Flashy design; Customizable lighting; Colorful 1080p display with wide viewing angles; Big and balanced audio; Comfortable keyboard
Expensive; Below-average battery life; Runs hot when gaming; Heavy
The AMD configuration of the Alienware 17 offers a slick design and beautiful full-HD display, and packs the graphics oomph of the Nvidia-powered model.
The Alienware 17 was already full of win. It's one of best-looking gaming notebooks on the market and packs a lot of power into its flashy frame. But now, the company has unveiled its newest configuration, which swaps out the Nvidia graphics card for an AMD Radeon R9 M290X GPU. This leaves users considering this high-end system in a bit of a conundrum. In a battle of GPUs, which one reigns supreme?
We're still fans of Alienware's presentation on the 17. It's like one part intergalactic space cruiser and one part disco. The gray, anodized aluminum lid with the thick band of black, soft-touch plastic on the top are the perfect backdrop to the colorful LED strips and alien head emblem.
Aside from the attention-grabbing light show, we appreciate the rounded-out edges and softened angles throughout the design. For example, the bottom of the lid tapers and shimmies around the chassis. The once-ornate speaker grilles have also gained a touch of subtlety, replaced by a pair of understated grilles accentuated by more LED light strips.
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Opening the 17 is like watching fireworks: full of oohs and ahhs. The 17's interior is the inverse of the lid, plying us with a luxurious, black, soft-touch finish and a thick strip of gray aluminum. Located in the top-left corner of the deck, the glossy power button glows warmly, thanks to Alienware's elegant lighting.
Weighing 9.2 pounds, the 17.9 x 12.9 x 2.26-2.23-inch 17 is a beautiful but thick behemoth. This machine easily dwarfs the 8.8-pound, 16.1 x 12.5 x 0.66-1.9-inch ASUS G750JX and the 8.4-pound, 16.85 x 11.34 x 2.17-inch MSI GT70.
The keyboard and the Alienware logo in the bezel still light up as well. Users can customize all of the above using the AlienFX section of the Alienware Command Center.
Just like on the previous-generation notebook, users can choose from one of 13 preloaded lighting profiles or create their own custom profiles. 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.
The fun really begins when you add the Morph and Pulse effects. The Morph effect cycles between two designated colors. 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 custom keyboard profiles and set them to launch when your profile activates using the AlienAdrenaline utility.
Alienware has also partnered with several popular game developers that have agreed to create custom profiles for specific titles. The company currently offers 60 titles, including "Metro: Last Light," "Orcs Must Die 2," and "Hotline Miami."
A 1080p mountain-view image was simply gorgeous, accurately displaying a bouquet of pink roses. Details were sharp enough to show off the delicate pink veins in the petals, and small beads of water. The flowers' leaves were a lovely shade of green.
Who knew the jungle could look so inviting? We had to take a minute to appreciate the lush, thick foliage rendered in "Tomb Raider." The trees cast realistic shadows on the jungle, creating sun-dappled clearings. The mist from a nearby waterfall delivered realistic mist particles that condensed on Lara's skin. The red of ages-old pagodas popped against the thick, green leaves and the bright, blue sky for some much-appreciated contrast.
At 312 lux, the Alienware 17 outshines both the 249-lux desktop-replacement average and the 240-lux display of the GT70.
The notebook successfully delivered the driving bass line on Jay Z's "Tom Ford." Tamia's "Officially Missing You" had soft but clear guitar chords blanketing the singer's delicate soprano.
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.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The large, black keys delivered firm, snappy feedback. The keyboard maintained its bounciness as we put the hurt on a few psychos in "Borderlands 2." In the more mundane world of typing, we notched 60 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test.
The 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, three-finger press and flick -- were quick and responsive. The pair of discrete mouse buttons was snappy and provided strong feedback.
During our 15-minute session of "Broken Age," the laptop's touchpad measured 86 degrees. The space between the G and H keys registered 95 degrees, but the bottom of the notebook blew a lap-scorching 128 degrees. However, the Nvidia version was just as hot after a similar test.
The Alienware features a 2 megapixel webcam that captures images and video in 1080p with Creative Live! Central software. We noticed some blurriness in our test shots, but the camera accurately captured the knit pattern on our red sweater as well as some of the flyaway hairs on our head.
Gaming and Graphics
On 3DMark11, the AMD Alienware hit 7,519, which is well above the 4,847 desktop-replacement average. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M configuration of the Alienware 17 scored just 5,903. The ASUS G750JX and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 770M managed 5,202. The MSI GT70, with its Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M GPU, was just behind the AMD Alienware, scoring 7,352.
We switched over to "Bioshock Infinite," and the Alienware 17 (AMD) scored 124 fps at 1080p on low. That's higher than the Nvidia-laden Alienware 17 (106 fps) as well as the GT70 (70 fps) and the ASUS G750JX (91 fps). After switching to high, the Alienware 17 AMD's frame rate dropped to 48 fps, which is below the 55-fps average but still higher than the G750JX (37 fps), the Nvidia Alienware 17 (35 fps) and the GT70 (44 fps).
Lastly, we put the Alienware 17 (AMD) through the "Metro: Last Light" test. On low at 1080p, the notebook managed 93 fps, which once again topped the 74 fps average and the Nvidia version of the laptop, which scored 84 fps.
When we switched to high, the AMD edition dropped to 15 fps, failing to match the 19-fps desktop-replacement average. The Nvidia version delivered 22 fps -- better, but also unplayable.
On PCMark7, the laptop scored 5,405. That's better than the 4,729 desktop-replacement average, but not enough to overcome the ASUS G750 (6,115) or the MSI GT70 (6,025), which have the same CPU. The Alienware 17 (Nvidia) also managed to top the AMD version with its 2.70-GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ CPU, posting 5,492.
When we ran the File Transfer Test, the Alienware 17 (AMD) delivered a transfer rate of 204 MBps, surpassing the 138 MBps average. Despite having an identical configuration, the Alienware 17 (Nvidia) only managed 182 MBps. The G750 and its 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive hit 170 MBps. However, none of these rigs were a match for the GT70's dual 256GB SSDs and 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, which achieved a scorching 463 MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the Alienware 17 (AMD) matched 20,000 names and addresses in 4 minutes and 1 second, beating the 5:13 category average and matching the GT70 . The G750JX was just a few seconds behind, at 4:05. The Alienware 17 (Nvidia) pulled ahead, with 3:42.
Software and Warranty
Alienware does a great job of keeping the bloatware to a minimum, only adding its usual suite of alien-themed utilities.
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.
The notebook also features AMD's Catalyst Control Center, which allows gamers to tweak settings for display, power, video playback and graphics.
Third-party apps include Adobe Reader XI, Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer.
The Alienware 17 comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty.
Our $2,499 configuration of the Alienware 17 includes a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor; 16GB of RAM; a 750GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive; a 256GB SSD; an AMD Radeon R9 M290X GPU with 4GB of VRAM; and a 1920 x 1080-pixel display.
The $1,499 base model has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ; 8GB of RAM; a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive; an Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M with 2GB of VRAM; and a 1600 x 900-pixel display. For the high rollers, there's the $3,849 model, which packs a 3.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4930MX CPU with 32GB of RAM; a pair of 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drives in RAID 0 configuration with an 80GB mSATA SSD; and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M GPU with 4GB of VRAM.
For $2,499, this rig provides better performance than a similarly equipped version with Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M graphics, which costs $100 more. You'll sacrifice some battery life, but once again, the Alienware 17 delivers incomparable power in an awesome design.
|CPU||2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ|
|Operating System||MS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|RAM Upgradable to||32GB|
|Hard Drive Size||750GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||5,400rpm|
|Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size||256GB|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type||SSD|
|Optical Drive Speed||8X|
|Graphics Card||AMD Radeon R9 M290X|
|Touchpad Size||4 x 2.25 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone/Mic|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI-in/out|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Gigabit Ethernet|
|Ports (excluding USB)||security lock slot|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini DisplayPort|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Microphone|
|Card Slots||9-1 card reader|
|Warranty/Support||1-year limited hardware warranty|
|Size||17.9 x 12.9 x 2.26-2.23 inches|