Stunning to look at and supremely powerful, if money is no object this is the best premium gaming laptop on the market
- Stunning design
- Massively powerful
- Wide range of specification options
- No 1440p display option
- All data ports at the rear
- Dismal battery life
Buying anything on looks alone is not a good idea, but there’s no doubt that aesthetics do come into play with some items. Convertible sports cars, designer sunglasses and expensive leather jackets are all examples of form being just as important as function.
You could add high-end gaming laptops to that list because, increasingly, the internal components are the same. With the latest range-topping gamers all boasting blazing-fast AMD or Intel chips, high-end Nvidia RTX GPUs, super-fast refreshing displays and price tags anywhere between £2,500 and £5,000, looks are becoming an important factor in the buying process. That’s clearly what Alienware thinks, because its latest Alienware x17 R2 looks incredible.
Alienware x17 R2 review: What you need to know
The Alienware x17 R2 is the latest offering from Dell’s gaming division and goes head-to-head with the likes of the Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 (£2,599), the Razer Blade 17 (£3,040) and the MSI Raider GE76 for the title of the Ultimate Gaming Laptop. With enough display acreage and sufficiently potent components to do full justice to the latest Triple-A games, these machines can knock a large hole in £5,000 when specified to the hilt.
For that sort of money, you shouldn’t just expect no major weak points but no minor ones either. With that in mind, I’ll be paying close attention to some of the subtleties of a good gaming laptop, such as the presence of a MUX switch to get the best out of the GPU and the display, the ability of the cooling system to keep on top of things during prolonged and intense gaming sessions without the fans making a noise loud enough to wake the dead, and the capacity of the sound system to handle gaming specifics such as the ability to relay the direction of incoming fire.
On a cheaper gaming notebook, I’d let some of this slide but what’s acceptable on a £1,000 gamer like my own MSI GF66 Katana or Lenovo’s new all-AMD Legion 5 is not acceptable on a massively more expensive machine such as this Alienware.
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Alienware x17 R2 review: Price and competition
The Alienware x17 range consists of nearly a dozen specification levels with everything from the display and keyboard to the CPU and GPU customisable at the point of sale.
The cheapest iteration costs £2,148 and comes with a 12th gen Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU with only 6GB of vRAM, a 512GB SSD, Full HD 165Hz display and 16GB of system RAM.
The most expensive gets you a 12th Gen Core i9 chip, an RTX 3080Ti GPU with 16GB of vRAM, 64GB of system memory, a 3,840 x 2,160 120Hz screen, 2TB of RAID0 storage and a mechanical keyboard that uses Cherry MX switches. This is a machine that will leave you with £1 in change from £5,000.
The machine we’ve been sent sits in the middle. For £3,649 you get the Core i7-12700H 14-core chip, a GeForce RTX 3080Ti GPU, 32GB of system RAM and 16GB of vRAM, a 360Hz Full HD screen and a membrane keyboard. Swap out the 3080Ti 16GB for the 3070Ti 8GB GPU and add the mechanical keyboard and the price drops to £3,149. That’s the model I’d buy.
The obvious competition comes in the form of Asus’ ROG Strix Scar 17, which will set you back £2,499 with an Alder Lake Core i9 processor, Nvidia RTX3070Ti GPU, 2TB of storage and a 2,560 x 1,440, 170ppi display. That’s a saving of £550 over the most closely comparable Alienware x17 R2, and Asus also gives you a mechanical keyboard. The Scar 17 isn’t as out-and-out stunning to look at as the x17 R2 nor is it as thin, but it is lighter and has a decent battery life for the class.
Razer’s new Alder Lake-powered Blade 17 should be a safe bet in this part of the market. For £4,299 you can get one with the same processor and GPU as the Alienware x17 we have on test but with a 240Hz QHD display. Very black and very stylish, it’s just a little on the pricey side.
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Alienware x17 R2 review: Design and build quality
The basic design of the x17 R2 is the same as last year’s x17 R1, but that’s no bad thing because the R1 was an absolute stunner. At under 21mm thick, the R2 is impressively thin for a high-performance laptop, and the aluminium and magnesium casing feels as solid as a rock.
Design is a matter of personal choice but I think the x17 is a classic, looking futuristic without being juvenile. I especially like the Lunar Light (black and white) colour scheme. The x17 R2 isn’t the smallest or lightest of machines, though. At 3.2kg it’s heavier than the new 2.75kg Razer Blade 17 and the 2.3kg ROG Scar Strix, and it’s pretty large, too, with a footprint of 399 x 299mm being the largest of the group.
While Asus and Lenovo put most of the ports around the back of their gaming laptops, Alienware puts them all at the rear. This might be taking things too far. I’m a fan of rear-mounted ports but having at least one, perhaps an extra Type-A port on the side, would make life easier when it comes to plugging in thumb drives and the like. The only two connectors Alienware has put on the side are the 3.5mm audio jack and the barrel DC-in power socket, both of which I’d be happier to see at the back.
Alienware has been pretty generous with the connectors that are on the rear, though. You get one Thunderbolt 4, one USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 and two USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 USB-A ports, an RJ-45 2.5Gbits/sec LAN connector, microSD card reader, HDMI 2.1 and mini DisplayPort 1.4 video feeds, all bounded by an LED light ring that encircles the back panel. Both the USB-C and Thunderbolt ports support Power Delivery but, since the supplied power brick is surprisingly small and light, that’s not such a big deal.
Alienware’s designers also deserve a pat on the back for making the bottom of the laptop so easy to remove. Just undo the eight Philips screws and the panel comes away without you having to use a pry tool or risk anything going “snap”. Once you’re in, two M.2 2280 SSD bays and a brace of SODIMM RAM slots are immediately accessible.
Communications are managed by a Killer 2.5GbE controller and a Killer W-Fi 6E modem that also supports Bluetooth 5.2. The 1TB SSD in my review machine was a KIOXIA affair that proved more than fast enough for shunting large gaming files around, recording sequential read and write speeds of 4,935MB/sec and 2,955MB/sec respectively.
Alienware x17 R2 review: Keyboard, touchpad and webcam
The Alienware x17 R2 is available with either a thin (read membrane) keyboard or a low-profile mechanical affair using Cherry’s MX switches. Since upgrading to the mechanical keyboard is only a £100 option, I can’t see many people opting for the membrane keyboard unless they want a quieter typing action. Be that as it may, the membrane keyboard isn’t all that bad, with a clean and precise action and a decent amount (1.5mm) of key travel.
As you would expect, both keyboards come with per-key RGB lighting, which you can control via the Alienware Command Centre, along with the colour of the alien noggins on the lid and the keyboard deck and the “Stadium” ring light that surrounds the ports and vents in the back panel.
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There’s nothing too out of the ordinary about the layout, other than the extra column on the right, which is home to volume, mute and microphone mute keys, which takes some adjusting to. There’s also a handy quick toggle between “Full Speed” and “Balanced” power modes that you can activate by pressing Fn+F1.
At 112mm x 67mm, the one-piece glass trackpad is rather petite for a 17.3in laptop and is slightly offset to the left to keep it in line with the spacebar. It works well, though, and the click-action is well damped and satisfying positive. Of course, you only have to take one look at the Alienware x17’s keyboard to see why it’s so small relative to the deck: Alienware has prioritised space for vents and speaker grilles, the latter an especially wise move given the overheating issues I experienced with the Strix 17.
The 720p webcam is a typical laptop affair, a bit drab and dim, but it does its job well enough for the odd web chat. More important than its communication ability, though, is the fact it supports Windows Hello IR facial recognition. This excuses the absence of a fingerprint scanner.
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Alienware x17 R2 review: Display and audio
While this is no place to rehash the endless debate about resolution vs refresh rate on gaming laptops, I was surprised that Alienware only offers the x17 with either a 1,920 x 1,080 or 3,840 x 2,160 display, the former in either 165Hz or 360Hz flavours. Considering the price, a 2,560 x 1,440 165Hz panel would be a better entry-level offering.
In all other ways the Alienware x17’s display is just the job. At 374cd/m², it’s brighter than the Strix 17’s and it’s just as colourful with 99.7% sRGB coverage and 116% sRGB volume recorded by my colorimeter. The contrast ratio of 1,198:1 has the Asus machine beat, too. Its true strength, though, is the ultra tear-free gameplay that comes courtesy of the 360Hz refresh rate, 1ms response time and G-Sync frame synchronisation.
The stereo speakers are Dolby Atmos-certified and offer plenty of volume and bass. I measured an average of 75dB and peaks of 83dB from a music source at a 1m distance, which is very similar to the Strix 17. Stereo separation is very good, which helps with directional awareness while gaming. The top-end can sound just a little brittle when playing some genres of music but it’s nothing to get bent out of shape about.
Alienware x17 R2 review: Performance and battery life
With an Intel Core i7-12700H 14-core CPU and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080Ti GPU powering the x17, backed by 32GB of system RAM and 16GB of vRAM powering affairs, the Alienware x17 put in a more than respectable performance in our selection of benchmarks.Our in-house multimedia benchmark returned a score of 464 points, which is more than respectable, albeit not quite a match for the Core-i9-equipped Strix 17. However, once you start running performance tests that depend on the GPU, the positions are reversed. The SPECviewperf 3dsmax 3D-rendering test scored 106fps at 1080p on the Asus compared with 143fps on the x17.
It’s the same story when it comes to gaming. The Alienware x17 chewed through the Hitman 2 benchmark at 85fps and Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 97fps, the latter running on the highest video settings with ray tracing set to Ultra and DLSS off.I ran the Metro Exodus benchmark on all three of its presets and got results of 57.8fps on Extreme, 87.7fps on Ultra and 108.4fps on High. The Wolfenstein: Youngblood benchmark scored 175fps at the highest detail settings with ray tracing on and DLSS off. Those are among the best frame rates we’ve seen from any gaming laptop.
Where the x17 hits a boundary is that it runs surprisingly quiet and cool even after prolonged and intensive gaming sessions. At no point does any part of the keyboard deck become more than slightly warm, while the fans make remarkably little fuss about pushing hot air out of the two rear vents.
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The x17 doesn’t have a multiplexer switch but rather something better, Nvidia’s Advanced Optimus system, which is effectively an automated MUX switch that gives you all the same benefits (improved frame rate and better display sync) but without the faff of having to reboot the system when you want to bring the integrated graphics processor back into play for longer battery life. If you don’t trust the Optimus automation, the Nvidia control panel lets you switch between the two graphics processors manually, again without rebooting Windows.
The one negative is battery life. Our standard battery rundown test put the lights out on the Alienware x17 in just 4hrs 35mins with the Wi-Fi radio, keyboard backlight and Nvidia GPU all turned off, which is pretty dismal. Thank heavens the power brick is light and compact, because you’ll need to carry it wherever you go.
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Alienware x17 R2 review: Verdict
Does the Alder-Lake x17 R2 displace the Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 as our recommendation for the Ultimate Gaming Laptop? It does. The massive range of specification options, the stunning looks and the effortlessly cool and quiet performance make it impossible not to recommend and outweigh the terrible battery life and excessive adherence to the Alienware orthodoxy of putting all the data ports at the back.
The cheapest models are best avoided – a Full HD 165Hz panel is a bit too low end for a machine of this class and the RTX 3060 only comes with 6GB of vRAM – so make sure you go for the 360Hz panel with either the RTX 3070 Ti or 3080 Ti GPU. Do that and you’ll have the finest large-screen gaming laptop on the market, albeit at a price.