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Alienware 17 review: Beauty and beast in one gorgeous gaming notebook

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal | June 12, 2014
Dell completely redesigned its Alienware gaming laptop line in 2013, debuting new, sleek-looking chasses at E3. The Alienware 17 sports curves where there used to be lines, lines where there used to be nothing, and steel-gray, anodized aluminum and magnesium alloy where there used to be rubbery plastic. This machine also has a customizable 10-zone lighting system, which is a huge draw for visual nerds like me.

Graphics performance on the Alienware 17 is excellent — as you might expect from an all-new graphics card with 8GB of GDDR5 — but it still can't rival the insanely powerful dual-, triple-, or even quad-GPU setups you can stuff into a desktop tower. Good news, though: If you're desperate for dual-GPU performance, there is a dual-GeForce GTX 880M option available with the 18.4-inch Alienware 18.

With its single 880M graphics card, the Alienware 17 delivered excellent frame rates with all of our medium-quality graphics tests at resolution of 1920x1080. In BioShock Infinite, the Alienware 17 popped out 122 frames per second (fps) suto the Asus G750's 105. In Grid 2, the units were more evenly matched: The Alienware 17 managed 135 fps, while the Asus G750 was slightly ahead with 138 fps.

Design: Alienware steps up

There's not a lot a system designer can do to make a massive, 17.3-inch, 9.8-pound laptop look sexy. But it's still worth a try. Dell's Alienware team — which operates with at least some autonomy from the mothership — has done a great job of redesigning its gaming machines to look more refined and polished. This iteration has an attractive metal cover, with well-placed curves and lines vaguely reminiscent of a Lamborghini. The notebook also feels extremely solid, like I could throw it out of a second-story window and not have to worry about the chassis.

Inside, Alienware keeps it simple: There's a full-size keyboard, a numeric keypad, and a medium-size trackpad with two discrete mouse buttons. The upper-right corner houses a large power button, and there are a few extra hotkeys above the number pad, but there are no extraneous buttons cluttering up the keyboard deck.

The keyboard itself is comfortable, with large, soft-touch keys; but it's not the best keyboard I've used. The keys are a little slippery, which you'll notice if you type quickly, and they offer weak tactile feedback. The trackpad is average — it's not quite as responsive as I'd like — but at least the mouse buttons are large and easy to press. A poor-quality trackpad isn't as much of an issue on a gaming notebook, because most gamers opt for an external mouse. But a mediocre keyboard can be a deal-breaker.

The keyboard is backlit, as you'd expect, and Alienware provides a 10-zone lighting system you can customize with a software utility. Most of the lighting is just novelty, but gamers will appreciate the four zones dedicated to the keyboard and number pad (three for the former and one for the latter). The zone covering the trackpad, which lights up each time you touch it, is particularly fun, if perhaps a little distracting.

 

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