Alienware has been making gaming laptops for longer than I care to admit for fear of revealing my age. In as much as I love its alien inspired brand, its laptops have always been big, heavy monstrous looking things. I’ve watched that change over the past three years from the gigantic Alienware 17 R4 I reviewed two years ago to the newer, slimmer Alienware m17.
And now, the all-new Alienware m17 R4 brings a whole new spin on things thanks to the Legend Industrial design language. It gets a whole new chassis with the same signature RGB light ring and premium soft-touch plastics. All the while still packing the best specs money can buy; i9 processor, RTX graphics, SSD storage and Tobii eye-tracking.
Has Alienware finally achieved the ultimate form?
Alienware M17 R2 Review
The review unit for the m17 R2 we received is one of the highest spec models you can get, retailing for about $4500 on Dell.com. However, prices start at a more reasonable $2599 for a GTX 1660 model without Tobii eye-tracking and lower refresh screen. As for our unit, here are the specs:
|9th Generation Intel Core i9-9980HK (8-Core, 16MB Cache, up to 5.0Ghz w/Turbo Boost)
|NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 8GB GDDR6 with Max-Q Design
|16GB DDR4 2666MHz
|512GB M.2 PCIe SSD
|17.3″ FHD (1920 x 1080) 144Hz, 9ms, 300-nits, 72% NTSC, Eyesafe Display Tech + Tobii Eye Tracking
|2.0 Speaker configuration
7.1 Digital Audio out using HDMI out connection
|Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 (2×2) and Bluetooth 5.0
|Dimensions & Weight
|15.7-inch(W) x 11.6-inch(D) x 0.8-inch(Rear H)
The previous Alienware m17 was a thing of beauty, especially with its hot rod red lid. It’s rather surprising that Alienware dumped that design after just one generation. Perhaps it was just a trial run but that machine was plagued with poor cooling. The new m17 takes its design cues from the critically acclaimed Alienware Area 51m but cut down to about a third the thickness and weight.
The model we got is the Lunar Light version which is a high contrast finish that’s mostly white with black flourishes and gorgeous RGB lighting. Its body is a magnesium alloy with a smooth, soft-touch finish that feels really great. Most impressively, the new m17 is thinner(0.8-inches) and lighter(2.6Kg) than the model it replaces. However, unlike its predecessor, the new m17 uses a book-style hinge which gives it a bit more depth. The laptop does have a big footprint but nothing bigger than other 17-inches.
Alienware has made this hinge a core part of the laptops striking appearance. The curved black pillar contrasts nicely with the white body and has the coolest RGB ring lighting. It’s like having spinning rims on your car that you can never see while driving. I don’t care though, I love it. This is a signature look of the Legend design that you’ll find on both the Aurora r9 and AW34DW curved gaming monitor stand.
One practical aspect of the book hinge is that it keeps the display held really firmly; so much so that you need two hands to open the lid or else it lifts the whole laptop. It also houses some useful ports and some large exhaust vents. In fact, Alienware has invested a lot into thermal cooling on the m17 R2, a problem that plagued its predecessor. The new Cryo-Tech 3.0 system uses a dual intake, dual exhaust paired with bigger fans and copper piping.
Open the lid and you are presented with a gorgeous interior. The 17-inch display has skinny black borders with white edging. At the bottom of the screen are the Alienware logo and Tobii Eye-tracking cameras. On to the main body of the chassis and the top is lined with the striking honeycomb pattern that hides speakers and air-intakes. Below that is a full keyboard which is great but more on that later. Finally, a glass touchpad rounds off the inside.
Display is a sight for sore eyes
The 17.3-inch display on the m17 R2 is a FullHD 1080p display with a 144Hz refresh and 9ms response time. As far as gaming laptops go, it’s pretty par for the course. I’m disappointed that it’s only 73% of the DCI-3 colour gamut with a peak brightness of 300 nits which in reality means it’s not the most colour-accurate or brightest screen out there.
And also, at this price point, I don’t see why Alienware doesn’t offer a 4K display. The machine can certainly power it. This could be an issue for creative professionals but overall but I was happy with the picture quality. Colour in games looked beautiful and punchy but obviously nowhere near OLED levels although I do suspect Alienware will offer OLED versions soon.
One welcome feature on the screen is the Eyesafe Display Technology that reduces harmful blue light rays without colour distortion. I use computers till way too late in the night and often use Windows built-in Night Shift mode. The problem with that is yellowing of the screen so you don’t get to enjoy content in its true form. The Eyesafe tech does away with that and I love that.
Best laptop keyboard ever
Alienware laptops have traditionally had some of the best keyboards and the new m17 has arguably the best one yet. It’s not mechanical like some other brands but those still kinda suck so it’s cool. Dubbed the mSeries, this is a full keyboard with numpad and per-key RGB LED lighting. The lighting as always can be easily adjusted via Alienware Command Center(ACC) in a variety of weird and wacky ways depending on your preferences.
But the best thing about this keyboard is how deliciously good it is to type on. The key caps have an almost imperceptible 0.2mm concave dish shape which makes hitting them easier. The keys have a generous 1.7mm travel(0.3mm more than last-gen model) with a delicious bounce back. I’m not sure how Alienware kept this laptop so thin and still have such travel on the keys but I absolutely love it. I’m typing this review on it and I’m concerned for my overall word limit since I’m having so much fun writing.
And, Alienware has provided this keyboard with great gaming features like anti-ghosting and nKey rollover. Response is great and the actuation has been perfect when playing the Division 2 or the much faster Doom 2016. And, the keyboard also has dedicated macro keys above the numpad. You can assign actions to these in the Alienware Command Center.
Performance without compromise
I’ve yet to encounter an Alienware machine that didn’t perform excellently and the new m17 is no exception. The i9-9980HK processor with eight physical cores and sixteen hyperthreading cores is a veritable beast that chews through everything like a flaming chainsaw through butter.
In Geekbench 5, the m17 scored 1172 and 6288 in single and multi-core tests which are way above other laptops that have the i7 processor. The performance gains continue with Cinebench r20 scoring 2641. And thanks to the new 6-phase CPU voltage regulation and 8-phase GPU voltage regulation, you can overclock this beast for even more performance. The new cooling system does get loud but successfully keeps the m17 running at top speed with no throttling.
3D and gaming performance from the Geforce RTX 2080 MaxQ chip is also fantastic. UniEngine Heaven scores 2087 while 3DMark11 Firestrike and TimeSpy scored an impressive 17309 and 8015 respectively. Comparing that with the beastly Alienware Aurora R9 desktop which has an RTX 2080 Super, we’re looking at a very close 18% speed difference. So you are definitely getting your money’s worth with the m17.
Gaming at esports speed
So what this all means is that gaming on the m17 is beyond reproach. The RTX 2080 MaxQ paired with the 144Hz 1080p display is honestly a little overkill. Everything in my test suite ran effortlessly with ultra settings. This makes sense since Alienware targets a lot of their range towards the needs of esports pros like Team Order whom they sponsor.
Gears 5 was surprisingly the worst performer which puzzled me as it scales really well across all GPU’s. It must have a specific issue on my end but I couldn’t figure it out. Usually, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the worst performer but as you can see, it ran great.
Even at the highest settings, you can see how close the RTX 2080 MaxQ gets to fully utilising the 144Hz display. Turn settings down just a wee bit and you’ll be flying along at 144fps easy. I believe that once connected to an external monitor, the m17 can easily achieve playable 4K in most AAA titles.
I’ve always wished I could aim in games just by looking at the area on the screen. Enter Tobii Eye-Tracking. A set of cameras below the screen track every movement of your eyes and translate that into action on the screen. This could be controlling the camera, aiming in games or controlling the screens dimming.
Setting it up is really easy. The Tobii Experience app asks you to look at different dot points and after that, it’s got a lock on your eyes. I tried it In Shadow of the Tomb Raider first. You can use Tobii to use Lara’s raider sense to highlight objectives. You can also move the camera around and assist in aiming. It can be a little wonky at times but overall, it works. It’s not faster than your mouse but in the future, it could be a great way to game.
Outside of gaming, Tobii adds some helpful functionality around Windows OS. It can help save battery life by turning off the display when you aren’t looking at it and back on again when it detects your gaze. A handy feature is the mouse warp which basically teleports the mouse cursor to where your eyes are focused.
Sadly, with all this awesome eye-tracking tech, the m17 doesn’t have Windows Hello support which unlocks the laptop by recognizing your face. Perhaps Alienware will implement this in future iterations as this is a missed opportunity.
Ports & connectivity
The Alienware m17 R2 is clearly a powerful machine that would make a perfect hub for a multi-monitor content creation, gaming and streaming setup. It has a generous helping of connection ports for all your peripherals and devices. For video, you have HDMI 2.0b and DisplayPort 1.4 which are both capable of pushing 4K at above 60Hz. There’s also Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier Port to easily connect to an eGPU if you aren’t satisfied with the onboard graphics performance.
And for peripherals, there’s at least four USB 3.1 ports, one with PowerShare tech for fast charging your phone and a ThunderBolt for data transfers of up to 40Gbps. There’s also the standard fast Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 (2×2) and Bluetooth 5.0 and if you prefer cables, there’s an RJ45 port for some gigabit ethernet. If there’s anything missing here, it’s an SD card reader which is invaluable for content creators.
For audio, the m17 has a 3.5mm combo jack to attach your speakers, headsets or microphones. It’s also got a pair of decent-sounding speakers on the front of the chassis. They get loud but lack the breadth of range. They will get the job done but I’ve definitely heard better speakers on Asus laptops.
Battery is predictably bad
I keep hoping to one day actually report that battery life on a gaming laptop is great but not today. I wasn’t able to get more than two and a half hours from a full battery. I even turned down the screen brightness to about 10% and disabled the RTX 2080 via the Nvidia Control panel. Now, this isn’t how most people would use the laptop anyway.
I also suspect the 8-core i9 processor is a big culprit in addition to the AlienFX lighting. While you can turn off the lighting, you can’t do the same for the processor. Forget about doing any gaming on the battery — you could probably manage 30-40mins before draining the battery. In order to create a thin and powerful laptop, some compromises have to be made and the battery is usually it.
Alienware is probably betting that most consumers will leave the m17 plugged in as I did for most of the time. This beastly laptop is better suited to being a desktop replacement than a mobile warrior.
Should you buy it?
The new Alienware m17 r2 in our test unit configuration will set you back a brain-melting $5,300 on Dell.com. That’s a crazy amount of money but this is an impressively capable laptop. Alienware has iterated on a winning formula and the new m17 is truly the stuff of legend. You get one of the most beautiful and unique designs anywhere.
And it’s not just a pretty face. The m17 absolutely kills everything from gaming to productivity to content creation. Video editors and animators will appreciate the 8-cores of power the processor provides and gamers will be delighted. Sure, for the price, you can buy a more powerful desktop-like Alienware’s own Aurora R9. You’d get an i9-9900K, RTX 2080 Super and still have $1000 for a monitor and peripherals. But then, you wouldn’t be able to take that on the train to work.
So yes, if you can afford it and aren’t concerned with battery life, the Alienware m17 r2 is one of the best gaming laptops money can buy right now and you won’t regret your purchase.
The Alienware m17 r2 was loaned to PowerUp! by Alienware ANZ for the purpose of this review.
Alienware m17 r2 Review - Truly Legendary
Product Name: Alienware m17 r2
Product Description: Alienware 17-inch gaming laptop
Offer price: 3699