What a difference a few centimeters make. Although the Alienware 17 desktop replacement gaming laptop isn’t much smaller than theversion we recently reviewed, it looks like a very different beast. If the 18-inch model was a huge tank that rolled across my desk like a conquering army, the 17-inch version felt more like a standard big-screen laptop. Not exactly portable, but never before seen in size and weight.
While less impressive as a conversation piece, the smaller frame (obviously, it’s a relative term here) is more ergonomic and easier to use when gaming, browsing the web, or even on those rare occasions when it has to go to a backpack or under the arm for transit.
Compromises include a smaller screen, albeit with the same 1,920×1,080 resolution, a single video card compared to the power-hungry SLI setup in the Alienware 18, and fewer hard drive options if you want to mimic the 512GB SSD in addition to a 750GB HDD in the Alienware 18, you’ll need to replace the optical drive bay.
When it comes to 17-inch gaming laptops, you have more choices than the 18-inch size. In addition to Alienware, Origin PC, Maingear, Toshiba, Asus and others all produce similarly configured 17-inch laptops and most of them at around $ 1,500 for decent, but not mind-blowing specs. Our Alienware 17 adds a high-end Core i7 processor, top-of-the-line Nvidia GeForce 780M, a Blu-ray player, and a 256GB SSD / 750GB HDD storage combo, for a total of $ 2,699. A hefty investment, sure, but nothing quite like the $ 4,000 more Alienware 18.
If you don’t want to spend as much as our more expensive Alienware 18, the 17-inch version is a bit more portable, while still delivering excellent gaming performance. Your main alternatives are to build or buy a non-portable gaming desktop or get a similar 17-inch system from a boutique PC manufacturer. In the latter case, the trade-off is between the Alienware’s excellent chassis design and construction and the boutique-level practical customer service and overclocking you can get from a smaller PC gaming specialist.
|Price||$ 2,699||$ 1,799||$ 4,449|
|Screen size / resolution||17-inch screen, 1,920 x 1,080||17.3 inch 1,920 x 1,080 screen||17-inch screen, 1,920 x 1,080|
|PC CPU||2.7 GHz Intel Core i7 4800 MQ||Intel Core i7 2.4GHz 4700MQ||3 GHz Intel Core i7 4930MX|
|PC memory||16GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||16GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||16GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M 4GB||Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 3GB||(2) Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M. from 4 GB|
|storage||256GB SSD + 750GB HD||256GB SSD + 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive||(2) 120GB + 750GB SSD|
|Optical drive||BD-ROM||Blu-ray DVD burner||None|
|Network||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b / g / n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
Design and features
While the Alienware 17 and Alienware 18 differ only by an inch in screen size, the overall physical difference between the two systems is significant, as the larger Alienware 18 can accommodate two video cards and multiple hard drives at the same time. The 17-inch frame is 1.8 inches thick, while the 18-inch version is up to 2.5 inches deep. This is especially important as the 18-inch Alienware’s keyboard sits higher than the desktop and I’ve had some ergonomic issues with this. The 18-inch model weighs 12.3 pounds without its brick-like power cord and 15.5 pounds with it, while the Alienware 17 weighs 9.4 pounds alone and 11.4 pounds with the power cord , still heavy but considerably lighter.
Aside from the difference in size, the two Alienware look almost identical. The latest general overhaul of the Alienware design projects the system as a thick matte black plate, its monochromatic color interrupted only by the typical kitschy Alienware light show. Closed, it absorbs light, not completely blending in with the background, but still unpretentious for a thick, heavy black laptop with colored lights and an alien head logo on the back of the lid. The rock-solid construction feels very high-end in the hand, and I particularly like the soft-touch finish.
The biggest advantage of the 17-inch model over the 18-inch model is comfort. The larger Alienware is so thick that the keyboard tray sits 1.75 inches above the desk. For gamers who spend a lot of time with their fingers hovering over the WASD keys, this can mean that the arm and wrist are raised at an awkward angle, made worse by the system’s sharp-angled front edge and how far back the keyboard is from the edge.
In the Alienware 17, the keyboard tray is only 1.25 inches tall (at the front, slightly raised at the back), which makes a big difference. The keyboard is also closer to the front lip and I had less trouble getting my hands comfortably on the all-important WASD keys.
Aside from that, the keyboard and touch pad will be familiar to anyone who has seen the latest generation 14-inch and 18-inch Alienware systems. The large keys are slightly tapered at the top to prevent accidental keystrokes. They have satisfying depth, and the large Shift, Control, and other keys often used in PC games are well placed for in-game use. A full numeric keypad is on the right, but this model loses the row of user-definable macro keys found to the left of the keyboard on the Alienware 18.
The backlit touch pad is a good size and keeps the physical left and right mouse buttons separate, rather than using a new clickpad-style surface. But for gamers, that’s probably a moot point, as you’re likely to use an external mouse for all your serious gaming.
As expected by Alienware, the chassis lights up in all interesting ways, with a backlit keyboard, the Alienware logo, an illuminated alien head on the back of the lid, and a few other areas. All of these can be controlled from the Alien FX Control Panel, a software app that allows you to choose from preset themes or create your own, with different colors for each backlit zone. It’s not much more than a pretty party trick, but I particularly like the way the touch pad is fully backlit, can glow in one of two dozen colors, and glows when touched.
Any big screen gaming laptop lives or dies based on its display. This 17.3-inch screen has a native resolution of 1,920×1,080 pixels, which is what you’d expect from a gaming laptop. However, the smaller, less expensive systems, from the MacBook Pro to the Lenovo Yoga 2 to the Toshiba Kirabook, all have higher resolutions, up to 3,200×1,800 pixels, and it’s not unreasonable to ask forward-thinking gaming laptops to follow suit. .
The 14-inch and 17-inch Alienware laptops both have matte displays, while the recently reviewed Alienware 18 has a glossy display (all with the same 1080p resolution). I personally prefer the matte look to reduce glare and eyestrain, but that’s not a problem anyway. The Alienware 17 looks good when gaming, but I admit I used it right after the 18-inch version left me a bit of an envy of the screen size.
|video||HDMI and mini-DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, (x2) headphone / (x1) microphone jack|
|Data||3 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Network||Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|