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Alienware 17 (R4, 2017) review:A battle-hardened but not yet war-weary gaming laptop

A big'un

The design is exactly the same as the AW15, just bigger. Without the lighting effects it's an almost old-fashioned looking system, and feels really solid -- it should at almost 10 pounds/4.4Kg, and that's without the Acme Anvil of a power brick.

The TactX keyboard and software give you a decent amount of control over the keyboard zone lighting, racing stripe illumination, and of course the glowing alien heads, which adds the visual zip. More important, the updates over the previous model include more venting and better airflow, necessary given the components you can stick into the top-end model. 

It would be nice if you could program the lighting to change colors based on the fan operation so that you can tell visually when the system is huffing and puffing; you don't hear the fan when you're wearing a headset, and there are no fan monitors in Alienware's software dashboard, at least for the laptop -- just a choice between an active or passive cooling policy. The fan isn't the loudest I've heard, but it's not the quietest, either, and it runs almost constantly even on passive cooling and when I'm just typing with nothing notable happening in the background. 

The system doesn't seem to run as hot as the AW15, even with BioShock Infinite overworking it and despite the more powerful components -- probably because there's a lot more room for air to flow around. Alienware's command center monitoring dashboard (CPU, GPU, network and memory) is really unimpressive relative to the rest of the system -- there's no temperature monitoring, for instance, and if you want to overclock the CPU, or simply check how the factory overclocking is set, Dell refers you to third-party utilities like HWiNFO64.  

It also wastes a lot of space and can't be collapsed into a compact display for monitoring. Even on the relatively large 17-inch display it takes up too much real estate. 

I'm a fan of the keyboard, though, which has solid travel and a little bounce, though it could stand a couple more millimeters of travel -- it  can feel like you're hitting the steel reinforcement with every press. It handles concurrent keystrokes (n-key rollover) well, and I didn't run into any problems simultaneously running, jumping and climbing in Inside trying to avoid packs of dogs and diseased pigs.

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The keyboard is comfortable for touch typing, a rarity in gaming laptops.

Sarah Tew/CNET

And unlike some other gaming keyboards, it's comfortable for touch typing. While the touchpad is about average for a gaming laptop, meaning it's hit-and-miss at registering gestures, it lights up; not all touchpads do, and that's key if you work and play in the dark.

The front-firing speakers are fine for gunfire, explosions and screams, but a little too thin-sounding for my taste in when it comes to a more musically atmospheric game like The Lion's Song.

Our test configuration is great for VR -- it goes up to 11 on the SteamVR test, for example. But given its size, I expect a lot more connectors to support VR. Alienware laptops come with dedicated connectors for attaching the company's own Alienware Graphics Amplifier external GPU rather than relying on third-party USB-C/Thunderbolt expansion. The AGA can accommodate a single graphics card, but it does add another four USB 3 ports to the system. However, that connector replaces the SD card slot, which is probably a lot more broadly useful. 

The processor speed of our overclocked AW17 fell a little short of the generally faster Origin PC Eon17-X, which otherwise had a similar configuration, though even the AW17's middling battery life fared better that that system's miserable-even-for-a-gaming-laptop life of 2 hours. That's what a 4K display gets you.

The system handled everything I threw at it, with the exception of the usual endemic BioShock Infinite stuttering after a couple hours, just as I had to fend off the infinitely reviving army in the Bank of the Prophet atrium. I've become convinced that's the game's way of telling me it's time to stop playing. (Though at some point the system had configured itself to run the PhysX engine off the internal GPU, which was a fun 20 minutes of teeth grinding until I figured out what had happened.)

Go for it

While you can certainly do it, this isn't a system for endlessly squeezing out another frame of speed; it's tweakable, but Alienware doesn't make that particularly easy compared to other setups I've seen. But if you just want to sit down and get your game on, it's a great choice: Fast out of the box, with a solid display and enough connections and features to handle most entertainment, plus a keyboard that can handle your work needs, too. Just sit by an outlet.

Multimedia multitasking test 3.0

Origin PC Eon17-X (2017)
129
Alienware 17 (R4, 2017)
147
Asus ROG G752VS OC Edition
159
HP Omen (17-inch)
179
Alienware 15 (R3, 2016)
198
Acer Predator Helios 300
217

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Geekbench 4 (Multi-core)

Origin PC Eon17-X (2017)
18,132
Alienware 17 (R4, 2017)
14,503
HP Omen (17-inch)
14,417
Alienware 15 (R3, 2016)
14,060
Acer Predator Helios 300
13,460
Asus ROG G752VS OC Edition
4,261

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery drain test

Acer Predator Helios 300
312
Asus ROG G752VS OC Edition
256
Alienware 15 (R3, 2016)
236
Alienware 17 (R4, 2017)
191
HP Omen (17-inch)
184
Origin PC Eon17-X (2017)
121

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Alienware 17 (R4, 2017)
5,024
Origin PC Eon17-X (2017)
4,970
Asus ROG G752VS OC Edition
4,126
Alienware 15 (R3, 2016)
4,054
HP Omen (17-inch)
3,880
Acer Predator Helios 300
2,804

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

BioShock Infinite gaming test

Origin PC Eon17-X (2017)
218.7
Alienware 17 (R4, 2017)
207.7
Asus ROG G752VS OC Edition
190.0
Alienware 15 (R3, 2016)
178.4
HP Omen (17-inch)
138.2
Acer Predator Helios 300
134.0

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

Cinebench R15 OpenGL

Origin PC Eon17-X (2017)
134.74
Asus ROG G752VS OC Edition
125.46
Alienware 17 (R4, 2017)
121.8
HP Omen (17-inch)
111.1
Alienware 15 (R3, 2016)
103.4
Acer Predator Helios 300
94.9

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

Cinebench R15 CPU (multi-core)

Origin PC Eon17-X (2017)
908
Alienware 17 (R4, 2017)
877
Asus ROG G752VS OC Edition
801
Alienware 15 (R3, 2016)
746
HP Omen (17-inch)
743
Acer Predator Helios 300
736

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Acer Predator Helios 300 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060; 512GB SSD
Alienware 15 (R3, 2016) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070; 512GB SSD+1TB HDD
Alienware 17 (R4, 2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HK (OC to 4GHz); 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 1TB HDD+512GB SSD
Asus ROG G752VS OC Edition Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HK; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,800MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070; (2) 256GB SSD RAID 0 + 1TB HDD
HP Omen (17-inch) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070; 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD
Origin PC Eon17-X (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 4.2GHz Intel Core i7-7700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GTX 1080; (2) 256GB SSD RAID 0 + 2TB HDD

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