The best just got better. Alienware has upped the gaming-laptop ante by adding the world's fastest notebook graphics -- the Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M -- to its award-winning 17-inch beast. The Alienware 17 ($3,358 as configured, starting at $1,499) continues to boast one of the best designs we've seen, along with a fun backlit keyboard, powerful speakers and a sweet full-HD display. The competition should be afraid.
Editor's Note: Portions of this review appeared in our original review of the Alienware 17.
We continue to be huge fans of the Alienware 17's redesign. It's like "Tron" and "Xanadu" had a baby -- a groovy, techie baby. The two-toned, gray, anodized-aluminum lid is topped with a black, soft-touch lip. It's a handsome contrast for the backlit alien head and the pair of tantalizing LEDs intersecting diagonally near the bottom of the lid.
The notebook's interior is coated in a luxurious, black, soft-touch finish. A matte dark-gray band sits at the top of the deck. Directly below, a thin, glossy strip leads to a fairly large power button on the left side. The keyboard, power button and touchpad sport an eerie, blue glow that can be changed to a plethora of colors.
The 17.9 x 12.9 x 2.26~2.23-inch Alienware 17 is a behemoth, weighing a portly 9.2 pounds. It makes the 8.6-pound Digital Storm Krypton (16.3 x 11.26 x 1.81 inches) seem small by comparison. However, the 9.4-pound, 16.1 x 12.5 x 0.67~1.96-inch ASUS G750JZ is outweighs Alienware's glittering monster.
Click to EnlargeIt just wouldn't be an Alienware without the over-the-top light show. The company wrapped a strip of light around the sides of the laptop and backlighting for the touchpad. The presentation was impressive under our office's fluorescent lights, but the notebook really shines in the dark.
Just like the previous generation, the AlienFX software in the Alienware Command Center lets you choose from one of 13 preloaded lighting profiles or create a custom profile. Creating a profile is fairly easy: After selecting the New Theme option, users can assign 20 colors to each of the notebook's 10 zones.
Click to EnlargeThe fun really begins when you add the Morph and Pulse effects. The Morph effect cycles between two designated colors, while Pulse makes the lights flash on and off at a set tempo. A profile can be as basic or complex as you want. Best of all, you can program specific settings for certain profiles using the AlienAdrenaline utility.
Alienware has also partnered with several popular game developers to create custom profiles for specific titles. The company currently offers 60 titles, including "Metro: Last Light," "Orcs Must Die 2," and "Hotline Miami."
Click to EnlargeDishing out vivid hues and capturing sharp details, the Alienware's 17.3-inch matte anti-glare 1920 x 1080-pixel display continues to be one of the best-looking in its class. Text looks crisp, and the viewing angles are generous enough to comfortably accommodate three people.
When watching the 1080p "Belle" trailer, we were captivated by the contrast between the lead actress's café au lait skin and her rose-pink dress. Details were sharp enough to make out the floral patterns on the shimmery material, along with individual hairs in the lady's cascading brown ringlets.
The panel continued to impress as we played "Metro: Last Light," delivering deep, rich blacks; somber grays; and pops of red, yellow and green. We were especially impressed by the waves of heat radiating from the large grill used to cook food for our unit.
Click to EnlargeThe screen averaged a bright 268 nits, matching the G750JZ and surpassing the 255-nit desktop-replacement average. The GT60 hit 252 nits, while the Krypton delivered a dazzling 304 nits.
The Alienware 17 measured an impressive 106.3 percent of the sRGB gamut on our color test, topping the G750JZ and the category average -- both 101 percent. The Krypton displayed only 88 percent. We were also impressed with the Alienware 17's near-perfect color reproduction. The panel registered a Delta-E score of 0.6, with 0 being perfectly accurate. The G750JZ was a close second, with a result of 0.9.
Click to EnlargeAlienware took a "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to audio on the Alienware 17, once again equipping its notebook with Klipsch speakers. The front-mounted speakers are certainly powerful, and easily filled our room with full-bodied, balanced audio.
Robin Thicke's uptempo dance track "Blurred Lines" delivered snappy snares, clear keyboards, a strong bass line and enough cowbell to satisfy our fever.
Playing "Metro: Last Light" also resulted in immersive audio. The set music was clear and didn't overwhelm some of the more nuanced sounds of the game, such as the clattering of a can in a desolate tunnel or the gentle scraping of a dull knife against a plank of wood.
The speakers get a huge assist from Dolby's Home Theater v4 software. Each of the settings (Music, Game and Movies) delivered optimal audio for their intended scenarios.
When we compared the Alienware 17's sound against that on the MSI GT70, it was no contest: Audio on the Alienware 17 was louder and clearer, easily overpowering the GT70's Dynaudio speakers. At 99 decibels on the Laptop Mag Audio Test (measuring a continuous tone from a distance of 23 inches), the Alienware 17 registered well above the 89-dB average as well as the Krypton (82 dB) and the GT60 and G750JZ (both 80 dB).
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeAlienware's traditional keyboard continues to be the gold standard when it comes to gaming notebooks. The traditional keyboard spans the width of the deck and includes a full number pad. Above the number pad are four additional keys for macros.
The large, black keys delivered firm, snappy feedback and have 3mm of vertical travel. That's higher than the typical 1.5 to 2 mm, which resulted in a more comfortable typing experience. The keyboard maintained its comfy bounce as we put the hurt on a few psychos in "Borderlands 2."
In the more mundane world of typing, we notched our normal 60 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test.
Click to EnlargeThe 17's programmable touchpad is a sight to behold. After we settled on a suitable color palette (a mesmerizing, purple-and-green morphing profile), our fingers glided across the 4 x 2.25-inch Synaptics touchpad. Multitouch gestures -- such as pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scroll and rotate, and three-finger press and flick -- were quick and responsive. The pair of discrete mouse buttons felt snappy and offered strong feedback.
Click to EnlargeAfter streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the laptop's touchpad registered a cool 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys and the bottom of the notebook measured 86 and 94 degrees. All of these temps are below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
When we played 15 minutes of "Metro: Last Light," the touchpad's temperature increased slightly to 83 degrees. The space between the G and H keys temperature also rose, measuring 88 degrees. The majority of the notebook's undercarriage hit 96 degrees, but the center vent blew a rather hot 100 degrees. Fortunately, we doubt anyone will be using this behemoth in their laps.
Click to EnlargeThe Alienware 17 features a 2-MP webcam that captures images in 1080p. However, in its never-ending mission to eliminate bloatware, the company does not preinstall any webcam software on this machine. The webcam delivered brilliant color when we used it with a copy of CyberLink YouCam 6 software. Our red dress popped against our chocolate skin, and it accurately portrayed the blue in our photobombing colleague's plaid shirt. Details were slightly fuzzy, however, and we saw tons of graphical noise when we examined the image.
Click to EnlargeIt just wouldn't be a gaming notebook without a slew of ports. Along the right side of the Alienware 17 is a slot-loading Blu-ray player, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a 9-in-1 card reader and Gigabit Ethernet. There's another pair of USB 3.0 ports on the left, with a Mini DisplayPort, a security lock and jacks for headsets, headphones, a mic and the AC adapter. Alienware has combined the HDMI-in and HDMI-out into one port along the left side.
Gaming and Graphics
Click to EnlargeBoasting an Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M GPU with 8GB of dedicated video memory, the Alienware 17 can tear through even the most graphically taxing gaming like a child shredding tissue paper. The notebook is also equipped with an Intel HD Graphics 4600 chip for less-intensive tasks like streaming video or working in a document.
On our synthetic benchmark tests, the Alienware 17 hit the ground running, scoring 146,845 on Ice Storm Unlimited. That topped the 124,105 desktop-replacement average, as well as other notebooks outfitted with the same GPU. The ASUS G750JZ, MSI GT60 and Digital Storm Krypton hit 119,001, 131,959 and 134,175, respectively.
Click to EnlargeWhen we ran the "BioShock Infinite" test, the Alienware 17 obtained 144 fps on low at 1080p, easily surpassing the 123-fps average. The GT60 and G750 were right on its heels, at 142 and 141 fps, while the Krypton pulled out the win, with 151 fps. At maximum settings, the Alienware 17's frame rate dropped to 63 fps, which was enough to beat the 53-fps average. However, the GT60 (64 fps) and the Krypton and G750JZ (both 65 fps) were slightly faster.
During the "Metro: Last Light" game, the Alienware 17 scored 82 fps on low at 1080p, which is a few frames more than the 79-fps average. The GT60 and G750JZ hit 75 and 81 fps, respectively, while the Krypton notched 88 fps. When we cranked it up to high, the Alienware's frame rate dropped to 20 fps, matching the category average. The Krypton and G750JZ delivered 24 fps, while the GT60 scored 22 fps.
Click to EnlargeThe graphics card isn't the only thing that's upgraded on the new Alienware 17. Instead of the 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ processor of the original configuration, the newest iteration packs a 2.9-GHz Intel Core i7-4910MQ GPU with 16GB of RAM. The power boost ensures that the laptop can keep pace with anything.
The notebook handily streamed an episode of "The IT Crowd" on Netflix while performing a full system scan with 15 open tabs in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer.
The rig's score of 5,838 on PCMark7 beat the 5,496 desktop-replacement average, but came up short against other gaming rigs. The ASUS G750JZ and its 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ notched 5,969, while the MSI GT60's 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ scored 6,054. The Digital Storm Krypton and its 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-4810MQ CPU was the undisputed winner, with a score of 6,437.
Outfitted with a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) and a 1TB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, the Alienware 17 launched Windows 7 Home Premium in 23 seconds. That's faster than its predecessor's (250GB SSD with 750GB 7,200-rpm hard) 35 seconds, but slower than the 17-second average.
When we ran the File Transfer test, the Alienware 17 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 11 seconds, for an impressive transfer rate of 463 MBps, smoking the 184.73 MBps average. With its dual 256GB SSDs and 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, the G750JZ was a distant second, at 283 MBps. The Krypton (250GB SSD and 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive) notched 159 MBps, while the GT60 (128GB SSD and 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive) hit 101.8 MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Alienware matched 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 29 seconds. That's better than the 4:44 category average as well as the Krypton, GT60 and G750JZ, which posted times of 3:33, 3:40 and 4:03, respectively.
One aspect of the Alienware 17 we'd like to see improved is its battery life. The laptop lasted 4 hours and 6 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness). That's 14 minutes short of the 4:20 desktop-replacement average. However, that's more than an hour longer than the Digital Storm Krypton's time of 2:54.
We evaluated Alienware 17 and the Krypton using the Laptop Mag Battery Test, in which we surf the Web continuously over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness set to 100 nits. For the Alienware 17, the brightness was set to 36 percent, and for the Krypton, 31 percent.
On our previous version of the battery test, we set the brightness to 40 percent across the board; at these settings, the MSI GT60 Dominator Pro and ASUS G750JZ posted times of 5:21 and 6:26, respectively.
Alienware doesn't weigh down its gaming rigs with bloatware. However, the company does include a modest suite of alien-themed utilities under the Alienware Command Center. In addition to AlienFX (the lighting customization utility), there's AlienTouch, to adjust touchpad sensitivity, and Alienware TactX, to configure the macro keys.
AlienFusion enables users to create custom power profiles, while AlienAdrenaline creates custom shortcuts that will perform a specified set of actions at startup or when a game is launched. AlienAutopsy handles the diagnostic side of things, running scheduled system checks. Last but not least is AlienRespawn, which lets users create backup discs to protect precious data.
Adobe Reader XI is the only third-party application preloaded on the 17.
The Alienware 17 comes with a one-year basic support warranty.
Click to EnlargeOur review configuration of the Alienware 17 is packed to the gills with high-end specs, which explains the wallet-decimating $3,385 price tag. There's a 2.9-GHz Intel Core i7-4910MQ GPU with 16GB of RAM; a 256GB SSD; a 1TB, 5,400-rpm hard drive; an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU; and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M GPU with 8GB of VRAM.
For those of more modest means, the $1,499 base model has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU; 8GB of RAM; a 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; an Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M GPU with 2GB of VRAM; and a 1600 x 900p anti-glare display.
Click to EnlargeSomehow, Alienware has managed to top itself -- again. The Alienware 17 continues to catch every single eye in the room with its cocky, flashy design. And once this rig has your attention, it reels you in more with a gorgeous 1080p display and a stellar sound system. From there, it hits you with a one-two punch from the upgraded Core i7 processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M CPU -- a combination that Floyd Mayweather would be proud of.
But all this power and good looks don't come cheap, and the $3,385 price tag is prohibitive for many people. For $1,100 less, gamers can get the MSI GT60 Dominator Pro, which offers comparable graphics performance and a gorgeous 2880 x 1620p display. Still, for those that can afford it, the Alienware 17 continues to be the go-to gaming rig for the best combination of design, audio oomph, comfort and power.