A lienware has come a long way since it first landed back in 1996. Gone are the luminous-green laptops and giant alien skulls: the new Alienware 17 R2 oozes class. With its soft-touch matte-black and gunmetal-grey case, sharp contours and chopped-off corners, it’s a beast, but a handsome one. Certainly it looks more sophisticated than gaming rivals such as the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro.
It’s slimmer too, at 37mm thick versus the MSI’s 58mm, although it’s no lighter: weighing a considerable 3.7kg, it feels rock-solid across every millimetre of the sturdy chassis.
For those who still crave a bit of bling, multicoloured LEDs shine along the front edge and lid, and beneath the keyboard and touchpad. Each area can be lit in different colours – pinks, reds, purples and blues – or turned off completely.
The entry-level specification, at $2,499, gets you a Core i7-4710HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400rpm hard disk and GeForce GTX 970M graphics. For $1787 more, you can upgrade to the specification we have here, with a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-4980HQ, 8GB of RAM, both a 256GB M.2 SSD and 1TB hard disk, plus a 4GB GeForce GTX 980M.
Our review unit came with a non-touch, matte-coated Full HD display (a touchscreen will cost an extra $220). Brightness hits an impressive 347cd/m2, and contrast tops out at an equally respectable 972:1. Colours do appear slightly muted to the naked eye: in our tests it covered only 86.4% of the sRGB colour gamut, with an average Delta E of 3.91 and a maximum deviation of 8.5.
Still, there aren’t any noticeable response-time issues, the IPS panel provides a wide viewing angle, and the matte coating doesn’t introduce any unwanted graininess.
In use, the Alienware 17 is screamingly fast. It scored a strong 1.1 in our benchmarks, and stormed through our Very High quality Crysis test (run at 1,920 x 1,080) with 85fps – 12fps smoother than MSI’s Dominator Pro. At 2,560 x 1,440 and Very High detail, it fell just one frame behind the MSI with an average of 57fps. Only when we pushed up the resolution to 4K did the frame rate drop to a less than smooth 26fps.
If even that won’t do, you can invest in Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier – a $349 external chassis with a PCI Express x16 slot and its own 460W power supply that lets you hook up a full-sized desktop graphics card to a compatible Alienware laptop. For those looking to dump a desktop PC, this could be the killer feature of the new Alienware range.
Aside from that, connectivity is as good as you could ask for: you get four USB 3 ports, an SD card reader, HDMI 1.4 and mini-DisplayPort 1.2 outputs, Gigabit Ethernet and a pair of 3.5mm audio jacks. Bluetooth 4 and 802.11ac make the cut, too.
On the underside, an entry panel provides access to the single 2.5in hard drive bay, the two RAM slots, the Wi-Fi card and four (yes, four) M.2 slots. In our review unit three of those slots were free, but there’s no native RAID support, and no second pair of RAM slots for easy memory upgrades either. In addition, the onboard GPU is soldered onto the board, so the upgrade path is restricted.
If such things are important to you, the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro remains a strong rival: while nowhere near as pretty as the Alienware 17, it boasts better upgradability and comes with the option of up to four SSDs in RAID.
Ultimately, it comes down to which laptop fits your needs best. The MSI easily wins out on expansion and upgrade potential, while the Alienware combines gorgeous looks and better battery life with the option for future expansion via the novel Graphics Amplifier. It’s a tough call to make but, if you’re seeking the ultimate in laptop gaming, the Alienware 17 deserves to be on your shortlist.