The Alienware M17x-R4 is the fourth incarnation of the company’s high-end 17-inch gaming laptop series. As usual, consumers are left with a choice of several predefined configurations, but true connoisseurs will probably go for a custom configuration. It all boils down to the sheer amount of cash consumers are willing to invest. In this case, we recommend you go for SSD drives, as HDDs really have no place in high-end gaming rigs. The sample we received boasts one of the best configurations available. It is based on a Intel Core i7-3820QM clocked at 2.7GHz, which can hit 3.5GHz on Turbo. More demanding consumers might want to go a step further and pick a Core i7-3840QM, which turbos all the way to 3.8GHz. However, the added performance hardly justifies the higher price.
The M17x-R4 is available with up to 32GB of memory. Our sample featured 16GB of DDR3 clocked at 1600MHz. Needless to say, it was more than enough.
Of course, gaming performance depends on the choice of GPU, and our sample has it covered. It packs a Geforce GTX 680M, the fastest mobile GPU on the planet.
As we already said, a speedy SSD is a must for high-end rigs, desktops and notebooks alike. Every system equipped with an SSD tends to be much more agile and responsive.
The M17x-R4 features two 256GB 6Gb/s SSD drives, courtesy of Samsung, and it supports RAID0.
Gamers on the go need a lot of screen real estate, and the M17x-R4 features a crystal clear 17.3-inch 1080p panel, with WLED backlighting and a 60Hz refresh rate. Other highlights include Kille Wireless-N 1103 a/g/n 3x3 MIMO for Gaming & Video and Bluetooth 4.0, a slot-loading Dual Layer Blu-ray drive and Creative Sound Blaster Recon3Di audio.
We’ll talk about battery life later on, but let’s just say that it is a 90WHr 9-Cell affair. Of course, this is no ultraportable and the charger is a must when leaving the home for any extended period. Apparently Win8 is still not the preferred choice for gamers, so the M17 ships with Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit, which is still a pretty good OS for any gamer.
Alienware’s M17x-R4 weighs about 9.6lbs, or 4.3kg. It sounds scary, but then again let’s not forget what’s under the bonnet. The build quality is impressive to say the least. Everything feels very durable indeed. There are no squeaks, no flex, not even when the lid is up. It is also worth noting that the AC charger weighs almost two pounds, just short of 900g and you will need it quite often. However, we are dealing with a notebook that can outpace most desktops out there.
In keeping with Alienware tradition, the lid features the iconic grey alien head logo. The keyboard is backlit, along with the touchpad. A couple of LEDs illuminate the front.
The 17.3-inch display is excellent and very sharp. Although it is glossy, which becomes very obvious when it is displaying anything dark, the reflections did not bother us much in games. It is pretty good even in daylight. We also liked the edge-to-edge bezel-less glass design.
Alienware also came up with adjustable keyboard backlighting. There are multiple ligtning zones under the keyboard. You can also change the colour of the Alienware logo, front facing lights, and even the WLAN activity LED. Everything is done via the Alien FX tool. LED color changes are almost instantaneous and there are several colors available, so you can have a fun while playing with it.
Alien FX is accessible via a dedicated button placed at the top right corner. Using the same button we can access other useful tools, such as AlienFusion (to adjust the Power Plan), AlienTouch (for TouchPad customization) and AlienAdrenaline (for different gaming modes). In the same row you’ll find a set of standard media buttons.
The alien head placed at the front above the keyboard changes colour from red when plugged in, to yellow when unplugged and you can of course program it as you like.
Aesthetically and haptically the whole working plane, looks great.
The touchpad is big and rather good, but the left button on our sample was a bit tilted, although it was mechanically fully functional. It feels soft to touch and easy to press. The touchpad does what it's supposed to and you can scroll on it, but do not forget to enable scrolling as it is disabled by default. There is still no support for multitouch, which doesn’t bode well for such a pricey system.
Keyboard is comfortable to use, and it's not too noisy. The space bar also looks a bit slat, but it works perfectly. Oddly enough, in some circumstances we came across a bit of flex, which we didn’t expect. Thanks to back illumination you will be able to see what you’re actually pressing at all times, which comes in handy for some after-hours gaming.
The palmrest always stays cool, which is a boon for anyone who plans to spend hours working or gaming on the Alienware. The whole surface is coated by a soft touch material which is not slippery and does not attract too many fingerprints.
We were also quite happy with audio quality. The Klipsch speakers offer rich, crisp and clear sound with good bass, but they could have been a bit louder. However, they are still loud enough to enjoy video or music from across the room, which is not the case with most laptops.
The front features a typical Alienware look, seen in countless previous models. It is instantly recognizable and overdesigned. There’s no other way of saying it, the M17 is huge. It’s 4.5cm thick, so the designers tried a few tricks to make it look a bit less chubby. They went for a sloping design with plenty of straight edges, akin to a stealth jet or a Lamborghini.
On the left hand side you will find two USB 3.0 connectors (painted in black), eSATA, nine-in-one card reader equipped a micro SD slot. Also, there is slot-loading dual layer Blu-ray reader (BD-ROM, DVD±RW, CD-RW). Note that this is custom build and you can get some other optical drives as well.
You won’t come across an HDMI input port on most lappies, but the Alienware actually has one. We tried it out and connected out desktop rig to the Alienware, which was practically transformed into a monitor in the process. You can tinker around with a few HDMI-in settings in the driver control panel.
Displayport, HDMI, and VGA outs are also part of the design. Next to them on the left hand side you will also find two USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit LAN port, S/P DIF, microphone, headset and headphone connector. You can share your movie sound without a splitter, which is a great option for people who fly a lot. Let’s not forget the Kensington lock as it is still there, but the 1394 Firewire port for cameras that many video enthusiasts can find attractive for speedy content transfer is no longer present.
The back side features two huge exhaust vents along with the DC power connector.
The power cable features a blue LED to indicate when it is connected to the power outlet. The LED has no other purpose and it looks more like an aesthetic detail than anything practical.
We already said that the power adapter is pretty bulky. Luckily it is not a brick, it features a somewhat flatter design and it can be easily fitted into a backpack or laptop bag.
The air intake vents are located at the bottom. The one placed at the left takes care of CPU cooling and you’ll get to hear it a bit more often than the GPU fan, which is placed on the right side.
In case you are not sure about the battery levels, the LED indicators come in quite handy. Simply pressing a button located next to the LEDs lights them up and shows you how much juice you’ve got left.
To remove the lid you’ll have to remove the battery and undo two screws.
The smaller two-heatpipe heatsink takes care of CPU cooling, while a three-heatpipe heatsink is placed on top of the GPU. We believe that the CPU could have done with a three-heatpipe setup as well, as it tends to get very hot under high loads.
The Alienware M17x-R4 has room for two 2.5-inch drives. Or sample featured two 256GB Samsung MZ-7PC256D SSD drives.
The 4GB memory modules come from Hynix. They are designated 2RX8 PC3-12800S-11-11-F3 and they are 1600MHz DDR3 modules.
Our benchmarks involved some 1080p gaming with high and very high detail levels, along with the usual suite of synthetic benches.
From the results it is easy to see that the M17x-R4 is a very powerful rig that can cope with very demanding titles. With a bit of tinkering it is possible to get good playable framerates in 1080p.
In Far Cry 3 we were able to max out the detail levels without experiencing any stuttering at 1080p.
Ultra settings proved quite demanding even for the GTX 680M, but on high details we managed to get a playable frame rate.
A bit of reckless racing in Dirt 3 Showdown is possible with all detail settings maxed out at 1080p
A good compromise between detail levels and performance is possible in Hitman Absolution as well.
Metro 2033 was playable at high detail settings without DOF. However, going all out proved a bit too much for the GTX 680M.
3DMark 11 results
PCmarks in excess of 6,000 are usually reserved for top notch desktops, but the Alienware M17x-R4 is meant to be a proper replacement for desktop gaming rigs and it ranks pretty well.
WinRAR is Windows version of the RAR archiver - a powerful tool which allows you to create, manage and control archive files. There are several versions of RAR, for a number of operating environments: Windows, Linux,FreeBSD, Mac OS X. We ran the included benchmark for 10 minutes before we took the results.
7-Zip is open source software. You can use it on any computer. You don't need to register or pay for 7-Zip.Supported formats: Packing / unpacking: 7z, XZ, BZIP2, GZIP, TAR, ZIP and WIM; Unpacking only: ARJ, CAB, CHM, CPIO, CramFS, DEB, DMG, FAT, HFS, ISO, LZH, LZMA, MBR, MSI, NSIS, NTFS, RAR, RPM, SquashFS, UDF, VHD, WIM, XAR and Z.
The Samsung SSDs are not the fastest drives around, but they’re still pretty good performers and they are more than enough for avid gamers.
Battery life is not amazing when it comes to gaming, but for mundane tasks such as browsing and office work, the Alienware can hit up to from three to four hours, depending on power options and CPU load. However, gaming kills the battery fast. Far Cry 3 with maxed out settings can devour it in about an hour. The battery checker is a nice touch, since it can tell you how much battery is left even if the notebook is off.
Power consumption in games can almost hit 200W. Although it sounds like a lot for any laptop, bear in mind that we are talking about desktop-like performance. However, anyone willing to drop a few thousand on a gaming laptop is probably not too concerned by the electric bill.
While browsing or doing some lightweight Office chores the fans are inaudible, although the CPU fan can kick in from time to time. Once you start gaming, the GPU fan joins the fun in no time. However, even when both fans are operating, they are not too loud. It seems that Alienware chose to keep the fans are relatively low RPMs. CPU temperatures can hit 80 degrees Celsius, while the GPU goes up to 70 degrees.
Far Cry 3 gaming
As you can see, some CPU loving applications like 7-zip can raise the temperature to 90 degrees Celsius. In case you are planning to use the laptop in one place for a prolonged period of time, removing the battery will help reduce the temperatures.
The Alienware M17x-R4 is clearly an exceptional and exclusive piece of kit. It’s not the fastest thing around, as there are some SLI and Crossfire systems that can outpace it in terms of sheer GPU brawn.
However, our tests prove that it can cope with all hot gaming titles, in many cases with maxed out detail settings. It is possible to get playable framerates at 1920x1080, although in some cases the detail levels will have to be adjusted.
Aside from gaming, we must say that we were fascinated by the system responsiveness in multitasking, even when dealing with relatively demanding applications. Simply switching from a game to another application is very fast indeed.
The M17x R4 is available in a range of configurations, so getting more performance, or less performance for less money, is possible as well. We didn’t get the fastest model, but it was close. With a top notch quad core processor, a very fast single GPU and SSD storage it practically had not bottlenecks.
Build quality is excellent, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the price, and the price ranges between €2000 and €3000 for most configurations. However, we are dealing with a notebook that can outpace most desktops out there. The high price means that the Alienware M17x R4 will be a rare sight, but it is almost the ultimate notebook for power users.
Of course, although it is primarily designed for gaming, it looks like a good choice for anyone in need of a lot of mobile performance, professionals who need to run a lot of virtual machines, 3D modeling software or do some video editing on the go.