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Dell Alienware 15, Alienware 17 (2015) review - hands on

Tom Morgan
7 Jan 2015
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15 and 17in additions to Dell's Alienware line-up gain external graphics support and 4K touchscreens

Dell might have brought the world's smallest 13in laptop to CES in the form of the updated XPS 13, but the company made sure to give its Alienware gaming brand some time in the spotlight with two new desktop replacement models. The Alienware 15 and Alienware 17 have been added to the line-up, complete with Nvidia's 900m series graphics cards for the first time and compatibility with the company's external graphics card dock. We got to try out both here at CES in order to bring you some first impressions.

The Alienware 15 might be the company's thinnest and lightest 15in laptop ever, having been built from a combination of carbon fibre and aluminium, but that doesn't mean it's verging on Ultrabook territory. At 34mm thick and 3.2kg (not counting power brick) it's at least more portable than previous efforts. It's a similar story with the Alienware 17; it's the lightest 17in laptop ever to come out of the Alienware factory, but still weighs 3.8kg. As you would expect from Alienware, there new design still leaves room for plenty of customisable LEDs on the lid, keyboard tray and fan exhaust vents.

Intead, the real focus has been on graphics performance and screen quality.

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The Alienware 15 is surprisingly the more customisable of the two, with the option to add a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution 4K IPS display. However, we aren't sure that even the AMD Radeon R9 M295X or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M in the most powerful models will be able to run every new release at such a high resolution. You can have up to 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and 1TB of mechanical storage, and add a Core i7-4710HQ quad-core processor.

The Alienware 17, meanwhile, can be equipped with a quad-core Intel i7-4890HQ running at up to 4GHz, up to 16GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980m with 4GB of dedicated video memory. Throw in 512GB of SSD storage and a 1TB hard disk for multimedia files or game installs, and it should be powerful enough to play the latest releases at Full HD. The 17.3in screen can be equipped with a touchscreen, but the basic display is still able to pump out bright 300nit images.

Connectivity is identical on both machines. You get four USB3 ports, HDMI and mini DisplayPort video outputs, Ethernet, a multi-format card reader and 3.5mm audio. Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi are on hand for wireless connections too.

Both models look brilliantly menacing, particularly when you take the time to coordinate the multiple LEDs. They feel incredibly well made too, with the premium materials making a massive difference compared to the rubberised plastics used on Alienware models of previous years. We had no trouble typing on either model's keyboard, so you will certainly be able to do a full day's work before clocking off and booting up an FPS or RPG. The touchpads are comfortable enough to use too, although many gamers will instantly connect a mouse before playing any games.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade isn't actually on the laptop itself though, as both new models are compatible with the Alienware Graphics Amplifier external graphics card. The self-contained box can hold a dual-slot graphics card and has enough power to deliver 375w - more than enough for even the most powerful single GPU cards available to day. With no heat being produced by the laptop graphics card, models equipped with Core i7 CPUs will automatically overclock for extra performance when docked.

It also has four USB ports, which Alienware thinks gamers will use rather than plugging their peripherals into the laptop itself. It will certainly save time if you frequently take your laptop on the move. With the right graphics card, you'll be able to run multiple monitors and play games at much higher frame rates, although naturally this will be an added expense on top of the laptop. The adaptor itself costs £199, so is for serious gamers only.

With capable performance when mobile, and the option to add a dedicated graphics card for even higher frame rates at home, both the Alienware 15 and Alienware 17 look like serious contenders for anyone interested in a gaming laptop.

The best news is that both the Alienware 15 and Alienware 17 are available to order today, directly from Dell. Gamers looking to pick one up should expect to pay £1,199 for the basic 15in and £1,399 for the basic 17in, with prices going up as you add more storage and memory, faster processors, more powerful GPUs and that stunning 4K resolution touchscreen.

We're hoping to put the new models through their paces once we get back from CES, so be sure to check back if you need help deciding which model to buy.