Review: Alienware 17 (2015)

Introduction and design

In the age of shrinking laptops, it’s nevertheless unbelievable that hulking 17-inch gaming laptops still exist. Even gaming laptops are not immune to the changing tides of the mobile computing world, the Origin EVO15-S and Aorus X7 Pro will tell you.

Now Alienware is getting in on the shrinking notebook race this year in introducing a new, slimmed down version of its 17-inch gaming laptop. Measuring in at 1.35 inches thick, it’s noticeably thinner than the company’s previous gaming rigs. But don’t think performance has been sacrificed for a thinner profile, because the new Alienware 17 comes packing an Intel Core i7 processor and an Nvidia GTX 980M graphics chip.

What’s more, Alienware’s shiny new Graphics Amplifier now works with the 17, which lets you connect a desktop GPU into your gaming laptop for even more power. But for all its innovations as a gaming laptop-desktop hybrid, this winning combination runs into a few more speed bumps than the MSI GS30 Shadow with GamingDock.

Alienware 17 review


Alienware is well known for some of the industry’s flashiest, most divisive gaming laptop designs. And so it comes as a bit of a surprise to see the company’s latest 17.3-inch machine slightly toned down in regards to the customizable Alienware FX lighting zones.

You’ll still be able to modify the color and pattern of eight lighting zones, but they’re a smaller focus on the new Alienware 17. Unlike last year’s model, the lighting strip around the base of the machine does not whip around the front edge and extend to the sides. Instead, you’ll only find one short band of illumination at the front of the laptop. This, along with cutting out the optical drive, was done to help cut down on the thickness of Alienware’s classically chunky machines.

Alienware 17 review

Luckily, not much has changed with the other lights on the laptop. The keyboard still splits apart into four distinct lighting zones. Meanwhile, you can also set the lid to act like a signal light pulsing with every shade of the rainbow, there is a new light up Alien head logo above the keyboard that perfectly matches with the Alienware typography beneath the screen.

Of course, the lights aren’t the only thing that’s changed with the new Alienware 17. The laptop also has an unmistakably slimmer waistline and as a result it’s slightly less angular. The bottom of the laptop, for example, caps off with straight and short lines compared to the round bottom machine from last year. Likewise, the rear corners of the Alienware 17’s screen lid also fall off to a much more gradual slope.

Overall, these are welcome changes. Sure this Alienware 17 isn’t as ostentatious as the other machines from years past, but this new model skips some of the fluff and focuses on squeezing even more performance into a tighter package.

Alienware 17 review

Amp it up

Alienware might not have been the first to introduce GPU boxes, but the company definitely has one of the more elegant solutions with its Graphics Amplifier. Inside of this optional laptop accessory, which looks like an oversized bread box from the future, you will have space for a desktop graphics card.

Of which, you’ll have to supply that part on your own, if you want to supercharge your gaming experiences with the Alienware 17. The good news is the Amplifier comes outfitted with a 460-watt power supply that should be more than enough to run even a top-end Nvidia GTX Titan X graphics card.

Alienware 17 review

Connecting the Alienware 17 and Graphics Amplifier is a simple matter of plugging in the proprietary four-pin PCI-Express 3.0 (PCI-E) cable to both devices. With a PCI-E cable, Alienware’s solution is much more flexible, letting you move the laptop while connected. By comparison, the GS30 Shadow is locked on top of the GamingDock while it’s in use.

What’s more, unlike the GS30 Shadow, you can use the Alienware 17’s gorgeous 17.3-inch IPS screen while it’s connected to the Graphics Amplifier. MSI’s GamingDock, meanwhile, requires you to plug in the hybrid device into an external monitor. That makes MSI’s combo decidedly more of a desktop than Alienware’s flexible setup.

Specifications and value

Going with a thinner design hasn’t just given the new Alienware 17 a sleeker profile measuring 16.93 x 11.49 x 1.35 inches or 430 x 291 x 34 mm (W x D x H), it’s also helped cut the weight down to 8.33 pounds (3.78 kg). Comparatively, the 2014 model weighed in at 9.15 pounds (4.15 kg) and came in at 1.9-inches (48 mm) thick. However, no matter how thin this new 17-inch laptop is, slinging around a device of such considerable size will still require you to pick up a new bag from Alienware or a third-party company such as Slappa bags.

Gigabyte has outdone itself squeezing in an immensely powerful gaming laptop into a 0.9-inch (22 mm) frame with the Aorus X7 Pro. The X7 Pro still has a considerably large footprint that measures 12- by 6.85-inches (304 by 173 mm), but at 6.6 pounds (2.99 kg) it’s much easier to carry around.

The MSI GS30 Shadow is in a whole other size category, being a 13-inch mobile computing rig, but if portability is what you seek than this 2.65-pound (1.2 kg) machine is your best bet. Just keep in mind that while it has a small 12.59 x 8.93 x 0.77 inch (319 x 226 x 19 mm) frame, this machine can’t truly game on its own with just the on-board Intel Iris graphics.

Alienware 17 review

Here is the Alienware 17 configuration given to TechRadar for review:

Spec sheet

  • CPU: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-4710HQ (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M (4GB GDDR5 RAM), Intel HD Graphics 4600
  • RAM: 16GB DDR3L (1,600MHz)
  • Screen: 17.3 inch, 1,920 x 1,080 IPS anti-glare display
  • Storage: 256 GB M.2 SATA SSD + 1TB HDD (7,200 rpm)
  • Ports: 4 x USB 3.0 ports (1 x with PowerShare Technology), SD card reader mini DisplayPort, HDMI, Headphone jack, Microphone jack, Ethernet, Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port
  • Connectivity: Killer 1525 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi + Bluetooth 4.1
  • Camera: 2MP Full HD webcam
  • Weight: 8.33 pounds (3.78 kg)
  • Size: 16.93 x 11.49 x 1.35 inches (W x D x H) (430 x 291 x 34 mm)

And here is the Alienware Graphics Amplifier configuration given to TechRadar for review:

  • GPU capacity: PCIe x16 Slot for desktop graphics card
  • Graphics: PNY XLR8 GeForce GTX 980 with 4GB GDDR5
  • Power supply: Alienware 460 Watt Multi-GPU Approved Power Supply
  • Ports: 4 x USB 3.0, Alienware Graphics Amplifier to Notebook Port
  • Weight: 7.71 pounds (3.5 Kgs.)
  • Dimensions: 7.3 x 16.12 x 6.83 inches (W x D x H) (185 x 409 x 173 mm)

What you’re looking at here is an Alienware 17 with a completely bumped up configuration that calls for a steep$3,049 (£2,581). This is no doubt a huge purchase, but keep in mind this price tag includes a faster processor, headier GPU, more storage and RAM, plus the cost of the Graphics Amplifier as well as a Nvidia GTX 980 graphics card.

Oddly enough, the Amplifier does not come as a discounted bundle in Australia. So users living in that region will end up having to for over the full AU$349 price for the Amplifier, plus another AU$699 for an Nvidia GTX 980 card, which brings up the final total to an insane AU$4,547. (Keep in mind this is an example; these GPU boxes can work with Nvidia’s more affordable cards like the Nvidia GTX 960.)

Alienware 17 review

Without the optional GPU box, the Alienware 17 with the configuration above rings up for a slightly saner $2,299 (£1,782.19, AU$3,499). For the amount of power you’re getting alone, that’s actually a sweet deal. The Alienware 17 also starts at $1,499 (£1,298, AU$2,499) for a base configuration consisting of the same processor, a lower-end 3GB Nvidia GTX 970M, 8GB of RAM and only a 1TB hard drive spinning at 5,400rpm.

For what it’s worth, the MSI GS30 Shadow is a more affordable gaming laptop-desktop hybrid solution, ducking below the 2,000 clams mark with a $1,899 (£1,200, AU$2,699) price tag. But, keep in mind this price does not include a desktop GPU, though, so you’ll have to source your own. Also, be prepared to add a few extra peripherals including a keyboard, gaming mouse and a monitor before you can even think about playing games on the GS30 Shadow.

Aorus X7 Pro is a much simpler, self-contained laptop that comes in one configuration for $2,599 or £2099 (about AU$3,320). The unit offers plenty of power for the price, including a higher-end processor (that the MSI GS30 also comes sporting), dual Nvidia GTX 970M cards working in SLI, plus a massive 512GB SSD and 16GB of RAM.

Performance and features

Even without the Graphics Amplifier, the Alienware 17 is a fully capable gaming machine all on its own, unlike the MSI GS30 Shadow. The Alienware 17’s biggest advantage over the Shadow is that it comes with a discrete mobile graphics chip. This distinction will allow users to take the 17-inch laptop to LAN party or another gaming event without need to drag along its accompanying GPU box.

What’s more, with battery life teetering around four hours, this is a powerful laptop you can actually take on the go without worrying it will die away within an hour.

Alienware 17 review


Here’s how the Alienware 17 fared in our our benchmark tests:

  • 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 18,332; Sky Diver: 18,947; Fire Strike: 8,008
  • Cinebench CPU: 634 points; Graphics: 97.44 fps
  • PCMark 8 (Home Test): 3,225 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 3 hours and 33 minutes
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Ultra): 63.52 fps; (1080p, Low): 81.76 fps
  • Metro: Last Light (1080p, Ultra): 33.67 fps; (1080p, Low): 64.33 fps

The Alienware boasts some impressive performance but plugging in the Graphics Amplifier yielded even better numbers – shocker. The performance increase isn’t quite as drastically improved as we saw with the MSI GS30’s GamingDock, but that’s also not a huge surprise given the leap from integrated graphics to desktop-grade power. Here are those benchmarks again with Alienware’s new box behind them:

  • 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 18,080; Sky Diver: 21,797; Fire Strike: 9,591
  • Cinebench CPU: 502 points; Graphics: 83.14 fps
  • PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2,813 points
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Ultra): 85.65 fps; (1080p, Low): 127.26 fps
  • Metro: Last Light (1080p, Ultra): 45 fps; (1080p, Low): 91.67 fps

Alienware 17 review

From the numbers we can see the single Nvidia GTX 980M-powered Alienware 17 can run games like Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor at an average 64.33 frames per second (fps) with all the bells and whistles on. The 17-inch rig can even keep Metro Last Light at a playable 33.67 fps on Ultra settings. Comparatively, the Aorus X7 Pro gets even more mileage out of its dual Nvidia GTX 970M setup, which was able to run the benchmark tests for Middle Earth at 85.28 fps and Metro Last Light at 43.67 fps.

Plugging in Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier elevates this race to a whole other level above almost any gaming laptop. The turbo-boosted Alienware 17 was able to push even more frames, running Shadow of Mordor at 85.65 fps and Last Light at 45 fps. However, the MSI combo was able to push even harder, running the same games at 93.70 fps and 51.33 fps.

The performance gap is even more apparent when you look at the synthetic tests stressing the graphics card. With the Amplifier, the Alienware 17 was able to only turn in a 3D Fire Strike score of 9,591, whereas the MSI GS30 and GamingDock scored 11,285 points. Even the Aorus X7 Pro was able to put up a higher score of 10,451 points.

Note that the MSI was also tested using an Nvidia GTX 980, but from MSI rather than the PNY model provided by Alienware for this review.

Alienware 17 review

Mind the gap

The biggest reason for this performance gap is likely the four-pin PCI-E cable that connects the Alienware 17 with the Graphics Amplifier. The GS30 Shadow, meanwhile, uses a traditional 16-pin PCI-E connection with the GamingDock. Generally speaking, more pins means more bandwidth and, as a result, more throughput.

Beyond the bottlenecking issues of the proprietary cable, you might find that a few games don’t work with the Graphics Amplifier. Grand Theft Auto V, for example, crashed every time I attempted to start the game with the GPU box plugged in, and that was after installing an Nvidia driver designed specifically for this game.

Updating the both the laptop and Amplifier can be a precarious process. Alienware says it would be best if users install new Nvidia drivers with the notebook disconnected. In the future, the Dell-owned company plans on releasing new software patches that will improve the communication between the two devices.

Modularity in mind

Despite the few shortcomings of the Graphics Amplifier, Alienware still has come up with one of the more elegant solutions to connect a desktop graphics card to a gaming laptop. Unlike some homebrewed kits, the Alienware 17 can recognize what GPU is inside the Amplifier right out of the box. What’s more, you can actually continue using the laptop normally with the built-in screen, keyboard and trackpad while it’s connected to the GPU box. This is something you can’t do while the MSI GS30 is sitting on top of the GamingDock.

Chances are you won’t ever need to plug the Alienware 17 into an external monitor, because the laptop comes with a nearly perfect display as is. The 17.3-inch screen offers a giant viewing space for games and media with excellent contrast and wide color gamut. It’s also big enough to comfortably place two windows or more side by side, plus the matte finish virtually eliminates any reflections and glare.

For this year’s round up of machines, Alienware used Klipsch speakers that sound great for basically any music genre. Games, on the other hand, don’t sound quite as amazing, especially with explosions and gunfire that largely fall flat. These speakers are more than enough to get you by for movies and most media, but if you’re looking to get the best sound while gaming, it might be best to get a new headset.

Alienware 17 review

Unleash the beast

On top of all the performance you can squeeze out of the Alienware 17, this is surprisingly a gaming laptop you can feel comfortable using away from the plug. The massive gaming laptop managed to last 3 hours and 33 minutes while running through the PC Mark 8 battery test. With a less taxing anecdotal test consisting of web browsing, word processing and watching a 30 minute YouTube Video I was able to get 3 hours and 52 minutes of usage out of the Alienware 17.

Comparatively, the Aorus X7 Pro has an extremely short battery life of only 2 hours and 5 minutes. Meanwhile, the GS30 Shadow does not lag far behind, kicking the can after just 2 hours and 32 minutes, thanks to a very power hungry Intel Core i7 processor.

Bundled software

  • AlienAutopsy – This portal app lets you look up all your system info and diagnose your machine with this built-in Checkup application.
  • AlienRespawn – Restore your Alienware system back to factory state with a click, plus the ability to manually backup and restore your data.
  • AW Command Center – Customize your Alienware FX lighting zones
  • Alienware Digital Delivery – This application takes care of downloading your digital purchases, one of which includes a free year of 20GB of DropBox space.
  • Creative Software Update – This application will help keep your audio drivers up to date.


The Alienware 17 is an impressive refinement for this series of gaming laptops. Not only is it thinner, it’s more powerful, thanks to a new Nvidia Maxwell GPU. At the same time, Alienware has knocked its first gaming laptop-desktop hybrid out of the park with a machine that’s only boosted by its GPU box buddy, not set up to rely on it.

We liked

Although you’re looking at spending $3,049 (£2,581, AU$4,547) for the full experience, the Alienware 17 is one of those few outrageously priced gaming laptops that’s actually worth it. It comes with a high-end configuration with two of Nvidia’s best graphics modules and, most importantly, it just works right out of the box.

The Alienware 17 is a fully capable gaming machine and, with the added power of an Nvidia GTX 980 inside the Amplifier, you won’t run into a game you can’t play on Ultra settings for a long time. And when you do, you can easily swap out the desktop GPU for a newer model. Alienware even says they’re working on adding support for Nvidia’s latest monster card, the Titan X.

We disliked – subhed

For all the added flexibility Alienware has added by going with a proprietary connection, the Graphics Amplifier simply does not bring the same level of added performance as MSI’s GamingDock for the GS30 Shadow.

It seems the four-pin connector simply does not offer the same graphical throughput as a traditional 16-pin connector. Alienware also seems to still be working out some bugs, especially with GPU driver updates so be prepared to run into situations in which you can’t run games or times when you will need to diagnose your system.

Final verdict

Alienware has done the gaming laptop-desktop hybrid right with an even leaner 17-inch monster and its accompanying Graphics Amplifier. The laptop itself is a completely self-contained gaming machine, and things only get even better with connecting the GPU box. The ability to use the screen, plus not needing to plug in a keyboard and mouse makes it a much more sensible solution than the MSI GS30 Shadow. And if you’re looking for something smaller, the Alienware 13 also works with the Graphics Amplifier.

The Aorus X7 Pro proves to offer just as much, if not more performance into a tighter package, thanks to its dual Nvidia GTX 970M chips. But in the long run, Alienware 17 owners will be able to upgrade the desktop GPU inside of the Graphics Amplifier for years to come. With the X7 Pro, what you bought is what you’ll have until you ultimately upgrade to another laptop. Alienware also trumps Aorus’ thin 17-inch laptop with a more attractive screen, longer battery life and quieter fans.

Over 3,000 bucks is a lot to pay for a gaming laptop, and you can just as easily build a killer desktop for the same amount of money. But the Alienware 17 is an equally amazing portable package than any serious gaming PC of today could hope to be. It’s one of the best 17.3-inch gaming laptops I’ve ever tested, and the Graphics Amplifier opens up the system to even more demanding games and upgrades for the future.