If the latest version of the Alienware 17 gaming rig was a character in a video game, the earth would shudder when it walked and it would have a million hit points with a weapon so powerful it would change the balance of power in the whole game. This laptop is almost perfect for the hard core gamer, with tons of power, a high quality display, excellent heat management and an ingenious way of converting it into a desktop gaming rig. All of that combined means the Alienware 17 is one of the best gaming laptops in the world.
Like with every iteration of the Alienware 17, this is a big laptop that borders on being huge. This means it is heavy and is not for anyone who is embarrassed by their love of game. If you do find this kind of aesthetic embarrassing, then this is not the right machine for you. What makes the Alienware stand out even amongst its gaming peers is its illuminated trackpad which is not so much there to help you find it. Instead it is clearly showing off the ‘Alien FX’ lighting system which enables the owner to pick a different colour for every element that is lit. If you prefer you can tone down the lights if they don’t appeal to you.
It is probably better to think of the Alienware as a desktop machine instead of a portable laptop. It is really large and heavy and whilst it will fit into a large knapsack you aren’t going to want to carry it around very much. Just moving the machine from room to room is an exercise. To give you some perspective the Alienware 17 is 35 millimetres thick and weighs 3.78 kilograms.
The Alienware 17 is an extremely powerful machine in its own right, however you can provide it with more juice by plugging it into what Alienware calls a ‘Graphics Amplifier’. This is a separate box that acts like a dock and contains a desktop grade GPU into which you can plug accessories such as keyboard, hard drive and so on. With just a single cable plugged into a port on the back of the machine next to the HDMI socket, you can convert the laptop into a desktop rig. Connectivity for the laptop is very reasonable with three USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C/Thunderbolt port, HDMI and Ethernet ports as well as a full sized SD card slot.
What is new with this year’s version of the Alienware 17 is the option of a 4K display. This is a costly upgrade that is probably more useful if you are going to use the laptop for both productivity and gaming. The reason behind this is it won’t let you play games at 4K and 60 fps but 4K does have other benefits such as much smoother looking fonts on the desktop plus you can view and edit UHD video and see far more detail when you view photos without having to zoom in
The machine that was tests was the regular Full HD version which is the only way to purchase the system at a price which most people will be able to afford. There is lots to like about the machine, there is excellent image quality from the IPS, with carefully calibrated colours and deep blacks, excellent viewing angles and extremely high maximum brightness.
The results from benchmark tests show that Alienware have made a real effort to ensure that the laptop’s screen look amazingly fresh right out of the box. Alienware made a wise decision to avoid the usual glossy finish. Instead of getting mirror like reflections, bright objects are converted into white spots that are diffuse and less offensive making them easy to ignore whilst playing games.
Keyboard and trackpad
As we have said the Alienware is a bulky machine and this works well for the keyboard and trackpad. The laptop returns a key action that is extremely satisfying and feels much more like a mechanical keyboard than the feather light chiclet keyboards most of us are accustomed too. The keys are a great for either just typing or fast action games. The keys on the trackpad use a similar mechanism, they sit below the pad which allows them to avoid all the trackpad issues that are so common with most Windows machines. The right and left buttons are completely separate and whilst some people may need a little time to get used to them, they are otherwise completely frustration free.
The base model of the Alienware 17 comes with a GTX 970M but you can choose to upgrade all the way up to GTX 980M. The less expensive models don’t come with an SSD which means you probably need to upgrade because without an SSD in high performance machines, there are negative effects on game load times.
The entry level version comes with 8GB of RAM which is enough to avoid any bottlenecks you might encounter in virtually every game right now, though if you are splurging it is probably best to pay the additional cost for 16GB. The model that was tested came with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive. There is an awful lot of power packed into this laptop and once could argue at its top spec, the Alienware 17 is amongst the most powerful gaming laptops in the world.
You should not overlook the fact that the sample machine that was tested came with a configuration that is more powerful than many of today’s desktop gaming PC’s even if you are able to buy one with similar specs for quite a bit less. The Alienware 17 is able to deal with heat like the professional that it is. Nearly half the underside and rear of the machine are used for heat outlets for the fans.
Even if you are gaming at Ultra settings for over an hour, the machine stays relatively quiet. Whilst the fans do run continuously, in general they do not cause a distraction and there is no obvious vibration. You do hear the fans get louder when you charge the laptop which means the charger is sucking up power at an extremely fast rate. Battery life of the laptop varies significantly. Alienware makes use of dynamic power management and this provides very respectable stamina when the machine is used lightly. When tested the battery lasted for a minute under four hours which is respectable for an outright gaming machine.
The Alienware 17 comes with a decent set of speakers, but like a lot of other things with this laptop, they tend to prioritise gaming. Sound is fired out of the front edge and sound quality is fairly chunky. There is an obvious attempt to bulk up lower frequency sound so that explosions and the like are given a little bit more weight. This is not ideal for music but like with all things laptop related, there is a trade-off.
The Alienware 17 is easily one of the best gaming rigs money can buy. It provides great performance with an Alienware box but what is most impressive is the laptop’s smart use of large, quiet and low revolution per minute fans. The machine can work very hard with appearing to do so on the outside. You will definitely be forking over a lot of money for a laptop with great specifications. Whilst base specs do seem competitive at first by omitting the SSD and 16GB RAM, the configurations most people will want are going to cost a lot.