Alienware 17 R5 review

An overwhelmingly powerful Core i9 gaming laptop

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Our Verdict

The Alienware 17 R5 doesn’t mess around. Equipped with an Intel Core i9 CPU and overclocked Nvidia GTX 1080, we’ve finally seen high-frame rate gaming at 1440p on a laptop.

For

  • Amazing graphical performance
  • Surprisingly decent battery life
  • Immaculate 17-inch display

Against

  • Tobii eye-tracking with high-res display only
  • Weighs nearly 10 pounds
  • Squared off proportions

Despite going almost two years without new graphics chips, Alienware has managed to deliver an exciting update to its 17-inch gaming laptop by incorporating some of the first Intel i9 processors seen on a notebook. With these new hexa-core Coffee Lake chips, desktop-class processing power has finally been brought to heel on laptops.

Sure, you could say full-on desktop CPUs already made their way into devices like the Origin EON17-SLX and PC Specialist Octane II Pro. But, unlike those devices that were just fitted with a full-size processor, the Alienware 17 R5 is designed to deliver on both performance and battery life without compromise – though your bank account might languish as you empty it out for this baller machine.

Alienware 17 R5 review

Spec sheet

Here is the Alienware 17 R5 configuration sent to techradar for review:

CPU: 2.9GHz Intel Core i9-8950HK (hexa-core, 12MB cache, up to 4.8GHz)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 OC (8GB GDDR5X)
RAM: 32GB DDR4 (2,666MHz)
Screen: 17.3-inch, QHD (2,560 x 1,440) 120Hz G-Sync
Storage: 512GB PCIe SSD, 1TB HDD (7,200 rpm)
Ports: 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB-C 3.0, 1 x USB-C (Thunderbolt 3), HDMI, mini DisplayPort, Ethernet, headphone jack, microphone jack,
Connectivity: Killer 1550 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0
Camera: Alienware FHD camera, Tobii IR Eye-tracking with Windows Hello
Weight: 9.74 pounds (4.42 kg)
Size: 16.7 x 13.1 x 1.18 inches (42.4 x 33.2 x 2.99cm; W x D x H)

Price and availability

The Alienware 17 R5 starts at a fairly reasonable $1,549 price and is decently equipped with an Intel Core i7-8750H, factory overclocked Nvidia GTX 1060, Full HD IPS display, 8GB of RAM and 1TB hybrid hard drive. You might scoff at the solid-state hybrid drive, but it’s better than a plain old spinning drive – and you can always install an affordable SSD later on.

Unfortunately, the UK and Australian listings for this laptop are a little behind the curve. The starting configuration in these territories still comes with a last generation Intel Core i7-7700HQ, a standard Nvidia GTX 1060 and 8GB of RAM – but a 128GB SSD complemented by an 1TB HDD – for £1,348 or AU$2,298. To even consider the latest 8th generation CPUs, you’ll have to spend at least £1,849 or AU$2,999 for an Intel Core i7-8750H-powered system that also doubles the memory capacity.

Our own review configuration features an almost fully-loaded spec list for an equally impressive $3,949 (£3,235, AU$5,465). It’s been a while since we’ve seen the price of a gaming notebook go so high, but it seems par for the course as far as Intel Core i9 machines go.

The $3,999 (£3,499, AU$5,899) MSI GT75 Titan costs as much as the Alienware 17 R5 for identical specifications. Meanwhile, the Asus ROG G703GI runs for a little less at $3,699 or £3,499 (about AU$2,745) while featuring a 2TB HDD.

That said, the Alienware 17 R5 differentiates itself with a factory overclocked Nvidia GTX 1080, QHD (2,560 x 1,440) 120Hz G-Sync display and an integrated Tobii Eye tracking module. Both Asus and MSI’s competing systems feature Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution displays rated for 144Hz and 120Hz refresh rates, respectively.

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Design

The Alienware 17 R5’s design remains unsurprisingly and amazingly unchanged since its chassis was last overhauled in 2016. Despite approaching its second birthday, Alienware’s hinge forward design is still fresh and unique in the laptop world. At the same time, it’s impressive that this 17-inch laptop didn’t have to get any thicker to accommodate for the two extra processor cores within the system.

Rather, Alienware’s 17-inch gaming laptop maintains all the same 16.7 x 13.1 x 1.18-inch (42.4 x 33.2 x 2.99cm; W x D x H) dimensions and 9.74 pound (4.42kg) weight of last year’s R4 model. Of course, this machine is by no means small and light. Its nearly 10-pound weight will wear out you out and its square-shaped proportions makes it awkward to find a suitable laptop bag.

But, then again, this is much more of desktop replacement system than a gaming laptop you’ll want to lug around.

It comes loaded with all the luxuries you expect out of battle station, including a keyboard with 2.2mm of key travel and tactile responsiveness to make you forget about a mechanical gaming keyboard. Meanwhile, the 2.1 stereo speakers are potent enough to overpower the system’s loud fans and give you a surprisingly booming gaming experience even without having to plug in a gaming headset.

Last year, we felt that the Tobii eye-tracking feature to be an excessive add-on, and unfortunately Alienware has decided to directly tie this upgrade to high-res screen options. So, if you want the same 1440p display as on our review unit or a 4K panel, get used to seeing two eye-tracking red dots just below it.

The most use we got out of the eye-tracking module remains to be Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, where we could use our eyes as a ‘third thumb’ for aiming our grappling hook. Otherwise, the Tobii-integration in other games is usually just neat or nauseating at worst.

There are arguably some Windows-level uses for Tobii’s eye-tracking technology, including Windows Hello login and presence detection; telling your laptop to dim the screen or go to sleep when you’re not looking at it. However, you’ll still get the same presence detection features if you forgo this extra Tobii option and just stick with Alienware’s stock webcam.

Alienware 17 R5 review

Big screen fun

Of course, a big part of this desktop replacement’s package is the 17-inch QHD screen. The TN-panel might sound disappointing on paper, but the color depth and black levels of this display are almost as good as an IPS monitor.

Then the 120Hz refresh rate makes this display sing an even sweeter song as you watch your favorite games go past the now pedestrian 60fps and into the bliss of high-refresh rates. The spectacle is made even more joyous when you relish the fact that the Alienware 17 R5 is so overpowered that it can actually push games at a higher 1440p resolution and still find the wiggle room for even more frames per second.