Hands on: Alienware 17 review

A redesigned gaming laptop icon inside and out

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text

Our Early Verdict

This 17-inch laptop might be our favorite new addition to the Nvidia Pascal-powered gaming notebook family.

For

  • Thinner and aggressive new look
  • More efficient cooling
  • Stealthy Tobii integration

Against

  • New shape may not fit in your bag

Updated: Alienware has announced pricing for the its newest monster gaming laptop, read on to find out more.

Since Nvidia's latest generation of Pascal graphics came to laptops, we've been seeing a ton of upgraded gaming notebooks come out of the woodwork. But while hardware refreshes are great and all, we have yet to see something truly new.

Until now.

The new Alienware 17 is the first portable rig designed specifically to unleash the true potential of Nvidia's new 10 series GPUs. Alienware pulled out all the stops to completely revamp its flagship 17-inch gaming laptops, including a new chassis design, re-engineered cooling and some newly added Tobii eye-tracking too.

Alienware 17 review

Design

Alienware's laptops have steadily been moving towards thinner designs, and the new series takes a dramatic step towards slimness. To get here the company completely redesigned the internal cooling system. While heatsinks normally reside underneath the keyboard, what Alienware has done now is shifted them to the rear of the machine and behind the hinge.

This 'Hinge Forward' design, as Alienware calls it, has helped produce some of the thinnest devices in history including the Dell's cult-classic Adamo and, more recently, the HP Spectre.

Adding to the Alienware 17's new found thinness is a much flatter and sharper design. Every rounded corner first started by the 2013 Alienware design has been replaced by edgier angles.

Alienware 17 review

The top lid of the new 17-inch model feels razor-thin compared to older models, as it only consists of a sheet of metal and a thin optical stack for the display. Likewise, the sides of the machine are only thick enough to accommodate the high-end gaming internals.

Unfortunately, the thinner design has also resulted in a gaming laptop that's a bit longer from the front to back end. As a result, this squarer machine might not fit in your backpack designed for traditional 17-inch notebooks.

Alienware 17 review

Alienware's FX customizable lighting makes a return, but certain parts have been moved or eliminated. For starters, the lid now only features light strips along the sides rather than on the back of the screen lid. The LEDs on the base of the notebook also no longer wrap around to the front, opting for a modern aesthetic filled with straight beams of light.

Likewise, the Alienware logo has been redrawn to be more sinister and even the font is sharper for the modern makeover.

Alienware 17 review

Rebuilding the icon

Aside from the skin-deep beauty, Alienware claims the new aesthetic and re-engineering has helped make the 17-inch gaming laptop 20% thinner. This is largely thanks to the new heatsink placement and the newly added copper heat pipe elements that share the workload of having to cool the GPU and CPU at the same time.

All together, Alienware claims this new cooling system will keep up with the high performance output of the Nvidia GTX 1080 and allow it to run at a full 150W unlike other gaming laptops.

Alienware also carefully when back to the drawing board to redesign the layout and the machine out of a mix of aluminum, carbon fiber composite and magnesium. A giant steel plate helps reinforce the keyboard and help prevent it from being mushy in the center.

Alienware 17 review

Spec-wise, the Alienware 17 is just as new on the inside with all new components including the Nvidia GTX 1060 and 1070 – 1080 GPUs come in November. What's more, AMD's Polaris graphics make their debut on the Alienware 15 and 17 with the option of the Radeon RX 470.

Users will also be able to get a fully loaded rig with up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM, 1TB SSD and an optional 120Hz Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display.

Plus if you want even more storage and memory, upgrading is easier than ever. Simply take off the bottom panel and you'll have access to three PCI-e SSD slots and a 2.5-inch drive plus the two memory dim slots.

Alienware 17 review

Alienware has stuck with using 6th generation Intel Skylake processors for now, but only because there aren't 7th generation Kaby Lake processors designed for gaming just yet. However, the Intel Core i7 processors will still come with dynamic overclocking baked in.

The 17 gaming laptop also has a few unique upgrades including an optionally larger 99WHr battery designed to last seven hours long in case the standard 68WHr battery isn't enough juice for users. Alienware has also teamed up with Tobii to bring eye tracking to its 15- and 17-inch laptops.

The integrated sensor is much smaller and subtler than the MSI GT72S G Tobii we reviewed a little while ago. Beyond the sleeker look, this eye-tracker also has expanded features that will not only turn off the screen when you're turning away, but also bump up the keyboard illumination you're looking down at the keys.

The base model Alienware 17 comes equipped with an Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia GTX 1060, 8GB of RAM and an 1TB HDD for $1,499 (about £1,155, AU$1,990). Meanwhile, an Tobii-equipped model runs for $1,749 (about £1,350, AU$2,320) with an additional 128GB SSD. Shipping for all models will begin on September 30th.

Alienware 17 review

Early verdict

Alienware has made some bold claims that it's 17-inch gaming laptop will be able to tap into the full 150W power of the Nvidia GTX 1080 while other companies have only achieved 120W performance.

In our short hands on time we didn't get to play with the top-spec model, but given the Nvidia GTX 1070-powered models we got to go hands on with for a few minutes, the Alienware 17 is already primed to take care of virtual reality gaming on the go.

The Alienware 17 is also a top to bottom redesign, leaving nothing but the trackpad to be the same. It's great step forward and we can't wait to give this monster the full review treatment.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.