Dell’s Alienware brand has been the gold standard in big, bulky, ultrapowerful laptop design for many years. With distinctive styling, ostentatious lighting and an unashamed shirking of thin and light designs, Alienware’s laptops are designed to deliver excellent gaming first and foremost.
This is exemplified by the fact that when it launched a new range of designs to coincide with the recent launch of Intel’s Haswell processors, it proudly stated that the new products were thicker and heavier than the previous generation, with concern being firmly placed on delivering great performance first, rather than following the rest of the industry down the path of thin, light contortionistic touch-focused designs.
It is a refreshing philosophy, but it is also one being followed by Alienware’s competition, which includes everyone from manufacturers like Asus, MSI and Gigabyte, all the way through to the OEM based designs being sold like local players such as Pioneer and Venom.
This month we have the 17inch variant of Alienware’s new lineup in the labs, imaginatively titled the Alienware 17. As with most of Dell’s lineup, it comes in a myriad different configurations and specifications, with a pricetag ranging from $2499 for a model with a Core i7-4700MQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, 750GB HDD and GeForce GTX765M, through to $4299 for one with an overclocked Core i7-4900MQ, 32GB RAM, 64GB SSD, 1.5TB RAID 0 array and GeForce GTX 780M. The model we have tested straddles these extremes. It packs a Core i7-4800MQ, 16GB DDR3, 1.5TB RAID 0 setup and a GeForce GTX 770M. This all drives a gorgeous matte 1920 x 1080 screen.
The new Alienware chassis is a beautiful piece of design. Big, brash and angular, it is coated with soft touch rubber, striped with configurable LED lighting. The keyboard is springy and responsive, and thankfully Alienware has toned down its weird keyboard font a bit, making the lettering much easier to read than previously. The trackpad is highly responsive (the reality is that most of the time this laptop will be used with a gaming mouse), but we do find the fact that it lights up when used something of a pointless gimmick (this can be configured in software and isn’t so much a downside as a head-scratcher). The hinge is solid, requiring effort to open, but sitting rigidly in place once this is done. The lid is strong, with little flexibility and a rubber strip near the edge, designed to stop dust accumulating inside when the laptop is closed.
Alienware has also updated its power brick to be a bit less bulky than what is usually included with a gaming laptop – this small weight reduction doesn’t suddenly make this laptop a pleasure to lug around all day, but it shows the thought being put into the laptop design.
In terms of performance we really can’t fault the Alienware 17. Its CPU was capable of pumping out a score of 1.03, almost the same as a desktop Core i7-3770K. As expected from a design focused on performance over portability we only saw it lasting a touch over two hours in our light use battery benchmark – just remember to never stray far from a power source with the Alienware 17.
Gaming performance was, as expected, excellent. We saw great framerates in our benchmarks, with our very high detail crisis test running at an eminently playable 40fps. Suffice to say that this laptop will take any modern game in its stride, and it will do so while looking very pretty indeed.
The only real reason we have to pause, and the thing ultimately keeping the Alienware 17 from the top of the A-List is the price. There is a huge amount of competition in the gaming laptop market, and for the tag slapped on the Alienware 17 you could probably get a more powerful solution – Gigabyte’s P25W delivers great gaming at a noticeably lower pricetag, and Razer’s updated Blade will deliver a little less performance for less money, but comes in a much more portable form factor.
Alienware still delivers a great product with a striking design and very robust build quality. But you pay for the Alienware brand, and if you just want the best bang for your buck then we suggest you will want to shop around a bit. If money isn’t an option though, this is a seriously good, if not quite great, gaming laptop.