Alienware is a love it or hate it brand. It has built its name on solid ground offering the most premium gaming notebooks you can get. The company dared to stick the most insane hardware inside and still make it look cool. However, times are changing and the biggest names in the industry want to get a piece of the pie. ASUS, Acer, Lenovo, MSI all of them now have their own versions of an absurdly powerful gaming notebooks while still being competitive in terms of pricing. So why are Alienware notebooks still sensibly pricier than its competitors?
If we call Alienware the Apple in the gaming industry, we wouldn’t be wrong. It’s all about the feel of the product, because the hardware isn’t the whole thing the user interacts with. The company proves that with its latest top-shelf 17-inch model, the Alienware 17 R4. It gathers the best and the latest (well, excluding the CPU because they still haven’t updated it to Kaby Lake) of what the industry offers and puts it in a sleek new body while retaining some of the usual Alienware characteristics.
You can find some of the available configurations here: http://amzn.to/2lvLKmj
The notebook comes in a luxurious big, black, Alienware-branded box containing the usual user manuals, the huge and clunky charging brick and the laptop itself.
Design and construction
This year’s 17-inch model receives a total revamp while staying true to its Alienware roots. The notebook will appeal the common gamer as well as to users with more minimalistic and strict taste. And in combination of smart design decisions and excellent choice of materials, we are starting to see why it costs more than its rivals.
As usual, the lid offers slightly decorated anodized aluminum cover that feels rock solid and Alienware’s illuminated logo in the top center. The top edge is covered in plastic so it doesn’t disrupt the Wi-Fi signal as the antennas are in there. Opening the lid brings you that moment of satisfaction when unwrapping your new tech for the first time, thanks to the magnetic snap. This assures the lid stays closed. The hinges are perfectly tightened and allow opening the laptop with just one hand. The weight appears to be well-distributed. A nice finishing touch is the LED-illuminated edges of the lid along with the bottom LED strips at the bottom of the base. The bottom piece is strikingly familiar – the old Alienware 17 looked almost identical – aluminum cover with huge metal vent openings.
The new chassis carries improvement in terms of dimensions as well. Coming from last year’s 34.4 mm, this Alienware 17 R4 feels noticeably leaner with just 29.9 mm profile. However, the R4 has gained weight (from 3.7 kg to 4.4 kg). Just wait until you see how the cooling system looks like and you will understand why it’s so heavy. Anyway, all of the connectors are evenly distributed – on the left you will find one USB 3.0, one USB-C 3.0 connector as well and two 3.5 mm jacks for headphones and external microphone. The right offers just one USB 3.0 for easier access. The back packs the rest of the connectors including LAN, mini DisplayPort, HDMI, USB-C Gen 2 supporting DisplayPort and Thunderbolt 3 and the SD card reader.
Now let’s talk about exhaust vents. The back bulge holds huge heat pipes and radiators for dispersing the heat. The airflow is driven by two big fans and the sides play a role in the cooling as well. The right fan draws cool air from the outside thanks to the vent opening on the right while the left fan spins in the same direction pushing the hot air not only from the back, but from the left side as well. Our stress tests confirm the effectiveness of the current design.
When you open the laptop, you will see mostly familiar design choices. We would have appreciated if the keyboard was moved down closer to the palm rest area so we wouldn’t feel the heat so much but on the other hand, your palms will rest comfortable on the big wrist rest area. We liked the added stability to the tray, because we noticed serious flexing in last year’s model. In general, but the touchpad and keyboard remain the same. Long key travel, customizable RGB illumination with separate zones, and 6 programmable macro keys. Still no media control, though. The ergonomic shape and overall fell of the keyboard will prove useful for typing and gaming. It’s hard to miss the LED-illuminated futuristic touchpad – excellent gliding surface, accurate, responsive and slightly mushy dedicated mouse buttons.
What stands out from the matte, black, soft-touch plastic interior is the glossy strip on the top of the keyboard along with the LED-backlit power button in the shape of the logo. In addition, the bottom bezel of the screen looks slightly bigger than usual and that’s because it houses the latest Tobii eye-tracking sensors for more immersive gameplay. We will get to that later.
The whole minimalistic and strict design makes the laptop stand out in the crowd of aggressive-looking gaming laptops these days. It’s a bit of fresh air with extra attention to details. The build quality itself is impeccable and combines premium materials for extra durability and good feel. It’s also noticeably thinner than before but the added weight from last year kind of ruins it.
Disassembly, maintenance and upgrade options
Unlike last year’s Alienware, which was extremely hard to disassemble, the 17 R4 offers easy but time-consuming access to the internals and upgrade options. For the most commonly upgraded hardware, you only need to remove the bottom aluminum cover. This will grant you access to the Wi-Fi card, two M.2 PCIe NVMe-enabled SSD slots, one 2.5-inch HDD and two RAM slots.
But if you need to access the cooling system for some spring cleaning or for a battery replacement, well then you have to ready yourself with some patience. First, remove all the screws around the black plate and then remove the two screws near the rear vent openings. Gently pull out the plastic rear of the notebook and proceed with the newly discovered screws. Detach all the cables that might get in the way of prying it up. Also, the two Wi-Fi antennas are attached right next to the screen hinge and go along the bottom LED strips. Just unscrew both antennas and you are good to go.
Storage upgrades – 2.5-inch HDD/SSD, 3x M.2 SSD
The tested configuration shipped with a 2.5-inch HDD from HGST spinning at 7200 rpm combined with a 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD from Toshiba. The other two M.2 SSD slots are available for an upgrade – one of the slots supports the standard 2280 sizes while the other needs a 2260 stick.
|M.2 slot 1||256GB PCIe NVMe Toshiba THNSN5256GPUK (2280)||Upgrade options|
|M.2 slot 2||Free||Upgrade options|
|M.2 slot 3||Free||Upgrade options|
|2.5-inch HDD/SSD||HGST 1TB HDD @7200 rpm||Upgrade options|
After a full disassembly of the machine, we found out that the motherboard holds only two RAM slots, which is two slots short compared any other high-end gaming laptop currently on the market. This means only 32GB of DDR4-2666 RAM, which should be more than enough for the common user and gamer. However, if you plan to do some video editing on the go with the Alienware 17 R4, consider this shortcoming.
|Slot 1||SK Hynix 8GB DDR4-2666||Upgrade options|
|Slot 2||SK Hynix 8GB DDR4-2666||Upgrade options|
The Wi-Fi module can be found near the left (with the bottom facing upwards) cooling fan and it’s Killer 1535.
As usual, the battery is located right under the palm rest area and we were surprised to see a monstrous 99Wh battery pack, which, by the way, is the largest allowed on a mobile device that can be carried on an airplane.
The cooling system seems pretty solid as you can see for yourself in the photos below. There are two big heatsinks for the CPU and GPU and three heat pipes connecting them to the cooling fans. What seemed to intrigue us was the cooling method. The right fan draws cool air from the outside and pushes it into the system while the right fan spins in the opposite direction catching the hot air and leading it out. This is done using openings on the left and right side of the laptop. The rear radiators, however, contribute the most for dissipating the heat.
The Alienware 17 R4 comes in different screen configurations and it really depends on your usage and type of needs. You can go for the standard Full HD version that doesn’t feature Tobii’s Eye Tracking technology but offers an IPS display with better viewing angles. The second variant is the UHD option, which goes along with the Tobii Eye Tracking but excludes the much-needed G-Sync option. The latter is also absent in the Full HD model. However, the sweet spot, in our opinion, is the display we are currently reviewing. It has Tobii Eye Tracking, it has QHD resolution (the sweet spot for NVIDIA’s Pascal-based GPUs) and supports G-Sync and has exceptionally fast refresh rate of 120Hz, which will be very useful to hardcore gamers. Be aware, though, this variant comes with a TN panel, but before you think this is a deal-breaker for you, just wait to see the results from our tests. It’s definitely not your ordinary TN panel.
The notebook comes equipped with a TN AUO B173QTN panel with QHD (2160×1440) resolution in a 17.3-inch diagonal offering 0.15 x 0.15 mm pixel pitch and 170 ppi of pixel density. It can be considered as “Retina” when viewed from a distance equal or greater than 50 cm.
The interesting thing about this TN panel is that it offers good viewing angles in horizontal tilt but the color shift is noticeable when tilted towards you, as you can see from the image below. It sure doesn’t offer the excellent viewing angles the standard IPS panel would, but in this case, the color shift isn’t very noticeable. Quite impressive for a TN panel.
More surprises here. The panel is actually incredibly bright. It’s so bright that it’s comparable to some high-end UHD IPS IGZO displays and even beats the standard Full HD IPS panels we are used to seeing in high-end 17-inch laptops. The maximum brightness in the center of the screen is 410 cd/m2 while the average across the surface is 377 cd/m2 with around 15% deviation. The latter isn’t alarming but should be taken into consideration considering the price point of the product. The color temperature is 7800K so colors will appear a bit colder than usual. This isn’t necessarily bad but we found that the as we go along the grayscale below 100% RGB, the color temperature starts to rise significantly. For example, at 75% RGB, the CCT (Correlated Color Temperature) is almost 10000K and continues to rise as we go below 75% RGB. The issue can be resolved by using our custom profiles. Unfortunately, here’s where the TN panel drags behind the IPS alternatives – it offers only 650:1 contrast ratio, which isn’t all that bad for a TN panel but it’s low considering the class of the laptop.
The maximum dE2000 (color deviation) compared to the center of the screen at 100% RGB is 3.9 in the lower right corner. Values above 4.0 are unwanted.
To make sure we are on the same page, we would like to give you a little introduction of the sRGB color gamut and the Adobe RGB. To start, there’s the CIE 1976 Uniform Chromaticity Diagram that represents the visible specter of colors by the human eye, giving you a better perception of the color gamut coverage and the color accuracy.
Inside the black triangle, you will see the standard color gamut (sRGB) that is being used by millions of people in HDTV and on the web. As for the Adobe RGB, this is used in professional cameras, monitors etc for printing. Basically, colors inside the black triangle are used by everyone and this is the essential part of the color quality and color accuracy of a mainstream notebook.
Still, we’ve included other color spaces like the famous DCI-P3 standard used by movie studios, as well as the digital UHD Rec.2020 standard. Rec.2020, however, is still a thing of the future and it’s difficult for today’s displays to cover that well. We’ve also included the so-called Michael Pointer gamut, or Pointer’s gamut, which represents the colors that naturally occur around us every day.
We were surprised to see such wide sRGB coverage from a TN panel. Our hardware confirmed 93% sRGB coverage in CIE1976, which is enough for multimedia and gaming.
Below you will see practically the same image but with the color circles representing the reference colors and the white circles being the result. You can see main and additional colors with 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% saturation inside the sRGB gamut pre and post calibration.
We’ve created the Office and Design Work profile with a target luminance of 140 cd/m2, D65(6500K) white point and 2.2 gamma.
We tested the accuracy of the display with 24 commonly used colors like light and dark human skin, blue sky, green grass, orange etc. You can check out the results at factory condition and also, with the Office & Web Design profile.
The next figure shows how well the display is able to reproduce really dark parts of an image, which is essential when watching movies or playing games in low ambient light.
The left side of the image represents the display with stock settings, while the right one is with the Gaming & Movie Nights profile activated. On the horizontal axis, you will find the grayscale and on the vertical axis – the luminance of the display. On the two graphs below you can easily check for yourself how your display handles the darkest nuances but keep in mind that this also depends on the settings of your current display, the calibration, the viewing angle and the surrounding light conditions.
In this regard, the display appears to be well calibrated and it’s excellent for multimedia purposes and gaming. However, there’s a considerable deviation in the gamma curve at around 1.9. Our Gaming and Movie Nights profile takes care of that.
Gaming capabilities (Response time)
We test the reaction time of the pixels with the usual “black-to-white” and “white-to-black” method from 10% to 90% and reverse.
We recorded Fall Time + Rise Time = 12 ms. This is an excellent result for a gaming laptop so even hardcore gamers will find it hard to notice the 12 ms response time.
PWM (Screen flickering)
Pulse Width modulation (PWM) is an easy way to control monitor brightness. When you lower the brightness, the light intensity of the backlight is not lowered, but instead turned off and on by the electronics with a frequency indistinguishable to the human eye. In these light impulses the light/no-light time ratio varies, while brightness remains unchanged, which is harmful to your eyes. You can read more about that in our dedicated article on PWM.
We are pleased to see that the laptop’s screen doesn’t use PWM for regulating screen brightness and will be suitable for long hours of work/gaming.
Blue light emissions
Installing of our Health-Guard profile not only eliminates PWM but also reduces the harmful Blue Light emissions while keeping the colors of the screen perceptually accurate. If you’re not familiar with the Blue light, the TL;DR version is – emissions that negatively affect your eyes, skin, and your whole body. You can find more information about that in our specialized article on Blue Light.
You can see the levels of emitted blue light on the spectral power distribution (SDP) graph.
The display won’t appeal to everyone and some users might consider the use of TN panel on such high-end laptop a huge deal-breaker. However, our thorough tests suggest otherwise. The display’s only real weakness is the color shift in front tilt and low contrast ratio. Anything else is on par or even better than most IPS panels currently used for notebooks. As a gamer, you can benefit from the crisp resolution, wide sRGB coverage, well-calibrated NBS, super-fast response time (12ms) and refresh rate (120Hz) paired with the much-needed G-Sync chip and, of course, the exceptionally high maximum brightness. The absence of PWM is another great plus if you plan on spending hundreds of hours in front of the screen.
In our opinion, this particular configuration with the QHD TN panel is the best one you can get compared to the standard FHD variant and the UHD panel. Of course, if you are planning on using the notebook mainly for content creation, video edit or another type of color-sensitive work, the UHD model with IGZO IPS panel will be a more suitable fit for you. You can take a closer look at the panel in our previous Alienware 17 R3 review.
Buy our display profiles
Since our profiles are tailored for each individual display model, this article and its respective profile package is meant for Alienware 17 R3 with 17.3″ AUO B173QTN (QHD, 2160 × 1440) TN, which can be found on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2m2VEc8
*Should you have problems with downloading the purchased file, try using a different browser to open the link you’ll receive via e-mail. If the download target is a .php file instead of an archive, change the file extension to .zip or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about the profiles HERE.
In addition to receiving efficient and health-friendly profiles, by buying LaptopMedia's products you also support the development of our labs, where we test devices in order to produce the most objective reviews possible.
Office work / Web design
If your field is office work or web design, or you just want your monitor's color set to be as accurate as possible for the Internet color space, this profile will prove to be useful.
Gaming or Movie nights
We developed this profile especially for occasions on which you spend a lot of time in front of your monitor with some games or watching movies – it will be easier for you to discern fine nuances in the dark.
This profile reduces the negative impact of pulsation and the blue spectrum, securing your eyes and body. You still get a pitch-perfect color image, albeit slightly warmer.
The notebook’s sound is excellent and we noticed only small distortions in high frequencies.
The specs sheet provided below is for this model only and may vary depending on your region or configuration.
|CPU||Intel Core i7-6820HK (4-core, 2.70-3.60 GHz, 6MB cache)|
|RAM||16GB (2x 8192MB) – DDR4, 2666MHz|
|GPU||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)|
|HDD/SSD||256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD + 1TB HDD (7200 rpm)|
|Display||17.3-inch QHD (2560×1440) TN, matte|
|Connectivity||LAN 10/100/1000 Mbps, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Thickness||29.9 mm (1.18″)|
|Weight||4.42 kg (9.74 lbs)|
The provided laptop offered a pre-installed Windows 10 (64-bit) and we used it for our review. But if you wish to perform a clean install of the OS without the bloatware, we suggest downloading all the latest drivers from Dell’s official website.
At first, we were really glad to see that GPU-Z is recognizing the integrated HD Graphics 530 of the Core i7-6820HK because we thought it is going to be the main driver for web browsing and light tasks. However, after running the usual tests, the results don’t seem to support this theory. We expected impressive battery runtimes due to the monstrous 99Wh battery unit stuck inside, but instead, we got subpar scores on both – the video playback and web browsing tests. This means only one thing, the laptop relies on the discrete GPU for all tasks while the iGPU remains unused. Probably the G-Sync technology is the one to blame here, as always. It doesn’t get along with NVIDIA’s Optimus (switchable graphics) feature.
In order to simulate real-life conditions, we used our own script for automatic web browsing through over 70 websites.
Unsatisfying result even for a gaming notebook – 267 minutes (4 hours and 27 minutes).
For every test like this, we use the same video in HD.
Slightly lower but similar result – 221 minutes (3 hours and 41 minutes).
We recently started using the built-in F1 2015 benchmark on loop for accurate real-life gaming representation.
It’s quite unlikely that you will start a gaming session without being close to a power source, but it’s good to know that you can play less than an hour away from the plug – 54 minutes.
CPU – Intel Core i7-6820HK
Intel Core i7-6820HK represents the Skylake H family and it’s considered a high-performance chip with relatively high consumption – 45W TDP, which matches its little sibling i7-6700HQ. The Core i7-6820HK has four cores ticking at 2.7GHz and can go up to 3.6 GHz for one active core, 3.4GHz for two active cores and 3.2 GHz for four active cores. It has 8 MB Intel Smart Cache, which is the other notable difference when compared to 6700HQ (with 6MB Smart Cache). The silicon supports the so-called Hyper-Threading technology that emulates one virtual core for each physical, thus establishing a total of 8 threads.
Furthermore, the chip is manufactured using a 14nm FinFET process and integrates Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU with 24 EU (Executable Units) clocked at 350 – 1050 MHz. The memory controller supports up to 64GB of DDR3 or DDR4 RAM at 1600 or 2133 MHz respectively. The CPU is suitable for heavy applications and gaming.
You can browse through our top CPUs ranking: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-cpu-ranking/
Here you will find other useful information and every notebook we’ve tested with this processor: http://laptopmedia.com/processor/intel-core-i7-6820hk/
Results are from the Cinebench 11 test (higher the score, the better)
|Alienware 17 R4 Intel Core i7-6820HK (@ 4 GHz) (4-cores, 2.7 - 3.6 GHz)||7.32|
|Alienware 17 R3 (Late 2015) Intel Core i7-6820HK (@ 4 GHz) (4-cores, 2.7 - 3.6 GHz)||7.72||+5.46%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) Intel Core i7-7820HK (4-cores, 2.9 - 3.9 GHz)||8.39||+14.62%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) (overclocked) Intel Core i7-7820HK (@ 3.8GHz) (4-cores, 2.9 - 3.9 GHz)||9.23||+26.09%|
|ASUS ROG G752VS Intel Core i7-6700HQ (4-cores, 2.6 - 3.5 GHz)||7.32|
Results are from the NovaBench CPU test (higher the score, the better)
|Alienware 17 R4 Intel Core i7-6820HK (@ 4 GHz) (4-cores, 2.7 - 3.6 GHz)||799|
|Alienware 17 R3 (Late 2015) Intel Core i7-6820HK (@ 4 GHz) (4-cores, 2.7 - 3.6 GHz)||852||+6.63%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) Intel Core i7-7820HK (4-cores, 2.9 - 3.9 GHz)||893||+11.76%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) (overclocked) Intel Core i7-7820HK (@ 3.8GHz) (4-cores, 2.9 - 3.9 GHz)||1002||+25.41%|
|ASUS ROG G752VS Intel Core i7-6700HQ (4-cores, 2.6 - 3.5 GHz)||815||+2%|
Results are from the Photoshop test (lower the score, the better)
|Alienware 17 R4 Intel Core i7-6820HK (@ 4 GHz) (4-cores, 2.7 - 3.6 GHz)||10.11|
|Alienware 17 R3 (Late 2015) Intel Core i7-6820HK (@ 4 GHz) (4-cores, 2.7 - 3.6 GHz)||9.99||-1.19%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) Intel Core i7-7820HK (4-cores, 2.9 - 3.9 GHz)||9.05||-10.48%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) (overclocked) Intel Core i7-7820HK (@ 3.8GHz) (4-cores, 2.9 - 3.9 GHz)||9.05||-10.48%|
|ASUS ROG G752VS Intel Core i7-6700HQ (4-cores, 2.6 - 3.5 GHz)||10.8||+6.82%|
Fritz is a chess benchmark that tests the computing capabilities of the CPU with various chess moves. The Intel Core i7-6820HK managed to get 14.671 million moves per second. In comparison, one of the most powerful chess computers, Deep(er) Blue, was able to squeeze out 200 million moves per second. In 1997 Deep(er) Blue even beat the famous Garry Kasparov with 3.5 to 2.5.
GPU – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)
The GeForce GTX 1080 is the top-shelf GPU from NVIDIA’s Pascal generation (except for the Titan X Pascal, of course) built upon 16nm TSMC process, which is a huge leap over the last generation (Maxwell), which featured a 28nm node. Anyway, the new architecture allows better thermals, efficiency and considerably higher clock speeds than its direct predecessor the GTX 980. Also, for the first time, NVIDIA has made the difference between the desktop and the mobile variants of the Pascal GPUs mostly unnoticeable in real-life use, although there’s a slight difference according to synthetic benchmarks.
CUDA cores (2560), ROPs (64) and TMUs (213) are identical to the desktop variant of the GTX 1080 since they are based on the same GP108 chip including the memory controller, which is the highlight of the new graphics card because it features the next generation of GDDR5X memory developed by Micron allowing higher memory bandwidth on a 256-bit interface clocked at 10 000 MHz. However, there’s a small difference in the base clock speeds – 1566 – 1733 MHz for the laptop version and 1607 – 1733 MHz for the desktop variant. Both frequencies can be altered depending on the manufacturer and the cooling system’s performance.
The GPU’s power consumption is rumored to be around 165W making it suitable only for large 17 or 15-inch machines with high-performance cooling system. In addition, the graphics card delivers new and exciting features like DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0b, HDR, Simultaneous Multi-Projection, refined H.265 video encoding, etc.
You can browse through our top GPUs ranking: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-graphics-ranking/
Here you will find other useful information and every notebook with this GPU that we’ve tested: http://laptopmedia.com/video-card/nvidia-geforce-gtx-1080-8gb-gddr5x/
Results are from the 3DMark Cloud Gate (G) test (higher the score, the better)
|Alienware 17 R4 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||113227|
|Alienware 17 R3 (Late 2015) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M (4GB GDDR5)||66709||-41.08%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||110078||-2.78%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) (overclocked) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||126598||+11.81%|
|ASUS ROG G752VS NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5)||100753||-11.02%|
Results are from the 3DMark Fire Strike (G) test (higher the score, the better)
|Alienware 17 R4 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||22409|
|Alienware 17 R3 (Late 2015) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M (4GB GDDR5)||9319||-58.41%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||20475||-8.63%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) (overclocked) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||22473||+0.29%|
|ASUS ROG G752VS NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5)||17159||-23.43%|
Results are from the 3DMark (Sky Diver) test (higher the score, the better)
|Alienware 17 R4 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||66014|
|Alienware 17 R3 (Late 2015) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M (4GB GDDR5)||30780||-53.37%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||61057||-7.51%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) (overclocked) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||69598||+5.43%|
|ASUS ROG G752VS NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5)||55642||-15.71%|
Results are from the Unigine Heaven 3.0 test (higher the score, the better)
|Alienware 17 R4 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||5104|
|Alienware 17 R3 (Late 2015) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M (4GB GDDR5)||2963||-41.95%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||5319||+4.21%|
|Acer Predator 17X (GX-792) (overclocked) NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB GDDR5X)||6234||+22.14%|
|ASUS ROG G752VS NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5)||4731||-7.31%|
A bit of digging revealed several interesting findings of the Alienware 17 R4. For starters, the CPU is clocked at lower than usual frequency and the same goes for the GPU. On the Predator 17X, we were able to push the GTX 1080 at more than 1900 MHz thanks to the PredatorSense software. The CPU was also available for overclocking. On the Alienware 17 R4, however, this is possible only with a third-party software – MSI Afterburner would be a good place to start. Unfortunately, the CPU can only be clocked through the BIOS settings.
Anyway, we tried to clock the GPU at 1930-1940 MHz and we were able to run a few benchmarks and gaming tests without a problem. So overclocking is still possible, just make sure you don’t go above this point. For the record, the Predator 17X’s GTX 1080 was clocked at 1921 MHz.
|Grand Theft Auto V (GTA 5)||Full HD, Medium (Check settings)||Full HD, Very High (Check settings)||Full HD, MAX (Check settings)|
|Average FPS||111 fps||68 fps||59 fps|
|Grand Theft Auto V (GTA 5)||Quad HD, Medium (Check settings)||Quad HD, Very High (Check settings)||Quad HD, MAX (Check settings)|
|Average FPS||99 fps||64 fps||44 fps|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider (2016)||Full HD, Medium (Check settings)||Full HD, Very High (Check settings)||Full HD, MAX (Check settings)|
|Average FPS||109 fps||78 fps||55 fps|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider (2016)||Quad HD, Medium (Check settings)||Quad HD, Very High (Check settings)||Quad HD, MAX (Check settings)|
|Average FPS||93 fps||53 fps||30 fps|
|Tom Clancy’s The Division||Full HD, Medium (Check settings)||Full HD, Ultra (Check settings)||Full HD, MAX (Check settings)|
|Average FPS||132 fps||84 fps||34 fps|
|Tom Clancy’s The Division||Quad HD, Medium (Check settings)||Quad HD, Ultra (Check settings)||Quad HD, MAX (Check settings)|
|Average FPS||91 fps||62 fps||21 fps|
The usual stress tests that we perform can’t represent real-life use, but it’s still a good way to make an approximate assessment of the cooling system’s capabilities and stability in the long run.
We started the CPU stress test and noticed two things – the CPU is clocked at lower than usual frequencies and doesn’t goo above 3.1 GHz with four active cores during full load. This is strange because clearly, the cooling system can take a lot more than this. Just look at the CPU temperatures under full load – 65-70 °C. This is comparable to some desktop PCs.
After turning on the GPU stress test, we noticed something interesting going on there. The CPU periodically resides to around 2.7 GHz, which is the base clock speed of the chip, and when the cooling system catches up, it goes back to 3.1 GHz. The CPU’s temperatures rose to around 95 °C – pretty normal considering the nature of the stress test, but we were surprised by the high temperature of the GPU – 81 °C, considering the clock speeds, of course. For comparison, the Predator 17 X’s GTX 1080 was clocked at more than 100 MHz higher and kept the same temperature.
Temperatures on the surface are considerably higher than the ones of the Predator 17 X but still in the range of what’s considered to be normal. During normal use or long hours of gaming, the heat map below will look quite different. Keep in mind, though, that the center of the keyboard gets a bit warm.
This year’s Alienware 17 R4 offers something for all types of gamers and users. With the main difference being in the display department, the notebook will appeal to hardcore gamers, content creators and to those who like to keep it modest with a Full HD screen. However, the version we reviewed is the only one equipped with G-Sync and offers 120 Hz refresh rate and despite the use of TN panel, the display offers superb image quality. The only serious drawback is the limited contrast ratio. So again, if you are into flawless image quality, go for the UHD version with IGZO IPS panel, but otherwise, we strongly recommend sticking to the QHD variant that we reviewed. The benefits from a gamer’s standpoint are countless.
Anyway, enough with the screen. Let’s focus on what the Alienware does better than its competitors for the considerably higher price tag. Compared to the Predator 17 X, for example, the Alienware alternative is more portable, has arguably more sophisticated design, which should appeal to a broader user base, roughly the same build quality and integrates the Tobii Eye Tracking technology for more immersive gaming experience. Anything other than that makes it on par with its rival.
For a laptop at this scale, though, we have some complaints. For starters, the CPU and GPU are overclockable and the cooling system is fully capable of handling the extra clock speeds but Alienware hasn’t provided an easy overclocking setup like the one we found on the Acer Predator 17 X. The GPU requires a third-party software while the CPU is only overclockable via the BIOS settings. Moreover, the CPU is clocked slightly lower than expected, which makes us wonder why Alienware played it so safe with the new model. Finally, the model sports only two RAM slots limiting the maximum amount of RAM to 32GB of DDR4-2400. This should be more than enough for gamers and the general user, but will be a deal-breaker for users wanting a solid workstation on the go for tasks requiring more memory.
In the end, the Alienware 17 R4 should be your premium gaming choice only if you are looking for the best possible gaming experience, otherwise, the Predator 17 X will do just about the same for a little bit less cash. But when you think about it, Alienware has always been Apple in the gaming industry for better or worse and if you decide to go with the new Alienware 17 R4, we don’t judge you. Not at all because it’s one hell of a gaming laptop.
You can find some of the available configurations here: http://amzn.to/2lvLKmj
- Clean and sophisticated design
- Impeccable build quality
- Good keyboard and touchpad experience
- Supports three M.2 PCIe NVMe SSDs
- Impressive display with excellent image quality, G-Sync, 120 Hz refresh rate and QHD resolution
- The screen doesn’t use PWM for regulating brightness
- Fairly portable compared to other 17-inch gaming laptops
- Well-designed cooling system
- Tobii Eye Tracking system
- Short battery life despite the huge 99Wh battery, thanks to the lack of NVIDIA Optimus support
- Only the QHD configuration comes with G-Sync support
- Overclocking is possible only through BIOS and third-party software
- The CPU’s stock clock speeds are lower than they should
- The TN panel has low contrast ratio and poor viewing angles when tilted forward
- Only two RAM slots