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Alienware m17 R4 review

The Alienware m17 R4 just leveled up with Cherry MX keys

Alienware m17 R4 review
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Laptop Mag)

Our Verdict

The Alienware m17 R4 continues to up its games, adding a Cherry MX ultra-low profile keyboard to its already impressive specs.

For

  • Excellent graphics and overall performance
  • Clicky, comfortable mechanical keyboard
  • Beautiful, bright display with super high refresh rate
  • Lightning-fast SSD
  • Attractive design

Against

  • Expensive
  • Subpar battery life

How do you improve on one of the best gaming laptops on the market? I mean, it already has plenty of power, an improved cooling system, and one of the best light shows you’ll find on a gaming laptop. So what else is there? The keyboard. Alienware teamed up with renowned keyboard manufacturer, Cherry, to add a Cherry MX ultra-low-profile keyboard to the mix, thus making the Alienware m17 R4 the world’s first with this keyboard. 

Similar to Cherry’s Blue switches, the new keyboard is just as comfortable as a regular mechanical keyboard and almost as clicky. Throw in all of Alienware’s usual bells and whistles and you’ve got a humdinger of a gaming laptop. However, as with most premium gaming laptops, money is going to be a barrier for most of us. 

Alienware m17 R4 pricing and availability

I clickety-clacked my way through this review on the $3,066 version of the Alienware m17 R4, which has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i9-10980HK processor, 32GB of RAM, dual 512GB PCIe m.2 SSDs, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU with 16GB of VRAM, a 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display with a 360Hz refresh rate, and a Cherry MX keyboard. 

The $1,799 base model steps the configuration down to a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-10870H CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe m.2 SSD, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM and a 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display with a 360Hz refresh rate. The $2,279 midtier unit offers a 512GB PCIe m.2 SSD and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM.

Alienware m17 R4 design

The Alienware m17 R4’s Legend design exudes just as much intergalactic chic as the first time I saw it. Almost the entirety of the chassis is made of magnesium alloy while the lid and undercarriage are done in Alienware’s resplendent Lunar White. A large block “17” is stamped onto the lid’s bottom-left corner with that large backlit alien head hovering near the top almost like an omnipotent force. Meanwhile, the underside features large honeycomb-shaped vents. The laptop’s rear is black and tapers ever so slightly into rounded edges highlighted by the large LED light strip lining the area.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The laptop interior reveals more of that enchanting Lunar Light finish with its slight pearlescence that makes up the keyboard deck. A rather large touchpad is centered beneath the G and H keys in the massive deck. Above it sits the new Cherry MX keyboard, glowing turquoise just waiting for me to customize it. The power button sits in the top-right corner amidst a row of vents that mimick the honeycomb pattern along the bottom of the system. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Weighing 6.8 pounds and measuring 15.7 x 11.6 x 0.9 inches, the m17 is thinner than both the Origin Eon17-X (8.3 pounds, 15.7 x 12.5 x 1.7 inches) and the MSI GE76 Raider 10UH (6.4 pounds / 15.6 x 10.6 x 1.1 inches).

Alienware m17 R4 ports

When you have a battlestation of this caliber, you’d expect an abundance of ports. The Alienware m17 R4 doesn’t disappoint with two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports and a microSD card reader on the right. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Along the left side, you have another USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port, gigabit Ethernet and the headset jack. And in the rear, you’ll find a Thunderbolt 3 port, an HDMI 2.1 port (a first for the line), a mini DisplayPort 1.4, the proprietary Alienware Graphics Amplifier port and the power input. 

Alienware m17 R4 display

The Alienware m17 R4’s 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display isn’t super high-res, but it makes up for it with a 360Hz refresh rate which, combined with Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, means silky-smooth rendering with virtually no input lag. I put it to the test as I played Control. The grey surrealist area during the Salvador boss fight took on the unnerving reddish-orange that signals Hiss possession. The lurid color helped bring out some of the finer details, like the cracks in the columns, as I ducked for cover against an incoming attack. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

I watched the trailer for The Outside Story and actor Brian Tyree Henry’s coral shirt immediately drew my eye and enhanced the reddish undertones in his warm brown skin. Details were clean enough that I easily saw the knit pattern in his beige sweater along with the tiny eyes on the black buttons.

Testing for vividness, we learned the m17 R4 was below the 85.5% DCI-P3 color gamut premium gaming laptop average, at 78.9%. However, that was more vivid than the 78% and 53.9% posted by the Eon17-X and Raider, respectively. 

During our brightness evaluation, the m17 R4 hit 293 nits, which is better than the Raider (276 nits) and Eon17-X (251 nits), but not the 324-nit average. 

Alienware m17 R4 audio

Just like previous systems, the Alienware m17 R4 has a pair of two-way speakers, consisting of a tweeter and woofer with discrete smart woofer technology. And it knocks –– at least it did on Lil Nas X’s “INDUSTRY BABY.” Almost instantly, my smallish living room/dining room was filled with boisterous trumpets and a fair amount of thump from the bassline –– all of which was going on without dampening the snares and the claps. Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s vocals were crisp and warm, letting this mid-summer bop be the mood it truly is. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Somehow, the eerie noises that I’ve become used to when playing Control started giving me the heebie-jeebies again on the m17. The nonsensical rambling seemed to dig into my skull just like the Hiss intended. The Shatter version of the gun had a nice, weighty boom and the whirring noise that accompanies my psychic powers was clear, and dialogue between Jesse Faden and Bureau survivors was warm and balanced. 

Alienware m17 R4 keyboard

And now ladies, gentlemen and my non-binary loves, this is where the rubber hits the road. This marks the first time Alienware teams up with Cherry to provide its laptops with a mechanical keyboard. And if you’re a fan of mechanical keyboards that go clickety-clack in the night, you’re probably familiar with Cherry and its line of keycaps ranging from Blue to Silver. The laptop’s Cherry MX keys are most similar to Blue, the clickiest of Cherry’s key switches. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The ultra-low-profile keys are seriously slim, at least by Cherry’s standard. After going through over 160 prototypes, the collaboration yielded a switch that is only 3.5 millimeters tall compared to Cherry’s usual 18.5mm. The result is a switch with a two-piece keycap structure that delivers 1.8mm key travel rated for 15 million keystrokes. They’re also self-cleaning, which should help guard against the errant dust and crumbs that find their way into the switches and gum up the works. 

Typing on this keyboard feels as good as it sounds. As a fan of loud mechanical keyboards, the Cherry MX switches were absolute music to my ears as I established my typing rhythm. My fingers were buoyed upward after every tap, like they were on mini trampolines. And when I took the 10fastfingers typing test, I hit 85 words per minute, my highest score to date. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Plus, you can customize the lighting, which I promptly switched to the Rainbow Wave preset in Alienware Command Center. It’s here that you can also set macros, launch games, overclock the CPU and GPU, and adjust the audio presets.

Measuring 3.2 x 4.1 inches, the glass touchpad felt nice and smooth against my fingertips. Windows 10 gestures such as pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll and three-finger tap were accurate and agile. 

Alienware m17 R4 gaming, graphics and VR

Game first, ask questions later. With an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU with 16GB of video memory, it’s a big task to make the Alienware m17 R4 stumble. I’ve yet to accomplish it. When I played Control, the laptop gave me an average of 104 frames per second on the highest setting at 1080p on DirectX 11 with minimal effort. Dropping down to medium boosted the frame rate to 123 fps. 

The gaming laptop put on quite the show during our benchmarks, starting with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey where it notched 76 fps. That’s more than the 63-fps premium gaming laptop average as well as Raider’s (RTX 3080 GPU) 73 fps. However, it couldn’t push past the Eon17-X (RTX 3080 GPU), which pulled 83 fps. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

We saw the m17 reach 105 fps on the Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark, crushing the Raider (100 fps) and the 80-fps category average. But the Eon17-X was once again the victor with 117 fps.  

The Alienware achieved 125 fps on the Grand Theft Auto V test, outpacing the Raider’s 120 fps and the 95-fps average. The Eon17-X scored a few frames higher at 131 fps. 

Switching over to Metro: Exodus, we saw the m17 obtain 89 fps on the DirectX 11 Ultra test, beating the 67-fps average and the Raider’s 85 fps, but not the Eon17-X’s 93 fps. On the RTX iteration of the test, the Alienware pulled 70 fps, surpassing the 59-fps average. However, both the Raider and Eon17-X performed better with scores of 77 and 79 fps, respectively.

During the Far Cry New Dawn test, the m17 R4 produced 98 fps, keeping the Raider and the average (90 and 88 fps) at bay, but not the Eon17-X (126 fps). On the Borderlands 3 benchmark, the Alienware got 100 fps, tying the Raider and beating the 74-fps gaming laptop premium average. The Red Dead Redemption 2 test yielded similar results with the m17 scoring 84 fps, edging out the Raider’s 82 fps and demolishing the 63-fps average. The Eon17-X hit 63 fps. 

Alienware m17 R4 performance

The Alienware m17 R4 has an overclockable 2.4-GHz Intel Core i9-10980HK processor, 32GB of RAM and dual 512GB PCIe m.2 SSDs. I threw 55 Google Chrome tabs at the m17, some running either Google Docs or Sheets, others running YouTube or Twitch, and others on random news sites. The notebook took it all without a whisper of lag. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The m17 performed admirably on our performance tests as well, scoring 8,101 on the Geekbench 5.4 overall performance test, crushing the 6,870 premium gaming laptop average. However, armed with an overclockable desktop Intel Core i9-11900K CPU, the Eon17-X leveled the field with 10,575. 

When we ran the Handbrake test, the Alienware transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 6 minutes and 51 seconds. That’s faster than the Raider (7:24, Intel Core i7-10870H) and the 7:42 category average. However, the Eon17-X tore through the test at 5:27.

During the File Transfer test, the m17 R4 duplicated 25GB of multimedia files for a transfer rate of 1,303.7 megabytes per second. This was a clean win for the Alienware, which scorched the 851.3MBps average. With their respective 1TB SSDs, the Eon17-X and Raider only managed 1,288.5MBps and 1,076.8MBps.

Alienware m17 R4 battery life

All that overclockable power can wreak havoc on your battery life. When we ran the Laptop Mag Battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness), the Alienware m17 R4 lasted only 2 hours and 20 minutes. That’s longer than the Eon17-X’s time of 2:07, but not by much. The Raider finally came out on top, clocking in at 5:20, and was the only system to beat the 4:20 premium gaming laptop average. 

We saw even lower scores when we ran the PCMark 10 UL battery test which loops a 3D-render scene until the laptop ultimately dies. The m17 gave a time of 1:26 while the Eon17-X delivered 1:16 and the Raider lasted for 1:52.

Alienware m17 R4 heat

Just like other iterations of the m17 R4, the Cherry MX edition features Alienware’s proprietary Cyro-Tech cooling solution. In addition to the 66 fan blades for both the processor and graphics card and 4 copper-alloy heat pipes, each system has the company’s new CPU vapor chamber technology. While a gaming laptop will never run as cool as an ultraportable, the Cryo-Tech does help things from getting too hot under the collar.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

After playing Control for 15 minutes, we measure key points on the laptop. The touchpad stayed below our 95-degree Fahrenheit at 77 degrees. The middle of that clicky keyboard, however, hit 107 degrees while the undercarriage reached 108 degrees. 

We gave the notebook time to cool down and ran a fullscreen HD video for another 15 minutes and measured again. The touchpad stayed at 77 degrees while the keyboard’s center hit 93 degrees. The laptop’s bottom measured 95 degrees.

Alienware m17 R4 webcam

As stellar as everything else on the Alienware m17 R4 is, the webcam is one of the few things that could use improvement. The 720p shooter does a great job on color accuracy, capturing my mahogany skin and my gray shirt. It even captured the bright orange at the root of my locs, signaling it’s time for another go at the dye. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The sharpness leaves something to be desired as my test shots were rife with visual noise. Looking for a great webcam, check out the Dell UltraSharp Webcam and the other recommended shooters on our Best Webcams page. 

Alienware m17 R4 software and warranty

Alienware outfitted the notebook with its regular suite of branded software. We’ve already discussed Alienware Command Center. But the m17 R4 also has Alienware Mobile Connect, which lets you access your smartphone from the notebook’s 17.3-inch screen. 

Alienware Update keeps your BIOS, drivers and firmware up-to-date while Digital Delivery keeps your Alienware and Windows 10 software updated. There’s also My Alienware, which has Alienware Support, a tool that puts you in touch with a tech support representative in case you’re experiencing any problems. 

Third-party gamer-centric apps Killer Control Center and Nvidia GeForce Experience round out the experience and let you prioritize network bandwidth and optimize your games' settings for gameplay.

There are, of course, a few pieces of bloatware, including Hulu, Cooking Fever, Fishdom and Twitter. 

The Alienware m17 R4 comes with a one-year limited warranty. See how Alienware fared on Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands, our annual special reports. 

Bottom Line

Dell, and by proxy Alienware, are master tweakers. The companies never rest on their laurels and are always working to make something better. This time around, it’s the keyboard. By teaming with Cherry, Alienware has widened the game between the Alienware m17 R4 and its challengers. Not only is it ridiculously powerful with its overclockable Core i7 processor and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU, but it’s lovely to play games on a gorgeous display with its super-high refresh rate. And now it’s got that extremely clicky, comfortable keyboard. 

Still, if power is your main concern, you need to check out the Origin Eon17-X where you can customize to your heart’s content, and even use a desktop CPU. However, all that customizability will come at a cost. But if you’re looking for power, a gorgeous panel and clicky, comfortable keys, the Alienware m17 R4 is the laptop for you. 

Sherri L. Smith
Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for Laptopmag.com since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.