Alienware 17

It's not as much of a conversation piece as the tank-like Alienware 18, but the slimmer, lighter Alienware 17 is arguably more practical for serious gamers with realistic budgets.

What a difference a few inches make. While the Alienware 17 desktop replacement gaming laptop is not that much smaller than the 18-inch Alienware 18 version we recently reviewed, it feels like a very different beast. If the 18-inch model was a massive tank that rolled on to my desk like a conquering army, the 17-inch version feels more like a standard big-screen laptop.


Even though the Alienware 17 and Alienware 18 only differ by one inch in screen size, the overall physical difference between the two systems is significant, as the bigger Alienware 18 can fit in dual video cards and multiple hard drives at the same time. The 17-inch chassis is 45mm thick, while the 18-inch version is up to 64mm deep. That's especially important as the 18-inch Alienware's keyboard sits higher above your desktop, and I had some ergonomic troubles with that. The 18-inch model weighs a back-breaking 5.5kg without its brick-like power cable and 7kg with it, while the Alienware 17 is 4.3kg on its own and 5.2kg with its power cable; it's still hefty but noticeably lighter.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The biggest advantage the 17-inch model has over the 18-inch one is one of comfort. The bigger Alienware is so thick that its keyboard tray sits 44mm above the desk. In the Alienware 17, the keyboard tray is only 32mm high, in the front and rising slightly in the rear, and that makes a big difference. The keyboard is also closer to the front lip, and I had fewer problems comfortably getting my hands on the all-important WASD keys. Aside from that, the keyboard and touch pad will be familiar to anyone who has seen the current-gen 14-inch and 18-inch Alienware systems.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)


Dell currently offers five pre-configured starting points for the Alienware 17, each with several customisable options. The base model, at AU$2,499, is serviceable but not exciting, with a single GeForce 765M GPU, a 750GB platter hard drive and 8GB of RAM. Our significant upgrades include a better Intel Core i7-4800MQ CPU, a single GeForce 780M GPU, 16GB of RAM, a BD-ROM drive and a 256GB SSD paired with a 750GB HDD, all for US$2699 (a comparable Australian configuration is AU$4399 with 32GB of RAM).

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The non-gaming application performance on the Alienware 17 is close to, or in some cases slightly beats, the Alienware 18, with a 4900MQ Core i7, but can't match the Origin PC Eon 17-SLX we're currently testing, with a 4930MX Core i7. The differences, however, are not significant enough to affect most users, and the Alienware 17 has more than enough computing power for your day, even if you're a heavy multitasker.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The Alienware 17, as configured, ran our BioShock Infinite test (high settings, 1920x1080) at 71 frames per second. The Alienware 18, with dual GPUs, ran the same test at 141 frames per second, while the Eon 17-SLX ran that test at 117 frames per second. The very challenging Metro: Last Light test, also at high-quality/high-resolution settings, ran at 18.7fps versus 35.3fps on the Alienware 18 and 41.7fps on the Eon 17-SLX.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Any big-screen gaming laptop lives or dies based on its display. This 17.3-inch screen has a 1920x1080-pixel native resolution, which is what you'd expect from a gaming laptop. Still, smaller, less expensive systems, from the MacBook Pro to the Lenovo Yoga 2 to the Toshiba Kirabook, all have higher resolutions.

As the Alienware 17 is significantly thinner and lighter than the 18-inch version, it should have LAN party-friendly battery life, right? Keep dreaming. While it did better than other desktop replacements in our video playback battery drain test, running for 3:40 without any battery-challenging gameplay isn't exactly great. Still, it's more than one hour better than the 18-inch version.


Next to the massive Alienware 18 we reviewed, this 17-inch model is the more impressive and more expensive system. But the (slightly) more modest Alienware 17 is probably the winner in terms of practicality for most shoppers, cramming nearly all the same features, and much of the performance, into a thinner, lighter body.


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