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Alienware 17 (R4, 2017) review:

A battle-hardened but not yet war-weary gaming laptop

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The Good The Alienware 17 R4 is built like a tank, offers a well-designed lighting scheme and controls, and you can get a reasonably fast configuration for the money.

The Bad The fans are loud and seem like they're always on, battery life doesn't impress, could use more USB connectors and Alienware doesn't make it easy to tweak or monitor performance.

The Bottom Line If you want something that's fast out of the box but don't yearn to endlessly fiddle for that last bit of speed, the Alienware 17 delivers.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.2 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Battery 7.0

If the Alienware 15 R3 is a tank, its 17-inch big brother, the Alienware 17 R4, is more of an AT-AT, stomping on everything in its path. 

The 17-inch model starts at $1,350 (£1,500, AU$2,800), which is only $100 more than the 15-inch's base price, but that's with a Core i7 instead of Core i5 -- unless the slightly smaller size really matters to you, the 17-inch is actually a better value.

Our test configuration costs about $2,750, which seems like a really good price given the components. The closest configuration in the UK is £2,757, with a different version of Killer wireless; prices start at £1,500. In Australia, it's AU$5,000 with alternatives starting at AU$2,800.

There are various display options: a basic 1,920x1,080 60Hz IPS 300-nit panel, the same but G-Sync enabled, a QHD (2,560x1,440) 120Hz TN 400-nit G-sync with Tobii Eye-tracking, and a UHD (3,840x2,160) 300-nit IPS panel with Tobii. You can also opt for an AMD Radeon RX 570 GPU. 

4K probably looks pretty good on this system, though I think 2,560x1,440 is a nice price/performance compromise. It works out to 173 pixels per inch, which makes it sharp enough for all sorts of work, and a 120Hz refresh plus G-Sync compatibility, which is right for all sorts of play. You can always attach a big, high-resolution display to it, and if you do it via the Mini DisplayPort, you'll get G-Sync support. 

Specifications


Alienware 17 (R4, 2017)
Price as reviewed $2,925, AU$5,000
Display size/resolution 17.3-inch 2,560x1,440 display
PC CPU 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HK (OC to 4GHz)
PC Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
Storage 1TB HDD+512GB SSD
Ports 1 x Ethernet; 1 x Mini DisplayPort (1 x G-Sync); 1 x HDMI; 2 x USB-C (1 x Thunderbolt/DP); 2 x USB 3 Type-A (1 charging); mic; headphone/audio; dedicated eGPU connection
Networking Killer E2500 Gigabit Ethernet, Killer Wireless 1535, Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)
Weight 9.7 lbs/4.4kg

Plus, the battery life isn't great with this panel; it uses the same size battery as the Alienware 15 we tested (99 Whr) but it's driving a ton more power and a bigger screen for a depressing 3.2-hour life on our tests. 4K would likely tank that even more. At least there's an option with 4K and G-Sync (though only 60Hz) on the higher-end models.

Our test system came with the TN+WVA display, which turns out to be a pretty nice compromise if you want speed and don't care about color accuracy. In this case "WVA" stands for "wide viewing angle," not to be confused with VA (Vertical Alignment) panels. Viewing angle is better than a cheap TN panel, but I still wouldn't call it "wide." 

Its color gamut measures 90 percent of sRGB, worse than the similar HD panel in the AW15. In practice, games look fine and pop sufficiently. It hits a peak luminance of about 458 nits -- typical is closer to about 320 nits unless you leave it at the default 100 percent brightness. There's little ghosting, and at 120Hz games run quite smoothly. When pressing the system, I could see the difference between G-Sync enabled and disabled using the Metro Last Light benchmark -- some tearing when running at 60-70fps and 100fps with the refresh rate at 120Hz, for example. Nothing unusual, though.

If you want better color you can always hook it up to an external monitor. You can connect a display via USB-C/Thunderbolt, but that's not on the GPU bus; it can only run off the Intel HD 630 integrated graphics, so no G-Sync. You have to use the Mini DisplayPort for that.

Tobii or not Tobii?

One of the main features (aside from the size) that differentiates the AW17 from the AW15 is the Tobii Eye-Tracking built into some of the higher-end monitor options on the AW17. I'm not a huge fan of the eye tracking; it reminds me of Canon's eye-controlled focus introduced to its film cameras in the '90s. You found it either invaluable or in the way. 

Tobii's system currently works with about 90 games, not a huge number given the breadth and variety of games that exist. It consists of two sensors below the screen and software.

In theory, it should feel more natural than other forms of game navigation, but I find my eyes wander around the screen too much, and if I start heading one way with the mouse while I briefly glance elsewhere, it just gets confusing. Aiming didn't seem any quicker or more precise, either, at least in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided -- and that's where I need it most. 

It incorporates a feature called Gaze Trace, where a blob zips around the screen to indicate where you're looking, and it was kind of fun for 5 minutes before I started to get a headache. That's really more for working with alternative, hands-free operation in accessibility cases than for  games, though I could see how the technology in general might be great in VR. Microsoft's also working on adding support for it in Windows 10.

The system also works in conjunction with power management to wake when you gaze at it, for instance. Nice, but not really that necessary.

Some Best Buy stores have stations set up where you can try it before you buy if you're on the fence. You don't have to use it if it comes on your system, though, and it only costs extra when upgrading from the base display option to the next one up.

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