Alienware m17 R3
The Alienware m17 R3 (starts at $1,649.99) is a premium gaming laptop aimed at hardcore enthusiasts. With no core functionality differences, it's quite simply a big-screen version of the recently reviewed Alienware m15 R3—like with the Razer Blade 15 versus the Blade Pro 17, merely a choice of display size for high-end, hardcore gamers. The m17 R3 maintains the brand's unique sci-fi styling, and the power of our pricey $3,409.99 configuration tops the charts in this price tier. With many configuration options and the advanced features that gamers are looking for, this is one of the best 17-inch gaming laptops available. Only the cost of its top models and our test unit's disappointing battery life keep it from claiming an Editors' Choice award like its m15 R3 kin did.You Alienware It Well: A Signature Sci-Fi DesignIn terms of design, this is simply a larger version of the Alienware m15 R3 in every way. The design language is identical, as are the aesthetic flourishes and layout of the display and inputs. It boasts the same modern styling as the m15 and the Alienware Aurora desktop, with a black-and-white (officially named Lunar Light) color scheme and some honeycomb ventilation. The rear thermal and port hub is ringed with a customizable LED light, while the individual keys and power button also offer customizable lighting. The overall effect is a laptop that looks like it's from the future, or at least the set of a sci-fi TV show. Not everyone will like this very modern, stylized take, but I prefer it to many gaming laptop designs. It's at least unique, with a clear design vision that doesn't go over the top for me. Of course, the Alienware m17 has a bigger footprint than its downsized counterpart, measuring 0.88 by 15.7 by 11.6 inches (HWD). That's not too bulky for a big-screen laptop, though its 6.5-pound weight certainly limits its portability. It's not impossible to take on the road, but you won't want to make it a daily driver—you'll definitely notice it weighing down your bag. It's heftier than the slim Razer Blade Pro 17 (0.78 by 15.6 by 10.2 inches, and 6.1 pounds), but trimmer than the monstrous Acer Predator Helios 700 (1.6 by 16.9 by 11.8 inches, and 10.6 pounds). As for the build quality, the body is made of a soft-touch plastic that, while not metal, feels sturdy and high quality. The keyboard quality is solid—the keys lack any satisfying feedback or click, but aren't mushy despite a decent amount of travel. The RGB backlighting looks especially nice against the white chassis as well. The touchpad is similarly good, but nothing to write home about; its glass surface ensures smooth tracking, but it's on the smaller side. The included ports offer plenty of options. The left flank of the laptop includes one USB 3.1 Type-A port, a headphone jack, and an Ethernet jack, while the right side hosts two more USB-A 3.1 ports and a microSD card slot. The rear holds the rest, including the power connection, an HDMI port, a mini DisplayPort connection, and a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3. There's also a proprietary port for Alienware’s external graphics amplifier. Roomy 300Hz Screen Outside, Top Components InsideNext up is the display, which again mirrors the m15 R3. The bottom display bezel sits at the top edge of a tall hinge, so the actual display begins a few inches above the keyboard deck. The bezels are glossy black and all thin, which contributes to keeping the laptop's overall footprint relatively small. A 720p webcam sits in the center of the top panel, which seems like a given, but several recent Asus gaming laptops have lacked this basic feature. The 17.3-inch screen itself provides full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) resolution and a 300Hz refresh rate, making it a great match for gaming. The resolution is much less demanding than a 1440p or 4K screen, so, even though the components in this system could play at those higher resolutions, playing at 1080p will allow for much higher frame rates. That pairs well with the 300Hz screen, so you can actually see triple-digit frame rates in games where that's possible. Only less visually demanding competitive multiplayer games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and League of Legends will see frame rates that push the limit of the screen, but that's a large chunk of the market. Single-player AAA games can still benefit from the greater-than-60Hz screen, but frame rates are likely to be "only" between 100fps and 200fps. (See exactly how this laptop performs in the testing section below.)Before we get there, though, let's take a look inside this system. The $1,649.99 starting price for the m17 R3 nets you an Intel Core i7-10750H processor, 16GB of RAM, an AMD Radeon RX 5500M GPU, a 256GB solid-state drive, and a full HD (1080p) display with a 140Hz peak refresh rate. Our configuration, though, is much pricier at $3,409.99 (though a sale on Dell's site knocked it down to $3,018.39 at publish time). For that, you get a Core i9-10980HK processor, 32GB of memory, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super GPU, and 1.5TB of solid-state storage—two 512GB SSDs joined in RAID 0, plus a third 512GB M.2 drive. Our model also has the 300Hz display and per-key-programmable instead of zonal RGB keyboard lighting.Alienware offers plenty of other configuration options in both prefab and customizable models. Our unit is certainly on the high end, near fully equipped (it lacks the 4K screen option and even more storage), but you are getting a lot for the price. Let's see how these premium parts perform.Testing the m17 R3: A Chart-Topping GamerTo test the performance of all of our review systems, we run a suite of standardized benchmark tests. I gathered the Alienware m17 R3's results into the charts below, along with the scores from four competing rigs. You can see their names and basic specs in the table here. Before the results, I'd like to note that the default CPU performance in the Alienware Command Center software is set to an automatic boost. I left it on this setting, letting the computer automatically determine the right overclock and using that for this tests. This is the default setting out of the box, and what the software recommends without manually pushing everything to max. Fan speeds got much louder at fully boosted performance, and the gains weren't worthwhile.Productivity, Storage, and Media TestsPCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system's boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. (See more about how we test laptops.) The m17 R3 was the winner in PCMark 10, posting a much better score than the rest. It shares the most potent processor in the group with the Asus ROG Strix Scar 17, so that is to be expected, even if PCMark doesn't push CPUs to their limits. This translates to very fast everyday performance, with absolutely no problem running many browser tabs and multiple programs at once. As for PCMark 8, the SSDs in all of these systems ensure speedy boot and load times.Next is Maxon's CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC's suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that's highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It's a timed test, and lower results are better. We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. These media tests push the processor much further than PCMark 10, but the m17 R3’s chip still excels. (Having 32GB of memory doesn’t hurt, either.) It ties or trades wins with the other Core i9 system, but other than that, it's a step above the rest. If you're interested in using this machine for needs beyond gaming, such as media editing (and for those shopping at such a high price point, it's not uncommon), this laptop is up to the task. If you're only interested in gaming, a Core i9 is mostly overkill, and you could save money for very similar performance with a Core i7 CPU.Graphics TestsOn to 3DMark, which measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores. Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it's rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario for a second opinion on each laptop's graphical prowess. This is where we get into the core purpose of this system—raw 3D power. The unfettered GeForce RTX 2080 Super soars in this laptop, comfortably beating the downtuned Max-Q version of the RTX 2080 and the step-down RTX 2070 in these synthetic tests. These are better measures of pure 3D capability than gaming frame rates, but of course we have those too...Real-World Gaming TestsThe synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it's hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world gameplay at various settings. We run them at 1080p resolution at the games' medium and best image-quality settings (Normal and Ultra for Far Cry 5 under DirectX 11, Medium and Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider under DirectX 12). Fortunately for this laptop, those results translate very well. It's at the top of the heap here, with average frame rates well over 100fps even at maximum settings. You'd expect no less from an RTX 2080 Super, granted, but you are getting what you pay for. There's a clear jump between GPUs in the hierarchy, making the Alienware's an appealing if expensive option for shoppers prioritizing top-of-the-line performance. The most demanding AAA games will see dips from these heights, especially if you enable ray-tracing in compatible games, but you can still expect 60fps minimum.Meanwhile, less strenuous competitive multiplayer games (especially at medium or low settings) will see much higher frame rates, which should capitalize on the 300Hz display. To test this, I ran Rainbow Six: Siege's built-in benchmark, and it confirmed that this machine is an excellent performer for these scenarios. On the maximum settings preset (with one change, turning render scaling from 50% to 100% at full HD), the system averaged a blistering 262fps. On the lowest settings, which are commonly chosen in these types of games to maximize frame rates, the m17 R3 averaged 324fps, a rare case of frame rates even exceeding a 300Hz display. This is wild overkill for many, but appealing to the enthusiast competitive crowd.In general, the fans get fairly loud while gaming, but that's hardly out of the ordinary. Given the performance and relatively slim chassis (despite the fact that the GPU isn't a Max-Q version), Alienware seems to have done a nice job on the thermals.Battery Rundown TestAfter fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the same Tears of Steel short we use in our Handbrake test—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits. Battery life is a definite weakness of this laptop. The 15-inch version didn't fare much better, and the beefier components here drained power even faster. A 17-inch laptop isn't one you expect to travel with much (nobody this side of Lou Ferrigno would choose this as an ideal daily commute companion), and a gaming rig even less so, so poor battery life doesn't conflict with the machine's core purpose too much. Still, it can be frustrating if you like to take your laptop to your couch for a couple of hours.The Best in Power and Style...If You Can Afford ItThe Alienware m17 R3 configuration we received is a total powerhouse, posting top marks across the board. That's to be expected at this price and with these components, but Alienware clearly put together an effective system.Beyond that, the laptop is nicely designed, both physically and aesthetically, and highly configurable. Not all models need to be as pricey as ours, so we won't complain too much about the cost—the system is aimed at elite gamers, after all. Much like its 15-inch sibling, the m17 R3 stands out from the pack with its design, offers many options, and really only lacks in battery life. However, even if you don't look that hard, you will see some strong competing 17-inch rigs out there, making the Alienware a bit less of a standout in its class than its smaller counterpart. Given that notebooks in this class aren't very portable, you may prefer a slightly heftier but more novel design such as the Editors' Choice-award-winning Acer Predator Helios 700, with its unique sliding keyboard. If you prefer a more traditional laptop build, the Alienware m17 R3 joins the Razer Blade Pro 17 as a strong option, but neither innovates quite enough to cop our top award.
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