alienware. I thought I’d cover some of the functions as well. Of course, Dell offers a custom suite of keyboard controls and tweaks that you can change to your heart’s content (if you’re into that).

Unfortunate.

I wasn’t able to get their Overclock utility working as I encountered an installation error regarding a file named “mup.xml” so I can’t really comment on that.

Neither these two control works…AND IT MAKES ME ANGRY!

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the software came with the option to customize your fan speeds. The “fixed fan speed” option doesn’t change the fan speed at all, neither did the very basic fan curve. Luckily the automatic cooling in the unit worked really well, or else we’d have some issues here.

Teardown.

A quick teardown suggests that the cooler and mounting are in your typical design. After unscrewing 9 mounting screws from the bottom of the laptop and 2 mounting screws from the back of the laptop, the laptop is easily opened. Be wary of the two plastic clips that are on both lengths of the device, though.

Conclusion

Overall the design is solid, its strong points are really good but there are some downsides too. The pricing will definitely be a stickler to most consumers at an initial glance, however as I’ve mentioned, it pretty much pays for itself if you’re intending to use the laptop for a long time with its Alienware Graphics Amplifier compatibility.

Other than the higher asking price, the hardware you get is also a step above similarly spec’ed out machines with two different storage options and twice the amount of RAM.

TLDR;

Good overall laptop, but it’s a bit pricey if you’re not thinking long term. Great for those who plan to use the laptop for years, with its Alienware Graphics Amplifier compatibility.

The Good.
– Great wireless connectivity.
– Excellent speakers.
– Solid build quality.
– Alienware Graphics Amplifier compatibility.

The Bad.
– No fan control.
– Battery life.
– A bit pricier than the competition.

Chia is the horse-author from the far flung year of 2153. While not grazing on grass pastures or reviewing old time-y games and technology from the early 21st century pretending to not know what comes next (as to not disturb the space-time continuum), he can be seen exchanging vast quantities of Earth currency for parts needed to fix his damaged space ship.

Chia is the horse-author from the far flung year of 2153. While not grazing on grass pastures or reviewing old time-y games and technology from the early 21st century pretending to not know what comes next (as to not disturb the space-time continuum), he can be seen exchanging vast quantities of Earth currency for parts needed to fix his damaged space ship.