The Alienware 17 ($2,799) is a large-screen gaming rig for those who have a few bucks to spare. It has the power to run games at full 1080p resolution, and games look brilliant on its 17.3-inch screen. It’s not the most portable thing in the world, but it will serve well in on the game grid.
Design and Features
The Alienware 17 resembles its larger counterpart, the Alienware 18 ($4499), with a dark grey/silver chassis measuring a stout 2 by 16 by 12 inches (HWD), and weighing in at a hefty 9.16 pounds alone. Add the power adapter, and you’re talking about 11.25 pounds of travel weight. This isn’t a system that you’re going to lug around on your daily commute, unless you’re a sponsored gamer on tour. Contrast this with the 0.66-inch thick Editors’ Choice Razer Blade (2013) ($2,000), which weighs in at a svelte 4.1 pounds alone. Essentially, the Alienware 17 is made for situations where the larger 17.3-inch screen will make a difference, like when you need to show off or if you really need to see detail on the screen.
The Alienware 17 follows the usual Alienware ID, with an ovoid alien head on the lid, backlit with a couple of diagonal lines cut into the lid. The Alienware logo below the screen is backit as well, as if you could forget what kind of laptop you’re using. The keyboard, trackpad, and side and front panels are also backlit, and you can use the AlienFX control panel to put one of 20 colors in 10 zones (for example, the trackpad is a zone). It’s kind of gimmicky, but it differentiates the Alienware laptops from competitors like the Maingear Nomad 17 Ultimate ($2824), which offer less color choices. Granted, the Maingear gives you more options for the chassis itself, with a range of automotive paint colors. But the Alienware brothers will stand out more in a darkened room.
The Alienware 17′s keyboard and trackpad are quite responsive. The keyboard is comfortable, and its springs are soft enough to help alleviate fatigue. The S key has a tactile mark on it to help center your fingers in the standard WASD pattern in a darkened room. You’ll likely use a mouse during FPS sessions, but the backlit trackpad is centered under the palm rest for gamers who like using that interface. The system doesn’t have a touch screen, but Razer has its Razer Edge Pro ($1450) for users that prefer touch gaming. Two physical buttons below the trackpad give you tactile action buttons.
You can hook your mouse up to one of the four USB 3.0 ports, two on either side of the laptop. The system also includes a HDMI port, mini-DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a Blu-ray reader for your movies. The keyboard has a full numeric keypad to the right, along with some of the programmable multi-function keys above. The Alienware 18 understandably has more mutlifunction buttons than its smaller brother, but the majority of gamers won’t suffer unless they are moving down from the system’s big brother.
The system comes with a 17.3-inch 1,920-by-1,080 resolution full HD screen, which is a good match for the system’s Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M graphics and slot-loading Blu-ray player. The system comes with 16GB of system memory, a 750 GB data drive, and a 256GB mSATA SSD as a boot drive. The SSD helps initial boot times, coming back from sleep, launching apps, and general performance. We asked Alienware to install Windows 7 Ultimate instead of Windows 8, since most games don’t take advantage of the Windows UI yet. The system comes with a 1 year basic Alienware warranty.
The Alienware 17 is a powerhouse system, capable of butter smooth gameplay at medium quality settings. However, at higher quality settings at native resolution, the frame rates slow down a bit. We saw 39 fps on our Aliens vs. Predator game test and 36 fps on our Heaven gaming test, both at native resolution with quality settings up at close to maximum. While this means both games are mostly playable, it still means that you’ll have to go for a slightly more expensive gaming system like the Maingear Nomad 17 Ultimate for smooth gameplay with all the eye candy turned on. At the multimedia tests like Handbrake video encoding and our Photoshop CS6 tests, the Alienware 17 won out over the Maingear Nomad 17 Ultimate. However, we’d probably be remiss if we were to recommend the Alienware 17 solely on its multimedia merits.
Thanks to its SSD boot drive and general performance, the Alienware 17 returned an excellent day-to-day score on the PCMark 7 test. About the only outright disappointment was the short two hours, fifty five minute run time on our battery test. This is less than half the time the Razer Blade (2013) was able to muster (6:52). 2:55 is a few minutes less than the runtime of the standard version of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
The Alienware 17 is certainly a statement that you are at least somewhat serious about your gaming. The Alienware is still attractive, with good scores on the gaming tests. However, a short battery life and the fact that only a bit more money will get you a gaming rig like the Maingear Nomad 17 Ultimate that will play smoothly at native resolution. This fact and a short battery life in such a bulky system keep the Alienware 17 from earning top marks among midrange gaming laptops. If it had just a bit more gaming juice, the sacrifice in portability might have been worth it, but alas it just misses the mark. The Razer Blade (2013) holds on to its midrange gaming title due to its extreme portability.
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M|
|Type||Gaming, Desktop Replacement|
|Processor Speed||2.7 GHz|
|Primary Optical Drive||Blu-Ray Disc|
|Screen Size||17.3 inches|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||1006 GB|
|Storage Type||HDD, SSD|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc