How-To Use Your Alienware Notebook for VR

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Now that the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have arrived, you're ready to jump into the virtual reality fray. However, like many of us, you might not have the space or the money for one of the powerful new gaming rigs you need to support either headset. But fear not, if you already own a current-gen Alienware 13, 15 or 17 laptop,  there's a more space and cost-efficient option in the Alienware graphics amp.

Alienware Graphics Amp VR

The $199 peripheral is an external graphics amplifier that can house a powerful desktop card such as the just-released Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU. That means that your previously unsuitable-for-VR Alienware laptop can transform into a beefy powerhouse, ready for anything the virtual world can throw at it -- provided of course you have a compatible Alienware laptop. Only Alienware laptops with Intel 6th Generation Core Series (aka Skylake) CPUs, which were sold starting in late 2015, will have the necessary connector.

The following how-to will show you the ins-and-outs of setting up an Alienware notebook with the company's graphics amp to use either a Rift or Vive.

System Requirements

In order to use the Vive or the Rift, your Alienware laptop will have to meet a few requirements. Both headsets require at least an Intel Core i7-6700HK processor, 8GB of RAM, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI 1.4, a 1920 x 1080 display and Windows 7 or above. As far as graphics cards, the minimum components you can use with either headset are a Nvidia GTX 970 GPU or an AMD Radeon R9 290 GPU.

The headsets do have a few differences though, namely when it comes to RAM requirements and ports. The Vive can function with a minimum 4GB of RAM with either HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 and at least one USB 2.0. The Rift requires 8GB of RAM or more, HDMI 1.3, and three USB 3.0 ports plus one USB 2.0 port.  

Once you make sure the laptop and graphics card are up to snuff, be sure to update the relevant software such as Nvidia's GeForce Experience, Oculus Home or Steam VR.

The Gear

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For this guide, I used an Alienware 17 R3 (2016), configured with an Intel i7-6700HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, 1TB HDD and a Nvidia GeForce 970M GPU with 3GB of VRAM. The Alienware Graphics Amplifier was outfitted with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, the company's latest and greatest graphics card. Once the card is safely in the amp, it can support both the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. And don't forget the most important piece of hardware in this setup -- a Philips-head screwdriver.

The Setup

Now that you've gotten all your equipment and software together, it's time to set up your virtual reality rig. First, we'll take care of the graphics amplifier.

Open the amp. There's a sliding switch along the back of the amp; slide it to the left to release the clasp and pull upward on the lid to reveal the amp's interior.

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Remove the top two screws so you can place the GPU into the awaiting slot.

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Install the GPU. Take your graphics card out of its packaging and put it into the awaiting PCIe slot.

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 Replace the screws, plug in the connector and close the lid. 

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Plug in the graphics amp's power cord to get the party started and use the proprietary cord to connect it to the Alienware laptop. Whether it's an Alienware 17, 15 or 13, you'll find the port along the back of the laptop.

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Turn the amp on. Once the amp is connected to your laptop, feel free to fire up the laptop. You'll see a message prompting you to restart the laptop in order to switch over to the amp. Hit the yes button and once it restarts, you'll be ready to rock and roll.

Alienware 17

Attach your VR headset. You did remember to install your VR headset's software right? If so, all you have to do is attach your Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, follow the setup and enjoy traipsing through your virtual environment.

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13 comments
  • Jeffrey Parker Says:

    This article about the Alienware Graphics Amplifier sounded so good that I bought it! WISH I had NOT! Most good graphics cards won't fit inside. There is a LOT of other things that you have to do before you can use it including installing the drivers which forced my laptop to reboot to an earlier unharmed version! The amp concept is great but totally useless for a laptop if you have to re-install the installed graphics card driver when you disconnect from the amp to use your laptop elsewhere. Thank you!

  • Greg Nangle Says:

    @Nobody Says : except you can't unplug your desktop and take it on the road with you and still have all your software, saves, etc. and a decent gaming machine in your backpack like you CAN with this setup. Who's laughing now? Ha!

  • Nobody Says:

    ...or you can buy a desktop... LMAO

  • BlazeHN Says:

    This is confusing... An article on Forbes says that you can use any i7 mobile processor for VR with Graphics Amplifier:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonevangelho/2016/04/20/tested-your-alienware-laptop-might-be-ready-for-vr-after-all/#7d77a1f537dc

    But this current Laptopmag article says that Oculus and Vive ask for at least an Skylake processor. Also this article says that only Skylake laptops have the port for the Graphics Amplifier but my Alienware 17R2 with Haswell (4th gen) have that port.

    Now I don't know if my 17R2 will be able to run Oculus with a Graphics Amplifier and GTX 980 or 1080 combo. Help please...

  • Steve Says:

    well, I got a MSI 1070 gaming X and the card just doesn't fit in the graphics amplifier.. can't shut the case (card is much too tall.

  • Vincent Says:

    I have been rocking my Alienware 17R2 since release Day, and the Amplifier! I love my GTX-980 Ti!! I can't wait to upgrade to the 1080😀

  • NickD Says:

    "Only Alienware laptops with Intel 6th Generation Core Series (aka Skylake) CPUs, which were sold starting in late 2015, will have the necessary connector."

    This is false. I own an Alienware 17R2 which is equipped with a Haswell based Core i7 and my laptop has the PCIE/USB connection at the back of the laptop. Generally speaking, the connection was made available on all models that use the Skylake architecture from intel, but to state that only Alienware laptops equipped with Skylake procs is not true.

  • Mohammed AlSolh Says:

    Can you post a 3dmark firestrike score? I think pcie 4x is not enough for 1080

  • robby Says:

    I contacted alienware, and they said that it hasn't been made compatible yet, but that it should be able to work soon.

  • JUSTIN Says:

    It's 2016!!! Where is the video? Just pictures doesn't give us much to go off of!!!

  • Eugene Says:

    Just don't put bios 1.2.13 on your alienware 17 laptop. It'll completely render the AGA useless.

  • Chris Says:

    I can't get my 1080 to work in the AGA, did you get any comparability errors when starting your computer? What drivers are you using?

  • RickW Says:

    So per this article does this mean that the Graphics Amplifier will work with and take advantage of the nVidia GTX 1080, hooked up to a current gen Alienware laptop? If so that is awesome!!!!! No other sites or blog has confirmed this yet. Is there any specs on how fast (Amplifier with the 1080) it actual goes? Thanks for the news.

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