Alienware m17 (2019) Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Stunning, slim design; Strong graphics and overall performance; Gorgeous 4K display; Great audio

The Cons

Runs hot while gaming; Below-average battery life

Verdict

The Alienware m17 combines powerful components and a lovely, show-stopping display in a slim, semi-portable chassis.

Alienware's on a roll. After launching the game-changing Area 51-m, the company has launched the new m17 laptop. Priced at $3,999, this laptop is for gamers who want slim, lightweight dimensions without compromising too much power. Under the laptop's decidedly svelte hood lies an overclockable Intel Core i9 processor, a Nvidia RTX GPU, speedy SSDs, and a stunning 4K display. These are just some of the reasons why the Alienware m17 has made our best gaming laptops page.

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Design

When I look at the m15's Nebula Red lid, I imagine that I'm in an Aston Martin Valkyrie, pushing the limits between man and machine as I unflinchingly ease into a curve on the Autobahn. The silky feel of the soft-touch-matte finish begs to be touched. Unfortunately, my naturally oily hands left a few unsightly smudges on an otherwise stunning lid. The LED backlit alien head seemed to stare at the mess I left, judgingly yet knowingly.

The rest of the laptop is made from a matte, anodized aluminum, including the rear and side vents that further push the futuristic supercar vibe. If you're looking for more of that luxurious soft touch, just open the laptop and let your hands feast on the bounty that is the palm rear. And while you're there, take a gander at the honeycomb vent pattern in the glossy-black panel housing the power button that masquerades as an alien head. And spare a glance for the island-style keyboard glowing turquoise in its recessed panel, awaiting your touch.

Weighing 6.2 pounds, the 16.1 x 11.5 x 0.7~0.9-inch m15's size lands in between the MSI GS75 Stealth (5 pounds, 15.6 x 10.2 x 0.7 inches) and the Aorus X9 (8.1 pounds, 16.9 x 12.4 x 1.2 inches). Still, the m15 is seriously slim and lightweight for a desktop replacement; it's almost light enough to stow in a backpack with minimal discomfort. Almost.

Alienware m17 Pricing and Configurations

I had fun hunting down Wyverns and other fantastical beasts on the $3,999 model of the Nebula Red Alienware m17, which has a 2.9-GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK processor with 16GB of RAM, dual 512GB PCIe m.2 SSDs, a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU with 8GB of VRAM, an Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU, and a 3840 x 2160 display.

The Epic Silver base model costs $1,599 and has a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB (with 8GB SSHD) hybrid drive, a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM, an Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU, and a 1920 x 1080 display.

The $2,099 iteration comes in Epic Silver and has a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe M.2 SSD with a 1TB (8GB SSHD) hybrid drive, a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM, an Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU, and a 1920 x 1080 display.

Ports

Alienware laptops are never lacking for ports and the m17 is no exception.

You'll find a pair of USB 3.0 ports on the right side of the laptop and another one on the left, alongside an expandable Ethernet port and headset jack.

On the back, there's a Thunderbolt 3 port, HDMI 2.0, and a mini-DisplayPort.

And in case you need even more power, you have the proprietary port for Alienware's external graphics card enclosure, the Graphics Amplifier.

Display

I seriously can't believe this isn't an OLED display. The sheer richness of color is breathtaking, whether you're gaming or watching a movie on the m17's 17.3-inch, 3840 x 2160 (4K) IPS panel. Watching the 4K trailer for Samsara, I was blown away at just how clearly I could see the fine hairs and defined fingernails of an in utero child. Adorned in a golden headdress, sporting beautiful fuschia and purple eyeshadow and twinkling jewels, a young Balinese dancer looked every bit a goddess.

From deep pinks to lush greens, "The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" was an unending cavalcade of sumptuous color and detail. The details were so clear at one point that I could see the pores of a friendly witch as she bathed, giving a rather immodest show. When she was done, her crimson and royal blue dress appeared in a shower of golden sparks.

The sheer richness of color is breathtaking whether you're gaming or watching a movie.

The m17's vividness is due in no small part to the laptop's ability to reproduce 195% of the sRGB gamut, crushing the 140% premium gaming laptop average. The color easily surpasses both the Stealth (161%) and X9 (122%).

MORE: Laptops with the Best Display Brightness

When we measured for brightness, the m17 hit 310 nits beat the 281-nit category average. That's more than enough to beat the X9's 243 nits, but not the Stealth's 339 nits.

Audio

Small speakers, big sound. At full volume, the speakers mounted on the bottom front lip of the m17 filled my living room with big, bright sound. Solange's playful soprano melded cleanly with her alto, buoyed along by a clean triangle, deep lows, and playful digital instruments.

While the raucous fight music with its rousing claps, shrieks and fevered violin were great, the star of this audio show was in the details. I heard the realistic pitter-patter of rain, the outworldly shrieks of attacking Nekkers, and the tell-tale sound of fire igniting, all as clear as a bell.

MORE: The Best Headsets for Immersive Gaming

Alienware offers eight different audio presets (Com, Movie, Music, Strategy, Racing, Shooter, Role Play and Alienware) that are now housed in the revamped Alienware Command Center. I prefer the Alienware default; it creates a surround-sound effect that added depth to whatever I was listening to. Instead of a flat audio experience, it sounded more like I was in my own personal concert hall. Be careful with this setting, though, as some of the more delicate track elements could get lost in the shuffle.

The notebook also has the Audio Recon feature, which adds a visual overlay to your game that shows surrounding noise in relation to your position; it's great during first-person shooters, as it makes it hard to get the drop on you.

Keyboard and Touchpad

When I saw on the benchmark sheet that the Alienware m17's keys only had 1.1 millimeters of key travel (1.5 mm is our minimum), I wasn't looking forward to spending the next days using this thing, full num pad or not. But thanks to the 70 grams of actuation force (60 grams is acceptable), the keys are bouncy and - dare I say - clicky? I never felt like my fingers hit the bottom of the key well. I easily reached my 70 words per minute rate on the 10fastfingers typing test.

Glittering LED lighting is a staple of the Alienware brand and nowhere does this shine better than in the keyboard. Alienware's customizing tool, Alien FX, has been integrated into the Alienware Command Center. You still have access to 16.8 million colors with six effects, and the well-tricked-out keyboard still looks mesmerizing. But since competing companies are giving gamers the ability to get down to the nitty-gritty and color every individual key, I want Alienware to join the party that it started.

After years of having the touchpad light up at my every touch, I was surprised that Alienware went for a simple, black touchpad. Lighting or no, the 4.1 x 2.5-inch touchpad was fast and responsive, allowing me to fire off with aplomb gestures such as two-finger scroll, three-finger tap, and swipe.

Gaming, Graphics and VR

Out with the old, in with the new. Capable of more realistic animations - including reflections, one of the holy grails of rendering - Nvidia's new RTX graphics cards allow for prettier games. And all that beauty doesn't come at the cost of frame rates.

I fought an enraged Foglet in "Witcher 3," dodging furious swipes and bilious clouds of poisonous gas. When I enveloped the monster in a ball of flame, it writhed around at 38 frames per second in 4K on Ultra settings. Switching to 1080p raised the frame rate to 58 fps on Ultra and 65 fps on High.

The Alienware m17 has the second most powerful mobile GPU under its hood, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU and 8GB of VRAM. The notebook also has an integrated Intel HD 630 Graphics GPU that the system switches to when you're not gaming, or photo- or video-editing.

When I enveloped a monster in a ball of flame in "The Witcher 3," it writhed around at 38 frames per second in 4K on Ultra settings.

When we ran the "Shadow of the Tomb Raider" benchmark, the m17 produced 52 fps, which is short of the 62-fps premium gaming laptop average. The laptop couldn't overcome either the Stealth's (GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU) 65 fps nor the X9's (Nvidia GTX 1080 GPU) 73 fps. Cranking the settings up 4K on the m17 made the frame rate fall to 22 fps.

The m17 asserted its dominance on the Hitman test, scoring 110 fps, sailing past the 97-fps average as well as the Stealth and the X9 scores, which both hit 96 fps. Hitman is one of the few games where the m17 delivered a playable frame rate of 55 fps at 4K.

During the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark, the m17 (78 fps) edged out the Stealth (77 fps). The Alienware sailed past the 75-fps category average, but came up short against the X9's 86 fps.

MORE: Best Graphics Performance

Yes, you can (and should) use the m17 with a VR headset. The notebook maxed out the SteamVR Performance test at 11, matching the X9 and the Stealth, and tiptoeing past the 10.7 average.

Performance

What's better than Core i7? Core i9, of course! Armed with a 2.9-GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK processor with 16GB of RAM, the m17 had no problem running 25 tabs in Google Chrome, some of which were running Twitch streams while others ran Tweetdeck, YouTube and a few GDocs.

The m17 came out swinging, scoring 23,404 on the Geekbench 4.3 overall performance test. The laptop waltzed past the 22,093 premium gaming laptop average and the Stealth's Intel Core i7-8750H CPU score of (20,843).

When we ran the File Transfer Test, the m17's dual 512GB PCIe m.2 SSDs took 10 seconds to duplicate 4.97GB of multimedia files. That translates into a rate of 508.9 megabytes per second, which trounced the 424 MBps average and the X9's (1TB PCIe M.2 SSD) 424 MBps. The Stealth and its 512GB NVMe SSD held off the m17 with a blistering result of 848 MBps.

MORE: Best Hard Drive Speed

During the Handbrake test, the m17 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 9 minutes and 33 seconds, sliding past the 9:57 average and the Stealth's 11:00, but not the X9's 8:15.

Battery Life

Alienware laptops typically have solid battery life, but the m17 misses the mark, lasting only 2 hours and 50 minutes on our battery test. It's not enough to overtake the 3:13 average, but plenty to keep the Stealth (2:29) and X9 (2:20) at bay.

Heat

I spent 15 minutes in "Witcher 3" navigating a dark cave on the trail of the Wild Hunt; when I was done, I measured the touchpad, center of the keyboard, and undercarriage of the m17. The touchpad reached 93 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just within our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, the center and the undercarriage were much hotter at 123F and 131F degrees, respectively.

Once the laptop cooled down, we ran the test again with the touchpad, middle and bottom, which measured 83, 93 and 92 degrees, respectively.

Webcam

Now this is a webcam! Normally, when I take a test shot on an integrated webcam, I'm expecting it to be grainy or washed out. The m17's 1080p shooter's images are neither.

The camera accurately captured my warm brown skin tone as well as my lime-green sweater. Details were sharp enough that I could easily make out the knit pattern. This is a camera that I'd feel comfortable using for livestreaming or video-conferencing.

Software and Warranty

Alienware added its usual cast of branded characters to the m17, including Update, which ensures that the BIOS, drivers and firmware are up to date. Digital Delivery keeps your software updated. Mobile Connect lets you shuttle files between your phone and laptop, as well as access apps like Lyft from your desktop. This function is at hand in addition to Alienware Command Center, which aggregates your games and allows you to create macros and overclock your system.

Third-party apps include Plex, Nvidia GeForce Experience, a suite of apps designed to optimize your gaming experience, and Killer Control Center, which lets you prioritize network bandwidth.

Bottom Line

With the Alienware m17, the company has fully embraced the thin-and-light movement. But unlike other gaming laptops in the genre, Alienware has made few, if any, sacrifices to reach the mountaintop.

For $3,999 you get a semi-portable system with Nvidia's powerful RTX GPU and an overclockable Intel Core i9 processor, which makes it a beast whether you're gaming or making complex spreadsheets. But Alienware wasn't content to stop there; it also added a drop-dead gorgeous 4K display, a seriously fast pair of SSDs, and a surprisingly comfortable keyboard -- all in an absolutely show-stopping chassis.

But gamers looking to save some money can get the MSI GS75 Stealth for $1,000 less and still get a machine that's lighter, with a brighter display and faster SSD. However, you lose out on the high-powered CPU and 4K display. Ultimately, the Alienware m17 is a great choice for gamers who want serious power in a reasonably slim chassis.

Credit: Laptop Mag

Author Bio
Sherri L. Smith
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.
Sherri L. Smith, on
CPU 2.9-GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK processor
Operating System Windows 10 Home
RAM 16GB
RAM Upgradable to 32GB
Hard Drive Size Dual 512GB
Hard Drive Speed n/a
Hard Drive Type
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Display Size 17.3
Highest Available Resolution 3840 x 2160
Native Resolution 3840 x 2160
Optical Drive None
Optical Drive Speed n/a
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU/Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU
Video Memory 8GB
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Wi-Fi Model Killer Wireless 1550 2x2 AC
Bluetooth Bluetooth 5.0
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 4.1 x 2.5 inches
USB Ports 4
Warranty/Support 1 Year Hardware Service with Onsite/In-Home Service After Remote Diagnosis
Size 16.1 x 11.5 x 0.7~0.9 inches
Weight 6.2 pounds
Company Website www.alienware.com