Alienware 17 R4 (2017) Review & Rating

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The Alienware 17 R4 (starts at $1,299.99; $3,118.99 as tested) combines the same top-notch design as its 15-inch sibling with cutting-edge components, a larger screen, and plenty of extras for one of the most formidable gaming laptops on the market. With Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics and plenty of processing power, the Alienware 17 is among the top gaming performers among single-card laptops. As tested, it’s not cheap, but still costs less than the Editors’ Choice Origin EON17-X 10 Series, and Alienware’s generous configuration options allow you to build the machine that fits your needs. While it’s not any more travel-friendly than the EON17-X, the Alienware 17 R4 is our new Editors’ Choice high-end gaming laptop for its features and nearly unmatched power.

Heavy Duty Design

The 17 R4 looks a lot like its recently launched stablemate, the Alienware 15 R3, in just about every way, including an excellent sturdy construction. It’s made of solid anodized aluminum and magnesium alloy on the exterior, while the keyboard deck is rubberized for a soft feel. The lid is silver, but the rest of the laptop is black, a good contrast to the many LED light strips that adorn the chassis. These customizable lights are located on the sides of the body, lid, logos, power button, keyboard, and even the touchpad. That sounds like a lot of lights, but Alienware has used just enough restraint for it look striking rather than flashy.

In no way svelte, the laptop measures 1.18 by 16.7 by 13.1 inches (HWD) and weighs 9.77 pounds, with its chunky power brick adding another 2.5 pounds, which is really pushing portability. Laptops with 17-inch screens are rarely meant as daily commute companions, but this one is particularly difficult to carry. The EON17-X 10 Series measures 1.6 by 16.4 by 11.6 inches and weighs even more at 9.91 pounds, so the R4’s weight isn’t unusual. The Razer Blade Pro fares much better in this regard, at less than an inch thick with a premium look and feel thanks to its anodized aluminum body, but at 7.72 pounds it isn’t the embodiment of portability, either. If you’re looking to go lighter, but keep the 17-inch screen, the HP Omen 17 delivers solid gaming power that’s not quite as heavy at 6.3 pounds, but its plastic body isn’t as high end.

You might be asking, why not just get a desktop? As someone who has opted for gaming laptops for years, the option of moving them around, and the instances you do take them with you—even if infrequent—make it worth it. Even if the laptop isn’t the most travel-friendly, as is the case with the Alienware 17, a built-in screen and smaller form still make it infinitely more portable than a desktop for switching rooms, bringing to a friend’s place, or staying away from home for a few days and wanting to play during your down time. Yes, you can build a PC on your own with individually purchased parts, and a desktop is more powerful, but it’s nice not to have your main gaming machine tied to one location. The Alienware 15 R3’s smaller sibling, the Alienware 13, is a great option for gaming on the go, but you’ll need to make some sacrifices in performance and screen quality.

One of my issues with the 15-inch unit is the maximum 1080p screen resolution. While our 17-inch test model’s screen doesn’t go all the way to UHD (though the option is available when ordering), it does bump up to QHD (2,610 by 1,440). The screen is sharp, as you’d expect at that resolution, and the picture quality is good. You get wide viewing angles since it’s an In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel, and color reproduction is solid. It’s just that the overall picture isn’t particularly remarkable where some gaming screens are stunning, like those in the Razer Blade laptops.

The keyboard and touchpad are as well-constructed as the laptop’s frame, and perform reliably. The keyboard isn’t chiclet-style, so the keys are packed closely together rather than slightly spaced. The latter is more common with modern laptops, so it will probably take a little while to get used to, but it’s no problem once you adjust. The keys have a nice bounce to them that facilitates speedy typing, and there’s enough room for a number pad on the 17-inch model, unlike the 15-inch version. There’s a macro key column on the left, which is customizable using the included Alienware Command Center software, where you can also find the lighting options. The colors of the keyboard and touchpad can be changed in a different tab there, along with the remaining lighting strips and buttons on the laptop. There are 12 locations total.

As with the Alienware 15 R3, the audio quality isn’t the greatest. The speakers get quite loud at full volume, but the larger laptop doesn’t make way for deeper bass or richer sound. Output isn’t tinny, but voices in particular sound somewhat muted or recessed, and the front-facing speakers sound less powerful if you’re not directly in front of them. I was admittedly listening critically to see if there’s an improvement over the 15-inch model. Still, these speakers won’t likely wow you, and you’ll be better served by some nice headphones.

Features and Customization

Given the plentiful physical real estate, the Alienware 17 R4 offers plenty of connection options. The right side holds a USB-C port, a USB 3.0 port, headphone and mic jacks, and a Noble Lock slot (the cable and lock are not included). There’s another USB 3.0 port on the right side, while the rear holds the rest of the ports, including a Killer Ethernet jack, an HDMI port, a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3, the power adapter connection, and a proprietary port for the Alienware external graphics amplifier, into which you can place a desktop graphics card for the laptop to utilize.

The laptop also features Tobii eye-tracking technology and, unlike the 15-inch model’s pared-down version, it’s the full suite. A shiny bar runs along the bottom bezel, behind which is the eye-tracking camera that determines where you are looking. As with the Alienware 15, this can be used to dim the display or put the computer to sleep when you don’t look at the screen after a certain (customizable) amount of time, but there’s more to the full version. It’s integrated into a variety of standard retail games, including big titles like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, The Division, and Rise of the Tomb Raider.

 

Alienware 17 R4 (2017)

 

Depending on the title, Tobii enhances certain elements of the gameplay, but the most common is locking or applying aim assist to the target you’re looking at. In games like Elite: Dangerous, it gives you a wider range of vision, and you can use it to look around your ship’s cockpit. The Tobii site has a list of games that make use of Tobii, and clicking each will explain how it works in that particular scenario. I tried the demo that comes with the software after calibrating it to my eyes, and while it was straining and a bit tiring to look around the environment to blast asteroids, it generally worked. Tobii is optional in the Alienware 17 R4, but it may be appealing enough to add to your order.

There’s plenty of storage in this sizable system in the form of a 512GB SSD and a 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive. That’s the same amount as in the 15-inch unit we tested, so you could argue the larger model should have more, but it’s already quite a bit of space and adding to it would only further increase the price. To compare, the Origin EVO15-S manages to pack in a 512GB SSD and a 2TB HDD. Either way, this is an area where the Alienware excels over the Razer Blade Pro, which only includes a 512GB SSD, and adding more storage is very pricey since there’s no hard drive option.

You can configure the R4 as you order, a boon for gamers who can’t justify the most expensive build and need to tweak some options to find the sweet spot between performance, features, and price. You can change the storage, memory, graphics card, display resolution, and alter a few other extras. At the lowest capacity, you can order just the 1TB HDD, while the lowest dual-drive solution is the 1TB HDD with a 128GB SSD and the highest is a 1TB HDD and 1TB SSD. You can even opt for a triple drive of two 1TB SSDs and a 1TB HDD. The display options range from 1080p up to 4K, graphics cards range from the 1050Ti to the GTX 1080, and RAM goes from 8GB to 32GB. Not every option is available with every other combination of spec, so choose carefully as you order, but the flexibility allows you to build the right system for your needs. Alienware supports the laptop with a one-year warranty.

Pure Power

The Alienware 17 R4 is, in no uncertain terms, a blazing fast laptop. The 2.9GHZ Intel Core i7-7820HK processor is fast and can be overclocked up to 4.4GHz. It’s also packed with 16GB of memory, and an Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics card practically ensures a smooth gaming experience. General performance is excellent, right in line with the EON17-X 10 Series across the board, and ahead of the Blade Pro on a few fronts, meaning it can crunch through any productivity task or multimedia project without much trouble.

 

Alienware 17 R4 (2017)

 

That speed translates to stellar 3D and gaming performance. On the Heaven and Valley gaming tests at native QHD resolution and Ultra-quality settings, the 17 R4 averaged 75 frames per second (fps) and 84fps, respectively. Since 60fps is the target for smooth performance, those are great results, and it soared to an average of more than 120fps when running the same tests at 1080p. I confirmed the results with some real-world testing using Doom running in QHD at the Ultra graphics preset. It ran far over 60fps, often settling between 110 and 130fps depending on the action, with no noticeable hang-ups during frenetic combat. During gaming sessions and the more intensive benchmark tests, the fans did spin loudly while working to cool the system. They weren’t abnormally loud for a gaming laptop, but the volume is constant under load, hopefully your game sounds can help drown out the noise.

 

Alienware 17 R4 (2017)

 

Battery life is, not surprisingly, a weak point. Even as the average battery life for laptops overall has slowly but markedly improved over time, massive, power-packed gaming laptops are the exception. The high resolution and powerful components drain the R4’s battery quickly. It managed 3 hours and 30 minutes on our rundown test, so it won’t last too long away from the charger, especially when you’re playing games. The EON17-X 10 Series only lasted 2:07, while the Blade Pro was slightly better at 3:48, which is the same time as the Asus ROG G752VS-XB78K Overclocked Edition.

Pricey, Premium Performance

The revamped 17-inch Alienware flagship laptop delivers on the expectation of high-end performance, coupled with some premium extras and a sturdy but stylish design. You’ll have to cough up for the fastest components, but the price falls in line with similarly equipped gaming laptops, and features like customizable lighting, Tobii eye tracking, and a full suite of ports sweeten the pot. You can order a configuration that meets your needs and budget, but since our test unit offers nearly unmatched performance and plenty of future-proofing while still costing a few hundred dollars less than the top competitors, the Alienware 17 R4 is our new top pick for high-end gaming laptops.

Source: PCMag