Technically, there’s no real definition for a “gaming laptop.” While it’s generally considered a notebook with a discrete graphics card, sometimes it can feel like the GPU was slapped in as an afterthought. The Alienware 17, however, feels like it was meticulously crafted to be a true gaming machine from top to bottom.
The Alienware 17 offers a plethora of LED customization options.
The Alienware 17 uses a similar chassis to the Alienware 14 we reviewed in December, with the same anodized aluminum shell and magnesium-alloy frame, only enlarged to 16.2x11.7x1.9 inches in order to fit a bigger 17.3-inch display. Unlike its smaller sibling, the Alienware 17 isn’t designed for gaming on the go, and is more of a desktop replacement, with a carry weight of 11 pounds, 7.6 ounces. The sturdy chassis houses a 1920x1080 TN panel, which is great for gaming with its fast response time, but we still would have preferred an IPS screen for more vivid and accurate colors. In addition, we dare say the Alienware 17’s Klipsch speakers are among the best we’ve heard on a laptop, being both loud and crisp.
Another similarity between this and the 14-inch model is the use of the Alienware Command Center software suite, which allows you to customize 10 LED lights around the chassis with any of 20 different colors, making for more than 10 trillion lighting combinations, according to Alienware. There’s no mistaking this for anything but a gaming laptop, and thankfully the overall aesthetic is more sexy than gaudy.
Luckily, the Alienware 17 not only looks great, but feels great, too. Its large body allows it to sport a full-size keyboard, complete with four programmable keys. Typing feels good, as the keyboard sits atop an aluminum plate, which itself sits atop a metal stud to add extra rigidity and all but eliminate the mushiness and flexing that laptop keyboards can have. And finally, we have a trackpad that’s competent! It’s responsive, has two separate, dedicated buttons, supports multitouch, and even has a glowing LED underneath it. Attention, other laptop vendors: This is how you make a trackpad.
The most noteworthy features, however, are the specs. Our Alienware 17 configuration sports a top-of-the-line GeForce GTX 780M GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 RAM, a quad-core Intel Core i7-4800MQ quad-core CPU clocked at 2.7GHz (that can turbo up to 3.7 GHz), and 16GB of DDR3 RAM. It also comes with a 256GB SSD, a 750GB HDD, and a speedy Killer AC network card. Other than a super-beefy hard drive, it really has all the muscle you’ll need from a gaming laptop, but it comes at a cost—specifically, a whopping $2,750. Ouch! If performance is your mantra, however, the Alienware 17 has got it.
This month, we decided to update our gaming-laptop zero-point from a 2012 MSI GT60, which uses an older Ivy Bridge CPU and outdated GeForce 670M GPU, to Alienware’s new 14-inch offering. Yes, that means we’ve got a little sibling rivalry here. And just like real-life siblings, the bigger Alienware 17 pushes around its kid brother, the Alienware 14, pretty much everywhere. The 17’s Haswell processor was able to wallop the 14’s Core i7-4700MQ part by 4–8 percent in our CPU benchmarks, but the real kick in the pants came in our new BioShock Infinite and Metro: Last Light GPU benchmarks. While the 14’s 765M GPU is no pushover, it can’t hold a candle to the 17’s 780M video card, and lost by 75-100 percent in our graphics tests. The only area where the Alienware 14 was able to hold its own was the battery performance, mustering a 28 percent lead. That’s the problem with big brothers: They can throw heavy haymakers but they tire quickly.
In our real-world gameplay test, we fired up the single-player campaigns for both Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4. At max settings in Ghosts, we were able to yield an average frame rate in the 60s. In Battlefield 4 at Ultra settings, we got a consistent frame rate in the 40s. While that’s impressive for a notebook and technically playable, we would suggest turning down settings for an even higher frame rate. Arguably, the worst part about gaming on the 17 is that its fan can get pretty loud under load. It’s no leaf blower, but it’s definitely audible.
The Alienware 17 has a lot going for it in terms of aesthetics, build quality, and performance, but it’s also noisy, expensive, and really should come with an IPS panel at its price point. But if you can forgive those issues and are looking for a true gaming notebook, the Alienware 17 has you covered.
Our zero-point notebook is an Alienware 14 with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ, 16GB DDR3/1600, 256GB SSD, 750GB 5,400rpm HDD, and a GeForce GTX 765M. BioShock Infinite tested at 1920x1080 with Ultra settings. Metro: Last Light tested at 1920x1080 with medium settings and PhysX disabled.
2.7GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ
Nvidia GTX 780M
17.3-inch, 1920x1080 TN display
750GB 7,200rpm HDD, 256GB SSD
Slot-loading Blu-ray burner
Ethernet, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, media card reader, 4x USB 3.0, mic input, headphone input, mic/headphone input, 2MP webcam, Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11ac