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Alienware m16 R2 review: When less power makes for a better laptop

Despite a lower graphics ceiling, the R2 is much more well-rounded than its predecessor.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The Alienware m16 R2 is a rarity among modern laptops. That’s because normally after a major revamp, gadget makers like to keep new models on the market for as long as possible to minimize manufacturing costs. However, after its predecessor launched last year sporting a fresh design, the company reengineered the entire system again for 2024 while also limiting how big of a GPU can fit inside. So what gives? The trick is that by looking at the configurations people actually bought, Alienware was able to rework the m16 into a gaming laptop with a sleeker design, better battery life and a more approachable starting price, which is a great recipe for a well-balanced notebook.

There are so many changes on the m16 R2’s chassis it’s hard to believe it’s from the same line. Not only has Alienware gotten rid of the big bezels and chin from the R1, but the machine is also way more portable now. Weight is down more than 20 percent to 5.75 pounds (from 7.28 pounds) and it’s also significantly more compact with a depth of 9.8 inches (versus 11.4 inches before). For some style points, Alienware added RGB lighting around the perimeter of the touchpad. This result is a major upgrade for anyone who wants to take the laptop on the go. It fundamentally changes the system from something more like a desktop replacement to a portable all-rounder.

The Alienware m16 R2 is a great example of a laptop designed to suit its customers, because while it’s not as powerful as its predecessor, it’s more compact, has longer battery life and a more affordable starting price than before.

Pros
  • Speedy 240Hz screen
  • Better than expected battery life
  • Unique design
  • Good port selection
  • Solid value
Cons
  • No HDR support
  • Display could be brighter
  • Toasty vents
$1,499 at Dell

Critically, despite being smaller, the m16 R2 still has a great array of connectivity options. On its sides are two USB 3.2 Type-A ports, a microSD card reader, an Ethernet jack and a 3.5mm audio socket. Around back, there are two USB-C slots (one supports Thunderbolt 4 while the other has DisplayPort 1.4), a full-size HDMI 2.1 connector and a proprietary barrel plug for power. Generally, I like this arrangement as moving some ports to the rear of the laptop helps keep clutter down. That said, I wish Alienware had switched the placement of the Ethernet jack and one of the USB-C ports, as I find myself reaching for the latter much more often.

While it doesn't have support for HDR, the 16-inch display on the Alienware m16 R2 does have a speedy 240Hz refresh rate.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The m16 R2 has a single display option: a 16-inch 240Hz panel with a QHD+ resolution (2,560 x 1,600). It’s totally serviceable and for competitive gamers, that high refresh rate could be valuable during matches where potential advantage matters. But you don’t get any support for HDR, so colors don’t pop as much as they would on a system with an OLED screen. Furthermore, brightness is just OK at around 300 nits, which might not be a big deal if you prefer gaming at night or in darker environments. But if you plan on lugging this around to a place with big windows or a lot of sunlight, games and movies may look a bit subdued. That said, it’s not a deal breaker, I just wish this model had some other display options like the previous one.

While the m16 R2’s sleeker design is a major plus, the trade-off is less space for a beefy GPU. So unlike its predecessor, the biggest card that fits is an NVIDIA RTX 4070. This may come as a downer for performance enthusiasts, but Alienware said it made this change after seeing only a small fraction of buyers opt for RTX 4080 graphics on the old model. Even so, the R2 can still hold its own when playing AAA titles. In Cyberpunk 2077 at 1080p and ultra graphics, it hit 94 fps, barely behind what we saw from the ASUS ROG G16 (95 fps) with a more powerful 4080. And while the performance gap grew slightly when I turned ray tracing on, the m16 still pumped out a very playable framerate of 62 fps (versus 69 fps for the G16).

One of the biggest benefits of the m16 R2’s redesign is that it allowed Alienware to install a larger 90Wh battery versus the 84Wh pack in its predecessor. When you combine that with components and fans better tailored to the kind of performance this machine delivers, you get improved longevity. On our rundown test, the m16 R2 lasted 7 hours and 51 minutes, which is longer than both the Razer Blade 14 (6:46) and the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 (7:29) and just shy of what we got from a similarly specced XPS 16 (8:31). That said, it’s still not as good as the ASUS G16’s time of 9:17. Regardless, the ability to go longer between charges is never a bad thing. Meanwhile, for those who want to pack super light, one of the m16 R2’s USB-C ports in the back supports power input, though you won’t get the full 240 watts like you do with Alienware’s included brick.

As always, the m16 R2 has a light-up version of Alienware's iconic logo on its lid.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

For 2024, it would have been so easy for Alienware to give the m16 a basic spec refresh and call it a day. But it didn’t. Instead, the company looked at its customers' preferences and gave it a revamp to match. So despite not having the same top-end performance as before, the R2 is still a very capable gaming laptop with a more compact chassis, improved battery life and a lower starting price of $1,500 with an RTX 4050. Sure, I wish its display was brighter and that there was another panel option, but getting 240Hz standard is pretty nice.

Really, the biggest argument against the m16 R2 is that for higher-specced systems like our $1,850 review unit with an RTX 4070, you can spend another $150 for an ASUS ROG G16 with the same GPU, a brighter and more colorful OLED display and an even lighter design that weighs a full pound less. But for people seeking a well-priced gaming machine that can do a bit of everything, there’s a lot of value in the m16 R2.

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