Alienware m17 Review — Hot Rod Ferrari
The new Alienware m17 gaming laptop finally came to me for review and I couldn’t be more excited. See, I’ve had a love affair with Alienware going back two decades. Their Roswell UFO inspired themes have always captivated the nerd in me.
But for years, Alienware laptops — although very powerful — were impractical and bulky machines that never appealed to the mobile professional in me. I desperately longed for Alienware to shrink their laptops to something I could use comfortably on the go, at the office or at a LAN party.
That machine is the Alienware m17 and after reviewing it for a few weeks, I’m a very pleased with what Alienware have achieved. But it’s not quite peaches and cream and some things could be better.
Alienware m17 review
The all-new Alienware m17 gaming laptop follows hot on the heels of last years redesigned Alienware m15. The m17 shares its siblings’ similarly skinny design that still manages to pack some of the best components money can buy. Here are the specs of our review unit:
- Processor: 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8750H 2.2Ghz Base/ 4.1Ghz Max
- Display: 17.3” UHD (3840 x 2160) 60Hz IPS, 400-nits, sRGB 100% color gamut
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q (8GB GDDR6)
- Memory: 16GB DDR4
- Harddrive: 512GB PCIe M.2 SSD + 1TB (+8GB SSHD) Hybrid Drive
- Keyboard: Alienware AlienFX mSeries Keyboard with Alphanumeric Keys
- LAN: RJ-45 Killer Networks e2500 Gigabit Ethernet
- Dimensions: Height (rear): 23 mm. (0.91 in.) Height (front): 18.5 mm. (0.727 in.) Depth: 292.5 mm. (11.52 in.) Width: 410 mm. (16.1 in.)
- Average weight: 2.63 Kgs. (5.79 Lbs.)
Our unit packs last year’s i7-8750H which is still a great processor but you do have the option of a more powerful(and expensive) Intel Core i9-8950HK which is overclockable to 5.0GHz. That said, the performance of our unit was still outstanding.
Alienware m17 — Gaming and Performance
With specs like these, the Alienware m17 was always going to perform excellently and I wasn’t disappointed. In our suite of synthetic benchmarks, the Alienware m17 performed admirably, scoring a healthy 17,233 points in 3DMark 11 and 5239 in PC Mark 10 productivity.
The combination of the i7-8750H, RTX 2080 Max-Q and that fast SSD hard drive make the Alienware m17 breeze through most Windows functions. Boot up times were noticeably quick and launching and closing apps is very snappy.
But of course, what you really want to know is how the Alienware m17 handles games. In a word, great.
1080p Ultra gaming run expectedly well with Apex Legends running best at 133FPS while Forza Horizon 4 was the worst with a surprisingly low 68FPS.
One thing to note is that the similarly specced ASUS Zephyrus S GX701 run a bit faster in most games. However, turning settings down from Ultra to High brought a 20-30% boost in performance with no obvious loss in visual clarity.
Running 4K Ultra settings made the RTX 2080 Max-Q sweat a bit. Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Hitman 2 both scored an average of 39FPS with several drops below 25FPS making for some choppy gameplay. I recommend turning down quality settings to the next highest for a good bump.
However, as I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I believe that gaming laptops would be better off with a QHD 1440p display. The new RTX GPU’s can easily run most games at a steady 70-80FPS at that resolution while still looking fantastic.
All in all, the Alienware m17 is more than capable to handle any title you throw at it and I’m quite pleased with it.
Alienware m17 — Design and Build
I’m not going to lie; I love the design of the Alienware m17. It’s a very well built and striking package — especially the Nebula Red version that I got.
It’s immediately identifiable as an Alienware machine — the angled edges, glowing alien head logo, sci-fi honeycomb patterns and RGB lighting. But its slim form factor is a huge departure from the bulky, tank-like Alienware 17 laptops of yesteryear.
The Alienware m17 measures a tiny 0.91inches at its thickest point. And thanks to the magnesium alloy chassis, it weighs a respectable 2.94Kgs. For reference, the excellent ASUS Zephyrus S GX701 is 2.6Kgs.
The gorgeous Nebula Red lid is beautiful to behold and demands attention. Its soft-touch matte finish is delightful but can easily pick up oily finger smudges. Alienware’s signature triple converging lines accentuate the angled look and an RGB, metallic Alienware logo head sits proudly at the top.
Opening the lid presents the 17.3-inch display, now with reduced bezels. A FullHD webcam occupies the middle of the top bezel and a large text logo sits at the much larger bottom bezel. Two sturdy hinges hold the display to the main chassis and felt solid to me.
Opening the lid with one hand didn’t present any wobbling or flex. The bottom of the display gently angles away from the main chassis giving the Alienware m17 a unique look when open.
The main chassis has a deep matte black finish with a distinctively futuristic and elegant honeycomb pattern running along the top. Another RGB alien head logo ensconced in the middle serves as a power button. Beneath that is the full-size keyboard with number pad and a standard size touchpad beneath that.
The sides and back have a wealth of ports and understated air vents and the front has stereo forward facing speakers. Underneath is bare except for the thick rubber stands and more air vents.
Overall, the Alienware m17 looks every bit on brand — angled edges, sharp lines, glowing lights but now significantly slimmer, lighter, and the most beautiful Alienware laptop design so far. Definitely my favourite designs of 2019 so far.
Alienware m17 — Display and speakers
The 17.3-inch, IPS panel on the Alienware m17 is UHD running at a native 4K(3840 x 2160) resolution. This is a fairly high resolution for such a small screen and Windows has to scale things up so you don’t need a magnifying glass to read anything.
It’s also highly colour accurate, supporting 100% of the sRGB scale and I couldn’t see any difference to my MacBook Pro 15’s excellent screen. As a designer by trade, I appreciated this screen for more serious work. Photographers and video editors will definitely benefit from the colour accuracy the Alienware m17 affords.
With 400nits of brightness, the Alienware can get eye-searingly bright and I found myself running it at less than 50% brightness in most cases. The panel is limited to 60Hz but that never proved to be a problem when gaming. There was no sign of screen tearing when playing games over 60FPS which you might expect.
Watching videos and playing games on the Alienware was a treat and because it’s an IPS panel, viewing angles were great too.
For sound, the Alienware m17 employs two small forward facing speakers located on the front strip of the chassis that are easily missed. But don’t let that lull you into thinking they are mediocre because they’re far from it.
The speakers are impressively loud and full-bodied for their diminutive size. Sound reproduction is very crisp with a good amount of bass response. The bass won’t knock your socks off but it’s definitely good for a machine with no dedicated subwoofer.
This combination of screen and speakers makes the Alienware great for all sorts of media and gaming consumption.
Alienware m17 — Keyboard and touchpad
The Alienware m17 AlienFX mSeries Keyboard includes a dedicated number pad and programmable macro keys. Despite the size of its 17-inch frame, the keyboard feels rather small which made for some typing inaccuracy. This is definitely because of making room for the number pad and I’m really not a fan of these on laptops.
Even with particularly large laptops like the ASUS ROG G703, adding a number pad steals precious keyboard space. Also, I find number pads useless beyond typing in an occasional PIN or phone number. I’d be much happier with fuller-sized keys and be rid of the number pad.
That said, the keyboard here is excellent. The 1.4mm of travel feels great here thanks to the keys 70grams of actuation force. There’s a nice bounce back to each key press that makes them much more pleasant to type on than my MacBook, which I’m loathe to return to now.
The keys are all individually backlit for some serious lighting customisation. The AlienFX lighting can be adjusted through the comprehensive Alienware Command Center app. There are several profiles to choose from as well as the ability to create your own and save them.
This is also where the four dedicated macro keys — which sit above the number pad — can be programmed. For those hardcore gamers, you can save several key commands to a single key for quick access during play. I didn’t find the positioning of these macro keys to easily accessible. Most people game using an external mouse in their right hand with the left sitting over the WASD keys.
Having the macro keys on the same side as your mouse hand requires you to take your hand off the mouse to hit the keys. Having these keys run along the left-hand side of the keyboard near your left hand would be a better design.
The touchpad on the Alienware m17 is good. It’s relatively small when compared to those on the Razer Blade 15 and MacBook Pro of which I’m a fan. The larger touchpad is much better for gesture controls. That said, the touchpad gets the basics right.
It’s got a smooth surface that’s responsive to the touch and it uses Windows Precision drivers which work very well for finger tracking. The whole pad can be depressed like a button or you can use the dedicated zones at the bottom for right/ left clicks.
Alienware m17 — Connectivity
The Alienware m17 is a great machine for content creators as well as gamers and has a plethora of ports to meet most users needs.
Starting down the right side, we have two SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Type-A and a lock slot. On the left side is a Killer Networks E2500 Gigabit Ethernet connection port for those who need uncompromising network speeds. There’s also a USB SuperSpeed 3.1 Type-A with Powershare Technology and an Audio Out 3.5mm Port.
On the back of the Alienware m17 is a Power/DC-In Port, HDMI 2.0 Output, Mini-Display Port 1.3 and a Thunderbolt 3 Port. As with other Alienware laptops, there’s also an Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port for connecting external GPU enclosures for some added graphical power.
The only thing missing on the Alienware that might turn content creators off is an SD Card reader. Anybody who uses a camera needs one of these for easy data transfer. Other than that, the Alienware m17 has you covered for connection options.
Alienware m17 – Battery and thermals
Everything was going great until this point. I’m sad to report that the battery on the Alienware m17 is as disappointing as almost every other gaming laptop.
The 60WHr battery will last you on average 2hr:30min — 50min hours. I was truly hoping for battery life closer to 4—5hrs but that’s not happening. To be fair, a 4K display and RTX 2080 are going to chew through any battery.
That said, you could probably get much better numbers with the FullHD or QHD versions of the Alienware m17. There is also a 90Whr battery option which should last much longer.
But it’s also likely the Alienware m17’s cooling system contributed to my poor battery life. The Alienware m17 is a slim laptop with very powerful components that need great thermal management and Alienware haven’t quite succeeded here.
The Cryo-Tech v2.0 thermal technology employed here seems to run the fans constantly, even when the Alienware m17 is sitting idle. Every time you open an app, the fans immediately roar to life. Even setting Quiet mode in Alienware Command Center had almost no effect. This could be a bios firmware problem and hopefully, Dell will issue a patch soon.
Running the Alienware m17 at load was quite noisy although nowhere near as noisy as the ASUS ROG G703 we recently reviewed. I also noticed that the top of the keyboard would get quite hot, not to mention the bottom of the laptop. It’s certainly not wise to use this on your laps when doing anything remotely intensive.
So, the Alienware m17 isn’t the quietest or coolest of the premium gaming laptops but should be fine if you give it plenty of breathing room.
Alienware m17 — Verdict
The Alienware m17 is my dream machine. In Nebula Red, it’s beautiful without trying to look like yet another Apple clone. It’s got plenty of power and games run great on its 4K screen. It has a pleasant keyboard for typing and a ton of connectivity options — all in a sexy, slim form factor.
It’s a genuinely portable desktop replacement that you can use on the bus to work or a battle station for an Apex Legends session. However, its lacklustre battery life and noisy fans keep it just shy of perfection. The mid-2019 refreshes will likely fix these quibbles.
The Alienware m17 we reviewed shares the same jaw-dropping price as the Razer Blade 15 and ASUS Zephyrus S – starting at over AUD $5,000. This is not a cheap machine and you can certainly get performance parity if you look elsewhere at much less.
In fact, dropping the Alienware m17 configuration to a QHD display, RTX 2060 and 256GB SSD will save you well over $1000 while still getting you an incredible machine.
The Alienware m17 is as close to the kind of laptop I always dreamed Alienware could make. It’s not perfect but I absolutely love it and give it two thumbs up.
The Alienware m17 was provided to PowerUp! by Alienware Australia for the purpose of this review.
Product Name: Alienware m17
Product Description: Gaming laptop
Excellently designed and built
Gorgeous 4K display
Gaming performance ticks all the boxes
Luckluster battery and noisy fans
Can get expensive very quickly