The Alienware M16 is a stylish and well-made gaming laptop with a vast range of configuration options, including a potent but efficient AMD Ryzen 9 Dragon Range CPU.
- Impressive performance for the money
- Stylish and well made
- Excellent upgrade options
- Small trackpad
- Heavy for a 16-inch laptop
- Rotten battery life
- AMD Dragon Range Ryzen 9 CPU and Nvidia RTX 4070 GPUThe combination AMD’s latest Dragon Range CPU and an Nvidia RTX 4070 graphics chip creates a great combination of value and performance
- Colourful 16-inch IPS displayThe display has wide gamut coverage and can be set to dynamically adjust between 120Hz and 240H or 60Hz and 120Hz.
- Huge range of upgrade options No other manufacturer offers such a wide choice of CPUs, GPUs, storage, memory and display options in its laptop models.
If you are in the market for a hard-core gaming laptop and money isn’t an issue, chances are you are looking at something with an Asus ROG or a Dell Alienware badge. There are alternatives, but for dyed-in-the-wool thoroughbred gaming, ROG and Alienware are the default choices.
ROG was first out of the gates with an RTX 40-series 16-inch gaming laptop in the form of the Strix Scar 16. Now we have the Alienware alternative, another 16-inch machine called the M16, powered by one of AMD’s most recent and much-praised Dragon Range CPUs.
Being an Alienware machine means you have access to many options at purchase. These include four CPUs (two Intel, two AMD), five GPUs (four Nvidia, one AMD), two keyboards, three displays, and more memory and storage options than you can shake a stick at. The effect this can have on price is dramatic.
The cheapest model costs £2149/$1699. That gets you a Ryzen 7 7745HX CPU, RTX 4060 GPU, a 1TB SSD, 16GB of RAM and a 165Hz display. At the other end of the scale, £5129/$4599 gets you a Core i9 13900HX chip, RTX 4090 GPU, 8TB of storage, and 64GB of RAM, but, oddly, only the entry-level 165Hz display. If you want the 420Hz FullHD+ or 240Hz QHD+ screen, you must downgrade to the RTX 4080 GPU in the UK, although that’s seemingly not the case in the USA.
Design and Keyboard
- Striking Alienware design cues
- Mechanical keyboard option
- Small touchpad
Alienware laptops have traditionally been aesthetically striking, and the 2023 M16 R1 has all the expected Alienware design cues. This includes the bright, alien head logo on the lid and keyboard deck, the latter doubling up as the power button, the hexagonal exhaust grille above the keyboard and the Stadium LED strip surrounding the rear ports.
This year, Alienware has taken a big step forward with the build quality of the new M-series laptops. The 2022 model M15 R7 wasn’t badly built, but the new M16 R1 feels more solid and durable. The metal case lends the M16 R1 a premium feel, and the finish resists greasy fingerprints.
The lid is still a bit wobbly, though, a side-effect of it not being fully laminated with a glass cover, something common to most gaming laptops.
The Alienware M16 R1 is not a light laptop: at 3.25Kg, it’s considerably heavier than the 2.4Kg Medion Erazer X20 or the 2.5Kg Asus ROG Strix Scar 16. Even the hefty Acer Predator Helios 16 is lighter at 2.9Kg. The external dimensions of 368.9 x 289.9 x 25.4mm make it wider and deeper, if slightly thinner, than the ROG and Medion machines.
There’s only one colour option, the gun metal-grey Dark Metallic Moon. This will disappoint anyone who, like me, appreciates Alienware’s striking and ethereal Lunar Light colourway.
The keyboard is a basic chiclet affair with no design nods to the gaming community like emboldened WASD keys. It also lacks a numeric keypad though you get dedicated volume keys on the right and full-sized arrow keys. A tap of the Fn 1 key toggles the system into and out of high-performance mode.
You can specify the M16 R1 with Cherry’s ultra-low profile mechanical keys. For an extra £35/$50, the mechanical keyboard is an obvious choice unless noise is an issue. Whichever you choose, you get per-key sRGB lighting and the option to create your own macros.
A side-effect of the deep vent grille above the keyboard is the reduced space below the keyboard. That results in a tiny touchpad, just 112mm wide and 65mm deep. There simply isn’t room for anything larger. It works perfectly well, there just isn’t enough of it.
Removing the metal plate from the bottom of the Alienware M16 R1 is easy. Once inside, you will find room for a second SSD and easy access to the two SODIMM RAM mounts and the Qualcomm WCN685x Wi-Fi 6E wireless card.
Some Alienware M16 R1 models (those with the AMD, RTX 4080 and RTX 4090 GPUs) come with a second pair of 30mm SSD slots, increasing the potential storage capacity from 8TB to 9TB and adding RAID 5 to the RAID 0/1 configuration of the twin-drive models. Dell seems parsimonious not to have made this a feature of all models because, inside my review machine, the free space for the two smaller drivers was just that, free.
The Sandisk 1TB PCIe 4 SSD in my review machine was a solid performer with sequential read and write speeds of 7GB/sec and 5.2GB/sec, respectively. This means game loading times won’t be a problem.
The Alienware M16 R1 has a wide selection of I/O ports with two USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 and two USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, 2.5GbE Ethernet LAN, HDMI 2.1 and Mini DisplayPort 1.4 video outputs, a 3.5mm audio jack and an SD card reader. If you opt for an Intel CPU, the Type-C ports are Thunderbolt 4 spec.
I do disagree with the positioning, though. Most of the ports are at the back, apart from the audio jack, the LAN port and one USB-A. And those three are all very closely grouped together on the left-hand side. Life would be much easier if one or both Type-C ports were located on the right. Incidentally, you can’t charge the Alienware M16 R1 through either Type-C port, so it’s good that the 330W power brick is reasonably small and light.
- Colourful 16-inch 240Hz 2.5K IPS display
- Loud Dolby Atmos speaker system
- Advanced Optimus GPU switching
The Alienware M16 sports a 16-inch 2560 x 1600 16:10 IPS affair with a host of refresh rate options: 60Hz, 120H, 240Hz and Dynamic 120/240 and Dynamic 60/120 are all on offer. Higher refresh rates severely impact battery life, so I would suggest opting for Dynamic 60/120.
The Alienware M16 R1’s IPS panel is a solid performer for a gaming laptop display. Colour gamut coverage is good, with 99.5% sRGB, 90.2% Adobe RGB and 96.6% DCI-P3. The Delta E colour accuracy came in at 3.14, which is fine for general use but somewhat on the high side for anyone wanting to undertake colour-critical work.
The Alienware Command Centre app has no settings to change the colour profile of the display. This is in stark contrast to the plethora of options that Asus ROG offers in its comparable Armoury Crate programme and that even Medion offers in the Erazer Major X20.
The maximum brightness of 346 nits was acceptable rather than remarkable; the same applies to the 1174:1 contrast ratio. Motion handling, however, was spot on, with hardly any ghosting or smearing and support for Nvidia’s G-Sync adaptive sync technology.
Above the display sits a competent 1080p webcam that also supports Windows Hello facial recognition, which is a welcome feature. Too many expensive gaming laptops lack biometric security.
The stereo speakers pump out an impressive amount of volume, 79.2dB(A) measured from a 1m distance, and there’s enough bass to make listening to music a pleasurable experience. The soundscape can get quite raucous at maximum volume. However, if you dial the volume down to 80%, it regains its composure while still being more than loud enough to fill a room.
- AMD Ryzen 9 7845HX Dragon Range is powerful and efficient
- Good gaming performance from the RTX 4070 GPU
- No thermal issues and no excessive fan noise
The Ryzen 9 7845HX Dragon Range CPU is AMD’s answer to Intel’s latest Raptor Lake Core i7 and i9 chips. AMD’s pitch is similar performance but greater efficiency, and judging by our experience with the Asus ROG Strix Scar 17, AMD is being truthful.
The 12-core 7845HX processor in the Alienware M16 can’t compete with the 16-core 7945HX in the Asus machine, but it still delivers impressive performance with little heat generation.
Across the board, the Alienware M16 R1 compared well to the Intel Core i9-13900HX-powered Medion Erazer Major X20. Both laptops use a 140W TGP RTX 4070 GPU, but the Alienware generates less heat and produces less fan noise when running flat-out.
It bears repeating how cool the Alienware M16 R1 runs. No matter how I thrashed it, I never recorded an external temperature higher than 40°C, and even that was localised to the exhaust grille above the keyboard. The keyboard itself never got above 34°C.
The Alienware is surprisingly quiet, too. Even in Overdrive mode, the maximum performance setting that starts all four cooling fans spinning like dervishes, the noise is never annoyingly loud. When I placed my sound meter next to the exhaust ports, it only registered a 25dB(A) jump from the ambient level in the room.
Even at a 2560 x 1600 resolution, titles like Cyberpunk 2077 and Returnal ran smoothly on the Alienware M16 R1, averaging 55.9fps and 60fps, respectively, at the highest detail settings but without ray tracing or DLSS. Metro Exodus, a real system breaker, ran at 35fps, but engaging DLSS in Balanced mode upped that to a more respectable 53.1fps, again at QHD+.
Alienware M16 Gaming Benchmarks
The Cinebench R23 scores of 26,132 multi-core and 1872 single-core and PCMark 10 score of 8667 mean that the Alienware M16 R1 can handle heavyweight productivity tasks as well as Triple-A gaming.
Indicantally, as is becoming more and more common, the Alienware M16 lacks a manual MUX switch but comes with Nvidia’s Advanced Optimus system, which switches between the integrated AMD Radeon 610M GPU and the RTX 4070 without the need for a reboot. If you want to select the discrete GPU manually, you can do that in the Nvidia control panel.
- Battery life is poor, considering the 86Wh capacity
- 3.5 hours is the best you will see
My first battery test returned an extremely disappointing result of 2 hours and 30 minutes. Adjusting the display refresh rate from a fixed 240Hz to Dynamic 60-120Hz added an hour to that, but that’s still pretty poor, even for a powerful gaming laptop.
While the 90Wh Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 lasted for 5 hours 51 minutes in the PCMark 10 Modern Office battery benchmark, the 86Wh M16 lasted for 3 hours 23 minutes. Granted, the Medion Erazer Major X20 does even worse, but it’s only got a puny 62.3Wh battery inside it.
To give you a real-world idea of how little you’ll get from a charge, one hour of Netflix viewing sucked 38% of the battery. Don’t start watching a film with a runtime longer than 2 hours and 30 minutes because you won’t find out what happens at the end.
Should you buy it?
You want lots of spec options: The killer feature on the Alienware M16 is the wide range of options you can choose from at the time of purchase. You can pick your own CPU, GPU, refresh rate, RAM, SSD and even upgrade to a mechanical keyboard.
You want a portable gaming laptop: Stylish and solid, it may be, but at 3.25Kg it weighs a lot, and the battery life is poor. For £300 less, the Medion Erazer Major X20 delivers similar performance and has a standard mechanical keyboard.
The key question here is, is the Alienware M16 R1 a better buy than the Medion Erazer Major X20? The Medion is a few hundred cheaper when you add its standard mechanical keyboard to the Alienware options list, it has a numeric keypad, and it’s lighter.
The Alienware machine has a slight edge in performance, though, and it looks much more stylish, so that’s a tough question to answer. If it were my money, I’d probably go for the Alienware because I’m a bit of a badge snob, and my gaming laptop seldom leaves my desk, so the M16’s 3.25Kg weight isn’t something that worries me.
Of course, what really separates the Alienware M16 from broadly comparable laptops like the Asus ROG Strix Scar 16 is the unrivalled list of options you can choose from. Short of building your own PC, you just don’t see that kind of choice in other places. And if there’s another gaming laptop out there that can take 4 SSDs, I’ve yet to hear about it. For more options, make sure to check out our Best Gaming Laptop list.
How we test
Every laptop we review goes through a series of uniform checks designed to gauge key things, including build quality, performance, screen quality and battery life.
These include formal synthetic benchmarks and scripted tests, plus a series of real-world checks, such as how well it runs popular apps.
We use review machines as our main laptop for at least a week.
We test the performance via both benchmark tests and real-world use.
We test the screen with a colorimeter and real-world use.
We test the battery with a benchmark test and real-world use.
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That depends. You can specify it with either a 165Hz or 240Hz 1600p screen or 420Hz 1080p. Assuming you opt for the 240Hz model, you can set it in Windows to either 60Hz, 120Hz or 240Hz or dynamically switch between 60Hz and 120Hz or between 120Hz and 240Hz.
Along with Asus ROG and Razer, Alienware (a part of the rather less sexy Dell) are the doyens of gaming hardware. All three companies will happily sell you high-quality, highly branded gaming laptops, desktops, keyboards, bags, mice, headsets and, in two cases, chairs. You can safely describe all three brands as high-end.