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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kogunniyi - Friday, September 6, 2013 - linkOh, and Dell's NBD warranty.
nerd1 - Friday, September 6, 2013 - linkPersonally I think it should be more sensible to just get last gen model with 680M and save $1000. I prefer the old design and keyboard, and 680M is still no slotch even compared to 780M.
xenol - Friday, September 6, 2013 - linkNo temps, noise, or the like?
Drumsticks - Friday, September 6, 2013 - linkIt's amazing how you can write "the progress is palpable" for the exact same thing! Haswell) in an ultra book review and an alien ware review and have it mean the same thing.
Drumsticks - Friday, September 6, 2013 - linkDifferent things* no edit :(
inighthawki - Friday, September 6, 2013 - linkAnyone else ever wish there were baselines of desktop models to compare against? I've never purchased a gaming laptop before, so it'd be really cool if I could see the difference between the two. Like, how much slower is a 780M than a GTX780, or a 7970GE. I know they're significantly less powerful, but it'd be nice at some points to see by how much rather than just comparing to a bunch of similar classed laptops.
JarredWalton - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link780M is going to be more like a GTX 680 with lower clocks, and performance will also be a bit more variable thanks to the thermal constraints. If you're after bang for the buck, gaming notebooks have never been a good choice; we figure anyone looking for a new gaming notebook is looking for a new gaming notebook -- they don't need to see how much faster a desktop that costs less will be. Or if they do, they can do a bit of research on their own -- our system benchmarks and desktop benchmarks are using the same core tests (other than battery life, of course), though the lack of higher resolution tests on notebooks makes it a bit trickier.
If you want a couple links, though:
I've taken the Enthusiast gaming scores and compiled them into a single image, showing performance differences between the Alienware 17 and an overclocked GTX 680 and stock GTX 780 (with overclocked CPUs on both as well). Here's that image (hopefully the link works):
Short summary: the desktop 680 OC is 12% to 60% faster than the AW17, with an average increase of 33%. The desktop 780 is 32% to 77% faster, with an average increase of 53%. StarCraft II is the game that shows the smallest improvement, being largely CPU limited even with OC'ed desktop CPUs. Metro Last Light shows the greatest improvement, followed by Tomb Raider and then Bioshock.
nerd1 - Friday, September 6, 2013 - linkRecent laptops are quite good up to 1080p. 680M or 7970M can run pretty much anything on 1080p, and cheaper one like 765M can run most games on 1080p, except for metro or crysis series maybe.
waldojim42 - Sunday, September 8, 2013 - linkI actually play Crysis 2 on my AW 14 just fine. Have to use the "Extreme" preset rather than "Ultra", but 1080P is no problem.
brucek2 - Friday, September 6, 2013 - linkActually Jared I'm not sure at all that the difference between desktop and mobile parts is well understood by the mass of computer purchasers. Certainly the manufacturers are not helping by reusing the same product names, a practice I feel is dishonestly misleading. Its something I have to explain to my less technical friends frequently, the last time being not three days ago.
Anyway, that's a long way of saying I actually think it would be a great service if reviews could attempt to assign a dollar premium for mobility so potential purchasers understand how much they are paying for the privilege and/or how far down the performance curve they are limiting themselves. In the case of the talk from three days ago, the upshot was the friend realized a desktop would be the better choice after all.