Updated: Aug 19, 2021
It took a while, a really long while, but we finally got our hands on the Alienware m15 R2. There are already loads of reviews out there, and if you watch them all, there seems to be one issue that everyone agreed on.
The Alienware m15 R2 runs hot. Really hot. But it’s been some time since then, has Alienware fixed it? The short answer is, it’s a yes… and a no. But first, let’s touch on some of the good points, and one of them is the design.
The m15 R2 is basically a slimmed-down version of the Area 51m. Our model right here is the black version, which Alienware affectionately calls the Dark Side of the Moon. It’s also a matte finish all around, which does help against fingerprint and oil stains.
You, of course, get full RGB with Alienware, with the most prominent being the elongated halo ring that runs around the back of the laptop. Even though as the user, you can’t see it, we still really like it.
Overall, it’s a really nice and refreshing design that looks much better compared to the previous generation and definitely way better than the thick ones.
Here in Singapore, you do get a few options for the display, but our model is equipped with a full HD, 1920 by 1080 IPS panel, which supports 144Hz. One additional feature on our model is Tobii Eye Tracking, which is located on the hinge.
The display itself is vibrant and is basically great for consuming entertainment or playing games. If you’re more on the creative side, like editing photos or videos, it does only cover 100% sRGB. Still not that bad, but perhaps you might want to plug in a professional monitor instead or get the 4K OLED option.
There is a webcam up top, but sadly, it does not support Windows Hello, which I find unfortunate, especially considering the price.
The keyboard is really nice. It’s got a good amount of key travel, and the keys themselves feel nice to the touch.
Out of all the gaming laptops I’ve reviewed so far, I like this keyboard the best. It’s great for gaming, and general typing as well. The trackpad, on the other hand, is a little bit of a letdown.
Firstly, I feel that it can still be slightly larger, but my main gripe with it is the gestures. It doesn’t seem to recognize two or three fingers that well. It’s a decent trackpad, at best.
Speakers are located on the sides, and they sound decent. I do find the older thicker Alienware models sound better, as far as I can remember, but then again, there’s more thickness to play with. For I/O, you get quite a good amount.
Two USB 3.1 ports on the right side, with another one on the left, accompanied by the headphone/mic combo jack and surprisingly enough, an RJ-45 Ethernet Port. But most of it is around the back, where you get HDMI 2.0, MiniDisplay Port 1.4, Thunderbolt 3 as well as the Alienware Graphics Amplifier.
Specs-wise, you do actually get quite a number of options, for you can really choose how you want your Alienware to be, with the highest being an Intel Core i9 and an RTX 2080 Max-Q.
Our model here doesn’t have the highest specs, but I think it’s the one most people would look at.
We’re running an Intel Core i7-9750H, an RTX 2070 Max-Q, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD.
Sadly, however, with this generation of Alienware, you can only upgrade the storage. The RAM is soldered on, and Alienware doesn’t even offer 32GB of RAM, so you’re stuck with 16GB. Repasting will also be a hassle, as the motherboard is flipped, so it’ll take some effort to do maintenance.
We now come to the performance. First, there are many different profiles you can choose from in the Alienware Command Centre.
For all the gaming benchmarks we showed, we used the High Performance profile for power, and Performance for the thermals. But now, we’re going to focus on just one game, Shadow of the Tomb Raider. To keep things standard and fair, we’re using the in-game benchmark, and we’re going to show you the differences between choosing different profiles using the Alienware Command Centre.
So there’s quite a bit of data here, but here’s a quick rundown.
You’ll find that on the Quiet and Cool thermal profile setting, the temperatures and frame rates are essentially within margin of error, even between the two performance profiles. On these two settings, you’ll find that the CPU stays at its base clock of 2.6GHz, thus giving very reasonable temperatures of around 80 degrees celsius, plus or minus. To that point, even the fan noise is almost the same, which is pretty quiet. Frame rates, however, are the least of all of the profiles.
Next, we move on to the Balanced thermal profile. This is where we feel the m15 R2 performs the best. It is essentially the middle ground, and the CPU does boost a little, reaching around 3GHz, while still having reasonable temperatures of about 84 degrees celsius. The GPU clocks are also just a tad higher. The fan noise is, however, much more audible and definitely noticeable if you’re playing without headphones. But still, within reason.
Next is the Performance thermal profile. This is where the m15 R2 starts to fall short. On either power profiles, the CPU would ramp up and hit 4GHz at the start, maintaining those clocks at 100 degrees celsius for a good min, before ramping back down to the base clock of 2.6GHz for another min or so for temperatures to drop. It then goes back up and holds steady at about 3.2GHz, at temperatures nearing 90 degrees celsius. Granted, you do get increased frame rates, almost 10 more frames, but at the cost of thermals, and noise. It is a lot louder now, and will annoy your friends sitting near you. Despite that, you’ll find that the frame rates aren’t that much different compared to the Balanced profile.
Lastly is the Full Speed thermal profile, and this is just a letdown. The CPU will hit 4GHz in the first min and stay at 100 degrees celsius, before starting to ramp down as the benchmark goes on, which brings temperatures down. But the moment the temperatures get lower for a while, the system ramps up again to hit 4GHz and 100 degrees celsius yet again. This pattern keeps repeating, despite the fans running at full blast. Yes, you do get an increase in frames, but at the cost of immense noise, and your CPU running at 100 degrees celsius half the time. With that said, we aren’t even going to touch the overclock profile. Just don’t.
So that’s all the profiles. For gaming, it’s technically still not too bad. It still offers great performance and thermals, as long as you choose the right profile. In our opinion, we suggest using the Balanced profile for both the power and thermals.
Moving on to creative applications, on the other hand, it’s a whole different story.
As you can tell from the scores on our test project renders in Da Vinci Resolve, this very Alienware got beaten in render times compared to the Razer Blade 15 which we reviewed previously, which sports the very same Intel Core i7-9750H, especially for the 4K render.
This is because the system thermal throttled, managing to hit above 3.5GHz for only the first couple of minutes at 100 degrees celsius, before the system finally decided to lower temperatures and reduce the clock speeds back to 2.6GHz base, which does reduce temperatures but inadvertently affected the render speed. It clocks back up after a while, hitting 100 degrees celsius, only to come back down again, so there’s this constant fluctuation in clock speeds.
This is true for all the profiles except the Quiet and Cool thermal profile setting, which reduces the clock speed of the CPU to its base 2.6Ghz, or even lower, so don’t even use that.
With all that, our answer as mentioned… is a yes… and no.
If you’re looking at getting the Alienware m15 R2 or the m17 R2, we would say, only if you want to game. But choose the proper profile.
Now, if you’re looking to get this laptop for creative work. We think no. It’s just not suited. The way the Alienware handles the temperatures vs clock speed balance is out of whack. I would rather it run at a constant 3GHz and maintain a temperature of 90C or so, then have it ramp up and down constantly.
Even so, if you like the Alienware aesthetic, and you’re doing more creative work, I suggest only get it if you go for the 4K OLED display which does cover DCI-P3, and if you know how to under-volt the CPU and tweak all the settings, which will make it run much more stably and cooler at that.
More information about the Alienware m15 R2 (starting from S$3,999) can be found on Dell’s website.