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Alienware m15 review: An evolving Alienware with a practical side

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At CES 2019, Dell announced a series of new and updated gaming laptops, including new versions of the Alienware m15 and m17, both with new Nvidia RTX graphics cards. This, however, is not a review of one of those models. This is an Alienware m15 we received in December 2018, so it shares the same updated design, but with Nvidia GTX, rather than RTX, graphics.

alienware-m15-06
8.0

Alienware m15

Pricing Not Available

The Good

Slim, portable design, at least for a gaming laptop. Excellent high-end components, decent battery life. Plenty of ports and connections.

The Bad

Consider waiting a few weeks for the latest RTX graphics cards. Adding better options like the 144Hz screen drives up the price, and the red color is only available in the top-end model.

The Bottom Line

It's not the boldest new gaming laptop design out there, but the Alienware m15 gets the basics right while evolving past the bulky look of older models.

It's also the version still available from Dell and Alienware right now, as the new RTX GPUs won't be available for laptops until at least Jan. 29. Aside from some expected differences in gaming performance and maybe battery life, the system is otherwise unchanged and our test drive provides an excellent overview of what life with an m15, either GTX or RTX, would be like.

alienware-m15-12
Sarah Tew/CNET

If the new Area-51m is a full step into uncharted design territory for the brand, then the m15 is a half-step. The former bulk of Alienware systems is replaced by a low-profile flat-top lid, this time in matte red. Yes, there's still an alien head logo, but it's on the subtle side. I knew it was a different look and feel because my game-playing, but gaming-laptop-hating, spouse saw the m15 and said, "Hey, that's not too ugly for a gaming laptop."

The m15 starts at $1,399, but for that's for a GTX 1060 graphics card. To trade up to the GTX 1070 Max-Q, along with more RAM, more storage and a sharp-looking 144Hz screen (versus standard 60Hz), it's currently $2,019, although those prices may change with the upcoming RTX versions. All the models share the same Intel Core i7-8750H, even the entry-level one, but only the most expensive configuration swaps the standard silver design for the matte red lid. That's a shame, as it's a pretty good addition everyone should get to enjoy.

In the UK, similar configurations run from £1,599 to £1,949, and they go from AU$2,798 to AU$3,999 in Australia. 

Alienware m15

Price as reviewed $2,019
Display size/resolution 15.6-inch 1,920x1,080 144Hz display
CPU 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H
Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with Max-Q Design
Storage 512GB
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 5.0
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Playing favorites

My previous favorite Alienware of all time was the 13-inch Alienware 13, with its stunning OLED screen. This display here isn't as fantastic, but it's overall just about as portable, slimmer, with a slightly larger footprint, and not much heavier, at 4.5 pounds vs. 5.1 pounds. I still love that OLED screen, but the better CPU, GPU and bigger screen have made this one of my main everyday laptops right now (especially as I'm doing a lot of work in Photoshop and Illustrator lately).

alienware-m15-03
Sarah Tew/CNET

The Alienware Command Center software, found on every Alienware system, offers controls for the backlit multicolored keyboard, as well as thermal controls and CPU/GPU monitoring. To keep the body slim, the keyboard is a flat island-style one, and shallow enough that it may give some older Alienware fans a heart attack. I found it fine for everyday use, but the keys do have a lighter, less substantial feel than more traditional gaming laptops.

The Alienware m15 performed admirably compared with other late-2018 laptops with similar CPUs and GTX 1060 or 1070 graphics. It helps that this is just a standard 1,920x1,080 screen, not a more ambitious higher resolution. That said, when you push the system, the fans kick in (as they should), and they're on the loud side. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Moving in the right direction

The m15 gets a lot right, both on paper and in person. Reasonably slim body, above-average performance, plenty of ports and connections, 144Hz screen option and even the cool matte-red cover. It lacks the design leaps of faith that have pushed systems like the Asus Zephyrus, Razer Blade or even the new Alienware Area-51m in bold new directions, so it's more about the chops than the flash. Think of it as a mild-mannered gaming laptop that's subtle-looking enough to not get you banished to the den. 

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

Alienware m15 20851Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 20442Razer Blade 15 (mid-2018) 18015Razer Blade 15 (late 2018) 17923Lenovo Legion Y730 17786
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

Lenovo Legion Y730 1181Alienware M15 1142Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 1135Razer Blade 15 (late 2018) 960Razer Blade 15 (mid-2018) 928
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (streaming)

Razer Blade 15 (mid-2018) 473Razer Blade 15 (late 2018) 470Alienware m15 397Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 225Lenovo Legion Y730 169
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) 3,954Alienware m15 3,669Razer Blade 15 (mid-2018) 3,431Razer Blade 15 (late 2018) 2,593Lenovo Legion Y730 1,899
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Far Cry 5 gaming test

Razer Blade 15 (mid-2018) 83Alienware m15 82Razer Blade 15 (late 2018) 62Lenovo Legion Y730 44
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

System configurations

Alienware m15 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with Max-Q Design; 512GB SSD
Razer Blade 15 (late 2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with Max-Q Design; 256GB SSD + 2TB HDD
Razer Blade 15 (mid 2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with Max-Q Design; 512GB SSD
Lenovo Legion Y730 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2HGz Intel Core i7-8750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti; 2TB HDD + 256GB SSD
Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501 (2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070; 512GB SSD
alienware-m15-06
8.0

Alienware m15

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Battery 8