Last year, Dell refreshed the 17.3-inch Alienware 17, complete with a 6th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia 10-series graphics and – perhaps most interestingly – Tobii infrared eye recognition technology.
Now that Intel has finally released gaming-grade versions of its latest “Kaby Lake” processors for gaming laptops, you can finally purchase an Alienware 17 R4 and enjoy it at its full potential.
In traditional Alienware fashion, this magnificent monster is decked out in LEDs and ranks top-notch in performance. If it weren’t for the mediocre battery life and noisy fans, the Alienware 17 R4 wouldn’t be far off from perfection. Still, price for performance, Dell’s biggest Alienware laptop remains competitive with the wildly more expensive .
Price and availability
The Alienware 17 R4 is available in the US as well as the UK and Australia, though its starting specs and prices vary drastically.
In the US, you can score the cheapest model for $1,299, equipped with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ, a 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card (GPU), 8GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD. Considering the GPU can’t be replaced over time, this configuration is tough to recommend at such a steep cost.
In the UK, however, you can expect to pay at least £1,549 for the Alienware 17 R4 for roughly the same specs with the exception of the GPU. Instead of a 1050 Ti, the default build contains an AMD Radeon Radeon R9 470 with 8GB of GDDR5 VRAM. Unless you customize it yourself, both the US and UK Alienware 17’s max out with an Intel Core i7-7820HK, an 8GB GDDR5X GTX 1080, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive (HDD) for $2,299 and £2,149, respectively.
If you live in Australia, this laptop will set you back a minimum of $2,798 for a middling 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, an Intel Core i7-7700HQ, 8 gigs of system memory (RAM), 1TB of hard drive storage and a 128GB solid-state (SSD) boot drive. The most expensive pre-configured model is $4,998 and packs an Intel Core i7-7820HK, a GTX 1080, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD paired with a 1TB HDD.
At TechRadar, we were sent a built-to-order model that would theoretically cost $2,699 (£3,017, AU$5,369) for the absolute highest-end components available.
While laptops, like the , might lead you to believe otherwise, the Alienware 17 R4 does boast a thinner chassis due to what Dell calls its ‘Hinge Forward’ design. This design pushes the heatsinks from underneath the keyboard to the rear of the device.
Despite allowing for better thermal design power (TDP) and a slimmer profile, this choice also makes the Alienware 17 R4, for lack of a better description, loud as all hell. While playing more demanding triple-A titles, like and Nier: Automata, the fan volume can be a bit distracting, especially without the aid of noise-cancelling headphones.
Otherwise, all the ingredients you’ve come to expect from an Alienware laptop remain intact. With 12 LED-backlit zones in total, everything from the Alienware 17 R4’s svelte edges to its trackpad can be customized to one of 20 different shades and colors.
These look especially attractive surrounding the tri-sectional engraving on the lid of the machine, where the Alienware 17 R4 reminds us most of Dell’s monolithic . The only disappointment there is that – aside from the ominous extraterrestrial on the back – much of the glitz doesn’t carry over from the front.
There’s plenty to love about the inputs on the Alienware 17 R4. Although there are no mechanical switches on the table, the upgraded Alienware TactX keyboard makes the best of what it has to offer.
N-key rollover, for instance, will appeal to those looking to pull off tricky combos and shortcuts without any concern that their keypresses won’t be recognized. What’s more, Dell claims that this is the only laptop keyboard there is bearing 2.2mm of key travel. In short, you shouldn’t have to worry about accidental keypresses or your commands not being recognized.
Both the keyboard and the trackpad feel uncharacteristically comfortable for a gaming laptop. If a lack of portability due to its sizable weight and dimensions isn’t a concern, then you can rest easy knowing the Alienware 17 R4 is just as suited for work as it is for play.
Trackpad trials and tribulations
It should be noted that, while forums online will suggest otherwise, there’s an annoying default trackpad setting that can be disabled. It’s called palm rejection, and it limits your ability to use the trackpad while any key is pressed. You can find it and turn it off in your computer’s additional touchpad settings under sensitivity, if you plan on gaming without a mouse.
That said, gaming with a trackpad is almost always advised against. So, if you’re spending over a grand on a new gaming laptop already, definitely consider shelling out just a fraction of your funds on a new as well.
As expected, the Alienware 17 R4 model we were sent for review was nothing short of exceptional in benchmarks. Even next to the $3,699 or £3,499 (about AU$5,070) Razer Blade Pro and the $3,637 (about £2,940, AU$5,010) , the Alienware 17 R4 goes strong for a fraction of the price.
While the Alienware 17 R4 beats out both Origin and Razer’s offerings in nearly every 3DMark test as well as Cinebench and Geekbench, it couldn’t quite keep up with the Razer Blade Pro in our movie test, wherein we loop Guardians of the Galaxy at half brightness until the computer dies.
It also didn’t score quite as high in GTA V benchmarks as the Origin EON17-X, but there’s no denying the Alienware 17 R4 is the better value compared to its nearest 17-inch competitors. No, the $2,699 (£3,017, AU$5,369) price tag won’t afford you a 4K screen in addition to the internal specs of the build we were sent, but given what we know now, it’s probably just as well.
The Alienware 17 R4 is further evidence that 4K at Ultra settings is but a pipe dream right now. Even at 1080p, this high-end system couldn’t manage Deus Ex: Mankind at much more than 20 frames per second (fps), much less 60. While you can buy a version of this same laptop with a 4K Ultra HD screen, the 1440p display we have here was more than enough for today’s games.
For games and movies, the screen on the Alienware 17 R4 looks fantastic from every angle, largely as a result of the the anti-glare, “matte”-style glass used on the display. It’s crisp and colorful and doesn’t appear as washed out as other panels like it. Unfortunately, the Tobii eye-tracking featured underneath isn’t nearly as enthralling.
In Deus Ex, you can more precisely control your aim with your eyes, but that’s more nauseating than novel. We couldn’t use it for more than a few minutes at a time without feeling lightheaded. Most of the games that feature Tobii eye-tracking don’t seem to showcase it in any profound way, either. Luckily, you can shave off $75 (£100, AU$114) by foregoing this feature.
Battery life blemishes
The real worry for us wasn’t how well the Alienware 17 R4 could perform but for how long. As it turns out, this behemoth could only handle 2 hours and 13 minutes in our PCMark 8 battery test while, in our movie test, the battery life was exhausted after a middling 3 hours and 19 minutes. That doesn’t even account for gaming, where you can expect even more feeble results.
Though these numbers are notably average for a gaming laptop of this caliber, they pale in comparison to budget and mid-range offerings, like the and the . If there’s one area where high-performance gaming laptops need to start playing catch-up, it’s in the battery life. After all, what’s the point of a laptop when it’s confined to a charger?
If you do opt for a lower spec, sub-GTX 1080 configuration of the Alienware 17 R4 and you’re concerned about battery life, there is the option on Dell’s website to upgrade from the default 68 Wh battery to the 99 Wh version used in our review unit. It will only set you back $50 (AU$50), albeit not in the UK where this offer doesn’t stand.
Unfortunately, that’s the highest Wh battery you can get, so if you want the highest specs possible from your Alienware 17 R4, that comes with the cost of compromising on longevity.
The Alienware 17 R4 is not only one of the most powerful 17-inch gaming laptops you can buy, but considering similarly specced options, it’s also one of the most economical. Pitted against the Razer Blade Pro and Origin EON17-X, the Alienware 17 R4 is a better deal, even if the model we reviewed didn’t include a 4K display.
Unsurprisingly, Dell has graced us once again with a wide range of configurations to choose from, with everything from the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti to the GTX 1080 available in its slimmer-than-ever chassis. You can even mix and match various other components as you see fit in every one of the default systems available from the Dell website.
Those facets, combined with splashy appearances and a keyboard that you can actually use for both games and work, make the Alienware 17 R4 a gem to behold.
Like other laptops in its class, the Alienware 17 R4 doesn’t exactly impress when it comes to battery life. While 2 – 3 hours might be par for the course with most gaming laptops, it’s time for Dell’s Alienware lineup to step its game up and aim for the 4-to-8-hour battery life of the Razer Blade and Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming.
Also, despite being easily disabled, it’s pretty confusing that palm rejection would be turned on automatically. Playing games with a trackpad isn’t ideal, but for those without a mouse on-hand, it’s still nice to have the option without the cursor being locked at keypress.
Lastly, the fans are too noisy to concentrate while gaming or writing, leading us to enter power saver mode on numerous occasions. Something to keep in mind if you plan on using this laptop regularly without a noise-cancelling headset.
If you’re in the (arguably pretty niche) market to buy a 17-inch gaming laptop, the Alienware 17 R4 is a fine catch. It can’t compete in portability with Nvidia’s new Max-Q gaming laptops due to its still-massive build, but for the same price, you’re getting a faster, overclockable processor, a higher resolution screen and 1TB of additional storage space.
The $2,699 (£3,017, AU$5,369) asking price for this model isn’t a small sum of cash, but you won’t get much better than the Alienware 17 R4 for the price. Plus, you can always start lighter on the SSD storage and RAM and upgrade those later by simply cracking open the bottom panel and inserting your new components – somewhat of an anomaly in today’s laptop space.
All in all, the Alienware 17 R4 is a compact desktop replacement, but isn’t advisable for users constantly on the go. Undeterred by its imperfections, this gaming notebook is just as pleasant to operate for work as it is for play, and it isn’t hard on the eyes either.
By Gabe Carey
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