GAMING laptops are frequently a compromise between power and weight, with cooling added into the mix as well.
A laptop powerful enough to play latest release games is usually quite heavy, while a more portable device doesn’t always have the grunt necessary to provide a higher-end gaming experience.
There are a few laptops that manage that challenge, however – including the subject of this review, the Alienware M15, which has proven itself an impressive and capable machine well suited for a range of gaming and non-gaming duties alike.
The Alienware M15 gaming laptop manages to land more or less in that sweet spot between performance and weight, which is no mean feat. As its name suggests, it’s a 15.6” screen model, sitting nicely between the 14” screen size of smaller, work-oriented laptops and the 17” screens found on laptops which really aren’t designed to be carried around much.
The review version had a 15.6” 4K display and Tobii eye tracker, while under the bonnet it was running a 9th generation Intel i9-9980HK processor with 16GB RAM, an 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card, and a 2TB SSD.
It also comes with the usual HDMI port, three USB 3.1 ports, a USC C/Thunderbolt port, Bluetooth, Wifi and a built-in webcam. It also has an Alienware Graphics Amplifier port.
It’s actually better than my desktop gaming rig spec-wise, and also has the advantage of being very portable.
Weighing in at about 2.1kg, and accompanied by a power supply which adds a bit more again, the M15 isn’t a featherweight productivity laptop, but it’s absolutely not a burden to carry around and that meant I found myself carting it to meetings and events on the offchance I might need it – which meant it actually ended up getting quite a bit of use.
Personally, I like a bit of heft to my laptops. It reassures me they’re solidly made and won’t cop out when there’s gaming about, and that if I accidentally bump them they won’t metaphorically throw a tantrum.
The unit’s stylish design is complemented by LED lighting, but rather than feeling garish, it is subtly done and adds nicely to the overall aesthetic without drawing attention to itself or feeling like it’s just obligatory RGB either.
One of the unique things about the M15 which I really liked was the Tobii eye-tracker sensor in it, that could basically dim the screen when I wasn’t looking at it, then light it up again when my attention came back to it.
At first it was a bit disconcerting, but I soon came to appreciate the feature – especially as it made quite a difference to the battery life.
Serious users will also be pleased to know the Tobii feature can be set up to help keep focus on the main things on the screen you are looking at (for example, keeping a mini-map dimmed until you look at it), and apparently also has a feature which streamers can use to look at something and highlight it too.
From a work perspective it was a great laptop too – all those stories you saw in January which I filed from CES in Las Vegas were written on the Alienware M15.
It was portable enough for me to carry around a packed showfloor for the rare occasions I could nab a powerpoint and a few minutes to put some notes together, and it was powerful – and fast. Thanks to the SSD, i9 processor and 16GB of RAM, when I asked it to do something like open a programme or a web browser or whatever, it did it with impressive speed.
Of course, this is Game On Australia, not Work On Australia, so you’re really here to hear how the M15 performed as a gaming system.
The answer is extremely well.
My go-to games for testing how a gaming laptop handles Actual Gaming(tm) are currently Metro Exodus and Control, so I installed them both and fired them up.
Both games looked spectacular and ran smoothly and crisply, with no stuttering – it was exactly like gaming on my desktop, except I was doing it in a Las Vegas casino diner or a hotel room or the economy-class cabin of a Boeing 777.
The M15’s cooling was generally pretty good – I didn’t experience any major overheating issues, although things did start to get bit on the warm side after 30-40 minutes running Exodus at full tilt.
The battery life was acceptable; assuming you’ve got the LEDs etc going and you’re not playing anything too intense, you should be able to stretch it out to more than 2.5 hours.
The reality is you’re not going to be getting into an epic dungeon raid on battery power and gaming laptops tend to work best when you’ve got a power point handy anyway, which is most places in the civilised world nowadays.
The keyboard was responsive without being sticky, the touchpad was just the right level of sensitive, and the fans weren’t too loud either – and not at all noticeable when wearing a headset, which I suggest you do when gaming anyway.
Everything about my time with the M15 has been positive, in fact – it’s ticked every box, ranging from “portable” to “can play all my games properly” to “looks pretty cool too”.
While this is a gaming laptop, it’s not an ultimate gaming laptop, so if you’re looking for raw, unadulterated power that will let you play everything at 4K with all the graphical settings maxed out while still getting 120fps, then you may want to look at something like the Alienware Area 51 – although that’s not really practical to take anywhere you’re not going to be established for a while.
The only real issues I had – and I’m drawing a long bow here – is the lack of an SD card reader, which meant I had to make sure I had my camera’s connecting cable with me, and the unit occasionally not recognising I was looking at it and needing a keyboard or mouse action to get the screen to brighten back up.
Otherwise, the combination of power, portability and attractive design is a compelling one, and I was impressed by the M15’s ability to handle everything I threw at it without complaint – it did everything I asked and it did it well. From a gaming perspective, I was really impressed with the Alienware M15 and while it’s not cheap, it packs a lot of punch, ticks all the boxes, and is one of my top contenders in the combined work and proper gaming machine space too.
Royce Wilson attended CES 2020 as a guest of Dell