You might remember about a year ago, I reviewed the Dell Alienware 17 R3. Overall I really liked it – so much that I decided to use it as my daily driver for several months. Really, the only gripe I had about it is it didn’t fit in my backpack.
Sure it was heavy too, but the amount of power it had in it made me overlook the bulkiness a little. On top of that, the screen was top notch and the sound system was really good for a gaming laptop.
I ultimately went back to a thinner design with the MSI GS73VR, but I certainly enjoyed using the Alienware 17 while I had it.
So now this year, I had the opportunity to try out the 4th revision of the Dell Alienware 17. I was a little taken back at the added weight and the increased bulkiness, but I also understood why it was so. Alienware was trying to do what many other laptop manufacturers have been ignoring: supply a fully powered desktop GPU in their laptop design. So, were they able to do so and was it worth the extra weight and bulk? And what about that new 120Hz QHD screen with Tobii eye tracking? Read on below and hopefully I’ll answer all of your questions.
The specs sheet
|Dell Alienware 17 R4|
|Screen||17.3 inch, 2560 x 1440 px resolution, TN, 120Hz, matte, non-touch|
|Processor||Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7820HK CPU, quad-core 2.9 GHz, 3.9Ghz turbo|
|Video||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 with 8GB GDDR5X RAM|
|Memory||16 GB DDR4 2400 PC4-19200|
|Storage||1x 256 GB M.2 SSD NVMe + 1 TB HDD 7200rpm (2 empty M.2 slots)|
|Connectivity||Killer 1435 Wireless AC 2×2, Killer E2500 ethernet, Bluetooth 4.1|
|Ports||2x USB 3.0 type A, 1x USB Type-C(Thunderbolt 3), 1x USB Type-C (10Gbps), HDMI 2.0, mini-display port 1.2, RJ45, Alienware graphics amplifier, mic, earphone, noble lock|
|Operating system||Windows 10|
|Size||424 mm or 16.7” (w) x 332 mm or 13.1” (d) x 29.9 mm or 1.18” (h)|
|Weight||On average 4.42 kg or 9.74 lb|
|Extras||Multi-colored keyboard backlighting and accent lights, backlit trackpad, FHD camera with IR and Tobii eye tracking, Windows Hello technology, built in subwoofer|
Design and exterior
Like the prior revision, Dell chooses to use a combination of metal and plastic for the chassis and overall design. In the hands, it feels very solid and high quality, albeit kind of heavy. There’s a significant weight bump from last year, which is likely due to a slightly bigger battery and the added thermal components. It’s well balanced though and can be picked up with one hand, if you’re strong enough. I’d recommending using two though, just in case. ;)
Usually revision changes involve some pretty minor design differences, but in the case of the Alienware 17, the changes are a little more significant. Yes, they managed to shave off roughly 5 mm(.2”) on the height and width, but they also managed to add 30mm(1.2”) to the depth. This is a huge jump and pretty much eliminates any hope of fitting this laptop into a backpack.
The only reasoning for this added depth is the cooling system. As I mentioned before, Dell is trying to fully power the GPU as opposed to some other manufactures that are intentionally under-powering them slightly. This not only means a bigger power supply is needed, but also more heat will be generated and bigger heat sinks and fans will be needed to keep everything cool.
Looking at it from the top, you can see the hinge design has been moved forward from where it was on the R3 model. In actuality, the hinge hasn’t really moved, but heat dissipation vent has merely been added behind it(again, where the added depth is coming from). This provides some extra surface area to provide the proper exhaust for both the CPU and GPU fans. It also houses many of the input output connections on the back of the laptop.
The lid is made with a piece of silver anodized aluminum. The top strip is plastic, which houses the Wifi antenna, and there is also a cutout for the Alienware logo. The logo’s eyes will glow in a number of different colors that you can choose from. Unlike the last revision though, there are no extra lights on the back of the lid, as they have now moved to the sides of the lid – a welcome change in my opinion. Of course you can turn all these lights off, if you desire.
Also, a new addition to the lid is a large hunk of plastic towards the hinge area. At first glance, this could be mistaken for just a reinforced hinge, but it more than likely houses the components for the Tobii eye tracking hardware. In general, the lid is very sturdy and all the different materials look well built and fit together properly. There’s nothing cheap feeling about it.
Opening the lid can be done one handed, but it’s still strong lid and takes a bit of effort. Really, the only reason the laptop doesn’t lift off the table when opening it is because it weighs so darn much.
Underneath, you’ll see the same full length keyboard and trackpad as in the previous models. I’ll get more into these two later. The power button, which is an alien head, is located centrally above the keyboard. Surprisingly, Dell removed all the indicator lights. I’m not sure if I’ll miss them in the future, but so far I don’t.
The screen on my model is a matte QHD panel. It’s surrounded by a plastic bezel, but looks good overall. The bezels on the sides are relatively thin and the top is also somewhat normal looking, with the exception of the angles. Centered at the top is a FHD webcam.
The bottom bezel is excessively large, but for good reason. You’ll notice the typical matte bezel with the Alienware logo centered. This logo can be lit to any color desired, by the way, or even turned off. But further below is a glossy strip along the bottom. This houses both the Windows Hello cam and the Tobii eye tracking hardware. It looks kind of strange having these glossy portions but it’s necessary in order to pass the infrared light. Think of older television remotes – this is the same concept.
There’s a lot of connectivity on this laptop, but the locations are quite different than all the previous Alienware laptops I’ve seen. The lighting has also been moved around. Instead of lights on the front edge, there are now lights on the sides, along the bottom. Again, I think this is a good move overall – it looks a lot better having lights on the sides of the laptop and lid than on the back of the lid and the front edges (in my opinion).
So on the front edge, there isn’t a whole lot to see anymore. Only the grills for the front facing speakers. I’m happy they kept the speaker placement the way it was before because that was one of the highlights of the Alienware 17 in my opinion. The edge of the palm rest is the same as before, which is a little unfortunate. It’s a little sharp for my taste, but the slightly reduced height helps alleviate it a little.
On the left hand side is a USB 3.0 type-C, which is capable of 10Mbps only. There’s also a USB 3.0 type-A port, a microphone jack and a headphone jack. On the rear by the vents is a Noble lock. The vent is for air exhaust, from what I can tell.
The right hand side has a lot less to look at. Only a single USB 3.0 type-A and an air intake vent. Honestly, a single USB is all I would want over there since that’s where most people’s mouse dongle and mouse pad will be. I’m glad they didn’t clutter the right side up with a power connection or any monitor connections, like other manufacturers are doing for some reason.
The rear of the laptop houses the rest of the connectivity. There’s an RJ45 ethernet connection, a Thunderbolt 3 capable USB-C connection, a mini-Displayport, an HDMI 2.0 port and an Alienware Graphics Amplifier connection. The power connection is also on the side, which is an ideal spot to keep the wires out of the way. Large exhaust vents flank both sides of the back edge as well. This was a great decision on their part because it really gets the wires out of the way, especially if you plan on using this on a desk with a second or third monitor.
I’m not sure why, but Dell decided to remove the memory card reader on this model. I probably won’t miss it all that much as I rarely use them anymore, but it’s definitely something you might want to be aware of.
The bottom of the laptop has improved in the looks department this revision. Instead of the removable plastic panel, there’s an aluminum back plate that’s held on by multiple screws. Half of the backplate is silver and the other half is a large metallic grill, which also supplies cool air to the GPU and CPU. I appreciate how big these vents are since they are really hard to inadvertently block, even while on your lap.
As far as the design goes, I have very little to complain about since it’s pretty much what I was expecting. One thing that could potentially be improved is breaking that edge on the palm rest. The only other thing I’m not really a fan of is the added depth of the laptop. In the future, I hope they can trim it down a little, in order to fit it into more bags. Other than that, this is a very well built machine with properly placed connectivity and speakers.
Keyboard and trackpad
If you read my review last year, you’d know that I really liked the keyboard a lot. The good news is it appears that nothing has changed at all. The layout, travel and feedback are all just as good as I remember. Taking my typical typing test, I scored 54 wpm, which is better than my average of 50 wpm. It helps that I typed on this keyboard for a number of months and I was already used to it.
Like all the other lighting on the laptop, the keyboard has the ability to change to a number of different colors. There are four different color zones, one on the num pad and the other three spaced out on the keyboard. Unfortunately, there’s still no white color, but it can still be manually added by editing the color codes in the config file. All you need to know is the color hex code, which is pretty easy to find on the internet.
The keys themselves are pretty sturdy, with very little wobble. Hitting the keys at the extreme corners still manages to register a proper keystroke, which is good especially for games. All in all, the keys feel like they are high quality.
I measured some more details about the keyboard, in case you’re interested. The amount of force needed to deliver a keystroke is 60 grams. Also, the actual key travel is measured to the 1.6 mm. Both of these are perfectly adequate for most people and will offer a fast and natural typing experience.
Unfortunately, Dell also didn’t do anything to improve the trackpad. In fact, they actually made it a little worse, which I’ll explain in a second. The dimensions are still the same, which I find to be on the small side. It has dedicated buttons, so if you’re the type that is used to clickpads, you’ll have to settle for single and double taps.
The buttons themselves are large enough, but they are a little mushy for my taste, lacking a satisfying click. I certainly got used to it though. As many laptops I go through, I pretty much exclusively use single and double taps, but I do like having the buttons for click and drag operations.
What got worse with the trackpad is the drivers Dell chose to provide. They work fine for almost everything else, but for slow scrolling, it’s pretty abysmal. On so many occasions, I would scroll slowly on a webpage and it would start randomly scrolling in the opposite direction.
After a little checking, it seems that this is a well known issue and Dell hasn’t done anything about it yet. But you can(and should) download some better drivers on Synaptics’ website. I used the 19.0.x drivers, which is an earlier driver than Dell’s 19.2.x driver, but it works perfectly fine. Unfortunately, this disables the light on the trackpad, but I would rather have a fully functioning trackpad than a glowing one.
As for normal operations, the trackpad is pretty accurate. It’s not exactly the smoothest texture, but I was able to use it well enough for multi-touch gestures. Four finger gestures are a little more challenging considering the small size, but two and three finger gestures worked perfectly fine for me.
The configuration I have has a 17.3-inch 2560 x 1440 px resolution panel, made by AU Optronics (part number B173QTN). You might be disappointed to know that it’s a TN panel, but it’s actually a really nice quality one, with wide viewing angles. It’s also 120Hz, which makes it ideal for gaming (which is what this laptop is all about, right?).
The side to side viewing angles are very good. I’m able to read text at the extremes, just like it were an IPS panel. But the colors start to shift slightly at around 45 degrees. They shift even more close to 90 to where the whites turn a little reddish. The vertical viewing angles are a little different. From the top it’s similar to the horizontal angles except this time the whites turn a little green. From the bottom, it’s pretty bad and looks like your typical TN panel. Bottom viewing angles are inconsequential to most, so it’s not too big of a deal.
Color reproduction is also pretty good for a TN panel. Using my Spyder4Pro, I measured color spaces to be 91% for sRGB, 67% for NTSC and 70% for aRGB. A good quality IPS display covers 95-100% sRGB, so this falls a little short. But to be quite honest, I can’t tell much of a difference.
I also measured the brightness distribution of the panel, which can be seen in the chart. The maximum brightness I measured was 369 nits, which is great if you plan on using this laptop outdoors or by a window with a lot of sunlight. It also has a matte coating, which will also prevent the glare. As you can see from my picture taken in direct sunlight, the text is still legible. At the lowest brightness setting, the measurement was only 18 nits, perfect for night time viewing.
- Panel HardwareID: AU Optronics B173QTN;
- Coverage: 91% sRGB, 67% NTSC, 70% AdobeRGB;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 373 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 460:1;
- White point: 6300 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.80 cd/m2;
The contrast ratio was roughly 450:1 on average, which is not great but not bad either. The main culprit is the blacks, especially at full brightness. I measured .8 nits at full brightness, which is kind of high. On the low brightness settings, though, the contrast ratio is really good. For some laptops I struggle being productive at 0% brightness, but with this one it’s perfectly usable to me.
As I mentioned before, the screen is 120 Hz, which is ideal for gaming with first person shooters or other competitive gaming. The panel is also GSYNC enabled, which is supposed to smooth out and improve the framerates, as well as prevent screen tearing. The drawback is there is no Optimus, so while on battery you’re using the dedicated GPU and it definitely affects the battery life. Chances are, if you’re buying this laptop, you’re not too concerned about the battery life.
Dell also offers other screen options, which I don’t have available for review. The standard FHD panel is the cheapest option which, other than the resolution, I have no other info. The UHD panel is the most expensive option and is most likely the same panel as in the r3 version I reviewed last year. If that’s the case, it’s a 3840 x 2160 px IGZO IPS panel with 100% aRGB coverage, 400 nits of brightness and is 60Hz. You can’t go wrong with that panel, as it’s probably one of the nicest looking ones I’ve seen to date.
I think most will be torn between the QHD and the UHD panels, but my money is on the QHD panel. For starters, it’s 120Hz. On top of that, maxing out the framerates on the QHD panel is a lot more feasible than on the UHD panel. Finally, it’s hard to tell the difference in resolution anyways, unless you’re really looking for it. Technically, 2560 x 1440 px on a 17” screen becomes “retina” when viewed from at least 20″, and my face is typically 25” away from the screen. I faced a similar dilemma with the MSI GS73VR and ultimately chose the UHD panel, but that was only because the 120Hz panel was FHD. If it were QHD, it would have been a different story.
Either way you choose, both options are good and I’m sure most people will be happy with either. I can’t speak for the FHD option though, so if that is your desire, you might want to search for other user opinions online.
Hardware and performance
The Alienware 17 model I received is pretty much maxed out with the best options. It comes with an Intel Core i7-7820HK quad core CPU and an Nvidia GTX 1080 GPU. The 1080 has 8GB of VRAM, which is more than enough for any game you can throw at it. My unit also came with 16GB of DDR4 2400 RAM, which is not the top option, but you can also upgrade further to get 32GB of RAM.
As stated, the CPU is an i7-7820HK, which has a 2.9Ghz base clock and a 3.9Ghz turbo. The K designation means it’s overclockable, so if you want a higher turbo clock speed, you can simply go into the bios and increase the performance settings. There are 3 levels of overclock to choose from with clock speeds ranging from 4.1-4.4Ghz. I stopped at OC level 2, with clock speeds of 4.3Ghz, as my temperature readings were getting a little too high for my liking. This is with the stock paste though, so that’ll change with a proper repaste. More on that later.
Also included in my configuration was a 256GB M.2 SSD and a 1TB 7200rpm HDD. The SSD I have is a Toshiba model THNSN5256GPUK, which is NVMe. It’s faster than the Samsung PM951 drives I’ve been seeing lately. There’s also a couple empty M.2 slots in there(one 80mm and the other 42mm) so you can add extra storage if you desire. The 80mm slot is x4 and is also SATA compatible. I’m not positive if the 42mm slot is PCI-e, SATA or both, but it’s likely that you’ll only find SATA drives at that size since it’s a really uncommon standard. There are also RAID options, but you’ll have to configure that yourself, as there is no configuration available to buy.
Upgrading the Alienware 17 isn’t quite as easy as the last model, which only had a single screw to open a plastic panel. This isn’t difficult at all though – it’s just a few more screws. The panel comes right off after releasing some clips and you have access to the RAM, HDD and three SSD slots.
If you want to repaste your CPU and GPU, there’s a lot more disassembly required. A NBR member has a great tutorial you can follow along with to accomplish this. I plan on doing this as well in the next couple weeks. I’ll be sure to add a section to this article once I’m done.
As stated before, there is only a single USB-A port on each side. Thre is also a USB-C slot on the left side, which is capable of 10Gbps only. The USB-C slot on the back, however, is Thunderbolt 3 enabled, so you can also use that spot to connect Thunderbolt enabled devices.
One thing to keep in mind with the Tunderbolt 3 port is it’s Intel only and not attached to the GPU. So if you decide to attach a monitor to that port, it will be driven by integrated graphics. I have a Dell 144Hz monitor that I successfully connected to it at full resolution and refresh rate. Of couse when I tried a game on that monitor, it moved at a crawl.
Switching to the mini-DP or HDMI worked fine with the GTX 1080, so you can use one or both connections at once. I don’t have that many monitors, but I’m assuming you can technically hook up 3 monitors to all these connections, if desired. With all the connections in the back, this could be a sweet looking setup on your desk.
I ran all the typical benchmarks to test both the CPU and GPU on this unit. Everything was about as good as I expected, especially since I had a desktop with a 1080 to compare it to. Here are my results:
- 3Dmark 13:Fire Strike – 15411; Time Spy – 6349 CPU: 83C, GPU 74C
- OC Firestrike Scores: OC1 – 16980 with CPU 86C; OC2 – 17130 with CPU 92C; OC3 – untested
- 3Dmark 11: P19065
- PCMark 08:Home Conventional – 3918, Home Accelerated – 4548; CPU: 74C
- CineBench R15:OpenGL 119.78 fps, CPU 766 pts, CPU Single Core 157 pts.
I tested out a number of games as well. The performance was excellent, but it comes at a cost with the heat being generated. They aren’t horrible temps by any means, but it’s still higher than the r3 model I had last year, which also had the top GPU inside it. Here were my results:
- Fallout 4– There’s a particular battle near Corvega which takes place in a foggy thunderstorm. It’s a typical spot where the framerates dip the most for me.
- Ultra settings, Max AA and AP 1440p – 60fps with dips as low as 44fps. In general, throughout the game it’s 60fps everywhere else.
- Default high settings at 1440p – 60fps.
- Peak CPU temp 80°C, peak GPU temp 67°C
- Doom– Played through the opening mission for 15 minutes
- Default Ultra settings at 1440p – 90-120fps
- Default High settings at 1440p – 110-120fps
- Peak CPU temp 78°C, peak GPU temp 72°C
- Witcher 3– Walking back and forth through the opening scene and the first tutorial.
- Default ultra settings at 1440p – 60-70fps
- Default high settings at 1440p – 80-90fps
- Default high settings with Hairworks off at 1440p – 88-105fps
- Default ultra settings at 1080p – 85-92fps
- Default high settings at 1080p – 110-125fps
- Peak CPU temp 82°C, peak GPU temp 70°C
As you can see, the Nvidia GTX 1080 is quite an excellent card to push this laptop to its limits. I’m very impressed how well it pairs up with a 120Hz QHD screen. Needless to say, if you choose the FHD model, you’ll easily hit the fps cap on pretty much everything you can throw at it.
UPDATE 5/4/17: I’m not convinced it’s a widespread issue yet, but after an additional week of use after writing this review, I’ve had some freezing issues when playing heavy games for extended periods. It appears to be heat based, as it only happens after very extended periods of time. A couple others on the forums have this issue as well but most do not. After speaking with Alienware directly, they claim I have a defective unit and are sending me a replacement. If it persists, this’ll obviously affect my overall score, but for now I’ll wait and see how the replacement goes. For now, I would caution you to test your unit thoroughly to see if you have this issue. A good example for me was 30-45 minutes of DOOM at QHD Ultra settings.
UPDATE 5/12/17: After some help on the forums, the issue has been resolved for me. If you’re having this issue, it’s caused by a faulty vbios that was installed by the factory. Downgrading my vbios cleared everything up.
UPDATE 5/22/17: I want to clear something up for my above update. Downgrading the vbios was apparently an unsupported fix and should only be done at your own risk. It works, don’t get me wrong, but it’s merely a band-aid to hide a potentially more severe issue. It drops the clocks and voltages to a point that I’m just not seeing the issue I was having before – but that doesn’t mean there’s not something else wrong and it can’t come back in the future.
I did end up getting a replacement unit, and the issue also persisted. In fact, there are others on the forums having the same issue and there’s no official fix besides the band-aid. The only people able to fix the issue have done some extensive improvements to the heatsink and thermal pads covering the Choke, VRM, etc. This is not something everyone would want to do with their laptops they just spent-$2700-3000 for. To be blunt – this should not be an issue in the first place, as it’s Dell’s problem.
So, I’m mainly putting this update here as a warning. This is probably something you’ll want to check for right away, to see if it affects you. On the forums, it seems many aren’t having the issue, which is promising. But for me, it’s 2 for 2, which is alarming to me. Because of this, I dropped my overall score a little(it was 4/5).
Unfortunately, I don’t have an Alienware Graphics Amplifier to test out, but there is that ability to use one with this laptop. There’s a dedicated connection on the rear. The amplifier can house a full sixed desktop graphics card and allow your laptop to utilize it instead of the onboard card.
Honestly, I would caution anyone from going this route. For the last few years, there has been significant performance improvements in having an eGPU, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case anymore. As you can see above, the graphics card is fully powered and pretty much has the same performance as a desktop card of the same model.
Of course, you’d get benefit from having the amplifier with a 1080 when paired with the 1060 model. But I really don’t think it would be all that cost effective having that over just buying the 1080 model by itself. Maybe if you bought the 1050Ti model it would be worthwhile.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, Speakers and others
The cooling system on the Alienware 17 is probably the one thing that absolutely had to be overhauled in order for the 1080 to function like a fully powered desktop GPU. And that added depth to the laptop is almost exclusively for the cooling system.
From what I can tell, the air is drawn in through the large vents on the bottom. The hot air is then dissipated through large fins on the rear of the laptop. It’s very efficient, but comes at the cost of the added footprint of the laptop. There’s also another intake on the right hand side that seems to draw air across the motherboard and exhaust on the left.
I’m a little torn on the decision to have the larger exhaust and the bigger footprint. For the 1080 it makes sense I suppose, but for the other cards, I’m not convinced it’s necessary. But even for the 1080, I think there might have been a better alternative, especially since they still use the typical cheap thermal paste pads to stick to their heat sinks.
Take iunlock’s repasting results for example(link above). He got incredible improvement from using both liquid metal and traditional high quality pastes. Surely it would have been cheaper for Dell to add some decent thermal compound, rather than overhauling the footprint.
Either way, I’m still happy to see that this cooling system can adequately cool a GTX 1080 at full power and load. Even with the stock thermal paste, there’s still room for overclocking, which I guess is the reasoning they considered.
I took some measurements on the top and bottom of the laptop, both during normal use and during a 30 minute gaming session. The results were pretty typical for a high powered gaming laptop, but are still pretty hot when under load.
*Daily Use – watching Neflix on EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Doom for 30 minutes
As for the fan noise, I got some louder readings than expected. They weren’t too terrible but they are a little higher than I measured on the r3 model. It’s understandable though, considering the difference in graphics card and the fact the dGPU is always running. Here’s what I got:
- Ambient noise in the room: 25dB;
- Light use with lowest fan speeds 28dB;
- Heavy Gaming: 40dB;
- Typical post gaming noise levels(2300rpm) – 30dB
One oddity with the fans is how they don’t ramp back down after a heavy gaming session. During normal operations, the fans hover around 1600-1800 rpm. But after a gaming session, they’re pretty much stuck at 2300rpm unless you reboot. Maybe over time they’ll go back down on their own, but I waited 20 minutes and saw temperatures as low as 46C and they didn’t budge.
Another thing to note is that HWinfo can be used to manually control your fans. You can use this to manually turn the fans up to around 4600rpm to keep the internals as cool as possible, if desired. Take caution though, because you can severely damage your components if you set the fan back to auto. You must reboot for the EC fan profile to work again – manually changing it in HWinfo disables it completely.
Radios – This Alienware model comes with the Killer 1435 wireless AC module. Overall, it’s given me a solid connection with no drops in connection or performance. In most parts of my house, I max out my ISP at 90Mbps. At 50 feet from my router, outdoors, I reached download speeds of about 60Mbps. Bluetooth 4.1 is embedded in the Wifi module. There is also a Killer E2500 Gigabit Ethernet controller onboard.
Speakers – The laptop may be a little thinner than the r3 model, but it appears they kept the same(or at least similar) speakers, which is a good thing. I thoroughly enjoyed the sound amplitude and quality from the last model and this one is no different.
The Alienware 17 has two front facing speakers on the front edge of the laptop, giving you sound that is pointing in the direction of your ears, rather than into your lap or away on the sides. There is also a subwoofer on the bottom to handle lower frequency sounds. Subwoofer is a loose term, because it’s not that large of a speaker, but it’s larger than the two front facing speakers and has a lower range.
The Alienware Sound Center software can be used to mess with the EQ settings, but it’s not that much different than most of the other software out there in other laptops. I quickly got the settings I liked best though.
Playing my typical song that I test with, I was able to measure amplitudes as high as 85dB. I’m no audiophile, but the speakers sounded pretty good, even at full volume. I also did a bass test and was able to detect bass levels as low as 40Hz.
This is still one of my favorite gaming laptops when it comes to the speakers. Most other gaming laptops skimp in this department, offering quiet speakers that don’t even overpower the fan noise. Not with the Alienware 17 though – I actually prefer to play without headphones on this one, which is not common for me.
Webcam, Windows Hello and Tobii Eye tracking – Up top is your standard FHD webcam, which performs very well in my opinion. The images I took were pretty crisp and it seemed to handle low light video and photos fairly well. I’m pretty certain this webcam comes standard with all the models, even though only some of the models have the Windows Hello feature.
Truth is, the Windows Hello camera isn’t built into the standard webcam at the top. In fact, it’s on the bottom, behind the glossy portion of the bottom bezel. This is the same as in other newer laptops, where it’ll sent IR blasts to detect the features of your face and unlock your computer in seconds. Overall it works fine, but it is a little strange having it on the bottom instead of the top. I find myself having to lean forward slightly because my face is usually cut off on the bottom of the camera’s aim.
One extra feature to the Windows Hello camera is the Tobii Eye tracking capabilities. For now, this is just a gimmick, but it’s a really cool one if you ask me! Once you go through a short calibration, a second IR scanner is able to detect the pupils of your eyes and determine where you are looking. After a short demo followed the calibration, I was travelling through space and destroying asteroids just by looking at them and firing.
The productivity capabilities are limited for now, but there are some pretty nifty things you can do with this. For starters, I can relocate the mouse pointer to wherever I’m looking by just looking at a spot and long tap the trackpad. I can also hit Win-Tab or Alt-Tab and simply stare at the app I want to switch to and then tap to open it. There’s other stuff too, but those two are probably the only two things I’d actually use on a regular basis.
I think what really blew my mind was when I turned the trace feature on and watched it track where my eyes were looking at in real time. It was nearly perfect! This is the kind of technology that will change a lot of things, some for good and others for bad. I can imagine advertisers being interested in whether or not people even look at their web advertisements, for example.
There are also some games that support Tobii eye tracking, none of which I have tried yet unfortunately. What’s supposed to happen is I should be able to turn my head and look at targets, and the screen should react accordingly. I’ll try to test this feature soon if I have time and find a compatible game.
As intriguing as it is, there are a couple things I don’t like about the Tobii eye tracking, which is why I keep mine disabled. First, is the IR blaster is always on, so you can visibly see red lights flashing below the screen. It’s kind of annoying and have no idea what this does to your eyes in the long term. I’m not sure if anyone has a reliable study to prove it to me either way, but I tend to err on the side of caution.
The other thing I don’t like is it disables some touchpad gestures, at least for me. It could be because I’m using a different touchpad driver in order to fix the scrolling issue. Either way, I’m not going back to the other touchpad driver and eye tracking isn’t that important to me, so I’ll just leave it disabled until I want to use it. Luckily, it’s easy to turn on and off, as there is a taskbar icon to do so.
The configuration I received has a 99 Whr battery, the maximum allowable on a laptop in order to be allowed to take it on an airplane. It’s definitely a major contributor to the weight and bulk of this laptop,
I ran my typical battery test which consists of using the stock “Power Saver” power profile, 20% brightness (90 nits), WiFi off, Bluetooth off, and running a 720p movie in a continuous loop at full screen with the volume muted. I start the clock when it’s unplugged and stop it when the unit performs a self- shutdown. The Alienware 17 r4 lasted a mere 4 hours and 37 minutes before shutting down. Not long at all, but it’s about what I expected considering there’s no iGPU in use.
Using HWinfo, I was also able to test the discharge rate at certain conditions and estimate how long the laptop would last in those cases. Wifi and Bluetooth were on for all situations and the volume was set at 20%. Here are my results:
- 18.3 W (~ 5 h of 24 m use)– idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 24.8 W (~ 4 h of use)– very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 20%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 37.1 W (~ 2 h 40 m of use)– 1440p fullscreen video on Youtube in Chrome, Balanced Mode, screen at 20%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 28.8 W (~ 3 h 26 m of use)– 1080p fullscreen video on Amazon Instant Video in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 20%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 26.5 W (~ 3 h 45 m of use)– 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in the Movie app, Balanced Mode, screen at 20%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 35.3 W (~ 2 h 47 m of use)– heavy browsing in Edge, Balanced Mode, screen at 20%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 40 W (~ 2 h 28 m of use)– gaming, Witcher 3 1440p High – 30 Fps limit.
All things considered, the battery life isn’t terrible, but it’s not ideal for long use either. The 99Whr battery really helps matters, but if you’re looking for extended productivity use while disconnected from the battery, don’t expect more than a couple hours.
The main reason for the low battery life is the lack of Optimus switchable graphics, which allows Intel’s iGPU to be used when the GTX 1080 is not needed. Since the LCD panel is GSYNC enabled, Optimus is not an option.
If battery life is your concern, though, the FHD and 4k versions of this laptop are Optimus enabled. You can most likely expect to see battery life results similar to what I got on the Alienware 17 r3. Beware though, there are also versions that have a 68 Whr battery – if you choose that version, cut all my readings above by 2/3.
One last thing I feel I should mention is the power supply. It’s freaking huge! This thing is easily the biggest PSU I’ve ever handled and it’s almost as if they took a desktop PSU and put a plastic case around it. Ok, maybe not THAT big, but it’s close. Jokes aside, it really needs to be that big though, especially if they want to fully power the GTX 1080 GPU.
The power supply is 330 watts and measures 7.75 in x 3.75 in x 1.75 in. It also weighs about 3.2 lbs. There’s a bright green light on it to let you know it’s plugged in. Other than that, there’s really nothing else special about it. Keep in mind that this PSU is for the 1080 – if you choose a different graphics card, your PSU will most likely be smaller.
I’d like to throw out a warning not to be fooled by some of the competition that are trying to say a smaller PSU is ok. The GTX 1080 may operate at lower powers, such as with the new Razer Blade Pro, but by doing so, they are significantly reducing the overall performance. When you’re shelling out a lot of money for a GPU such as this one, you want it to operate at its full capacity. With this PSU, full capacity is what you’re getting.
Price and availability
The model I received was $2700 but appears to be no longer available – at least for now. There is a similar model available at Amazon here. The only difference is there is 32GB of RAM instead of the 16GB I received. There are also many other configurations with different GPU, screen and SSD options – some of them can be found here.
You can also purchase models straight from Dell. Sometimes these can get pretty expensive, but Dell is also known to run decent sales from time to time.
Albeit expensive, the sticker price on the model I received is fair. The bulk of the cost is in the GPU. There are plenty of cheaper options available though, especially if you go as low as the GTX 1060. You can pick up a GTX 1070 version for $2000-2300 depending on your screen choice. The GTX 1060 versions range from $1700-1900. Finally, there’s a 1050Ti version for $1300-1400, but honestly, if you’re going to go with a GPU such as the 1050Ti, there are far thinner and lighter options out there.
Yet again, I’m still pretty impressed with what Dell has to offer with the Alienware 17 R4. They managed to keep all their strengths from the previous model and even improve in a couple areas as well. Sure, it’s bigger, but the performance capabilities surely make up for it… at least in my opinion.
The main highlights are mostly performance based. Being able to adequately cool an overclocked i7-7820HK and a GTX 1080 under full power is no small feat, especially in a 1.2” chassis. What’s even better is that there’s a lot of room for further improvement through a proper repasting job.
I’m still very happy with the keyboard. Really, there’s not much I would change about it. I would like to see a better trackpad in the future though. I can’t imagine Alienware customers are ok with such a small and barely average trackpad… Especially with the horrendous drivers that they included. To be honest, if it weren’t for finding those alternate drivers, I would find the trackpad completely unacceptable.
The QHD screen is probably the best move Alienware made – a move I’ve been waiting for a long time now. I never understood why laptop manufacturers ignored QHD and jumped straight to 4k from 1080p, especially with the incapable graphics cards in the 800m and 900m series. Now that desktop 1000 series cards are being used, 4k gaming is certainly plausible, but QHD at 120Hz is even more so. To me, that’s the sweet spot between high performance gaming and still looking nice for day to day productivity use. Not to mention there are zero scaling issues.
Besides the terrible trackpad drivers, the only other real weakness to the new Alienware 17 is its overall size. Yes, gaming laptops are thick, heavy and wide. But they aren’t always as deep as this one is and I believe it’s really going to put some people off. People who travel with their laptop a lot might find it difficult to find a bag for this one. To make matters worse, the PSU is also a beast to travel with.
Honestly though, you’re not going to find many other smaller options for the GTX 1080. If the size bothers you though, you could always consider the Alienware 15, but that maxes out with the GTX 1070. There are also a few other 17” GTX 1080 options out there, such as the Acer Predator 17X and the Asus G701VI, but both of those laptops are much thicker and have nearly the same or more depth to them anyways.
There’s also the new Razer Blade Pro, which has just recently been updated to an i7-7820HK paired with a GTX 1080. It’s pretty much the thinnest 1080 laptop on the market, but it comes at a cost. Physics cannot allow such powerful hardware to be cooled in such a thin chassis, so Razer has designed it to run at lower powers in order to keep it cool. Thus why they only include a 250 watt power supply, because they have no intention of fully powering the GTX 1080. It’s ridiculously expensive though – $4000 is a lot to ask for throttled hardware… If thinness is your desire though, you can also consider the Aorus x7 v7, if and when it ever comes out. The price on that one should be around $3000.
So to sum it up, if you’re looking for a powerful 17” laptop that has the best specs available, this machine should probably be on your short list. Maybe also consider it as well for the GTX 1070, but I would probably stop there. Once you drop down to the GTX 1060, there are many other more portable options available. Unless Alienware is your thing, that is, then I’d say go for it.
Being as it was with the unit I received, though, i caution anyone who gets the 1080 version to do some extensive gaming sessions right off the bat to see if they get any stuttering issues that I experienced. For many, it may not apply, but it’s a must to for those who aren’t willing to do a repaste to “fix” the problem.
So that wraps this review up. I hope I covered everything you were looking for in the Alienware 17. If not, let me know in the comments section below, if you have any questions. I’ll do my best to answer them. Also, if you’re interested, check back in a few days and I should have an Overclocking/repasting section added to the review. I’m just waiting to have a few spare hours so I can put something together.
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