Monday, October 21, 2013

Alienware 17 Review


 Alienware's got a brand-new swag. The company's latest gaming powerhouse is simply dubbed Alienware 17. Starting at $1,499 ($2,799 as configured), this laptop sports a drastic redesign that's sure to turn heads. Even better, this rig is outfitted with a fourth-generation Intel Haswell processor and Nvidia's latest and greatest GeForce GTX 780M GPU, promising unparalleled power. The end result is one sexy and screamingly fast beast.


Alienware's new design falls somewhere in between "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Tron." Our eyes were immediately drawn to the pair of colorful strips running diagonally across the center of the lid. After we finished gawking at the pretty lights, we took the whole lid in and took some time to admire the notebook's new two-toned aesthetic.
Instead of being swathed in a solid, soft-touch finish, the majority of the lid is made from gray, anodized aluminum, with a thick band of black, soft-touch plastic lining the top. Alienware also softened the angles and rounded out the edges throughout the design. For example, the company's trademark alien head sits along the midline of the top panel. The midline across the top of the lid looks more subtle than on previous models.
The bottom of the lid tapers and wraps around the chassis. The ornate speaker grills along the front edge of the notebook have also undergone a make-under, replaced by a pair of understated grills accented by a thin strip of plastic.
Opening the 17 is like watching fireworks: full of oohs and ahhs. The 17's interior is the inverse of the lid, plying us with loads of luxurious, black, soft-touch finish and a thick strip of gray aluminum. Located in the top-left corner of the deck, the glossy power button glowed warmly, thanks to Alienware's elegant lighting.
Weighing 9.2 lbs., the 17.9 x 12.9 x 2.26-2.23-inch 17 is a beautiful but thick behemoth. This machine easily dwarfs the 8.4-lb., 16.85 x 11.34 x 2.17-inch MSI GT70.


Alienware 17Speaking of lighting, Alienware has gone above and beyond the call of fabulousness, wrapping a strip of light around the sides of the notebook and backlighting the touchpad. The effect looks cool under our fluorescent lighting, but the 17 really shines (pun intended) when the lights go off. We configured the notebook to cycle through a series of colors and effects, turning the notebook into a light show that would make KISS jealous.
The keyboard and the Alienware logo in the bezel still light up as well. Users can customize all of the above using the AlienFX section of the Alienware Command Center.
Just like on the previous generation, users can choose from one of 13 preloaded lighting profiles or create their own custom profiles. Creating a profile is fairly easy: After selecting the New Theme option, users can assign 20 colors to each of the notebook's 10 zones.
Alienware 17The fun really begins when you add the Morph and Pulse effects. The Morph effect cycles between two designated colors. Pulse makes the lights flash on and off at a set tempo. A profile can be as basic or complex as you want. Best of all, you can program set when your profile activates using the AlienAdrenaline utility.
Alienware has also partnered with several popular game developers that have agreed to create custom profiles for specific titles. The company currently offers 60 titles, including "Metro: Last Light," "Orcs Must Die 2," and "Hotline Miami."


Alienware 17Gazing into the Alienware 17's 1080p display is like taking the first steps out of Plato's cave: It's dazzling and vivid. The 17.3-inch anti-glare screen delivers sharp detail with wide viewing angles. Text on Clutchmag.com and Kotaku.com looked quite crisp.
A 1080p mountain-view image was simply gorgeous, accurately displaying various shades of greens and blues. In a side-by-side comparison, the Alienware 17 and the GT70 offered nearly equivalent display performance. However, the 17 had a slight advantage due to gentler gradient transitions and more accurate color.
Alienware 17Who knew the jungle could look so inviting? We had to take a minute to appreciate the lush, thick foliage rendered in "Tomb Raider." The trees cast realistic shadows on the jungle, creating sun-dappled clearings. The mist from a nearby waterfall delivered realistic mist particles that condensed on Lara's skin. The red of ages-old pagodas popped against the thick, green leaves and bright, blue sky for some much-appreciated contrast.
The 1080p "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" trailer was full of vibrant pinks, blues and golds. Details were sharp enough to see the pinstripes in Nathan Fillion's suit as well as the intricate design on his tie.
At 307 lux, the Alienware 17 outshines both the 249-lux desktop replacement average and the 240-lux display of the GT70.


Alienware took a "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to audio on the 17, once again equipping its notebook with Klipsch speakers. The front-mounted speakers are certainly powerful, and easily filled our room with full-bodied, balanced audio.
Robin Thicke's uptempo dance track "Blurred Lines" delivered snappy snares, clear keyboards, a strong bass line and enough cowbell to satisfy our fever. When we compared it against the GT70, it was no contest: Audio on the 17 was louder and clearer, easily overpowering the GT70's Dynaudio speakers.
We were awash in immersive audio as we played "Tomb Raider." The set music was nice and clear, but the score didn't overwhelm some of the more nuanced sounds of the game, such as the swirling winds or the creaking of dilapidated wreckage. We could hear Lara Croft groan in pain as she dealt with injuries as clearly as we could hear the staccato rhythm of a semi-automatic weapon.
The speakers get a huge assist from Dolby's Home Theater v4 software. Each of the settings (Music, Game and Movies) delivered optimal audio for their intended scenarios.

Keyboard and touchpad

Alienware 17Alienware's traditional keyboard continues to be the gold standard when it comes to gaming notebooks. The traditional keyboard spans the width of the deck and includes a full number pad. Above the number pad are four additional keys for macros.
The large, black keys delivered firm, snappy feedback. The keyboard maintained its bounciness as we put the hurt on a few psychos in "Borderlands 2." In the more mundane world of typing, we notched 60 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing test -- a new high for us.
Alienware 17The 17's programmable touchpad is a sight to behold. After we settled on a suitable color palette (a mesmerizing, purple-and-green morphing profile), our fingers glided across the 4 x 2.25-inch Synaptics touchpad. Multitouch gestures -- such as pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll and rotate, three-finger press and flick -- were quick and responsive. The pair of discrete mouse buttons was snappy and had strong feedback.


While the 17 dissipates heat well during everyday activities, it gets a bit toasty when you're gaming. After streaming a full-screen video on Hulu for 15 minutes, the touchpad and underside of the notebook measured 89 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, and the space between the G and H keys was slightly warmer, at 90 degrees. Each measurement was below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
After a 15-minute play-through of "Tomb Raider," the touchpad and space between the G and H keys measured 83 and 92 degrees. Both are acceptable, but the bottom reached an unpleasant 99 degrees. However, we don't envision many people using this machine on their laps. Also, steer clear of the bottom-right fan; it blew a scorching 140-degree air.


Alienware 17 WebcamThe Alienware features a 2-MP webcam that captures images in Creative Live! Central software. We were pleasantly surprised to discover the camera captured images and stills in 1080p. We noticed a little blurriness in our test shots, but the camera still managed to get the shine from our sequined shirt as well as some of the flyaway hairs on our head.
The webcam also works with the FastAccess Facial Recognition software. Once the system learns your face, it can be used -- in lieu of a password -- to unlock the laptop, social networking accounts and other websites.


Alienware 17It just wouldn't be a gaming notebook without a slew of ports. Along the right side of the Alienware 17, we found a slot-loading Blu-Ray player, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a 9-in-1 card reader and Gigabit Ethernet. There's another pair of USB 3.0 ports on the left, with a Mini DisplayPort, a security lock and jacks for headsets, headphones, a mic and the AC adapter. Alienware has combined the HDMI-in and HDMI-out into one port along the left side.

Gaming and graphics

Alienware 17The Alienware sports Nvidia's most powerful laptop GPU yet -- the GeForce GTX 780M -- coupled with 4GB of dedicated video memory. That means the 17 can tear through the latest games as easily as LeBron James drives through the paint. During our "Tomb Raider" play-through, we saw very good average frame rates of 179, 61 and 40 fps on the Low, Normal and Ultimate settings, respectively.
As we played the game on Ultimate, we enjoyed watching the wind through Lara's hair almost as much as we enjoyed watching her dispatch crazed hostiles. The 17 never stuttered, even when there were 10 or more enemies on the field with Lara.
The notebook notched 5,903 on the 3DMark11 benchmark, smashing the 3,925 desktop-replacement average. However, it wasn't enough to outdo the MSI GT70, which scored 7,352 with the same GPU.
On the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the 17 delivered a whopping 144 frames on Good at 1080p, slightly below the GT70's (1080p) 146 fps and the 173 fps desktop average. When we made the leap to maximum settings, the 17 delivered 103 fps at 1080p -- enough to top the 91 fps category average, but not the GT70's 105 fps.
When we pulled out the big guns on the "BioShock Infinite" benchmark, the 17 barely broke a sweat. At 1080p on low, the notebook registered 106 fps, demolishing the 60 fps desktop-replacement average as well as the GT70's 70 fps. On Ultimate, the 17 notched 35 fps, skirting by the 31 fps average. The GT70 rebounded, scoring a solid 44 fps.


Alienware 17The Alienware 17 packs quite a punch, thanks to its fourth-generation 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ processor with 16GB of RAM. The notebook easily streamed an episode of "Codename: Kids Next Door" from Netflix while running a system scan with 14 open tabs in Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer.
We saw a respectable score of 5,492 from the 17 on the PCMark 7 benchmark -- enough to best the 4,193 desktop-replacement average. However, the Alienware couldn't topple the MSI GT70 and its 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU, which scored 6,025.
The 17's 256GB mSATA SSD and 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive booted Windows 7 in 35 seconds, matching the category average. The GT70's dual 128GB SSD and 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive blazed ahead, loading Windows 8 in 9 seconds.
During the File Transfer Test, the 17 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 28 seconds, for a transfer rate of 181.8 MBps. That's well above the 106.9 average, but short of the GT70's score of 462.7 MBps.
When we ran the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the 17 paired 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 42 seconds, faster than the 4:51 category average. The GT70 clocked in at 4:01.

Battery life

Alienware 17It's fair to say that the Alienware 17 won't spend much time away from an outlet, but at least its battery life is respectable. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the 17 lasted 4 hours and 9 minutes, just 2 minutes shy of the 4:11 average and 10 minutes behind the MSI GT70's time of 4:19. However, the 17's predecessor, the M17x R4, lasted a longer 5:19.

Software and warranty

Alienware 17 Alien FXAlienware doesn't weigh down the 17 with apps. However, the company does include a modest suite of alien-themed utilities under the Alienware Command Center. In addition to AlienFX, the lighting customization utility, there's AlienTouch to adjust touchpad sensitivity and Alienware TactX to configure the macro keys.
AlienFusion enables users to create custom power profiles, while AlienAdrenaline creates custom shortcuts that will perform a specified set of actions at startup or when a game is launched. AlienAutopsy handles the diagnostic side of things, running scheduled system checks. Last but not least is AlienRespawn, which lets users create backup discs to protect precious data.
Skype and a one-year free trial of McAfee LiveSafe are the only third-party applications preloaded on the 17.


Our $2,799 configuration of the Alienware 17 features a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ processor with 16GB of RAM, 256GB mSATA SSD with a 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M GPU with 4GB of VRAM and a 1080p anti-glare display.
The $1,499 base model has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 675M GPU with 2GB of VRAM and a 1600 x 900 anti-glare display.


Alienware 17Alienware has outdone itself -- again. The Alienware 17 grabs your attention with its captivating redesign and enhanced lighting catches, while the bright, full-HD screen draws you into the best games on Earth. Then, you get hit with the one-two punch from the Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M GPU -- a killer combination.
However, the Alienware 17 isn't the fastest rig in its class. For the same price as our $2,799 configuration, you can get the MSI GT70, which isn't as flashy but outperforms the Alienware in some tests due to its dual SSDs. However, the 17 offers a brighter display, better audio and more fun lighting options. It looks and sounds more badass. Overall, gamers looking to invest in a rig with the best mix of style and power need look no further.

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