Alienware m15 R2 Review: Beautiful OLED, Beastly Performance

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Alienware m15 R2: Battery, Thermals, and Acoustics

To test battery life, we used a custom 1080p video running on loop until the system shuts itself down at 5%. Windows 10's Quiet Hours have been enabled to keep any extraneous notifications from stealing precious milliamp-hours of power, too. On each tested system, we calibrated the display to output as close to 115 lux as possible. We were able to get the display right down to 115 lux on the Alienware m15 R2. This setting was three notches above the dimmest possible brightness. The m15 R2 has a 76 watt-hour battery, but it's got a lot more hardware than most of these systems. 
chart battery alienware m15 r2

Among gaming notebooks, the m15 R2 finds itself performing pretty well considering its specs. All of the other systems from our benchmark throwdowns actually scored considerably worse than the Alienware we have here. This is all relative, of course—four hours and change on a charge for watching videos is hardly world-beating, but in the context of high-performance notebooks, it's pretty good. For instance, that's more than three times as long as the Origin PC EVO17-S we reviewed back in June and still more than twice as much battery life as the Lenovo Legion Y740. While the system's middling battery life won't get you through a super-long flight, it's great when put in this context.

While we're on the topic of battery life, we feel we should point out you won't be doing much gaming with the m15 R2 while disconnected from the AC adapter. To test this, we looped the same GRID Autosport benchmark and then unplugged the system to time how long it'd last. The final result was 73 minutes of battery runtime at the same 115 lux. Just over an hour isn't much time, especially for the performance lost, but it would come in handy if the power went out in the middle of a session so you could save your progress. 

More importantly, NVIDIA's Battery Boost detected that we were no longer on wall power, and adjusted the GeForce RTX 2070's power consumption downward. That sent the performance into a spiral, resulting in just 18 frames per second at 3840x2160 while unplugged. After the test completed and we recharged the battery, we tried again at 1080p where performance was a much more manageable 55 frames per second. 

Alienware m15 R2 Thermals and Acoustics

Gaming notebooks have one seemingly unavoidable trait: they're loud because they get hot. That's hardly the fault of notebook manufacturers, though; high gaming performance comes at the cost of high power consumption. That power usage has to be dissipated in the form of heat, and the necessarily small construction of a gaming notebook means that the fans are typically tiny, whiny, and loud. Alienware has not yet circumvented the laws of physics, so the m15 R2 is not immune from this problem.

That said, we can put exact numbers on the thermal and acoustic performance of the system's hardware. To do that, we fired up GRID Autosport, which we chose because the benchmark can be run in a loop. This lets us kill two birds with one stone: record thermal performance and measure framerates over time. The looped nature of the benchmark also meant we didn't have to babysit the system to keep it cranking out the frames. Multitasking is a beautiful thing. 

thermal testing alienware m15 r2

Once 90 minutes had passed, we could press Alt+Enter to put the game in a window and see how the system did. The m15 R2 had no problem keeping the GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q GPU under its thermal limits. According to HWMonitor, the game used 100% of the graphics processor but the temperature never jumped over 75 degrees Celsius. Many desktop graphics cards don't stay that (relatively) cool under load. On the other hand, the system's Core i7-9750H hit the boiling point—literally. Four of the CPUs six cores, at some point, hit 100 degrees Celsius during our 90 minute trial. That's fine, as long as performance wasn't compromised. 

hwmonitor alienware r15 m2

HWMonitor watches several statistics related to the CPU and GPU. Even after 90 minutes, the CPU was still getting up to around 4 GHz under the load of GRID Autosport, which is really nice. While the game was running at full-screen resolutions, the GPU was hitting 100% utilization, and the log from GPU-Z shows that once it got there, it'd only drop down in between runs. The Performance flags under the graphics section aren't counters, unfortunately; they're flags. When the system hits its power limit, the flag is set to 1. That only means that at some point, the GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q did hit its power limit, reliable voltage limit, and utilization limit. Let's see how frame rates fared over that period.

chart grid autosport perf over time
We could measure a slight drop in frames per second over the 90-minute run, but the total change was less than 3%. We started the test at nearly 90 frames per second and the final run was still awfully darn close, at 87.5. The minimum frame suffered a little bit more than that, closer to 6%, but we think you'd have an awfully hard time telling the difference. Over an extended period of time, the m15 R2 does a commendable job keeping playable framerates without endangering itself due to thermal stress. 

Towards the end of our run, it was time to bust out our trusty Samsung Galaxy S10+ to take measurements of the m15 R2's noise level. Unsurprisingly, the Alienware notebook got pretty loud over the course of our run. In our 30-decibel room, the system routinely hit 48-49 decibels, and occasionally crossed over 50. That's pretty loud, but not unexpected for a system with this level of performance. 

noise m15 r2

As far as the noise characteristics are concerned, it's a big whoosh of air with a bit of a turbine sound to it. The fans spin at a very high RPM under load, and the slight whine to the sound is par for the course. We figure most folks playing on a gaming PC like this would be wearing a headset while playing anyway, so the games sounds would likely drown out the system's fan noise. When we placed our hands behind the m15 R2, we could feel a pretty steady stream of heat coming out of the two vents, and a little bit spilling out of the ventilation holes on the sides towards the back as well. The fans are definitely doing their job.

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