Alienware m15 R2 review: Sublime style and speed for gamers on the go

Alienware’s m15 R2 is the company’s thinnest 15.6-inch laptop yet at 18.3 mm (0.7 inch). Modeled after the giant Area-51m announced at CES 2019 and its Legend industrial design, this m15 also has one of the coolest-looking designs I’ve seen this year. It expertly walks the line between the sleek simplicity of Razer’s Blade 15 and the flashiness of Acer’s Predator Triton 900 or Asus’ monster Mothership. It’s more coupe than sedan, though, especially when you turn on all the lights. 

The new m15’s base price is $1,500, essentially starting where Dell’s G5 15 starts to top out, and skyrockets from there depending on the CPU, graphics, memory, storage and display you put in it. Alienware offers up a lot of option across its configurations and you should choose carefully. The only thing that’s not soldered into the system are its dual PCIe M.2 SSDs. Also, Dell is currently offering both the old and new m15, and the older m15 is the better deal at the moment. 

It seems you’re paying a premium for the new design and cooling, Tobii eye-tracking (which is pretty interesting if you’re into game streaming) and a handful of other improvements that, frankly, are worth it if you’ve got the money. Though you may want to skip at least one of the components being offered. 

Sarah Tew/CNET
Sarah Tew/CNET

Alienware m15 R2

Alienware m15 R2
Price as reviewed$3,330
Display size/resolution15.6-inch 240Hz 1,920×1,080 display
CPU2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H
Memory16GB DDR4 SDDRAM 2,667MHz
Graphics8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 with Max-Q design
Storage1TB (2x 512GB PCIe M.2 SSD) RAID 0
Networking802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.2
Operating systemMicrosoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Hot, hot, hot

High-performance gaming laptops as thin as the m15 R2 can get really hot. Shocking, I know, but despite Alienware’s Cryo-Tech v3.0 cooling system and its fire-resistant, Kevlar-like liquid-crystal polymer fan blades — all 106 of them — and copper finstacks and copper-composite heatpipes, the system goes well beyond warm (and the power supply, too, for that matter) when you push the components as hard as you can. 

The six-core Intel Core i7-9750H processor got up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 Celsius), which could have potentially impacted its performance slightly compared with others we’ve tested with bigger chassis. Alienware allows the system to give its full performance when set to Performance mode in the BIOS. This can be disabled and it won’t get as hot as the system then puts tighter, more balanced limits on the CPU, an Alienware spokesman told me. And although the processor ran hot, even after playing for 3 hours straight the laptop never hiccuped in the slightest and the palm rests remained cool. 

In general you’ll want to use this in a cool environment, off your lap, and make sure air can move freely through the system. That said, the thin design might be costing you a little CPU performance, which makes going with the highest-end option, Intel’s eight-core i9-9980HK, maybe not the best way to spend $450 extra. 

Alienware’s Command Center software lets you monitor the system as well as adjust performance and fan speed and control the lighting system, which includes the keyboard, the elongated oval Tron light around the rear vents and ports and the Alienware logo on the lid and power button. The keyboard has per-key RGB lighting and you can set up profiles for each game you’ve installed. I found the software to be fairly unintuitive — I spent way too much time hunting around the interface to figure out how to use it. The Help menu didn’t live up to its name, either. 

More fun to use is the Tobii eye-tracking system for both gaming and nongaming tasks. For example, it’ll sense when you’ve looked away and automatically dim the screen, or it will automatically place the cursor wherever you’re looking as soon as you touch the laptop’s touchpad. 

For gaming, you can use its eye-tracking-enabled tools to learn which areas of the screen you’re focusing on too much or not enough and improve your response times. If you stream your gaming, it’ll let you show viewers where you’re looking and, on Twitch, you can just glance to switch between visualizations like heatmaps, shadow and spotlight.

Sarah Tew/CNET
Sarah Tew/CNET

The keyboard and glass touchpad have the feel and performance that you’d find on one of Dell’s premium XPS laptops. The keyboard has a fair amount of travel considering the shallow deck and I didn’t experience any ghosting or rollover issues. For gaming laptops, I still prefer to have discrete touchpad keys for casual point-and-click games when I don’t have a mouse, but the one here is otherwise great. 

The system’s speakers sound good, too, but to really enjoy the gaming experience you’ll want to put on some headphones. There’s no bass here to speak of, so things like explosions and soundtracks are lacking a bottom end. Also, like on last year’s m15, the power and display outputs as well as the connector for the external Alienware Graphics Amplifier are on the back. This at least makes it slightly tidier when connecting to peripherals for a more desktoplike experience. 

Hertz so good

Alienware offers four display options for the m15: 60Hz, 144Hz and 240Hz full-HD panels and an ultra-HD-resolution OLED with a 60Hz refresh rate. That last one seems best suited for those who plan to do both content creation and gaming with the m15. I tested the 240Hz panel and if you’ve only ever played on a 60Hz display, the high refresh rate here makes a big difference, especially for fast-paced first-person shooters. 

With the components in my configuration you can take advantage of the refresh rate speed in games like CS:GOFortnite and Overwatch. If those are key games for you, you might want to spend more for the faster panel. Otherwise, go with the 144Hz panel for titles like Far Cry VShadow of the Tomb Raider and Battlefield V because you’re just not going to hit those superhigh frame rates with this mobile GPU. Graphics performance is pretty great from this laptop with the RTX 2080 in it and the smoothness from the faster refresh rate makes the experience more immersive. It’s one of those things you don’t notice until you switch back to a 60Hz display.

Battery life was decent as well for a gaming laptop, clocking 4 hours, 25 minutes in our streaming video playback test. However, you can expect significantly less while gaming. Still, you’ll be able to head to a coffee shop and get a few hours of work done in between plugged-in gaming sessions. 

Overall, Alienware’s m15 R2 is a beautiful thin-and-light gaming laptop. If you’re concerned less about its looks than about getting more for your money, consider getting the older m15 instead. 

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

Origin PC Evo 16-S23251Alienware m15 R221592HP Omen X 2S21352Razer Blade (2019, OLED)19641Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

Origin PC Evo 16-S1241Alienware m15 R21158Razer Blade (2019, OLED)1073HP Omen X 2S1010Longer bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (streaming)

Origin PC Evo 16-S321Alienware m15 R2265Razer Blade (2019, OLED)174Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Alienware m15 R25013Origin PC Evo 16-S4548Razer Blade (2019, OLED)4330HP Omen X 2S4106Longer bars indicate better performance

Far Cry 5 gaming test

Origin PC Evo 16-S108Alienware m15 R290HP Omen X 2S82Razer Blade (2019, OLED)82Longer bars indicate better performance (fps)

Shadow of the Tomb Raider gaming test

Origin PC Evo 16-S88HP Omen X 2S84Alienware m15 R282Razer Blade (2019, OLED)82Longer bars indicate better performance (fps)

PCMark 10 Pro Edition

HP Omen X 2S6194Origin PC Evo 16-S5953Alienware m15 R25746Razer Blade (2019, OLED)5649Longer bars indicate better performance (fps)

3DMark Time Spy

Alienware m15 R27892Origin PC Evo 16-S7346Razer Blade (2019, OLED)6634HP Omen X 2S6304Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Port Royal (RTX)

Alienware m15 R24870Origin PC Evo 16-S4322Razer Blade (2019, OLED)4198HP Omen X 2S3904Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Alienware m15 R2Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,667MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 with Max-Q Design; 1TB Intel Raid 0
Origin PC Evo 16-SMicrosoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,667MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 with Max-Q Design; 512GB SSD + 2TB HDD
HP Omen X 2SMicrosoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,667MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 with Max-Q Design; 1TB SSD
Razer Blade (2019, OLED)Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-9750H; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,667MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 with Max-Q Design; 512GB SSD

All Rights Reserved for Joshua Goldman

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