Alienware 17 Gaming Notebook Reviewby Dustin Sklavos on September 6, 2013 12:00 PM EST
The Alienware M17x R3 and M17x R4 were, at the time, essentially the standard bearers of gaming notebooks. You've had your Clevos and your MSIs for as far back as I can remember; Toshiba throws their hat into the ring with the Qosmio and ASUS has their G series. But if you wanted the best and you were willing to pay top dollar for it, there was really only one vendor to go to. I was such a fan that I even went with an M17x R3 for myself, and though the Sandy Bridge CPU and GTX 580M are a couple of generations behind, they're still kicking and kicking hard.
As it turns out, the redesigned chassis and update to Haswell have kept Alienware on top. It's not the redesign I might have necessarily done, but just like the last one, it's something that's a lot more attractive and fun the more time you spend with it.
Amidst our continuing issues with Haswell and especially the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M, my refrain has been "let's wait for the Alienware 17." Jarred did a good job of sussing out what was going on when he reviewed the Mythlogic Pollux 1613 (Clevo P157SM): the long and short of it seems to be that NVIDIA still has some work to do on the GTX 780M's drivers, and Haswell's mobile quads are roughly as exciting as their desktop parts. Thankfully, the Alienware 17 is such a strong redesign of the chassis that whatever wrinkles there are in the current generation of hardware are made up for by it just plain being even better to use than its predecessor.
|Alienware 17 Specifications|
Intel Core i7-4800MQ
(4x2.7GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.7GHz, 22nm, 6MB L3, 47W)
|Memory||16GB (4x4GB) Micron DDR3L-1600 (Max 4x8GB)|
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M 4GB GDDR5
(1536 CUDA cores, 771MHz/823MHz/5GHz core/boost/memory clocks, 256-bit memory bus)
Intel HD 4600 Graphics
(20 EUs, up to 1.3GHz)
17" LED Matte 16:9 1080p
LG Philips LP173WF1
LiteOn LMT-256M6M 256GB mSATA 6Gbps SSD
Western Digital Scorpio Black 750GB 7200-RPM SATA 3Gbps HDD
|Optical Drive||HL-DT-ST CA40N slot-loading BD-ROM/DVDRW|
Broadcom BCM4352 802.11ac Wireless
Killer Networks e2200 Gigabit Ethernet
Realtek ALC668 HD audio
Dual headphone jacks and mic jack
SD card reader
Slot-loading optical drive
2x USB 3.0
2x USB 3.0
Dual headphone jacks and mic jack
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 64-bit|
16.3" x 11.8" x 1.9"
414mm x 299mm x 48mm
Killer Networks wired networking
802.11ac wireless networking
Configurable backlit keyboard with four user programmable keys
As configured $2,799
The baseline Alienware 17 enjoys an Intel Core i7-4700MQ with a nominal clock speed of 2.4GHz, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M, 8GB of DDR3L-1600, and 750GB of mechanical storage only; at $1,499 this model is cute but not really worth considering. Unfortunately configuring an Alienware isn't as flexible as it used to be, and as a result if you want any of the good stuff, you have to shell out for the $2,299 top base model and then upgrade that.
Our Core i7-4800MQ has a 2.7GHz nominal clock speed and is able to turbo up to as much as 3.7GHz; these are the same clocks as the previous generation Ivy Bridge i7-3820QM, but 100MHz slower than the i7-3840QM. The Ivy chip also had 8MB of L3 cache compared to the i7-4800MQ's 6MB. Haswell, ladies and gentlemen: the progress is palpable.
Meanwhile we're taking another run at the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M. On paper it's superior to the GTX 680M in every way, but for some reason it's having trouble consistently beating the 680M. This has held true across three notebooks now, and there have been measurable differences in performance between driver sets as NVIDIA continues to update. The 780M features a fully enabled GK104 chip, with 1,536 CUDA cores clocked at a minimum 771GHz and a 256-bit memory bus featuring 4GB of GDDR5 clocked at an impressive (for mobile) 5GHz. The 680M was already the fastest mobile GPU, so even just running comparable to that is fine, but as you'll see, underperforming continues to dog the 780M. In isolated circumstances, Jarred was able to suss out a difference due to the CPU speeds, but only to a point.
As for the rest of the Alienware 17, we can get the holy combination of a boot SSD and mechanical storage drive, and every Alienware 17 comes standard with Broadcom's 802.11ac wireless networking solution. One place where Alienware does come up short is the display, though; while the shift to a matte finish is incredibly welcome, both the Alienware 14 and Alienware 18 offer IPS displays while the 17 is only available with 60Hz and 120Hz TN panels. I'm hoping they eventually fill this gap, as I remain fairly confident the 17 is going to be the most popular in their lineup and it seems silly for it not to have an IPS display option.
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JarredWalton - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - linkGE40 has HDD + SSD, so toss that out. Larger screen and other items remain, but really we're talking about a laptop (GE40) that draws around 7.15W in our Light battery test compared to 20.63W (AW17), 18.56W (P157SM), and 20.49W (P177SM). That's a full 10W or more difference for basically a 1-2W screen difference; most of the other items on the motherboard should be in a deep sleep state during the battery life testing, but Clevo and Alienware appear to have been quite lazy in that regard this round.
To illustrate just how bad it is, let's look at the MSI GT70 Dragon. Dustin tested the initial Dragon and measured 22.34W power draw in our Light test, making that the worst of the GTX 780M notebooks. I received two more Dragon notebooks for testing, and I'll have an article on this shortly, but with an updated BIOS and firmware MSI dramatically improved battery life. The second two laptops achieved power draw of 13.71W (i7-4700MQ) and 14.21W (i7-4930MX) in the exact same Light test. So firmware updates to help power down inactive components on the motherboard and such were able to reduce idle power use by over 30%. The Alienware 17 and Clevo notebooks almost certainly could achieve the same reduction, if Dell and Clevo were to put in the time and effort to properly optimize their BIOS.
CharonPDX - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - linkLadies and gentlemen, we have found an apologist for a manufacturer other than Apple, and it's even worse than Apple fanboyism...
landsome - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - linkI don't get it... So the AW17 earns a recommendation, but what are its advantages over a similarly equipped Clevo or MSI? Apparently by your own admission design still leaves a substantial amount to be desired, and in other departments - battery, screen, raw power, perhaps even temps were it not for AW's conservative approach to clocks/heat - the 17 seems no better or slightly worse than a GT70 or a P177SM. Price is another disadvantage. So what makes it the gaming notebook to buy at this time?
JarredWalton - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - linkThe design leaves something to be desired, but it's still better than the Clevo and MSI offerings. Obviously there's subjective opinion on this matter, but the designs on all of the top gaming notebooks are flawed to varying degrees. I'd probably go with Clevo this round, based more on pricing than on design, with Alienware 17 being second and MSI third. Dustin swaps AW for Clevo, and since he's used the P177SM and AW17, he's entitled to that opinion.
MDX - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - linkAgreed. Alienware's keyboard might have been a step back, but it's light years ahead of the chiclet keyboards found on all other gaming computer. Dell's warranty is (IME) better, as well. Personally, I can't stand matte screens, so that's a mark against it, and I think the styling could have used more metal and been a bit slimmer - especially on the 14.
I'm in the market for a gaming notebook since my XPS M1730 finally bit the dust, but I'm leaning towards a customized MSI Dragon 2 from XoticPC, because I can get it with a gloss screen there. Just wish I could get a non-chiclet kb on it...damn you apple, and damn everyone that's copied apple and installed chiclet kbs.
Clevo/sager don't even make it on my radar...sorry, at these price points, I expect my hardware to have some style other than "square/black". Your phone/car/clothes aren't black bricks are they? I don't want my PC to be, either.
Hrel - Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - linkWhy do you place the MSI last?
Gunbuster - Sunday, September 8, 2013 - link"Alienware isn't as flexible as it used to be, and as a result if you want any of the good stuff, you have to shell out for the $2,299 top base model and then upgrade that."
Dell this is why your sales are down something like 74%. People who buy dell's like to customize. Your "ships quick" BS where the config choice is office, a mouse, and bloated AV is NOT Customization.
Stop hiding config options. Stop penalizing long time customers.
Spunjji - Monday, September 9, 2013 - linkFunny, not noticing an awful lot of fanboy screaming about the 780M like there was with the 7970M. It appears to be comparably broken, only it costs more too! Yay!
Gunbuster - Monday, September 9, 2013 - linkYou mean the 7970M that had broken Enduro for over a year all while AMD had user forum threads about it deleted so no one would catch on?
deeps6x - Monday, September 9, 2013 - linkThe 'bonus performance' you speak of should only exist in overclocking situations. In standard form the 780M should work the same for everyone. They are only binning it for power, so I don't get why they are having problems with drivers on it. The desktop GK104 has been out a long while and doesn't have the same problems.
OMG, Dell FINALLY figures out that this thing should have had a matte screen all along? Will wonders never cease? Now hopefully they realize they also need to move to 16:10 instead of 16:9.
Yes, the light up track pad is exclusively for kiddies. How many kiddies have 2 grand plus to blow on an overpriced laptop? Scrap it Dell. Scrap it now.
No IPS option? What F the?