Computer

Alienware m17 (2019)

Like the 15-inch Alienware m15, the 17-inch Alienware m17 (starts $ 1,499.99; $ 3,999.99 as tested) aims to be much more portable than your average gaming laptop. It’s thinner, lighter, and sleeker than the standard chassis, but a 17-inch laptop is still a 17-inch laptop. And the build on the whole is good, but not great, given the sky-high price of our review unit (caused in part by a 4K screen that’s a questionable fit). Performance is strong thanks to an RTX 2080 Max-Q GPU and an Intel Core i9 CPU, but we’ve seen much cheaper laptops post similar benchmark results. A less-expensive m17 configuration might be a better value, but the Alienware Area-51m remains our Editors’ Choice on a pure power basis, while the MSI GS75 Stealth is our top pick for those who want a portable-as-possible 17-inch gaming laptop.


Sizing Up a Slim 17-Incher

The Alienware m17 looks just like a supersize version of the Alienware m15, right down to the bright-red lid present on the review units of each I’ve handled. This is not the only color option (you can opt for a more traditional silver lid), but it’s what I have on my tester, and it’s hard to miss. It manages to look trendy, not silly, but I don’t blame anyone who would opt for something more sedate.

The lid itself has a satisfying smooth-touch finish and just a dash of style with three grooved lines and a petite Alienware logo. The rest of the build is straightforward, even a little plain for the price. I’m not the biggest fan of the shiny plastic above the keyboard, as it looks cheap for a product that is decidedly not.

Though the body is slim, the laptop’s footprint will cover a decent-size patch of desk. You can find larger 17-inch laptops, to be sure, with the m17 coming in at 0.9 by 16.1 by 11.5 inches (HWD) and a hair under 6 pounds. The Alienware m15 and m17 are meant to be the slim, portable choices in the Alienware family, and compared to the flagship 17-incher, the Alienware Area-51m (1.2 inches thick, almost 9 pounds), the m17 looks trim indeed. However, many manufacturers are embracing slimmer gaming laptops, even at the 17-inch screen size. The MSI GS75 Stealth, for example, comes in at just 0.74 by 15.5 by 10 inches and 5.02 pounds. Both machines, like many of the slimmest modern laptops, embrace Nvidia’s Max-Q Design. This enables manufacturers to fit top-tier GPUs into thinner chassis than in the past, with some power tradeoffs.

The 17.3-inch IPS display is a significant hunk of the price here, chiefly due to its 4K resolution. That’s a configuration option, of course, but it’s what Alienware sent us for review on this model. The refresh rate is a standard 60Hz and there’s no support for Nvidia G-Sync, which may be disappointing news to some. 4K gaming, even on high-end hardware, is still too demanding to run at 60fps or better using maximum detail settings, so it’s not usually worth the compromise. As you’ll see in the testing section below, that proved to be the case here, but you can always choose another resolution when playing if you still want 4K for media viewing or creation. On that note, Alienware claims 100 percent sRGB color coverage, and the brightness comes in at 400 nits. The picture looks good—not incredible, but good—and the matte finish helps cut down on glare.

As for the rest of the build, the keyboard is comfortable and includes a full number pad, while the touchpad is closer to average. The keys have well-balanced travel, and the Alienware-typical per-key backlighting adds a touch of flair. You can control the color and effect of every key with AlienFX, found in the Alienware Command Center software. You can tweak AlienFX to make fun patterns or highlight keys useful in specific game genres. You can also use the Command Center to monitor performance and switch between performance modes (more on that later).

The touchpad is plasticky and a step below the more premium experience on Razer’s laptops, but it’s serviceable. Speaker quality is similarly so-so—hardly the quality of a dedicated sound system or a good pair of headphones, but fine for watching videos or playing music at normal volume levels.


Connections and Components

You will note a wide selection of ports on this system, spread across both sides and the rear edge. The left side holds one USB 3.0 port, the headset jack, and an Ethernet jack for a wired connection. Two more USB 3.0 ports reside on the right, but that’s it for that side. The rest are all around back, including a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support, a mini-DisplayPort connection, and an HDMI port. There’s also a proprietary port for connecting to the external Alienware Graphics Amplifier, should you want to run the laptop off some future desktop GPU that far exceeeds the GeForce RTX chip inside.

Given the $ 4,000 configuration price and the 4K screen, it’s clear that my test unit is configured on the very high end. It’s packing an 8th Generation Intel Core i9-8950HK processor, the Max-Q-configured Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 mentioned earlier, 16GB of memory, and two 512GB M.2 SSDs for storage. Add in the premium display, and it’s easy to see how the price got this high. Whether or not that’s “worth it” depends much on what you do, but it’s definitely a steep price for any laptop. If you’re a hardcore gamer with cash to burn, or a media professional looking to use this system for intensive graphics work that requires a high screen resolution, you’ll be happy with these powerful components. But you may need to fit both of those user profiles to justify the price. Most shoppers simply won’t be able to afford this config.

The good news is that you can get the m17 in many other mixtures. The $ 1,499.99 starting version is a far, far less expensive Core i5 build with a newly released GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, and you can mix-and-match components from there. You can choose between a GeForce RTX 2060 or RTX 2070, as well as full HD (1080p) or QHD (1440p) displays. A much more reasonably priced but still powerful loadout, for example, nets you a Core i7 CPU, a GeForce RTX 2070, and a 256GB SSD with a 1TB hard drive for $ 2,329.99, or you can bump that down under two grand, with a GeForce RTX 2060, ringing up at $ 1,949.99.

This is all to say, you’re hardly locked in at the $ 4,000 price of this tester model for this computer, even though that’s what I have here. You also may not mind the plain build as much if you are paying around $ 2,000 versus $ 4,000.


Objectively Fast, But a Bang-for-Buck Fizzle?

For performance testing, I compared the Alienware m17 to a host of recent, comparable 17-inch laptops. These are either similarly equipped, also very expensive, or both. Below is a cheat sheet outlining their specs…

Alienware m17

All of these laptops as tested include GeForce RTX 2080 GPUs, most of which are Max-Q versions of the chip. The exception is the mighty Alienware Area-51m ($ 4,409.99 as tested), which also employs a full-strength desktop, as opposed to mobile-grade, Core CPU. Nonethelesss, sharing this core component will allow for some great head-to-head 3D comparisons. Additionally, the ROG Zephyrus S GX701 ($ 3,299.99 as tested), the Lenovo Legion Y740 ($ 2,319.99 as tested), and the MSI GS75 Stealth ($ 2,999 as tested) all use the same CPU, letting us see how the Core i9 CPUs stack up to their Core i7 chips. As you can see, the amount of RAM differs, but overall these performance numbers should illustrate a clear case for what really makes for bang-for-buck.

I should also address the aforementioned power modes accessible through Alienware Command Center. You can switch among Quiet, Balanced, and Performance modes on the fly in the thermals section. I tested this laptop on Performance mode; that is how it came out of the box, and that mode is, presumably, how most users would want to get the most out of their expensive gaming laptop. On this setting, the fans whirred at a steady rate, even when idling at the desktop. This noise ceases if you switch to Balanced, so it’s avoidable, aside from when you want maximum performance while gaming. (And then, hopefully, you’ll have a good pair of headphones on.) The performance gains from running at maximum power were measurable, but not significant enough to worry too much about. Now on to the tests!

Productivity and Storage Tests

PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet use, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a specialized storage test that we use to assess the speed of the PC’s drive subsystem.

Alienware m17

First off: These are all pricey, high-end systems, so the baseline performance on PCMark 10 for this set of results is very fast. In that context, the Alienware m17 did just fine—neither the quickest nor the slowest. For daily home and office tasks, it will be snappy, even if that’s not why you’d pay up for a laptop like this. Its speedy SSD very slightly edged the rest, but the margins are small: Load and boot times are noticeably fast on all these machines, and you’ll appreciate that in all aspects of operation.

Media Processing and Creation Tests

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.

Alienware m17

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. This stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters. So systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.

Alienware m17

These tests should be of interest to any media professionals eyeing this system for its raw power. It fares no better than the others on Cinebench, but its Photoshop time is better than all but the Alienware Area-51m’s. Again, these are all within slim margins, and they’re obviously all fast machines. But its Core i9 not giving a marked boost on these tests is a bit underwhelming, especially if you’re considering it for crunching through multi-threaded tasks like these. It may save you a few seconds in Photoshop, which can add up to minutes of your time, but it’s not exactly cruising past these less expensive Core i7-bearing laptops. I’d also wish for 32GB of RAM at this price, which two of these laptops have (another has 24GB), seeing as 16GB is lackluster for a media machine for this much money.

Synthetic Graphics Tests

Next up: UL’s 3DMark suite. 3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.

Alienware m17

The following chart is another synthetic graphics test, this one from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s done in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, whose different 3D workload scenario presents a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.

Alienware m17

There are also professionals concerned with 3D performance outside of just gaming, which is where these results come in handy. As on the previous tests, the m17 did well here, but in line with the rest. On the more demanding Fire Strike and Superposition High tests, the Area-51m continued its dominance, while the m17 outperformed the Legion Y740 and MSI GS75 Stealth and came in just behind the Zephyrus S GX701. It’s good to see consistency across 3DMark and Superposition, showing where you can reliably expect these systems to fall in the pecking order. The performance-to-price-gap ratio here again doesn’t look great for the m17, though, again, the cost disparity is in part due to the 4K display and 1TB of SSD storage rather than the GPU. Still, it’s objectively a powerful 3D machine that should handle most workloads—anything more, and you should look into a workstation.

Real-World Gaming Tests

The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern AAA titles with built-in benchmark schemes.

These tests are run at 1080p on both the moderate and maximum graphics-quality presets (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5; Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) to judge performance for a given laptop. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for that benchmark.

Alienware m17

The results don’t get much better here for the m17, unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong: This laptop does well running AAA games in HD at maximum settings, earning well north of 60fps. But the results are right in line with the less expensive machines (bottom of the pack, in fact, in Far Cry 5). There’s also no high-refresh-rate screen on our test model, making frame rates higher than 60fps less meaningful on this laptop.

Additionally, actually using the 4K screen for gaming is less than ideal. On maximum settings in 4K, the m17 averaged 41fps and 43fps on Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, respectively. You can knock the visual settings down to achieve 60fps, but I don’t think anyone wants to buy a $ 4,000 laptop to play on medium or lower graphics settings. Again, this is really only a problem for this configuration of the laptop, but that’s what I have in front of me for review.

Battery Rundown Test

Finally, the battery-life testing. After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video-rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in Airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.

Alienware m17

The battery life is, somewhat surprisingly, one of the high marks for this laptop. I didn’t expect it to last very long, between the 4K display and the GeForce RTX 2080 GPU, but the five-and-a-half-hour battery life is a solid result. This machine may be a bit too heavy to take with you daily, but when you do travel with it, the battery is useful. There are many gaming laptops with two- or three-hour batteries out there that pine for their charger as soon as it is out of sight, so it’s good to see the m17’s slim design not go to waste, in this regard.


Competent But Pricey: Check Out Some Alternatives

It’s difficult to know who to recommend the Alienware m17 for in our tested configuration. With a 17-inch screen and weighing almost six pounds, it’s not the most portable machine, so we’d recommend multiple alternatives to frequent travelers first. The 4K screen is an unnecessary cost for gamers, as actually playing at that resolution is inadvisable. Even for professionals who want to view or create 4K content, the screen isn’t especially brilliant, and the performance isn’t head and shoulders above the rest. Its chassis build isn’t especially prime, either, which may be fine when buying a down-configured version of the m17 but isn’t thrilling at $ 4,000.

A less-expensive SKU is no doubt a better value, but I don’t have a GeForce RTX 2070 or GTX 2060 version with a fitting HD screen to test. Ultimately, the Alienware Area-51m is a better option if you’re shopping in today’s powerhouse-gamer tier, while the MSI GS75 Stealth is a superior portable option with similar performance.

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