Alienware m15 review: Dell’s first thin gaming laptop doesn’t disappoint

Finally, there's a light-weight Alienware notebook.

Alienware finally made a thin and light gaming laptop, and it was worth the wait. For years, Dell's gaming brand has been pumping out powerful, but hefty gaming machines. The Alienware m15, though, is its first step towards a truly modern laptop design. And it's here just in time -- throughout 2018 we saw companies like ASUS, Razer and MSI all deliver thin new machines of their own. The m15 is a sign Alienware won't be left behind.

The m15 weighs 4.8 pounds and is 18mm thick. That's a huge improvement over Alienware's earlier batch of notebooks, which are the sort of things only gamers could love. They're seriously heavy -- the last 15-inch model weighed 7.7 pounds, and even the 13" version clocked in at almost six. One reason for their heft was Alienware's huge cooling setup, which stuck out behind the displays like they were venting hot rods.

Back when gaming laptops were clocking in closer to 10 pounds, Alienware's designs seemed like they were on the cutting edge. And for the most part, it made sense to focus on cooling more than portability. But times have changed, now gaming notebooks can be both powerful and portable. Even though it's a massive step forward for Alienware, the m15 still lags a bit behind the competition when it comes to weight. The MSI GS65 Stealth Thin, for example, has similar specs, but is noticeably lighter at 4.2 pounds. Still, it's nice to see Alienware playing in the under-5 pound arena.

This is also its first notebook to feature really thin screen bezels, another major trend gaming machines embraced this year. Unfortunately, there are still some hefty bezels at the top and bottom of the 15.6-inch display, which looks a little dated. On the whole, the m15 still looks distinctly Alienware -- just toned down quite a bit.

The magnesium alloy case is smooth and solid, and aside from some stylized speaker grills, a small LED Alienware logo on the back of the case and lights on the keyboard, there's not too much extraneous bling. It's a surprisingly subtle design, which also makes the m15 a better fit in offices and classrooms than other Alienware notebooks.

The company didn't disappoint when it comes to ports, either. There are three USB 3.0 connections, and a gigabit Ethernet port with a drop-down latch on the sides, as well as HDMI, Mini-displayport and USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 on the back.

If you're getting this machine, you're mainly concerned with games. And not surprisingly, the m15 is more than capable. Our review model included the NVIDIA GTX 1070 Max-Q, an Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, 16GB of RAM an NVMe SSD, and a 1080p 144Hz screen. It was pretty much built to push games to their limit at that resolution.

While playing Overwatch with Ultra graphics settings, I saw between 110 and 130 frames per second. And in Forza Horizon 4's benchmark, it reached an average of 77 FPS in 1080p with Ultra settings. If you need more GPU power, you can also plug in Alienware's custom amplifier and tap into a desktop graphics card.

The 1080p 144Hz 15.6-inch screen is ideal if you're interested in high frame rates, but there are also 1080p and 4K options at 60Hz. The 4K screen is the better choice if you're concerned about color accuracy though, since it covers 100 percent of the SRGB gamut, compared to just 72 percent on the 1080p monitor. With the high refresh rate display, the m15 can easily handle frame rates up to 144 FPS smoothly, without any of the hiccups you'd see on slower standard screens.

It also helps that everything simply looks great on the display, from the rain drops against the camera while racing in Forza, to the mayhem of huge Destiny 2 and Overwatch firefights. Thanks to Dell's display expertise, it's a great notebook for watching video too, though it's not as comfortable as true ultraportables when you're lounging on the couch.

Even though Alienware had to move away from its huge exhaust cooling, the m15 still managed to stay under 85c while I was gaming. It did a solid job of pushing out heat, only the bottom back of the machine got too hot to touch after a play session. Just be sure to let the m15 cool down before you put it on your lap.

While it's strange to say this about a gaming notebook, I also really liked the Alienware m15's keyboard and trackpad. Typing felt great, with a solid amount of responsiveness and key travel. The trackpad was smooth and accurate, and it did a great job of differentiating between left and right clicks. We've found that notebook makers sometimes skimp on these components, like with MSI's Stealth Thin, which had an incredibly stiff trackpad. They probably figure users are relying on mice most of the time, but you still need a good trackpad for productivity apps.

With the optional 90 W/hr battery, the Alienware m15 delivered battery life on-par with other thin gaming notebooks. In our benchmark, which involved looping an HD video until the power ran out, it lasted eight and a half hours, while Razer's Blade lasted twenty minutes longer. In everyday use, the m15 kept going between four and five hours. But of course, playing any games would drain that even quicker. That battery is a $50 upgrade over the standard 60W/hr unit, and it's a no-brainer at that price.

The only major downgrade I noticed compared to Dell's larger Alienware machines was sound. Its speakers are loud, but pretty tinny. They're better than most other thin gaming notebooks, at least.

The Alienware m15 starts at $1,380 with an NVIDIA GTX 1060, 8GB of RAM, a 1080p 60 Hz screen and that lower capacity battery. At the very least, I'd suggest shelling out for 16GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD alongside the 1TB hybrid drive, and the larger battery, which adds another $290 altogether. And if you want the more powerful GTX 1070 Max Q GPU, tack on another $200. But if you're doing that, you should also bump up the display beyond 60Hz. Wait until the end of this month, and you'll also get your choice of NVIDIA's new RTX 20-series GPUs. This is the problem for gamers, it's tough to tell when to stop speccing up.

Once you've sorted out the m15's pricing though, it'll still likely come in cheaper than the MSI GS65, which starts around $1,800 with a GTX 1060. The new Razer Blade (above), which is the most polished gaming notebook we've seen recently, starts at $1,900 and quickly gets more expensive as you upgrade. Dell also introduced the larger Alienware m17 and fully customizable Area 51m at CES. Those are both solid options if you're looking for a bigger screen, though you'll lose a lot of portability with the Area 51m.

Overall, the Alienware m15 is a better value than the competition. It's not as light as MSI's, and it's not as sleek as the Blade, but it's powerful and attractive enough for any gamer who wants a more portable gaming rig. Best of all, the Alienware m15 proves that Dell is finally moving beyond the gaming laptop stone age.


In use

PCMark 7

PCMark 8 (Creative Accelerated)

3DMark 11

3DMark (Sky Diver)

ATTO (top reads/writes)

Alienware m15 (2018) (2.2GHz - 4.1Ghz Intel i7-8750H, NVIDIA GTX 1070 Max-Q)



E22,298 / P17,118 / X7,100


2.56GB/s / 432MB/s

Alienware 15 (2017) (2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ, NVIDIA GTX 1070)



E17,041 / P16,365


2.9GB/s / 0.9GB/s

Razer Blade (2018) (2.2GHz - 4.1GHz Intel i7-8750H, NVIDIA GTX 1070 Max-Q)



E17,833 / P15,371 / X 6,760


2.1GB/s / 1.3GB/s

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin (2.2GHz - 4.1GHz Intel i7-8750H, NVIDIA GTX 1070 Max-Q)



E20,969 / P15,794 / X6,394


542MB/s / 482MB/s

Gigabyte Aero 15X 2018 (2.2GHz - 4.1GHz Intel i7-8750H, NVIDIA GTX 1070 Max-Q)



E18,920 / P15,130 / X6,503


2.4GB/s / 1.5GB/s

ASUS ROG Zephyrus (2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ, NVIDIA GTX 1080)



E20,000 / P17,017 / X7,793


3.4GB/s / 1.64GB/s

Alienware m15

Alienware m15 (2018)


Razer Blade (2018)


MSI GS65 Stealth Thin


Gigabyte Aero 15X (2018)


ASUS ROG Zephyrus


Alienware 15 (2017)


Pricing and the competition


Alienware m15