Way back last year at around the same time when Dell offered me to take a look at their revised and all-new Alienware M series of laptops (here), I had quite the mixed opinion when it came to the laptop itself. It had its fair share of highs in its commending qualities like the sound but is also a hard pill to swallow when it came to the competitiveness of the price and its cooling performance.
Once again, Dell offered me their current revision of the same line-up for testing that also marks my first review of a second-generation device on the site (Woo!).
How will the second-generation fare? Was it worthy of your hard-earned cash? Let’s see!
What is the Alienware M15 R2?
The Alienware M15 R2 is the new revised edition of the Alienware series of performance laptops that was released in the second half of last year and stands as a refresh of their lineup to include 9th generation Coffee Lake CPUs as well as the mobile variants of the RTX 2000 series line-up of GPUs from Nvidia.
It is the current latest revision in the Alienware series although we may no doubt see another revision sometime in the near future as well. This laptop currently stands as the current top-of-the-line offering in the “thin and light” category of laptops for Dell.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
Our package comes pretty much the same as the last time, box and all. It seems like nothing much has changed in regards to that, it is still an exceedingly large box that contains even more exceeding amounts of foam padding that makes it a fairly wieldy blunt weapon against home intruders trying to steal your laptop.
The chassis has had a major overhaul to make it more akin to its younger gaming brother, the Dell G7. It now sports the same kind of “forward exhaust” design like the G7 with a screen that isn’t quite at the very edge of the device like most other laptops.
Our version of the laptop comes in a nice charcoal black color without much accents around the shell, just the way I like it.
The design of the laptop has also been toned down a little, without the bolder “cross” accents featured on the outer lid of the laptop; instead, opting for a cleaner and in my opinion, better-looking industrial style design with a nice number 15 demarcated on the bottom right of the laptop.
Similarly, Dell stuck with the always-fashionable honeycomb design for the ventilation which I think looks quite a bit better than the previous iteration; owing to the fact that the plastic piece that sits on top of the ventilation is now clearly machined as part of the main body without being the gaudy, fingerprint attracting, piece of glossy plastic it once was.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, if you like Alienware’s general aesthetic), Dell still could not resist the urge to put at least some bling onto the machine.
The ever omniscient RGB-lighted Alienware logo along with the lining on the rim of the back exhaust with strips of customizable LED are the ever telling signs that we live in a dark, dystopian, post-RGB society where it is a necessity to draw a few more Watts off the wall to show your friends that you have pretty lights running on your PC.
Thankfully, as always, you can turn all these off to conserve some battery if you wish.
The lid, just like the G7, features the single-hinge design and thus has similar stability when compared with each other. The hinge is similarly sturdy and holds up well to aggressive shaking.
Flexing on the screen does distort it a little, losing some contrast in the edges, but it should be of no concern under normal usage.
Once again, Dell has chosen to use glossy plastic along the rims of the screen so keep a piece of cloth to clean off the fingerprints if you can.
The chassis weighs in at about 2.16kg which is near the average weight you’ll see from this class of laptops; in fact, this would be on the lighter side of the curve all things considered.
Still, with the beefy 240 watts ~850g charger you’ll be sitting at about 3Kg in total which is decently mobile but not featherlight by any means.
The keyboard to me is a downgrade from the previous iteration of the laptop. Dell has switched to a 10-keyless keyboard for this iteration but not for the better; at least in my case anyway.
Despite being relatively wider than the previous generation design, I needed to move my wrist inwards way more often than not to hit certain keys in the middle with my default resting position on the keyboard. I had to adjust to a more uncomfortable and cramped hand and shoulder position to overcome this, akin to typing on a smaller laptop which is going to be quite straining for my own long-term use.
Another big stickler comes from the pretty sharp edges of this laptop; depending on how you rest your hands, those that rest their hands further apart would no doubt be pricked in the forearms more often than not which honestly is a design oversight from their part.
Ironically, the typing experience is good on the tactility front. Typing on this reminds me of the Surface Book 2, except now with more key travel and a slightly higher actuation force which is a plus.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that I had quite the trouble adjusting to typing on this keyboard. Compared to other gaming laptops, I had a lower accuracy in hitting the keys from the onset.
On a 5-run average of TypeRacer, I only managed to score a measly 72 WPM which is the worst performance that I have over all the laptops that I had reviewed so far.
The trackpad however, is an upgrade from the last generation. The touch and feel of the material are better and leaves a better, more tactile click in comparison. The accuracy is pretty good and as an added adjustment, the trackpad is now back at the center of the laptop where it should be compared to the off-center design of the last generation.
The trackpad is also definitely more resistant to fingerprint oils which is a big plus on the usability front to not have to clean it often.
Wi-Fi, Connectivity & Storage
Now equipped with an even better version of the previous model’s wi-fi chip, we took the new Killer AX 1650 to the test of downloading steam games from a 5Ghz connection and the results were great. It averaged around 27.8MB/s and peaked at 31.2MB/s which slightly edged out the Dell Latitude I reviewed earlier in the year.
The connectivity of this laptop is pretty average, in fact, it’s exactly the same as the first revision of the device with some specifications of the standards updated:
- 2x USB 3.1 port
- 1x Ethernet port
- 1x USB 3.1 (external charging)
- 1x Thunderbolt 3
- 1x Alienware Graphics Amplifier port
- 1x HDMI 2.0b
- 1x miniDP 1.4
- 1x Audio Out
- 1x Laptop lock
Aside from updating the HDMI sub-specification, I don’t recall much changes beyond that. As always, some form of SD card slot would’ve been nice but not missed for some.
Our review unit came with a 512Gb Toshiba TLC SSD that achieves a typical speed that should be satisfactory for most users. This is a slight upgrade for those provided in the previous iteration of the laptop in terms of capacity and performance but I would’ve like to see a larger capacity or secondary drive being added to justify the cost relative to the competition.
Pricing, Specs and Comparison
As always, there is a ton of competition in the world of high-end laptops and at the time of writing, manufacturers like Gigabyte are beginning to ship out this year’s 10th generation revision of their Aero series laptops.
While the difference is not as stark in comparison to the gulf in price of the previous generation at a ~$1200 difference, $900 is still a significant amount of change even compared to the highest-tier version of the Asus Strix Scar III that Sal has recently reviewed with better hardware to boot.
Once again, your mileage may vary depending on how much you value the graphics amplifier functionality on Dell’s Alienware laptops.
|Alienware M15 R2||Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED XB||Asus Strix Scar III|
|GPU||RTX 2070 Max-Q||RTX 2070 Super Max-Q||RTX 2070|
|Storage||512Gb SSD||512 Gb SSD||1Tb SSD|
|Display||144Hz IPS 1080p||60Hz 4k||240Hz IPS 1080p|
|Wifi||Killer AX 1650||Killer AX 1650||Intel AC 9560|
|Warranty||1 Year||2 Years||2 Years|
Performance, Cooling and Synthetic Benchmarks
In our synthetic benchmarks where we try to push the hardware to the limit, we put the Alienware M15 R2 through our usual gauntlet. On our CPU stress test with the Cinebench R20 benchmark, we can see that it took only a mere 15 seconds for the CPU to drop from the original turbo clockspeed of 3.9Ghz to a more reasonable all-core clockspeed of 2.8Ghz for the rest of the render.
That said, the cooling has significantly improved from its predecessor in terms of temperature, hitting a more reasonable peak of 84 degrees Celsius while just being a tad slower by about 10% (2.8Ghz @ 84 Celsius compared to 3.1Ghz @ 100 Celsius).
From the GPU side, everything stays relatively chill as expected from the Max-Q specification. Even at the most strenuous portions of our TimeSpy benchmark, the GPU peaked at around 75 degrees Celsius and refused to budge from there.
Contrary to other reviews, I found the noise even at full capacity to be quite tolerable and not that loud or annoying. My review unit doesn’t exhibit any high-pitched fan whine (think the whistle of a boiling kettle) nor bearing whine; it is even less noticeable so if you have some low to moderate music running in the background.
Related to that, curiously, the power button has also been moved from the centre of the laptop to the right side among the top exhaust ports. In the original M15, this wouldn’t be an issue but due to the increased airflow and the general increase in the surface area/perforation of the top exhaust port, it gets pretty hot to the touch if you need to reboot your PC manually during a high workload.
Needless to say, I feel like this is an unnecessary design change for the worse.
Here I would also like to mention that, just like the original M15, the fan controls on the Alienware Command Centre still doesn’t work for this iteration’s device which is quite disappointing to see. I would think that Dell would surely want to support some of the slightly more advanced features of their laptop but alas, it’s not to be.
The built-in fan curve works fine but I’m sure most would appreciate a more granular approach to the noise vs heat vs performance trifecta.
Gaming Benchmarks – RTX Goodness
Being a gaming machine through and through, the RTX 2070 Max-Q that came equipped with our sample shouldn’t have any problems running anything you throw at it; though, déjà vu, don’t expect to hit the maximum refresh rate of the machine unless you want to turn down some settings or play an older, less demanding title.
Like always, just like how Pepperidge Farm used to remember, a target minimum of 30fps will be set so that the gameplay experience is tolerable.
As expected, we’re seeing good performance on the relatively new and big budget titles out now on the market.
The outliers are still your usual culprits with Total War 3 Kingdoms and Metro Exodus running at the Ultra and Extreme presets respectively.
Here, we can see that 3 Kingdoms is just barely unable to make it past the 60-fps mark with all the settings turned up. Though, with regards to the actual in-game performance, it’s is pretty smooth without much hiccups save for very massive battles that can see performance drop down to the 40s.
The Extreme preset from the Metro Exodus benchmark also took a toll on the GPU with a variety of lighting effects that can cripple even upper mid-range GPUs like the RTX 2070 Max-Q. Though in game performance is just fine and you will rarely be in a situation where it drops to below the mid-40s without turning on a bunch of high-cost Nvidia effects like DLSS and Ray Tracing.
On our FF15 benchmark, we achieved a score of 5691 under the high preset which maintained an average fps of around the mid-50s.
In our legacy testing with GTA V, we see the higher refresh rate coming into play when playing older games. The game was definitely no challenge at all for the GPU with benchmarks regularly hitting above the 100fps mark in almost all scenes.
Gameplay wise, I found the general roaming to be pretty smooth at all times with the average fps in the mid-80s regardless of how chaotic any scene could be.
Display & Sound
The display hasn’t changed from the previous generation model: It’s still the very good AUO80ED from Au Optronics that features a fast refresh rate of 144Hz along with decent color accuracy. Panel quality seems to be quite uniform as there were once again no shifting hues from viewing at extreme angles.
Consuming UHD content with this screen is still a blast and gaming on it is pleasant in terms of presentation.
Way back when I had to review the first generation Alienware M15, I applauded the M15 for its great sound quality and even made mentions to it from time to time when it came to laptop reviews. So, how well does the second generation compare?
Just like the original M15 review, I’m turning off all sound enhancements to get the vanilla listening experience.
Listening to Dancing Queen by ABBA that focuses primarily on the vocals and harmonious tunes of the melody, it didn’t get off to a great start as I would’ve hoped. In the initial melody before the vocals, the hum of the melody didn’t mix too well with the secondary instruments such as the pianos and the shakers. The sound of the instruments feels like mash without much distinct quality and it’s difficult to separate them even when trying to listen to them individually.
Still, vocals on these are still on par with the previous generation; clean and towards the neutral tone without flexing towards the highs or lows in the song. Towards the chorus where the vocals shine, it’s a good presentation overall but the weakness in harmony still can be heard when you try to listen to the piano specifically.
While the base with the drums and guitar is not a mainstay of this song, their performance is still basically the same as the last generation; not too punchy but still good enough to get by as average.
Partway through the song, I also noticed that the soundstage is not as great as it was on the original Alienware. The side-firing speakers are more distinct in their output as you lean towards the left and right side which was less of a problem on the original.
Overall, the experience is a slight downgrade from the previous generation despite using the same Realtek chipset (as far as I can tell) and speaker configuration, just didn’t hit the ‘high’ like the previous generation did. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a clean listening experience but for one semantic reason or another, just didn’t have the soundstage like the first.
Despite sitting on a relatively large 76Wh battery, battery life is quite poor on the device. Doing our YouTube loop test with the song on full screen at 50% brightness at a moderate volume, the Alienware M15 R2 only lasted a mere 2 hours which is on the low side.
Users can expect slightly above 3 hours of usage with more productivity-based workloads at the default configuration.
Once again, we have some pretty standard fanfare when it comes to the internals. Most of the internals can be accessed by opening the back cover by simply removing the 8 screws. Here, much like the Dell G7, basic maintenance is easy to do as the fans and storage are all accessible on the get-go without further tinkering.
Dell, like their other competitors, have decided to forgo the HDD storage in favour of more board space and a bigger battery; a welcome addition compared to the previous generation.
The Alienware M15 R2 is yet again another mixed bag. Though pricing has been brought to a more competitive level this time, the stiff value proposition coming from the competition means that Dell has to hinge on other competencies to sell their product.
Where Dell has made great strides on the hardware front to deliver a better, more appealing functional product, it also faltered on the user accessibility and ergonomics portion of the device to my dismay.
However, I would say that the laptop did take more steps forward than it did backwards and does still offer the same unique qualities that few manufacturers do (such as the dedicated eGPU port via the Alienware graphics amplifier) which might be the factor that have more personal sway for some.
As always, try before you buy at one of Dell’s many stores (when you can, not when covid-19 is still around!). If you could adjust well to the keyboard unlike me and don’t mind some of the inconveniences, you might just see this as an underrated diamond in the rough.
One step forward and a half step back. Better hardware internally but with worse ergonomics in some key areas. Try before you buy as the keyboard is a big sore spot for some people like me.
|The good||The bad|
|– Good cooling performance (and improved from the previous Gen), compact device||-Keyboard|
|-Great display||-Bad ergonomic design (sharp edges, bad power button placement etc.)|
|-2x M.2 SSD slots (woo!)||-Fan controls still don’t work|