Alienware m17 R4 Review – Incremental improvements

The Alienware m17 R4 is quite simply, an incremental improvement to an already excellent gaming laptop. When Alienware introduced the m17 a few years ago with the new Legend Industrial design, it was fresh and unlike any other gaming laptop – even to this day. The m17 R4 doesn’t mess with a winning formula which is fine since the look is still very striking even after four generations. 

The main changes are hidden from view but you can definitely feel it. Alienware updated the m17 from a 300Hz display to a bonkers 360Hz display mated. Graphics are of course provided by the powerful new Nvidia GeForce RTX 30-series chips. And thanks to various little improvements to cooling and phase power management, the m17 R4 packs the highest TDP versions of Nvidia’s GPUs for excellent gaming performance.

And you know what else hasn’t changed? The price tag. Alienware machines have never been considered budget – look at the Dell G-series laptops for that. Our review unit with an Intel i9-10980HK, 360Hz 1080p display, RTX 3080, 32GB RAM and 2TB SSD will set you back a credit crunching $6,450. So, is it worth it?

Alienware m17 R4 Review

Let’s get the design and build out of the way first. The R4 is practically identical to its predecessors which means it’s gorgeous, well-built and downright impressive to behold. The Luna Light colorway works very well at evoking images of Alien movies with those stark white space interiors that foretell horrific space death to follow soon. 

Alienware says it used a High-performance Clear Coat which keeps the white paint pristine and I can confirm it works as advertised. I never noticed oil or fingerprint smudges and even with the coat, I could still feel the delicious magnesium alloy underneath. The etched Alienware branding on the lid and a glowing logo are delightful flourishes. The laptop is also impressively skinny at 0.87 inches at its thickest. It’s also just 2.5Kg which isn’t very heavy for a 17-inch gaming laptop. 

The signature LED ring on the back of the sturdy book hinge is still one of the most iconic designs on any laptop. The ring and all other lighting are customisable via Alienware Command Center for countless variations. Port selection remains generous with plenty of USB 3.2 ports, Thunderbolt 3, Gigabit Ethernet, Mini DisplayPort, HDMI 2.0 and Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier port. Basically, everything a power user needs for on-the-go mastery. I’m still a big fan of the power port and display ports being on the back of the laptop as it makes desk cable management all the easier. I wish more laptops would adopt this design. 

The keyboard deck is still capacious with the best non-mechanical keys on any laptop I’ve ever used. The large keys are easy to hit and satisfying thanks to their generous 1.7mm travel which belies how skinny the laptop is. The keys are so good I actually prefer them to many desk keyboards I’ve reviewed. I was disappointed that Alienware didn’t send me the R4 with the new Cherry MX mechanical keyboard though — it would be awesome to see how that compares to the standard keyboard. 

The trackpad is fine, I guess. It doesn’t do anything better than the competition and besides which, you’ll be using a mouse most of the time anyway. The R4 has a webcam which is also just fine though I really wouldn’t use it for streaming.  I’m also disappointed that Windows Hello functionality is missing on such an expensive machine. I’d love to see a fingerprint scanner or IR scanner at least. 

Gaming thoroughbred 

But the 17.3-inch display is where your eyes will spend the most time and this is where Alienware flexes a bit. The panel is a FHD 1080p panel with an astounding 360Hz refresh rate and 5ms response time. It boasts 100% sRGB and hits a peak brightness of 300nits which is plenty for most things. I didn’t test how it fares in bright outdoor settings but I don’t expect most people will be using their massive laptop out in the bright sun. 

The panel is also G-SYNC certified so screen tearing and stuttering is never going to be a concern. Games run, dare I say, buttery smooth, thanks to the sheer power of the RTX 3080 which is already overkill for 1080p gaming. But I will say, if you are a creative or content creator, the 4K 60Hz panel option is a better bet. My dream panel for gaming and content creation would be the new QHD, 1440p with 165Hz refresh that’s coming later this year on the m17 R5.

Speaking of gaming, the m17 excels as you’d probably expect in large part thanks to the 165W RTX 3080 which is one of the highest configurations available on a laptop. The R4 was able to outperform the Asus Strix GA15 desktop PC that has an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X and an RTX 2070 Super. It clearly shows the impressive strides Nvidia has made with this new generation of laptop GPU’s. 

Pretty much all the games in my test suite ran above 100FPS with the highest of high settings with only ray-tracing causing the numbers to drop. I was still able to get ray-traced games to run at 60FPS so if that’s your thing, have no worries. But as always, the question is can you game at 360FPS to match that screen? Well, not without some compromises to overall visual quality especially in AAA games. 

I was able to hit 260FPS in Doom Eternal and no more than 200FPS in Apex Legends. Lowering settings would get you close to 300FPS but beyond that you’d be playing in potato mode. Games like CS:GO and Valorant should have no trouble hitting those speeds though so if those are your type of game, you’re in luck. 

And that’s the crux of the matter. Should you really pay $6000 for a laptop that has a 360Hz display that you can’t actually utilise without lobotomizing your games visual quality? I don’t think so and I’d suggest most buyers stick with the 144Hz FHD display and save hundreds of dollars in the process. Nevertheless, the m17 R4 is indeed an excellent gaming machine. 

Excellent thermals, terrible battery

Now of course, a great gaming laptop that is as skinny as the R4 means lots of heat and noise and despite all the improvements in thermal design, the R4 still gets plenty hot. And loud. The fans can be distractingly loud often leading my wife to give me very dirty stares from across the living space which is about 10ft. If you use headphones, it’s not a problem but don’t think you’ll play in the office or library without anyone knowing full well what you’re doing. And for God’s sake don’t play with this on your lap if you value your body parts.

Alienware continues to offer owners the flexibility of overclocking thanks to its unique power management. The Alienware Command Center offers a fairly simple interface to tune both CPU and GPU performance as well as fan curves. As impressive as the out of box performance is, you can still tweak things to your particular fancy. The system offers various levels of protection so you won’t end up with a very expensive paperweight if you go too far in your fiddling. 

At the end of the day though, this is still a laptop that uses a battery and with this much power, longevity is a concern. Unfortunately, battery life on the m17 R4 is just abysmal. I got about an hour and a half out of the battery with very modest use and similar results using the PC Mark 10 battery test. And if you try to game on the battery, don’t expect it to even reach an hour. This is shockingly bad for a laptop of this size and price. 

The Gigabyte Aorus 17G at least lasts 4-5hours on a charge so I’m really disappointed here. What’s worse is the humongous power brick needed to power this beast that weighs almost as much as the laptop. I wouldn’t want to carry that literal brick around in a bag for fear of the immense shoulder and back strain the combined weight would cause.

Verdict

As I said at the start of this review, the Alienware m17 R4 is an incremental improvement over the R3. The new RTX-30 series GPUs are truly impressive and Alienware doesn’t skimp by giving users the anemic versions. But besides that, there isn’t much new to compel an upgrade if you have an older model. Wait for the R5 with AMD Ryzen CPU and Cherry MX keyboard. 

Then there’s the brand tax that comes with the Alienware name. $6000 is a hell of a lot of money in a world where machines like the Asus Zephyrus G15 exist at almost half the price and yet still offer a hell of a lot for the money. I don’t expect that to change as Alienware is a premium brand but in these tough times, it’s really hard to justify spending over $3000 for a gaming laptop. 

In saying all that, I can’t also deny that the Alienware m17 R4 is a fantastic gaming laptop. 


Alienware ANZ loaned the Alienware m17 R4 to PowerUp! for the purpose of this review.

Alienware m17 R4 Review
If it aint broke
LIKE
Still gorgeous
Exceptional performance
Best in class keyboard
Plenty of room for overclocking
DISLIKE
Terrible battery
Very pricey
9

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Kizito Katawongahttp://www.medium.com/@katawonga
Kizzy is our Tech Editor. He's a total nerd with design sensibilities who's always on the hunt for the latest, greatest and sexiest tech that enhances our work and play. When he's not testing the latest gadgets or trying to listen to his three whirlwind daughters, Kizzy likes to sink deep into a good story-driven single player game.

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