2017 Alienware 17 review: A full-featured portable gaming powerhouse

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2017-Alienware-17-review

The Alienware 17 Gaming Laptop (as tested) is a performance beast in a sleek, well-built chassis with a beautiful QHD screen to enhance your gaming experience.

TA-ratings-91It’s been a couple years since we reviewed the Alienware 17 gaming laptop. While the general design remains closely the same, there are some design changes and the specs of the latest are much better, as one would expect. Our Alienware 17 review takes a look at the QHD version of one of the newest gaming laptops from the company to see how it performs.

Specifications

The Alienware 17 (as tested) has the following features and specifications:

  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-7820HK (Quad-Core, 8MB Cache, Overclocking up to 4.4GHz) (Intel Core i7-7700HQ also available)
  • Display: 17.3-inch QHD (2560 x 1440) 120Hz TN+WVA Anti-Glare 400-nits NVIDIA G-SYNC Enabled Display with Tobii IR Eye-tracking (FHD and UHD options also available)
  • Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1080 with 8GB GDDR5X (GTX 1050 Ti/1060/1070 or AMD Radeon RX 470 options also available)
  • Memory: 16GB DDR4 at 2667MHz (2x8GB) (8GB or 16GB at 2400 and 2667MHz or 32GB at 2400MHz also available)
  • Storage: 512GB PCIe SSD (Boot) + 1TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s (128GB/180GB M.2 SSD or 256GB/512GB/1TB PCIe SSD also available)
  • Audio: 2.1 Speaker configuration includes subwoofer, 7.1 Digital Audio out using HDMI out connection
  • Networking: Killer Networks e2500 Gigabit Ethernet NIC, Killer 1535 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 (Killer 1435 Wi-Fi also available)
  • Ports: Mini-Display Port 2.1, HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C), USB Type-C SuperSpeed 3.0, 2x USB Type-A SuperSpeed 3.0 (one with PowerShare technology), RJ-45 Killer Networks e2500 Gigabit Ethernet, Alienware Graphics Amplifier, 3.5mm headphone/microphone, 3.5mm microphone, Noble Lock, power/DC-in
  • Keyboard
    • Alienware TactX Keyboard
    • 4-Zone, multi-color RGB, keyboard with AlienFX lighting controls and numeric keypad
    • 9 user-programmable keys providing up to 19 distinct functions per application or game
  • Touchpad: Backlit button image sensor trackpad with all-points addressable
  • Camera: Alienware FHD camera for systems with Tobii Eye-tracking presence detection (Alienware HD resolution camera with IR presence detection), Windows Hello
  • AlienFX Lighting Zones: 13 unique programmable zones with up to 20 distinct colors providing over 80 quadrillion lighting combinations
  • Battery: 99 Wh Lithium Ion Battery (68 Wh also available)
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Home 64-bit (Windows 10 Pro 64-bit also available)
  • Software: Alienware Command Centre, Alienware Presence Detection Software
  • Dimensions: 29.9 x 332 x 424 mm (1.18 x 13.1 x 16.7″)
  • Weight: 4.42 kg (9.74 lbs)

What’s in the box

  • Alienware 17 Gaming Laptop
  • Power Cord
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Warrenty, Safety, and Regulatory Information pamphlet

Design

Even though the latest Alienware 17 gaming laptop is easily recognizable as an Alienware product, there are a few design changes that serve to only enhance this device. For starters, the biggest difference is a hinge-forward design. The hinge sits about 1 ¼” forward from the back of the laptop which allows for better ventilation and more ports. I’ll get to more of that in a moment.

There’s no question that the Alienware 17 is a beast of a gaming laptop in size and weight, weighing nearly 10lbs. The top of the lid incorporates anodized aluminum and, as with previous Alienware gaming laptops, features the iconic Alien head centered near the top. Angled lines meet in the middle and up towards and behind the Alien head. The laptop itself is constructed from magnesium alloy, anodized aluminum, steel, and copper and has the weight to prove it. The metal chassis extends up and around the frame of the display with a nice black finish at the top and down towards the bottom of the lid when the laptop is closed.

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The iconic Alien head adorns the lid on the 2017 Alienware 17.

Opening the lid exposes the 17.3″ screen. In the case of our review unit, we were treated to the QHD (2560 x 1440) 120Hz TN+WVA NVIDIA G-SYNC enabled display with Tobii IR Eye Tracking.  As with most gaming laptops, there is roughly a one-inch bezel around the left and right side. The bezel on the top angles up to a point in which the optional Full HD webcam sits. A pair of microphones are barely visible on either side of the camera and a camera status light sits to the right of it as well. The bottom bezel is slightly thicker and split into two sections. A matte black section with the ALIENWARE wordmark centered in the middle, and a thinner gloss black strip beneath that which houses the Tobii IR Eye-Tracking hardware.

Centered just above the keyboard is another Alien head which doubles as a power button. The full-sized Alienware TactX keyboard is steel-reinforced. Five programmable keys sit to the left of the main keyboard with the other four programmable keys sitting above the number pad on the right-hand side of the keyboard. The keyboard features 2.2mm of gaming-grade travel and has a nice soft typing feel to it which is also relatively quiet. In fact, I really enjoyed the keyboard both for general tasks and gaming. The trackpad sits slightly off-centered towards the bottom left of the palm rest and is centered with the main keyboard.

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The 2017 Alienware 17 keyboard and trackpad.

Alienware has used a new finishing process that is supposed to help reduce “smudginess” and fingerprints around the keyboard and palm rest. It’s a matte black finish and has a slightly rubbery feel to it. Unfortunately, it seemed to pick up the same amount of smudges as other similar surfaces and after a few weeks of use looked pretty smudgy. Cleaning it was a bit of a pain as well. Usually, a bit of Windex on a soft cloth is enough to wipe down most laptops but in this case, I actually had to use a mild detergent to clean the surface.

The left side of the laptop is where you’ll find your Noble Lock port, SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Type-C Port, SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Type-A Port (with PowerShare technology), a 3.5mm microphone port, and a 3.5mm audio out/microphone port. On the right side of the laptop, you’ll find a second SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Type-A Port. Being right-handed, I do appreciate that almost all the ports are located on the back and left side of the laptop.

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The ports on the left side of the 2017 Alienware 17.

The previously aforementioned hinge-forward design allowed Alienware to place additional ports in the back of the laptop. Aside from the fan grilles on the left and right side of the back of the laptop, you’ll also find your RJ-45 Killer Networks e2400 Gigabit Ethernet, Mini-Display 1.2, HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C), Alienware Graphics Amplifier, and power adapter ports. Coupled with the ports on the sides of the laptop, there are plenty of ports to adequately cover your gaming needs.

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The back ports on the 2017 Alienware 17.

On the bottom of the laptop are five rubber strips for elevating the laptop off your desk as well as a fairly large screen for airflow.

Turning on the laptop is quite a treat. The first time you press the Alien head power button and everything lights up is pretty impressive, especially in a darkened room. Aside from the Alien head power button lighting up, the Alienware text below the monitor, keyboard, trackpad, Alien head on the lid, as well as a thin LED strip along the side edge of the lid and base light up as well. Of course, all these AlienFX lighting zones — 13 in all — are programmable and can also be used by supported game titles.

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The additional LED lighting on the Alien head as well as the side strip and Alien head on the lid sure looks awesome!

Display

Having mostly used 17″ laptops with FHD (1920x 1080) resolutions and recently been treated to a 15″ laptop with a 4K display, the QHD (2560 x 1440) 120Hz TN+WVA Anti-Glare 400-nits NVIDIA G-SYNC Enabled Display with Tobii IR Eye-tracking on our review unit was definitely a treat. While 4K would have been nice, the QHD is the only option with the 120Hz NVIDIA G-SYNC option which, in my opinion, is better for gamers than running a lower refresh rate on a UHD display.

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The QHD display is nice and bright, crisp, and clear. I’m definitely going to miss it…

The QHD display is fantastic at a 17″ resolution and everything was nice and crisp with very nice colour representation. We’ll get into it more under the performance section but gaming was buttery smooth with the 120Hz NVIDIA G-SYNC as well. After using it for awhile, if you’re thinking about picking this gaming laptop up I’d definitely recommend the QHD display over the FHD or UHD displays.

While the QHD screen is a TN+WVA screen with 400-nits brightness, the 1080p and 4K options are IPS panels, all with anti-glare and a 300-nits brightness. On that note, the brightness levels on the QHD screen are fantastic and it goes quite bright. I found that a brightness level of around 50-75% was good for the most part, with 20% being acceptable for later at night. Dropping the brightness slider all the way down made the screen still viewable, but even in a totally dark room was a bit dark and needed to be upped a bit.

Software

The Alienware 17 ships with Windows 10 Home 64-bit by default and Windows 10 Pro 64-bit is also available. By this time, Windows 10 has proven itself as a decent operating system, especially with the recent Creators Update. While you can set up streaming from the NVIDIA GeForce Experience app, the Windows Game Bar with Mixer streaming is just as easy and painless to use and setup. As well, the laptop has support for Windows Hello and allows you to log in using facial recognition. I’ve used this before on previous review units and forgotten how nice it is to just sit down and your computer is already logging you in.

The Alienware 17 also comes with optional Tobii Eye-Tracking, only one FHD model comes without it. The Tobii Eye-Tracking adds a bunch of functionality to your gaming laptop. Some are really useful like wake on gaze or auto-dimming when you look away from the screen. In addition, there are supposed to be roughly 100 games by the end of 2017 that support eye tracking. During testing, we took the Tobii Eye-Tracking software through the demo game and while it wasn’t perfect, it was definitely impressive. Being able to look slightly left and right to aim was more fun than I thought and with the popularity of VR gaming rising, it’s definitely a fun alternative. I can definitely see the allure for games like first-person shooters and being able to use eye tracking for even faster execution of movement or aiming to get a leg up on the competition.

In addition to useful functions and eye tracking while playing games, you can also install Overwolf apps to analyze your gaze pattern while gaming. Once you’ve tracked it, you can analyze it to gain better insight into your gaming techniques and try and improve your coordination.

Other apps preinstalled include Alienware’s suite of apps including Alienware Update, AW Command Center, Alienware Sound Center, Customer Connect, Digital Delivery, Notifications, and SupportAssist. One app I enjoyed seeing NOT preinstalled was McAfee, although it is an optional add-on when you purchase an Alienware gaming laptop.

Performance

Given the Intel® Core™ i7-7820HK CPU, NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1080 with 8GB GDDR5X, 16GB DDR4 RAM at 2667MHz, and a 512GB PCIe SSD, there shouldn’t be any question about the performance of this laptop — and there wasn’t.

For basic tasks like browsing and watching videos, the Alienware 17 performed excellently. More CPU intensive programs like Adobe Photoshop and Premiere ran and rendered quickly as well. That being said, this is a gaming laptop so let’s get on with the gaming performance!

If you’ve read my previous laptop reviews, by now you should know I’m a big Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon fan. Both Forza Horizon 3 and Forza Motorsport 6: Apex ran beautifully at QHD with ultra settings enabled. Both games peaked at around 94fps on these settings, with an average of around 84fps being achieved. I also put the Forza Motorsport 7 demo through its paces, and while there doesn’t seem to be an fps counter on the demo, it also ran beautifully at QHD on ultra settings. There were a couple hiccups when I was streaming to Mixer while playing, but none while I wasn’t streaming. As such, I attributed that to the fact I was streaming FHD while playing QHD and was super impressed in the end that the Alienware 17 was able to handle that fairly well.

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Forza Motorsport 7 captured at QHD but resized down to FHD… either way, so much detail yumminess!

Other games tested included Tomb RaiderHeroes of the Storm, and Diablo III. Again, maximum graphics settings at QHD and you’re in for a smooth, fantastic looking gaming experience. As I mentioned before, there was no question that performance would be stellar, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The first thing I like to do with any laptop is to bump the power settings from the default balanced to performance. After all, what’s the point of having a high-end laptop if you can’t push the hardware to operate at its best? In the case of the Alienware 17 though, this meant listening to the very loud fan 99% of the time you were using the laptop. In the end, I caved and set it back to balanced power settings. To be honest, those settings worked just fine while using Photoshop or other normal computer tasks, and the laptop did pick up when gaming as was evident when the fan kicked in. I didn’t notice any performance difference while gaming when using balanced or performance power settings, except when on battery.

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The forward-hinged design allows for better fan cooling, but man can it get loud.

You’re also VR ready with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 video card. With the optional Alienware Graphics Amplifier, you also have the ability to utilize NVIDIA or AMD video cards instead of the onboard card which helps with future proofing the system.

Sound Quality

Generally speaking, the sound quality is pretty lacking in most laptops. When it comes to gaming laptops, however, companies do tend to put a bit more effort into providing better onboard sound. The Alienware 17 is no exception, and I was impressed with the sound levels and balance. The speaker grilles are located on the front edge of the laptop, angled slightly downward so the sound bounces off whatever surface you’ve got the laptop placed on. While there wasn’t any deep bass, the sound was balanced and you could definitely make out all the action and sounds while in game.

Watching videos and listening to music was pretty decent as well, and is easily enjoyable without having to resort to a pair of headphones like you do with some other devices. Sound does go quite loud as well and at maximum volume doesn’t distort and is still crisp and clear. You can also use the Alienware Sound Center to adjust the sound settings to your liking.

Camera

The camera on our review unit is a Full HD webcam, something not commonly seen in laptops as most cap out at 720p. While 720p webcams are more than suitable for video conferencing or streaming, Full HD is, of course, that much better. Given the number of gamers that are into game streaming while they play, which often includes a small video of themselves in the corner of the screen, having a higher resolution webcam is a nice feature upgrade.

Battery Life

Gaming laptops are notoriously bad for battery life, barely lasting a few hours even under non-gaming use. The Alienware 17 actually impressed me and I was able to get between 4 and 5 hours on a single charge while using it for your usual computing activities like browsing, watching videos, and writing a few articles. This was with the AlienFX lighting on, 50% brightness (which was plenty bright), and balanced power settings.

When gaming, which will definitely put more strain on your battery, I was able to get about 1 1/2 hours at best before requiring a recharge. While it’s not stellar, it’s much better than I expected and should be enough to get you through shorter gaming sessions without needing to plug in. It also depends on your battery and game settings and what game you’re playing as well. A single two lap race in the Forza Motorsport 7 demo quickly dropped the battery from 35% to 9% in a matter of a few minutes. Games like Heroes of the Storm, on the other hand, tended to use a bit less of the battery.

Price/Value

The new Alienware 17 gaming laptops start at around $1,349.99USD ($1,699.99CAD) at the Dell website, depending on your options of course. As tested, our review unit will run you $3,243.99USD ($4,099.99CAD) when purchased from the Dell site. That’s definitely a hefty price to pay for any gaming system, but for what you get with the Alienware 17 in this configuration — QHD screen, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080, 512GB SSD, 1TB HDD, 16GB 2667MHz RAM —  is pretty decent for the price when it comes to gaming laptops. You can actually save yourself a bit of cash by purchasing it through Amazon for $2,699. That listing features the QHD screen, GTX 1080, 256GB SSD, 1TB HDD, and 32GB of 2400MHz RAM. While you’re cutting your SSD in half, you’re also doubling your memory — and saving just under $600 in the process. At that price, you’re getting a pretty great deal, in my opinion.

While the Alienware 17 lineup may seem expensive, there are other gaming laptops with similar specs that are more expensive, and some a bit cheaper, putting this near the bottom of the price range for high-end gaming laptops. Given the available configuration options, you can spend much less than that and still end up with a decent rig. You can also purchase the Alienware Graphics Amplifier down the road and install a new video card in that, future proofing at least the graphics on your system.

There are, of course, going to be those who will say it’s better to build yourself a high-end gaming PC with the same specs for cheaper, but in the end gaming laptops serve a purpose and that’s for those who like to game, may not have the space for a full desktop setup up and want the added option of portability. I, for example, head over to a buddy’s house once a week for games night and it’s nice to be able to bring a gaming beast with you for a better gaming experience.

Wrap-up

While it’ll cost you a pretty penny, the Alienware 17 Gaming Laptop (as tested) is a performance beast in a sleek, well-built chassis with a beautiful QHD screen to enhance your gaming experience. With plenty of customization options when it comes to video card, storage, RAM, and screen resolution, there’s sure to be an option to fit your needs and budget.

*We were sent a review unit of the Alienware 17 Gaming Laptop for the purposes of this review.

Alienware 17

$1349.99+ USD
Alienware 17
9.1

Design

10/10

    Display

    10/10

      Software

      10/10

        Performance

        10/10

          Sound Quality

          9/10

            Camera

            9/10

              Battery Life

              8/10

                Price/Value

                9/10

                  Nailed it

                  • Sleek Alienware design
                  • Solid construction materials
                  • Fancy LED lighting options
                  • Many customization options
                  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080
                  • Great performance due to CPU, RAM, SSD speeds
                  • QHD screen is fantastic
                  • Tobii Eye Tracking a neat feature
                  • Decent battery life while doing basic tasks

                  Needs work

                  • Palm rest still gets pretty smudgy
                  • Can get quite loud when the fan kicks in
                  • Battery life still an issue while playing games (as expected)
                  • Definitely heavy
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