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Alienware 17 R4 review

A much-needed makeover to the biggest Alienware laptop

Benchmarks

Here’s how the Alienware 17 R4 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

3DMark Time Spy: 6,597; Sky Diver: 36,415; Fire Strike: 16,659
Cinebench CPU: 886 points; Graphics: 133 fps
GeekBench: 5,110 (single-core); 17,396 (multi-core)
PCMark 8 (Home Test): 4,365 points
PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours and 13 minutes
Battery Life (techradar movie test): 3 hours and 19 minutes
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (1080p, Ultra): 20 fps; (1080p, Low): 128 fps
GTA V (1080p, Ultra): 67 fps; (1080p, Low): 173 fps

As expected, the Alienware 17 R4 model we were sent for review was nothing short of exceptional in benchmarks. Even next to the $3,699 or £3,499 (about AU$5,070) Razer Blade Pro and the $3,637 (about £2,940, AU$5,010) Origin EON17-X, the Alienware 17 R4 goes strong for a fraction of the price.

While the Alienware 17 R4 beats out both Origin and Razer’s offerings in nearly every 3DMark test as well as Cinebench and Geekbench, it couldn’t quite keep up with the Razer Blade Pro in our movie test, wherein we loop Guardians of the Galaxy at half brightness until the computer dies. 

It also didn’t score quite as high in GTA V benchmarks as the Origin EON17-X, but there’s no denying the Alienware 17 R4 is the better value compared to its nearest 17-inch competitors. No, the $2,699 (£3,017, AU$5,369) price tag won’t afford you a 4K screen in addition to the internal specs of the build we were sent, but given what we know now, it’s probably just as well.

The Alienware 17 R4 is further evidence that 4K at Ultra settings is but a pipe dream right now. Even at 1080p, this high-end system couldn’t manage Deus Ex: Mankind at much more than 20 frames per second (fps), much less 60. While you can buy a version of this same laptop with a 4K Ultra HD screen, the 1440p display we have here was more than enough for today’s games.

For games and movies, the screen on the Alienware 17 R4 looks fantastic from every angle, largely as a result of the the anti-glare, “matte”-style glass used on the display. It’s crisp and colorful and doesn’t appear as washed out as other panels like it. Unfortunately, the Tobii eye-tracking featured underneath isn’t nearly as enthralling. 

In Deus Ex, you can more precisely control your aim with your eyes, but that’s more nauseating than novel. We couldn’t use it for more than a few minutes at a time without feeling lightheaded. Most of the games that feature Tobii eye-tracking don’t seem to showcase it in any profound way, either. Luckily, you can shave off $75 (£100, AU$114) by foregoing this feature.

Battery life blemishes

The real worry for us wasn’t how well the Alienware 17 R4 could perform but for how long. As it turns out, this behemoth could only handle 2 hours and 13 minutes in our PCMark 8 battery test while, in our movie test, the battery life was exhausted after a middling 3 hours and 19 minutes. That doesn’t even account for gaming, where you can expect even more feeble results.

Though these numbers are notably average for a gaming laptop of this caliber, they pale in comparison to budget and mid-range offerings, like the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming and the Razer Blade. If there’s one area where high-performance gaming laptops need to start playing catch-up, it’s in the battery life. After all, what’s the point of a laptop when it’s confined to a charger?

If you do opt for a lower spec, sub-GTX 1080 configuration of the Alienware 17 R4 and you’re concerned about battery life, there is the option on Dell’s website to upgrade from the default 68 Wh battery to the 99 Wh version used in our review unit. It will only set you back $50 (AU$50), albeit not in the UK where this offer doesn’t stand. 

Unfortunately, that’s the highest Wh battery you can get, so if you want the highest specs possible from your Alienware 17 R4, that comes with the cost of compromising on longevity.

We liked

The Alienware 17 R4 is not only one of the most powerful 17-inch gaming laptops you can buy, but considering similarly specced options, it’s also one of the most economical. Pitted against the Razer Blade Pro and Origin EON17-X, the Alienware 17 R4 is a better deal, even if the model we reviewed didn’t include a 4K display. 

Unsurprisingly, Dell has graced us once again with a wide range of configurations to choose from, with everything from the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti to the GTX 1080 available in its slimmer-than-ever chassis. You can even mix and match various other components as you see fit in every one of the default systems available from the Dell website. 

Those facets, combined with splashy appearances and a keyboard that you can actually use for both games and work, make the Alienware 17 R4 a gem to behold.

We disliked

Like other laptops in its class, the Alienware 17 R4 doesn’t exactly impress when it comes to battery life. While 2 - 3 hours might be par for the course with most gaming laptops, it’s time for Dell’s Alienware lineup to step its game up and aim for the 4-to-8-hour battery life of the Razer Blade and Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming.

Also, despite being easily disabled, it’s pretty confusing that palm rejection would be turned on automatically. Playing games with a trackpad isn’t ideal, but for those without a mouse on-hand, it’s still nice to have the option without the cursor being locked at keypress.

Lastly, the fans are too noisy to concentrate while gaming or writing, leading us to enter power saver mode on numerous occasions. Something to keep in mind if you plan on using this laptop regularly without a noise-cancelling headset.

Final verdict

If you’re in the (arguably pretty niche) market to buy a 17-inch gaming laptop, the Alienware 17 R4 is a fine catch. It can’t compete in portability with Nvidia’s new Max-Q gaming laptops due to its still-massive build, but for the same price, you’re getting a faster, overclockable processor, a higher resolution screen and 1TB of additional storage space.

The $2,699 (£3,017, AU$5,369) asking price for this model isn’t a small sum of cash, but you won’t get much better than the Alienware 17 R4 for the price. Plus, you can always start lighter on the SSD storage and RAM and upgrade those later by simply cracking open the bottom panel and inserting your new components – somewhat of an anomaly in today’s laptop space.

All in all, the Alienware 17 R4 is a compact desktop replacement, but isn’t advisable for users constantly on the go. Undeterred by its imperfections, this gaming notebook is just as pleasant to operate for work as it is for play, and it isn’t hard on the eyes either.