Sure, you’d love your gaming laptop to be thin and light, but probably not if slimming down means forgoing the sort of things a gaming laptop should do, like deliver enough space to cool a powerful graphics card and CPU. Only recently, with the advent of more efficient GPU designs from Nvidia and thinner bezels around displays, have PC makers begun to offer thin-and-light laptops that can still push 60 frames per second (fps). The latest company to join the thin-and-light gaming club is Dell, whose new Alienware m15 (starts at $1,299) is the brand’s thinnest laptop ever.
The Alien Goes on a Diet
At 0.83 inch thick, the m15 is somewhere between the absolute thinnest and lightest designs, which hover around 0.7-inch (think the Razer Blade or the Asus ROG Zephyrus), and the Alienwares of old such as the Alienware 15 R3, which were around an inch thick. In fact, despite its 15.6-inch display, the Alienware m15 is even thinner (by 14 percent) and lighter (by 20 percent) than the 13.3-inch Alienware 13. The two laptops share an almost identical footprint, however, which means that the borders around the display and the keyboard are much smaller than on the Alienware 13, giving the Alienware m15 a decidedly svelte look.
The Epic Silver finish on the rear of the display lid also adds to the svelte appearance. The tapered rear edge and large vents clearly indicate that the Alienware m15 is a gaming laptop, but at least with the Epic Silver version, the gaming ostentatiousness is dialed down a bit. If instead you’re unapologetic about your laptop’s primary function, you can instead opt for the Nebula Red lid cover. During a brief demo I only had a chance to get my hands on the Epic Silver version, but judging from Dell’s mockup photos, the Nebula Red model looks aggressively red.
Three Displays, Two GPUs, One Sweet Spot
Dell is offering three display options and two different GPUs for the Alienware m15, and which configurations make the most sense for you will depend on what types of games you play.
The base model comes with a full HD (1,920 by 1,080) In-Plane Switching (IPS) display with a maximum 60Hz refresh rate and an overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with 6GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory. Although Dell hasn’t announced final pricing for this configuration yet, it could result in some very cost-effective graphics performance, especially if you’re willing to play games at medium quality settings and full HD resolution.
But the sweet spot for many casual gamers who care about eliminating any display stuttering is arguably an Alienware m15 configured with a 1080p Twisted Nematic (TN) display whose refresh rate maxes out at 144Hz, paired with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q with 8GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory. Again assuming you’re willing to play games with the graphics quality settings dialed down a bit, you could achieve frame rates above 100 frames per second on many titles, based on the test results PCMag has measured with similarly configured laptops.
The final screen option is a 4K (3,840 by 2,160) IPS panel, which is great for watching movies, but whose resolution is likely too high for even the GTX 1070 to take full advantage of. All three of the display options come with a matte finish to fight glare, although you’ll still see reflections from fluorescent-lit rooms, as you can see in the image above.
The Alienware m15 comes with a single processor option, the hexa-core Intel Core i7-8750H, whose clock speed tops out at 4.1GHz using Intel’s Turbo Boost technology. Memory options include 8GB, 16GB, or 32GB, and Dell offers no less than 10 storage options, ranging from a single 256GB SSD to a dual-drive setup with two 1TB PCI Express M.2 SSDs. The latter is likely to be astronomically expensive and overkill for most people who only play one or two games at a time.
To cool all of these components, Dell’s engineers managed to pack in two air intakes, two exhaust outlets, a fan with 90 blades, and copper heat stacks and pipes. I wasn’t able to play any games during my brief demo, so I’m not sure how hot the base of the laptop might get during an extended session. We’ll have to wait until a unit arrives in PC Labs to evaluate its thermals.
Conveniently Placed Ports
Other than its lean stature, one of the best parts about the Alienware m15’s physical design is that the generous port selection is spread around three sides of the laptop’s base, instead of being clustered on the left and right edges. At the back, you’ll find an HDMI 2.0 output, a USB-C connector with Thunderbolt 3, a mini DisplayPort 1.3 jack, the power port, and even a dedicated port to connect to an Alienware external GPU (eGPU) enclosure, the venerable Alienware Graphics Amplifier.
On the left, there’s a Noble-style physical locking port, a gigabit Ethernet jack, an audio output jack, and a USB 3.0 port. There are two more USB 3.0 ports along the right edge. That’s quite a port selection for such a thin machine, and it’s especially nice that you can connect a monitor, an eGPU, and the power cord without anything sticking out of the sides of the laptop.
The keyboard felt very comfortable for the few moments I was able to type on it, thanks to 1.5mm of travel and a sturdy deck. It’s got a dedicated numeric pad, which is a first for a smaller-than-17-inch Alienware laptop, and it sports a nifty feature that many gamers will appreciate: backlighting that responds to what’s currently taking place in the game you’re playing. There are four lighting zones that can respond individually, and Dell says that more than 150 titles support this feature.
Unfortunately, the touchpad exhibited noticeable flex near the bottom left and right corners when I clicked firmly. It also lacks the programmable lighting that we’ve seen on several other Alienware touchpads, including the Alienware 17 R5 and the Alienware 15 R3.
Fans of customizable lighting need not fear, though: The m15 still has two more programmable lighting zones in addition to the keyboard: the Alienware logo on the back can be customized, and so can the power button’s LED.
Thin and Light Isn’t Everything
As Alienware’s thinnest and lightest laptop yet, the m15 makes a good first impression. Slimming things down isn’t necessarily worth the tradeoff if gaming performance suffers due to thermal or other constraints, though, so we’re eager to put the laptop through its paces in our lab. Stay tuned.
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