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Alienware m17 review: An Alienware all grown up

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The Good The Alienware m17 can be configured with a uber-powerful Nvidia RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics card. It's significantly lighter than the company's preview 17-inch model and it's got a more subtle design.

The Bad Battery life is poor and a thin body means less ventilation and much more heat.

The Bottom Line Alienware's m17 makes respectably few design sacrifices despite cramming huge power into a relatively thin frame.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 9
  • Battery 5

The first thing you notice about the m17 is how little it feels like an Alienware laptop.

Recent years have pushed gaming laptops towards being thinner, lighter and slicker. Alienware always seemed a little resistant to this trend, with laptops that often resemble gaming warships. They're proud of their cultural heritage and diametrically opposed to blending in a professional or college environment.

The Alienware m17, like the smaller m15 ($1,600 at Dell), is more reserved laptop than recent designs like the R5 and certainly the Area-51m. It's pleasantly lithe and portable for a 17-inch gaming laptop. As a matter of fact, it's lighter than Razer's new 17-inch Pro laptop.

But it is still a giant. The m17 line is powered by Nvidia's new RTX 20-series graphics cards, which were introduced in laptops in January. These GPUs pump out more horsepower and are specialized for nifty graphical tricks like raytracing (jargon for reflecting moving light on a person or object).

Ian Knighton/CNET

At the top end of the line is an m17 with a Max-Q RTX 2080, currently the most powerful GPU you can get in a laptop. That variant, which also comes with a six-core, eighth-gen Core i7-8750 processor and a 2,560x1,440 quad-HD display, is the one we received for review. You can configure it with cheaper RTX 2060 and 2070 graphics -- or you can go the other way and cram an ultrapowerful Core i9-8950HK CPU in there, boost the RAM to 32GB and dual 1TB PCIe M.2 SSDs for storage and opt for a 4K display.

These premium parts ain't cheap. The RTX 2080 model has an RRP of $3,149, although you'll easily find it for hundreds less if you shop around. (As I write this, Dell's official website has it discounted to $2,549.) For an extra $100 you can upgrade to a 4K screen -- though it's 60Hz, as opposed to the 120Hz QHD display -- and $450 nets you the Core i9 chip. More Hz equals higher refresh rates, meaning smoother on-screen movement.

Alienware m17

Price as reviewed $3,149
Display size/resolution 17.3-inch, 2,560x1,440-pixel display
CPU 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-8750H
Memory 16GB DDR4 
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q
Storage 512GB SSD + 1TB HDD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Conversely, the base RTX 2060 and 2070 models will set you back $1,749 and $2,699, respectively. (Discounts also apply here, though. Right now they're selling for $1,499 and $2,099.)

The m17 isn't a perfect laptop. It emits serious heat under duress, the battery life is poor and it doesn't even have a power-sucking 4K display as an excuse. But the m17 has future-proof brute force, which is probably what you're mostly interested in anyway, and it makes fewer design sacrifices than comparably robust laptops.

Feel the power

As you might expect from a $3,000, RTX 2080-packed laptop, the m17 is powerful. My machine had zero problem with demanding blockbusters, even at maxed-out settings. I was able to sit comfortably above 60 frames per second when playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider with the graphics settings blasted to max at 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution. Far Cry 5 was even smoother. Lowering the resolution to a Full-HD 1,920x1,080 pixels shot both games up to the 90fps range.

And of course, games like Apex Legends, Fortnite, League of Legends and Overwatch, designed to play on any ol' thang, will run like a dream on this monster.

But that power comes at a price beyond dollars. The m17 gets hotter than your average gaming laptop when its GPU is engaged, such that having it on your lap is unbearable. This is the price you pay for a svelte body, as there's less space for fans, vents and other cooling mechanisms.

The six-core Coffee Lake 2.2GHz i7 CPU will technically be soon outdated, as Intel begins rolling out its ninth-gen Icy Lake chips. But how much of a tangible difference that will make remains to be seen. As mentioned, there's an option to configure the m17 with an i9 processor, but that'll be an unnecessary upgrade for most. If you need that power, chances are you already know it.

Similarly, the RTX 2080-equipped m17 comes with 16GB of RAM. That's more than enough for the games of today and tomorrow, so upgrading to 32GB is only for those particularly anxious about futureproofing their devices.

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