Can Alienware stand strong against increased competition from Asus and keep its hold over the high-end gaming laptop market?
The Alienware 17 has an aluminium lid and plastic chassis. Like any gaming laptop worthy of the name, it has a thick, boxy design. The body looks surprisingly sober—until you select AlienFX, which makes ten different spots on the body light up in multiple colours. All it's missing is a strobe!
The sides surrounding the keyboard are made of plastic that's textured with a slightly rubbery feel. It feels and looks good, but not after the dust in the room inevitably sticks to the surface.
The keyboard has all the chiclet keys one would need, but we didn't particularly enjoy using it because of the slackness of the keys. There's no resistance and no rebound, despite the long travel distance. Both for gaming and typing, the keys push in too easily, causing frequent mistakes. The four macro shortcuts could have saved the day, if only they weren't located right above the number pad, the most unreachable part of the keyboard while in mid-game. Fail.
The other shortcuts work by hitting the Fn key for the volume, deporting the screen image to another monitor, ejecting the disc, saving PC performances, turning the touchpad on and off, AlienFX, etc.
The touchpad is a little cramped, and it probably won't take long before most users just plug a mouse in instead—even when doing activities other than gaming. Since it's Windows 7, the only gestures the touchpad recognises are two-finger scrolling and zoom. But the zoom is so imprecise even that doesn't come in handy.
On the other hand, the Alienware 17 has just about all the connectivity possible: four USB 3.0 ports, one Ethernet, one HDMI, one mini-DisplayPort, one audio out, one audio in, one audio in/out combo jack, an SD card reader and a DVD drive. Blu-ray would have been a nice touch, but for that you have to pay extra.
Heat readings with the components under stress
Images taken using a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera
The heat is always kept at a reasonable level and the hot air is expelled through two air vents at the back of the chassis, shown below. Unfortunately, you pay the price for the low heat with the noise level, which stays consistently at around 45 dB(A), with peaks at nearly 50 dB(A). It may not sound like a jet engine, but you do notice it.
The Alienware 17 has a matte screen with Full HD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels). With maximum screen brightness of 300 cd/m², the image suffers when the ambient light is high. The contrast ratio, however, is a decent 910:1.
Everything else about the screen is way off mark. The colour temperature isn't just cold, it's a Siberian 25,000 K where ideally it should be 6,500 K, so you'd better like blue. The Delta E of 10.2 only makes matters worse, signifying that the colours are far from accurate. Don't buy any clothes online on this computer, or you may be in for a surprise! For an example of a gaming laptop with a better display, check out the competing Asus Republic of Gamers G750; it has a near-perfect Delta E of 3.6 and a colour temperature of 7,900 K, plus good contrast and brightness. If you're using the Alienware 17 at home, we highly recommend HDMI-ing it to a better monitor.
The Alienware 17 has just as amazing sound quality as the last generation, and has fairly extensive audio connectivity: a headphone output, a microphone input and a headphone-microphone combo jack. The input/output audio is high quality with a tidy, effective sound and volume well above average, all without distortion. You can use any headphones with this laptop, no need for an extra sound card.
Frequency response: built-in speakers
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = heavily altered
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = heavily altered
The built-in speakers are made by Klipsch, and the company did its job well, giving them a relatively well-balanced audible spectrum and honourable volume. The only downsides are that there's no bass and there's a tiny bit of saturation when the volume's on max.
Configuration:The model we were sent to review features an Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor, 16 GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 770M graphics card and a 750 GB hard drive. Everything mentioned above applies to all variations of the Alienware 17, whereas the Processor Power, Gaming and Battery Life sections below apply only to the configuration we tested.
The Intel Core i7-4700MQ got a high score of 194 in our rating system, which is nothing to balk at, although it's still a rung below the Asus ROG G750, which scored 214 with its Core i7-4700HQ, and the MSI GE60, which got 210 with the same i7-4700MQ as the Alienware 17.
The difference was particularly noticeable when we encoded an HD video, which took 177 seconds on the Alienware and just 63 seconds on the Asus, as well as when we compressed a file, which took 199 seconds on the Alienware and 139 seconds on the Asus.
Why such a big difference? It's the SSD, stupid. The Alienware 17 doesn't have a solid-state drive, which makes it less responsive and slows down the startup and shutdown times (35 and 15 seconds, respectively).
But when gaming, there's no noticeable difference in performance between the Asus ROG G750 and the Alienware 17. With a GTX 770M at the helm (3DMark06 score: 23,000), not only is decoding Full HD videos a walk in the park, but pretty much any video game will run in the screen's native resolution. And most will run well with the details on high.
The few exceptions are games like Crysis 3 and Max Payne 3, for which you'll need to set the quality level on medium. To do any better than this, Alienware would have had to use an Nvidia GTX 780M or AMD Radeon HD 7970M.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
Like any gaming laptop, the high performance demanded of the hardware means lots of power consumption. The Alienware 17 has the same battery life as the Asus G750, with three hours of video playback (in airplane mode with headphones plugged in and the screen brightness at 100 cd/m²). Then again, at 4.15 kg it's not like you're going to be carrying the Alienware 17 on all-day treks anyway.