Welp, it finally happened. After years of creating BBS (big, beautiful systems), Alienware has jumped headfirst into thin-and-light gaming in grand style with the 0.7-inch slim m15. And for such a lightweight laptop, the m15 (from $1,379, $3,749 as tested) has a lot of weight on its shoulders. It’s a latecomer to a category where its competitors have firm footing. But rocking an Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia Max-Q GPU, over 6 hours of battery life and a drool-worthy display, Alienware is ready to take on all comers. And while the m15 has a few hiccups it needs to smooth out, it might just be the new king of thin-and-light gaming.
|CPU||2.21-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H processor|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Pro|
|Hard Drive Size||Dual 1TB|
Oh my God, Becky! Look at how slim. Alienware, the last of the big, chunky gaming rigs, has joined the thin-and-light league.
At 4.8 pounds, 14.3 x 10.8 x 0.7-0.8-inches, the m15 is the slimmest Alienware laptop ever. This isn’t the lightest system in its class, though, as both the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin (4.1 pounds, 14.1 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches) and the Razer Blade 15 (4.6 pounds, 14 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches) weigh less.
The OriginPC Evo15-S (14.9 x 9.9 x 0.7 inches) and the Asus ROG Zephyrus GM501 (15.1 x 10.3 x 0.8~0.7 inches) are a bit heavier at 5 and 5.5 pounds. The m15 is even lighter and slimmer than the Alienware 13 R3 OLED (5.4 pounds, 13 x 10.6 x 0.9-inches)
Slim or not, there’s no mistaking that this is an Alienware, albeit with some new flourishes. The Epic Gray lid is still made from anodized aluminum with the large backlit alien head in the center. The usual three lines intersect toward the bottom half, like an inverted vivisection. The top of the lid has a gentle downward slope while the black plastic vents along the back give you the feeling the system’s going to hit warp speed at any moment.
If you like your intergalactic space cruisers masquerading as gaming laptops to have a bolder presence, you can get the m15 in a stunning Nebula Red.
Opening the lid is at once familiar and strange, like a techie deja vu. The palm rest and keyboard deck are coated in a lush, black soft touch finish. The full-size keyboard sits in a slight recess, glowing an expectant turquoise. The top of the deck is made of glossy plastic with the alien head/power button gleaming in a fiery yellow. A vent runs directly below the button, creating a funky, honeycomb pattern the length of the deck.
Alienware has done a bit of downsizing when it comes to the customizable LED lights strategically placed around the m15’s frame. Whereas a full-sized Alienware 15 has lighting along the sides, you’ll only find the LEDs in the lid-mounted alien head, the keyboard and the power button.
Configurations: How much does the Alienware m15 cost?
I had fun with the $3,749 model of the Alienware m15. It has a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 32GB of RAM, two 1TB NVMe M.2 PCIe SSDs, an Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU, a Nvidia GeForce GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU with 8GB of VRAM and a 144Hz 1920 x 1080 panel.
For those of us that really don’t need two 1TB SSDs (or even one for that matter) there’s the $2,349 configuration that drops the RAM down to 16GB, adds a 60Hz UHD (3840 x 2160) display and swaps out the previous storage option for a 512GB SSD with a 1TB hard drive.
The $1,379 base model gets youthe Core i7-8750H CPU, 8GB of RAM with a 1TB (+ 8GB SSD) Hybrid Drive, an Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU, a Nvidia GeForce GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q GPU with 8GB of VRAM and a 60Hz 1920 x 1080 panel.
Just because the m15 is slim doesn’t mean that you’ll be making any compromises when it comes to ports.
You’ll find a pair a USB 3.0 ports on the right with another on the left, along with a Gigabyte Ethernet jack, a headset jack and a Noble lock slot.
The back side houses an HDMI 2.0 port, mini DisplayPort, a Thunderbolt 3, power jack and a proprietary port in case you want to connect an Alienware Graphics Amplifier.
It’s not 4K, but man is the m15’s 15.6-inch display enchanting. Colors just seem to burst off the screen, and the 144-Hz refresh rate keeps the gaming action smooth. When I watched the trailer for Slice on this display, actress Zazie Beets’ red sateen jacket was especially vibrant, and I was impressed with how clearly I could see the curl pattern from her twist out.
On a trip back to the Bloody Baron in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I ran across a pack of wild dogs, the largest of which has hairless due to mange. As I dodged and attacked, I couldn’t help but stare at its hide, pink and raw with infection rendered before I set it alight with Igni, my fire spell. Glowing red and yellow embers floated in the air as the poor, mangy beast burst into flames.
As usual, Alienware has one of the most vivid screens in the land. It’s capable of reproducing 150 percent of the sRGB color gamut, matching the Stealth Thin and beating the 132-percent premium gaming laptop average. The Evo15-S came in second with 126 percent, while the Zephyrus hit 120 percent. The Blade 15 delivered a respectable 112 percent.
The m15 has an average brightness of 284 nits, overcoming the 278-nit premium gaming laptop average, but on a par with its peers. The Stealth Thin and Zephyrus reached 293 and 286 nits, respectively, while the Blade 15 and Evo15-S averaged a respective 260 and 249 nits.
Something had to take a hit with all this slimming down. I’ve gotten so used to our test labs and offices being awash in loud, rich audio that I was a bit taken aback by the tinny sound that greeted me on the m15. The two bottom-mounted speakers did their best, but Santana’s electric guitar on “Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile) barely filled our lab even at max volume and it sounded a bit distorted.
When I played The Witcher 3, I appreciated that I could hear the wind whipping through the trees as I trekked through the forest. And while the strings were relatively clean during the fight music, they were quieter than I’m used to when playing on an Alienware system. I’d definitely recommend using a gaming headset when gaming on the m15.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The minute I saw that the m15’s island-style keyboard had 1.1 millimeters of key travel, I was ready to write it off. (We prefer 1.5mm or higher.). But I was surprised to discover how comfortable the keyboard actually was. It wasn’t bouncy per se, but it had enough feedback that my fingers never bottomed out. I easily hit my 70 word-per-minute average on the 10fastfingers typing test.
The system’s backlighting is nice and bright. And unlike on the company’s last 15-inch system, Alienware managed to fit in a nice-sized number pad.
Another change concerns the 4.1 x 2.5-inch touchpad. Alienware ditched the discrete buttons in favor of a unified pad. Windows 10 gestures such as pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll, three-and-four finger tap were fast and accurate. The bottom corners of the pad were nice and clicky, too.
Light Up (and Configure) My Life
The Alienware Command Center I’ve come to know and love is gone, replaced by something infinitely better. The updated Command Center looks cleaner and has a lot of functionality to offer gamers who like to fiddle around with their systems.
One of the biggest changes is inspired by Nvidia GeForce Experience. You can now access all your games from the Home tab along with performance settings for the laptop, and you can switch the software’s background from light to dark. You can also swap out the Active System Theme, the new term for your customized lighting profile from Home. If you’re looking to get more granular, you’ll want to explore the other tabs, starting with Library.
And it just wouldn’t be an Alienware if you couldn’t trick it out with a bunch of eye-catching colors and effects. That functionality resides under the FX tab where you can mix and match the 16.8 million available colors with the 12 available effects and map them across the 6 designated zones on the laptop and create something that’s uniquely you.
Gaming, Graphics and VR: The Power of Max-Q
Part of the reason the m15 is so thin is the use of Nvidia’s Max-Q GPUs — in this case, we’re talking about a GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU with 8GB of VRAM. Focused on power efficiency, Nvidia claims these chips allow for a slimmer and quieter machine without sacrificing too much power.
During a fight with a roving group of deserters in The Witcher, I used Igni to set a horseback marauder on fire. When he fell from his horse with a sickening thud, I ran him through with my sword at an average frame rate of 79 fps on Ultra at 1080p. When I dropped the settings down to High, the frame rate rose to 86 fps.
During the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark, the m15 produced 49 fps, which missed the 62-fps premium gaming laptop average, but beat the Stealth Thin’s (1070 Max-Q) 44 fps. It wasn’t enough to topple the Zephyrus (53 fps) or the Blade 15 (77 fps), which have their own 1070 Max-Qs.
Switching over to the Hitman test, the m15 reached 79 fps, tying the Stealth Thin. The Zephyrus delivered 88 fps while the Blade 15 and EVO15-S achieved 82 fps.
When we ran the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark, we saw the m15 tie the Blade 15 at 66 fps. It was slightly short of the 73-fps category average but enough to surpass the EVO15-S (64 fps) and Stealth Thin (61 fps). However, the Zephyrus staved off the competition with 70 fps.
Just because it’s Max-Q doesn’t mean you can’t do VR. Scoring 10.1 on the SteamVR performance test, the m15 is ready and able to support either an Oculus Rift or a HTC Vive. It just missed the 10.5 average, but beat the EVO15-S (9.3), Stealth Thin (9.5) and Blade 15 (10). The Zephyrus was slightly higher at 10.9.