Alienware 17 (2014) review

Alienware 17

This newly updated version of the Alienware 17 laptop isn't radically different from its predecessors, but but it adds a new GeForce GTX 880M graphics card that provides high-end gaming performance at a more competitive price than we've seen before. (For comparison see our Alienware 17 (2013) review: gaming laptop with a Haswell processor.)

The performance of this new GPU promises to be impressive, especially as it should provide high-end gaming performance at a more competitive price than we've seen before.

The design of the Alienware 17 is essentially unchanged – it's built like a tank, measuring a full 48.5 mm thick and weighing 4.2 kg. Portability obviously isn't its strong point. And like all Alienware laptops, it's bedecked with customizable coloured lights that smoulder from beneath the keyboard, trackpad and various other sections of the matt-black chassis, just to let you know what a bad-ass gaming rig you've paid for. (See also: the 15 best laptops: the best laptops you can buy in 2014.)

Alienware 17 (2014) review: features and connectivity

One advantage of the laptop's size is that there's plenty of space to include useful stuff. There's a built-in DVD drive – although it's a real shame that Dell doesn't provide a Blu-ray drive as a build-to-order option – along with gigabit ethernet, four USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port that provides both input and output options, and Mini DisplayPort.

Battery life isn't outstanding, but switching to integrated graphics did allow the Alienware 17 to manage 4.5 hours of streaming video from the BBC iPlayer. That's not bad for such a powerful machine, and should allow you to watch a few episodes of Game Of Thrones before you need to charge it up again. (See all laptops buying advice.)

Alienware 17 (2014) review: display

The 17.3-inch screen is as attractive as ever, with 1920 x 1080 resolution and a bright, colourful image that provides excellent all-round viewing angles.

The speakers sound a little tinny at higher frequencies, but they produce a fairly full sound with enough volume to handle explosions in games and films without needing external speakers.

But while full-HD resolution is perfectly adequate for gaming and HD video presentation, there are other applications, such as video- or photo-editing, that benefit from even higher resolution. And, at almost £1700, you could be forgiven for wanting something more like the 2880 x 1800 resolution of Apple's similarly-priced MacBook Pro.

Alienware 17

But, of course, the MacBook Pro isn't a gaming machine and the Alienware 17 outguns the MacBook Pro when it comes to graphics performance.

Prices for the Alienware 17 range start at £1299, although our top-of-the-range review model came in at £1699 with a Haswell-generation Intel Core i7 running at 2.4 GHz, 8 GB of memory, an nVidia GTX 880M with another 8 GB of its own video memory, and a hybrid 1 TB hard drive that's assisted by an 80 GB solid-state module. That package doesn't come cheap, of course, but it's about £100 less than last year's model.  (Also read: How to choose a laptop below £500.)

Alienware 17 (2014) review: performance benchmarks

That combination produced a score of 5600 points when running the general-purpose PCMark 7 tests; and 3100 points and 3300 points respectively in the Home and Work suites in PCMark 8.

Those are strong scores, although a dedicated solid-state drive would enhance performance even further here. However, we couldn't fault the GeForce GTX 880M when it comes to gaming performance.

The Alienware 17 easily hit 135 fps even when running Stalker: Call Of Pripyat at maximum 1920 x 1080 resolution on its Ultra graphics setting.

Running Tomb Raider 2013 on its default setting – 1920 x 1080 with Normal quality – produced a strong 60.1 fps, and this barely wavered when we stepped up to High. Cranking the settings up to Ultimate did have more of an effect, dropping to 46 fps, but that's still strong enough to satisfy even hard-core gamers.

It did well with Batman: Arkham City too, sustaining a smooth 46 fps even on that game's maximum settings at full-HD resolution.

That's not the highest score we've seen with those settings – the dual-GPUs used by the behemoth Alienware 18 managed to hit 53 fps, but only at a cost of more than £3000. A price tag of £1700 still isn't cheap, of course, but it's almost mid-range for a gaming laptop. Previous versions of the Alienware 17 have cost well over £2000, so the GTX 880M does manage to provide high-end gaming performance at a more competitive price than ever before. (See also: best laptops for games.)

Alienware 17

Alienware 17 (2014): Specs

  • 17.3-inch (1920 x 1080 pixel, 127.34 ppi) TN display, anti-glare finish
  • 2.4 GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ (3.4 GHz Turbo)
  • nVidia GeForce GTX 880M (8GB) & Intel HD Graphics 4600
  • Windows 8.1 (64-bit)
  • 8 GB DDR3L RAM
  • 1 TB hard drive & 80 GB solid-state cache
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 1x HDMI 1.4
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • SDXC card slot
  • 720p webcam/microphone
  • 1x headphone, 1x speaker socket, 1x microphone socket
  • 86 Wh lithium-ion battery
  • 413.5 x 299 x 48.5 mm
  • 4.2 kg
  • 17.3-inch (1920 x 1080 pixel, 127.34 ppi) TN display, anti-glare finish
  • 2.4 GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ (3.4 GHz Turbo)
  • nVidia GeForce GTX 880M (8GB) & Intel HD Graphics 4600
  • Windows 8.1 (64-bit)
  • 8 GB DDR3L RAM
  • 1 TB hard drive & 80 GB solid-state cache
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 1x HDMI 1.4
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • SDXC card slot
  • 720p webcam/microphone
  • 1x headphone, 1x speaker socket, 1x microphone socket
  • 86 Wh lithium-ion battery
  • 413.5 x 299 x 48.5 mm
  • 4.2 kg

OUR VERDICT

The Alienware 17 isn't perfect – a laptop costing this much really ought to include a proper solid-state drive, and maybe 16 GB memory too. And, of course, its sheer size and weight mean that it's rarely going to leave home. However it provides top-of-the-range performance that would previously have cost you £2000 or more. It's a great choice for gamers who can afford not to compromise so much.

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