The Bottom Line
Jan 22 2013 - Alienware's flagship gaming laptop has been updated internally to keep up with advances in graphics and processors but doesn't change its iconic design. Overall, the system really emphasizes style when compared to its competition. It doesn't have the same level of display, storage or graphics as its competitors at this price point but it makes up for it with a huge array of peripheral connectors, larger battery pack ad much more customization options. It even comes with Windows 7 rather than Windows 8 and is free of software which is very desirable for gamers. The result is a fine gaming system that may not be quite as fast without costly upgrades but is much more distinctive in appearance.
- Highly Customizable
- Stylish Design
- Excellent Range of Peripheral Connectors
- Lower Resolution Display Compared To Competition
- Smaller Than Average Hard Drive
- Customization Adds Quickly To The Cost
- Intel Core i7-3630QM Quad Core Mobile ProcessorS
- 6GB PC3-12800 DDR3 Memory
- 500GB 7200rpm SATA Hard Drive
- 8x DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Burner
- 17.3" WSXGA+ (1600x900) Display With 2.1 Megapixel Webcam
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M Graphics With 2GB Memory
- Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth
- Four USB 3.0, eSATA, HDMI (out), HDMI (in), mini-DisplayPort, VGA, 9-in-1 Card Reader
- 16.1 x 12" x 1.8" @ 9.4 lbs.
- Windows 7 Home Premium, Office Starter
Review - Alienware M17x R4
Jan 22 2013 - The Alienware M17x R4 isn't so much of a redesign as more of an internal update to the previous M17x R3. It has the same external appearance and features as the last model. This includes the soft touch exterior finish which makes it easy to carry around and the customizable AlienFX lighting that lets users choose how they want the various features such as the keyboard, trackpad, logo and speaker grills colored. Since this is a gaming specific laptop, it is heavier than most 17-inch laptops at 9.4 pounds but it does pack some significant performance and isn't too unreasonable.
The first of the internal changes is the move to the Intel Ivy Bridge processors. The base $1499 version uses the Intel Core i7-3630QM which frankly provides more than enough performance for a mobile gaming platform or pretty much any type of performance laptop. The system does feature just 6GB of DDR3 memory at this price point but it is fine for gaming. It would have been nice to see it come with 8GB as this is what most of the competition provide. Thankfully, DDR3 memory is relatively inexpensive and it is a fairly simple process to upgrade the memory.
Storage is the one area where the gaming systems tend to skimp on features and the Alienware M17x R4 is no different. It features a 500GB hard drive that is roughly half the size of what standard 17-inch laptops in this price range have to offer. It does spin at the 7200rpm spin rate which does help boost performance slightly but it still falls short of what systems with solid state drives or SSD caching can offer and both are available as customization options. The feeling is that gamers don't need as much space because they are not storing things like digital media on the laptops. If you do need to add extra space, there are a total of four USB 3.0 ports and an eSATA port for use with high speed external drives. This is certainly more than the typical system that offers just two USB 2.0 ports and no eSATA. A standard dual layer DVD burner handles playback and recording of CD or DVD media.
The next major change is in the graphics system. The display panel has remained the same but Alienware has moved away from the AMD Radeon HD mobile graphics to the NVIDIA GeForce instead. In this case, it is the GeForce GTX 660M graphics processor with 2GB of memory. This is a good choice but those wanting additional performance can move up to either the newer AMD or higher GeForce graphics if they buy the more expensive models. In terms of performance, it should be able to run the majority of modern PC games at the full 1600x900 resolution of the display panel. Those looking to upgrade to a 1080p display panel will probably want to upgrade the graphics as well but these two options will add a significant cost to the case $1499 price tag.
Battery life is always a major concern for gaming systems as they tend to have very power hungry components. Because of this, the M17x R4 features a larger nine cell battery pack that features a higher 90WHr capacity rating. For my standard drain test, I use digital video playback which the system does well in with roughly five and a quarter hours before going into standby mode. Now most people buying this will be using it for mobile gaming and that puts a huge strain on it such that people should expect less than two hours before needing to plug into a power outlet.
One aspect that differs from many other companies though is the software. Alienware uses the Windows 7 operating system instead of the newer Windows 8. This is considered better for gaming as uses don't have to deal with the new modern UI as well as the desktop. In addition, the system comes free of any loaded software beyond the Office Starter package built into the OS. This gives the OS a clean slate that can help provide a smoother experience compared to the preloaded software that many PCs come with these days. Of course users can elect to add anti-virus or the Steam client to the system
The gaming segment of 17-inch laptops has a high level of competition and also pricing. The biggest competition for the system comes from ASUS, CyberPower, iBUYPOWER, MSI and Samsung. There are plenty of boutique options available but most will be priced much higher. The ASUS G75VW offers a higher resolution display panel and faster graphics but without the same level of style in the lighting. The CyberPower Gamer Zeus X7 also offers a higher resolution panel and better graphics along with more memory but with fewer peripheral ports and less design style. The iBUYPOWER Valkyrie CZ-17 has faster graphics and a higher resolution display but it is not as nice for color and brightness not to mention it skimps on slower memory. MSI's GT70 0ND offers a higher display and faster graphics along with a Blu-ray drive but is slightly more expensive and has fewer high speed ports and a smaller capacity battery. Finally, Samsung's Series 7 Gamer uses AMD graphics along with a higher resolution display, Blu-ray and larger hard drive but has fewer high speed peripheral ports.