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Dell's latest gaming laptop is an ultraportable machine I wouldn't mind bringing to work

The Alienware m16 R2 balances powerful hardware while also being low-key enough to bring to the office.
Written by Cesar Cadenas, Contributing Writer
Cesar Cadenas/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Alienware m16 R2 aims to be the perfect laptop for gamers and professionals alike, and it succeeds.
  • It delivers high-level performance and a 2K display that'll make both groups smile, while giving users a way to tone down the RGB lighting via Stealth Mode.
  • You'll need to keep that charger close by, as the M16 R2's battery doesn't last very long.

Gaming laptops are often on the cutting edge of technology, housing some of the industry's best hardware. Super fast Meteor Lake processors, visually stunning RTX 40-series GPUs, the works. With that in mind, you'd think that professionals looking for powerful machines would be clamoring to buy one of these machines for themselves, but that's not really the case. Gaming laptops aren't exactly ubiquitous, but why? Well, it might have to do with their flashy RGB lights that light up like Disney's Electrical Parade. 

Also: The best gaming laptops of 2024: Get your game on

Gaming devices often come equipped with RGB lighting, which looks cool, but can be pretty distracting, especially when you're in a work meeting trying to look serious and have a laptop lit up like a Christmas tree in front of you. Subtlety is the name of the game here. Thankfully, manufacturers are taking notice of this potential shift in customer preference. Dell, for one, has come up with a solution in a new gaming laptop that also has the working professional in mind: the Alienware m16 R2.

View at Dell

I am a big fan of Dell's design choices here. The m16 R2 strikes a good balance of looking aesthetically cool while also maintaining practicality. On the outside, you have a shiny dark grey exterior with a stylized number 16 and an Alienware logo at the top. You'll notice there isn't a big thermal shelf jutting out; the heat vents are flush with the display when positioned upright. Ditching the shelf makes this laptop easier to carry compared to bulkier models. Owners will need all the help they can get since the m16 R2 isn't easy to carry around, it weighs nearly six pounds.

On the inside is a matte black keyboard. The RGB lighting on this dark background makes the colors stand out nicely. Typing on the keyboard was a pleasure, too. The matte surface is smooth to the touch and the keys all have a springy feel to them. I'm a sucker for a comfy keyboard, but the comfort level isn't what I like most about the m16's keyboard. If you look closely at the function keys, you'll notice different icons than what you would see on a standard keyboard, as they have unique functionalities made specifically for this laptop.

Also: I went hands-on with Lenovo's transparent laptop at MWC, and it's surprisingly functional

F2 is the most useful in my opinion since it activates Stealth Mode. This mode causes the RGB lights to instantly turn white, making the machine look more like a generic work laptop. This is super useful for when you're in a public setting and don't want to attract attention to yourself. Pressing F1 on the other hand activates Performance Mode. Hitting the button while gaming forces the hardware to instantly perform better by defaulting the hardware to preset settings optimized for gaming. The problem with this mode is that it also immediately activates the cooling fans, and they're quite loud. At least the fans do work well at keeping the laptop from overheating.

F4, F5, and F6 are for keybinds, letting you tie custom actions to them, with F3 reserved for saving your keybinds. All the usual audio control functions have been moved to the far right. Besides the keyboard, I enjoy how the edge of the palm rest at the front of the machine is noticeably round. It's softer on the wrists when compared to other laptops, ensuring a comfortable typing experience. Features like these allow the m16 R2 to pull double duty at being a gaming and work-centric laptop and indicate that Dell put a lot of thought into designing the model. 

One thing worth noting though is that I did find the trackpad to be a little small. Perhaps they wanted to make room for the speakers above the keyboard, in which case I say it was a worthwhile move since the audio sounds great for a laptop. Just keep in mind that they're not powerful enough to fill a room.

Also: Dell XPS 16 (2024) review: Best Windows laptop I've tested so far this year

The Alienware m16 R2 runs on an Intel Core Ultra 7 155H, a processor I notice is commonly found on many recently released laptops. It's a good option as it offers solid performance while not inflating the price tag too much. To see what it's capable of, I ran it through the Geekbench test where the processor earned a score of 12,725, outperforming the Ultra 9's average score of 12,611. So on the right laptop, the Ultra 7 can be better than the higher-end model. 

Alongside the CPU are the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070 graphics card and 16GB of RAM, though it would've been nice to have 32GB. I experienced a dip in performance when I was playing Helldivers 2 at high graphical settings. But 16GB is fine; it gets the job done in most situations.

Cesar Cadenas/ZDNET

Speaking of video games, the gamers out there will love the device's screen. It's a 16-inch 2K resolution display (2,560 x 1,600 pixels) with a refresh rate of 240Hz. A high refresh rate enables smooth and responsive gameplay, making it a near necessity for fast-paced titles.

All this hardware does come with a power cost, however. While it's unplugged from a power source, the battery on the m16 R2 doesn't last very long despite all the tech meant to support its longevity. I performed my usual test of running an endlessly playing YouTube live stream at 720p and 50 percent brightness, and it lasted 6.5 hours with Best Power Efficient enabled.  

ZDNET's buying advice

I recommend the Alienware m16 R2 to people who want a laptop that can pull double duty. It excels at being an entertainment/gaming machine but it's inconspicuous enough for the office. Prices for the laptop start at $1,549, but if you start upgrading the hardware to look something like my review unit, it'll cost you $1,849. 

I should mention that it's possible to customize certain parts of the device even after you've purchased it. You can, for example, upgrade the SSD from 1 TB of storage up to 8 TB. To learn how to do this, you'll have to follow the set of instructions on pages 36 to 44 of the laptop's Owner's Manual. You can find said manual on Dell's website.

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