When it comes to gaming systems, Alienware’s offerings have differentiated themselves with an edgy design and that glowing alien cranium.
Their computers have sometimes been chunky, but somehow Alienware managed to make massive chunks of plastic look cool and sleek.
But in today’s market, we expect everything to be slimlined, compact, portable. Oh, and with as much display as will fit into a svelte body as possible.
Thankfully, Nvidia's Max-Q architecture has allowed portable computer makers to slim their gaming laptops down considerably, and Alienware’s M15 is its lightest, slimmest gaming laptop beast yet.
But does it make light work of the latest gaming titles? Let’s find out.
Design and build: Extraterrestrial chic
Like them or loathe them, you can always spot an Alienware laptop when you see one. PC gamers will probably be more predisposed to be drawn to their "gaming chic" style, while MacBook users will probably run a mile, clutching their Apple laptops for dear life as they go.
For what it's worth, we actually quite like the Alienware M15. It feels well-made, built to last and much more distinctive than every other gaming laptop out there not made by Razer.
True, you do pay a premium for all this, but in a market where products often have one or more compromise when it comes to build quality, Alienware's laptop at least feels like it's made from the best components.
The first thing to note about the M15 is just how thin and light it is. Most gaming laptops are so big and heavy, they should come with some sort of medical questionnaire before you buy them and have to haul them around.
The M15 isn't "ultrabook" light, but you could still carry it around in a bag or satchel as your everyday computer without feeling like you need to book in time with a masseur afterwards.
While the Razer Blade 15 will still win out for those who value portability above all else (2kg to the M15’s 2.16KG), for an Alienware laptop, the M15 is by far its lightest one yet.
The laptop is tapered in a way that the front is slimmer than the back, but even at its thickest point where the screen hinges, it's only 2.1cm. Again, this makes it portable enough to take with you as an everyday machine.
One thing that PC gamers love is lighting, and the Alienware delivers here with a backlit keyboard powered by AlienFX, which can be synchronised with other peripherals such as mice, and even games like Metro: Last Light.
Our review unit was the M15 configuration (£1749), which features a lovely soft-brushed ‘Nebula Red’ finish. As with all gaming laptops, there are lots of other configs, some of which feature a more uniform silver colour scheme.
The Alienware M15 may be small, but it's not lacking in connectivity. You get Thunderbolt USB-C, Gigabyte Ethernet, HDMI, Mini-Display Port, Noble Lock, Alienware Graphics Amplifier ports and a headphone jack, which is basically all you need.
Screen: Out of this world
Some people will demand a 4K screen in a gaming laptop, and Alienware offers a more expensive model for those who want it. However, you really won't see too much of a difference on a 15-inch screen, and even if you have a 4K monitor, you really need a 1080Ti graphics processor to push all those pixels at high detail in stable frame rates. The M15 comes with a GTX 1070.
Alienware has quite smartly decided to use a 1080p display for the M15 that we used. The entry-level model features a 60Hz refresh rate, which is fine, but our review model supported 144Hz for silky smooth gameplay.
We'd urge you to pick this model if you're going to be gaming, as it really gives you the edge in fast-paced games like Overwatch and Rocket League.
Inside the M15's compact frame sits some serious power. Our review unit packed an 8th-gen Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 32GB of RAM and NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1070 graphics processor -- more than enough power to run even the latest games at high settings on the 1080p display.
Performance: Feel the GeForce
While Nvidia managed to shrink its graphics tech down with the introduction of Max-Q architecture, the GTX 1070 processor in the M15 is still a graphical powerhouse. One of the PC's most demanding games, The Witcher 3, looked so stunning, it's enough to make your PS4 Pro or Xbox One X blush.
However, such massive open-world games running on ultra settings will make this compact laptop bring the heat. It may be small and slim, but pushing out all that hot air is no small feat, and you'll definitely want to keep the machine clear of your lap when playing games.
The cooling fans can also result in a lot of noise, meaning you'll want to pack some headphones when you're playing games. That's not to say the speakers in the machine are weak, it's just that the sheer noise of those fans tend to drown everything else out.
Software and features: Alien command
Managing your PC games has become a bit of a nightmare thanks to the disparate stores that are now selling PC games. Thankfully, Alienware has a command centre where you can put all your games in one place, be it from Steam, Origin or any other store.
From here, you can change the power, audio and thermal settings for each game. This means you can make tweaks to ensure you’re getting the most longevity out of the machine's battery, as well as try to get it to run as smoothly as possible.
You can also customise the AlienFX’s RGB backlighting by switching up the colour, brightness and effects of your lights. You can select from 12 preset colours or use a colour wheel to customise it to your tastes.
It has seven effects to choose from that all sound suitability alienesque, including ‘Morph’, ‘Pulse’, ‘Breathing’, ‘Spectrum’, ‘Rainbow Wave’, ‘Color’ and ‘Static’.
This is fun to have a play around with, but the fact that certain games are pre-programmed to work with AlienFX thankfully takes some of the work out of it.
Outside of the command centre, the M15 has an FHD webcam with face tracking, which means your face stays in focus when you're having a Skype call.
Battery life: Zapping power
Dell claims the M15 can last for 9 hours, but as with all things battery related, your mileage will vary. Dramatically, if you're playing games.
Wheeling out Geralt again, I ran The Witcher 3 at full pelt with all the settings on Ultra. After unplugging the power, the game suffered from a rather dramatic framerate drop, while the display brightness reduced errattically to compensate for the power The Witcher was zapping.
It was a shame, as we'd set the machine to ‘best performance’ in the battery settings. Engaging ‘energy saving’ mode prolonged the playtime, but even in this mode, The Witcher 3 only lasted just over 50 minutes before draining the battery from full to zero.
Alienware is at least aware of the battery limitations of its machine, so the power button will start to flash whenever you're about to run out of juice.
The four year-old Dragon Age Inquisition, which is less processor-hungry even on Ultra settings, allowed me about 2 hours of playtime from the battery. So ideally, you're always going to have a power outlet nearby whenever you're gaming.
If you're not gaming, the battery fares much better, matching the 8 hours that has become standard for most laptops nowadays. I was able to take the laptop out and about, get some work done, and even have a Netflix binge before I had to recharge in the evening.
Alienware M15 Verdict
Alienware has long had a tradition of unique laptop designs, and the M15 carries on this tradition admirably.
It brings an edgy, sci-fi vibe to your portable gaming, and even though the M15 is probably the safest looking piece of Alienware hardware, it still has that attention-grabbing factor that makes it so desirable.
Whipping it out on a train for some gaming will probably turn more heads than your average laptop. And thankfully, thanks to that light, portable design, it's far more likely you'll want to carry the M15 around with you than previous Alienware laptops.
The only limiting factor is that battery life, plus the noise it kicks out from the fans when you put it under pressure. But if you're near a power outlet and have some headphones, the M15 is a great gaming laptop with power to spare.
It’s not quite as suave as the Razer Blade 15, which could pass for your everyday work laptop, but if you're after a portable, compact gaming laptop and you’ve got the cash to splash on Alienware, the M15 is a great choice.