After nearly 22 years in the game, it's safe to say that Alienware knows how to make a gaming laptop. The company also knows when to do a total redesign or when to make a few tweaks to refine the overall product. The Alienware 17 R5 (starting at $1,399, $3,974 as tested) is a little bit of both.
Alienware made slight tweaks to the exterior design, creating a slimmer chassis with even more customized lighting opportunities. Overhauls to the cooling and audio systems make for quieter fans and louder speakers. And a complete redesign of the Alienware Command Center software makes customizing your lighting and overclocking your processor and graphics card child's play.
Speaking of CPUs and GPUs, the high-powered configuration we tested comes with a powerful Intel 8th Gen Core i9 processor that can be overclocked to 5 GHz -- a first for the laptop series -- and a factory overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU. Throw in a vibrant QHD display, a speedy SSD and over 3 hours of battery life, and you've got the difference between a gaming laptop and a great gaming laptop.
Call it an intergalactic blackout. In addition to the new hue, Alienware added even more LED zones to the ready-made battlestation, while making the system slimmer with its new hinge-forward design.
First, the lighting. Alienware has added more new zones, bringing the grand total to 13. You can pick out your custom colors and effects on the revamped Alien Command Center (more on that later).
At 9.7 pounds and 16.7 x 13.1 x 1.18 inches, the Alienware 17 is a tad slimmer than its predecessor (9.6 pounds and 16.7 x 13.1 x 1.2 inches), and lighter than the MSI GT75 Titan (10.1 pounds and 16.9 x 12.4 x 1.2~2.3 inches). However, it's still noticeably heavier than the 8.6-pound Origin PC Eon17-X (16.4 x 11.6 x 1.6 inches) and the 8.1-pound Aorus X9 (16.9 x 12.4 x 1.2 inches).
Opening the lid, you're greeted by a full-size traditional keyboard glowing with anticipation. The keyboard is sandwiched between a massive touchpad and the watchful eyes of the glowing alien head power button. The 17.3-inch panel sits above the glossy plastic strip housing the Tobii Eye Tracker.
Because of the hinge-forward design, you'll find the majority of your ports In the back, including a Mini DisplayPort, HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt 3, Ethernet, a power port and the proprietary port for the Alienware Graphics Amplifier.
Alienware typically delivers a top-notch screen, and it doesn't disappoint with the newest Alienware 17. The 17.3-inch, matte anti-glare display delivers robust color and unrivaled brightness with generous viewing angles. Alas, this 2560 x 1440 panel isn't available in OLED like its 13-inch cousin (sigh, one day), but it still had no problem delivering show-stopping reds during the BlacKkKlansman trailer.
Adam Driver's crimson-and-black flannel owned the dusty, forest-green pool hall, while yellow-and orange flames violently engulfed a white cross. Details were sharp enough that I could see the fine grain of the paper John David Washington was reading from as well as the tightly curled coils in his well-coiffed Afro.
Geralt's bone-white tresses whipped around realistically in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as I evaded the blows of a band of bandits while returning my own. Despite the nonstop action, the Nvidia G-Sync technology helped prevent against image tearing by synchronizing the GPU with the panel up to 144 hertz.
When measured for color reproduction, the Alienware 17 hit 110 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which surpasses the 100-percent minimum and the Eon17-X's 104 percent. However, it's short of the 131-percent premium gaming laptop average as well as the numbers put up by the Aorus X9 and the Titan.
Although it's not the most vivid screen on the block, the Alienware 17 is definitely among the brightest. Hitting 352 nits, the panel eclipsed the 283-nit average. Its closest competitors didn't crack 300 nits.
Back and louder than ever. Alienware's hinge-forward design makes room for a seriously improved audio system. The design now includes a couple internal smart amplifiers that monitor audio waveforms (a graph that displays amplitude or level changes over time), and the system uses that to better regulate the speaker thermals for better sound.
So, when I maxed out the volume in the largest conference room in our office, the room was buffeted with loud, crisp audio. Rapsody's "Sassy" had a wide soundscape with plenty of separation of the instrumental. I had no problem discerning the snare from the high hat amid the bass, keyboards and strings. And the artist's vocal vacillated between deep, throaty raps and a saccharine mezzo-soprano that seemed to linger in the air.
As I went hunting for a special goat in Witcher 3, I searched the lonely forest with only the insistent whoosh of the wind rushing through the thick foliage as my companion. After a while, a lone, melancholy violin joined my sojourn, accenting every snap of a twig or contemplative grunt from Geralt.
Keyboard and Touchpad
While pretty much everyone else has gone island-style with their gaming keyboards, Alienware has stayed true to its traditional layout -- with good reason. With 2.2 millimeters of key travel and 79 grams of actuation, the Alienware 17's steel-reinforced TactX keyboard far surpasses our minimum requirements (1.5 mm, 60 grams). It was like my fingers were typing on tiny, springy mattresses, bouncing my way to 78 words per minute on the 10fastfingers typing test. That's significantly higher than my usual 70 wpm.
The 4 x 2.1-inch touchpad is massive and offered plenty of space for my fingers to skate along and navigate websites and documents -- or summon Cortana with a three-finger press. I also had no problem performing a two-finger scroll or a three-finger flick to shuffle through open apps.
My favorite part about Alienware touchpads is how they light up when you touch them. It's like the lighting effects in Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," but for your fingers. The pair of discrete mouse buttons were nice and springy, and delivered a nice click when pressed.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
I have the power!!! Tricked out with an overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU with 8GB of VRAM, I expected nothing but the highest frame rates, and the Alienware definitely delivered.
As I traveled horseback to my next destination in Witcher 3, I saw a group of Drowners prowling around the shore. I sped up and caught one of the soggy blue beasts by surprise, hacking downward into its back. I quickly dismounted to continue the fight and unleashed Igni, a fire spell singeing the rotting blue-gray flesh at a lovely 70 frames per second on Ultra settings at 1920 x 1080. On 2560 x 1440, the frame dropped to 65 fps. The frame rate leapt to 96 fps when I switched it over to High at 1080p and fell to a still-impressive 83 fps at 1440p.
The Alienware 17 performed just as well on our synthetic benchmarks, starting with notching 68 fps on the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark (1920 x 1080, Very High), beating the 56-fps premium gaming laptop average. It's on a par with its competitors, which are outfitted with their own GTX 1080s. The Titan hit 67 fps, while the Eon17-X reached 69 fps. The Aorus X9 pulled out ahead of the pack with 73 fps.
We saw the Alienware 17 achieve 99 fps on the Hitman test, sailing past the 85-fps average as well as the Titan's 95 and the Eon17-X and Aorus X9, which were in a dead heat at 96 fps.
During the Grand Theft Auto V benchmark, the Alienware obtained 85 fps, beating the Eon17-X's 55 and the 77-fps average. The Aorus X9 did slightly better with 86 fps, while the Titan put up an impressive 110 fps.
On the Middle-Earth: Shadow of War test, the Alienware 17 scored 95 fps, defeating the 90-fps average. However, both the Titan and Aorus X9 inched it out with 98 and 99 fps, respectively.
With power like this, don't be shy about whipping out the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or Vive Pro. The Alienware 17 maxed out the SteamVR performance test at 11, matching the Aorus X9 and Eon17-X, while topping the 10.2 average and the Titan's 10.9.
Alien Command Center
For the past seven years, the Alien Command Center has been your one-stop shop for customizing the lighting on your keyboard and LEDs, programming macros, setting power-management plans and creating desktop shortcuts. It still does that and so much more -- all with a clean, easy-to-navigate interface.
One of the first changes you'll notice about Command Center is that you can access all your games from the Home tab along with performance settings for the laptop and switch the software's background from light to dark. You can also swap out the Active System Theme, the new term for your customized lighting profile from Home. If you're looking to get more granular, you'll want to start exploring the other tabs, starting with Library.
The Library section of Command Center has some clear influences from Nvidia's GeForce Experience. Similar to Nvidia's software, Library aggregated all of my games, no matter if they were Steam titles, GOG or Windows. That eliminated the hassle of having to track down my games, allowing me to access and launch everything from one prime location.
Looking to squeeze out more performance from your processor and graphics card? The Fusion tab lets you overclock both components by just adjusting a slider. And Alienware was kind enough to include a test feature to ensure your new clock speeds are stable. With the right tweaks, you could overclock the CPU to a ridiculous 5.0 GHz.
Of course, you can still customize all the zones and the keyboard lighting with Command Center by way of the FX tab. However, with the extra zones combined with the 16.8 million color palette and 12 effects, Alienware claims you can create up to 80 quadrillion possible combinations. After creating your custom theme, you can go to the Home or Library sections and assign that theme (as well as performance settings) to launch with individually selected games.
Tobii Eye Tracking
Once again, the Alienware 17 has teamed with Tobii to integrate eye-tracking technology that provides an interesting way to interact with both your games and the Windows desktop. Currently compatible with over 100 games, the integrated sensors track your eyes, allowing you to control the camera and autoaim with a simple glance.
Tobii's technology also allows for a more immersive experience, including panning the camera to follow your gaze and hiding the heads-up display (minimaps, health, ammo, etc.) until you look in its direction. The eye trackers also provide some environmental awareness, including getting eye contact from nonplayable characters. Lastly, you can use the free Tobii Streaming Gaze Overlay to stream and record your eye movements, which can come in handy if you're trying to improve your game. Think of it as your own personal highlight/lowlight reel.
MORE: Best VR Headsets
But Tobii isn't all fun and games. The technology can also be used to unlock your laptop via facial recognition. I used the Tobii to wake the laptop from sleep after I stepped away to chat with a colleague.
This iteration of the Alienware 17 is the first in the series to rock Intel's new 2.9-GHz, 8th Gen Core i9-8950HK processor with a whopping 32GB of RAM. And thanks to the Alien Command Center, you can overclock this bad boy to a smoking 5 GHz.
It's kinda like a digital Ivan Drago when it comes to multitasking. I started by streaming Runaways on Hulu while watching some of my favorite Steven Universe theory videos on YouTube. From there, I just started launching tabs in Google Chrome, some running Slack, others running Twitch, until I had 35 open tabs. Then I ran Windows Defender and there was nary a hiccup from this thing.
However, that power didn't necessarily translate to stellar results in all of our benchmarks. It held its own, of course, but it didn't blow away the competition. For example, the system delivered 20,890 on Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance. That beats the 17,290 premium gaming laptop average, but armed with their own 8950HKs, the Titan and Aorus produced 22,754 and 25,915, respectively. The Eon17-X with its desktop Intel Core i7-8700K CPU hit 21,713.
During our Excel productivity test, the Alienware 17 paired up 65,000 names and addresses in 42 seconds, slipping past the 0:44 category average. The Titan and Aorus X9 posted faster times of 0:34 and 0:31, respectively.
The Alienware 17's 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD (with a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive) duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 9 seconds, tying the Eon17-X with a transfer rate of 565.5 megabytes per second. That's more than enough to dust the 489.8-MBps average and the Aorus X9's (1TB PCIe SSD) 424 MBps. However, the Titan (512GB NVMe SSD) notched a blistering 727 MBps.
When we ran the Handbrake benchmark, the Alienware 17 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 9 minutes and 10 seconds. It's faster than the 9:51 average, but not the 8:15 and 7:41 put up by the Aorus X9 and Titan, respectively.
Despite all its powerful specs, the Alienware 17 somehow manages to be the last laptop standing on our battery test. It lasted 3 hours and 47 minutes of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, surpassing the 3:26 premium gaming laptop average. The Titan, Aorus and Eon17-X tapped out early with times of 2:54, 2:20 and 1:52, respectively.
The Alienware 17 manages to stay relatively cool when you're gaming or watching videos, thanks to its revamped cooling system, dubbed Alienware Cryo-Tech v2.0. The company managed to reduce the thickness of its fans' blades by 50 percent and added a vapor chamber on top of the CPU to help keep things cool. And those thinner fan blades are pretty quiet, even when you're gaming. After playing Witcher 3 for 45 minutes, the most I heard was a gentle whirring that I had to pause the game to detect.
But before listening for the fans, I took the system's temperature after 15 minutes of battling a cave troll in Witcher 3. The touchpad registered a cool 76 degrees Fahrenheit while the center of the keyboard hit 98 degrees, which is somewhat higher than our 95-degree comfort threshold. The middle of the bottom vent was even hotter, at 109 degrees, but you're probably not going to be using this giant in your lap, anyway.
We let the laptop cool down and then ran 15 minutes of HD video and took another thermal measurement. The touchpad stayed at 76 degrees while the middle of the keyboard and undercarriage temps dropped to 88 and 96 degrees.
The Alienware 17's integrated 1080p webcam takes some seriously sharp stills. In the test shots I took in the office, I can see individual strands of hair at the top of my hair and the fabric texture of my bright-orange shirt. (The strands transition from black to orangey-blonde to deep purple, showing that it's time to set up another hair appointment.) While there was some graininess, it was much less severe than what I've seen from other cams.
Software and Warranty
There is nothing worse than booting up your new gaming rig and having to uninstall a bunch of bloatware. Thankfully, Alienware employs a pretty light touch when it comes to needlessly preinstalled apps. But don't get me wrong -- thanks to Windows 10, there are still a few pieces of flotsam hanging around, such as Dolby Access, Skype and a link to purchase Adobe Photoshop in the Windows Store.
Most of the Alienware 17's remaining preinstalled apps are designed to enhance your gaming or maintain your system's health. For instance, you have Alienware Digital Delivery to ensure your software is up to date. There's also Dell SupportAssist, which keeps an eye on laptop diagnostics and lets you tune performance, optimize your network and check for viruses at the touch of a button.
In addition to Alien Command Center, the Alienware 17 also features Nvidia GeForce Experience with its gamer-centric software suite, including BatteryBoost and Game Optimization. There's also Killer Control Center, which lets you prioritize network bandwidth as well as test its speed and strength.
The Alienware 17 ships with a one-year limited warranty and one year of hardware service. Find out how Alienware fared in our Tech Support Showdown, Best and Worst Brands and Best and Worst Gaming Brands ranking.
I reviewed "the baller-ass configuration" of the Alienware 17, and with a $3,974 price tag, it better be. For the cost, you get a system with an overclockable 2.9-GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK processor, 32GB of RAM, a 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD with a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, an overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU with 8GB of VRAM and a 2560 x 1400 display.
The base model is a little kinder to your wallet at $1,399 and includes a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H processor with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB with 8GB SSD, 1TB hybrid drive, an overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM and a 1920 x 1080 display.
If you want to split the baby, I'd recommend the $1,699 configuration, which has a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-8750H processor with 16GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe M.2 SSD with a 1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, an overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU with 8GB of VRAM and a 1920 x 1080 display.
In case the baller-ass config or any other of the Alienware 17 setups don't quite suit your fancy, you can swap out the SSD and RAM for something a bit more powerful. Just flip the system over and open the bottom access panel.
Let the games begin! Or the multitasking, or the video editing or the coding -- heck, anything you want to do, the Alienware 17 can handle with aplomb. For $3,974, you get a system that doles out ridiculous frame rates, a beautiful display, awesome audio system and Tobii Eye tracking. The laptop's also not too shabby on the multitasking front, thanks to its overclockable 8th Gen Intel processor, which you should definitely overclock, because the app is supereasy to use.
However, if you're looking for an even more powerful system, you should check out the $3,999 MSI GT75 Titan, which offers better graphics and overall performance in most cases, a mechanical keyboard and a sublimely vivid display, but it has a larger footprint and shorter battery life. But if you're looking for a gaming system with a wicked-cool design and ease of use, the Alienware 17 R5 should be at the top of your list.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag