Alienware‘s m17 is a hard laptop to pigeonhole. For all appearances it’s just a bigger version of the m15, but in practice it’s something entirely different. Sure they look the same, but the smaller one only really competes against other gaming laptops. The m17 feels built to take on all-comers.
Bigger is usually better, but it’s also … well, bigger. Alienware and other manufacturers have wrestled with the giant end of gaming laptops for years, but only recently have we seen these new slimmed-down designs float towards the top of the power spectrum.
And this means the m17 isn’t just for gamers with deep pockets. In the configuration I tested – which includes the 4K screen option, Nvidia RTX 2080 Max-Q design graphcs card, and an Intel core i9-8950HK CPU at 2.90GHz – it’s perfectly suited for design, video editing, music, and photography. Plus you can toss it in your backpack. Well, you’ll need a big backpack, but at least it’s portable.
The m17 looks like someone grabbed an m15 by its corners and stretched it two inches. I think this is fantastic because it means there’s more of the gorgeous red soft-touch material covering its lid.
The rest of the design is elegant, simple, and modern. I love the alien angles and garish logos, but I appreciate how subdued today’s m-series is compared to Alienware‘s older offerings. Still, I wish Alienware could figure out how to trim down the bezels around the screen just a hair. I’m not sure if they’re so big because they couldn’t squeeze all the guts into a smaller form factor so they just added bezels until the top matched the bottom, or if it’s the screen’s fault. For whatever reason, the screen is a bit swallowed up.
Enough about looks, the real star of the show is what’s under the hood here. This thing is a monster. I won’t tell you it’s the fastest gaming laptop out there – it’s not even the fastest Alienware laptop – but I will say that it’s fast enough play most games on max settings at 1080p resolution while maintaining 100 FPS or higher. And it’s capable of maintaining 60 FPS at 4K resolution for most games on the high/very high or equivalent graphical settings.
It’s also more than suited for Photoshop, 4K video editing and rendering, and other similarly resource-intensive design and software functions. This is one of the few laptops I can edit 4K photos, 3D videos for VR, run my entire recording studio on, or play Shadow of The Tomb Raider with all of its graphical options turned on, including real-time ray-tracing.
The gaming experience on the m17 goes beyond simply enjoying the raw power of its RTX 2080 card and Intel Core i9 processor. Thanks to its size you have the option to enjoy 4K gaming, a full-sized keyboard complete with number pad, and plenty of ports for your peripherals. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s about the power too.
I played the usual suspects: Grand Theft Auto V, Skyrim VR, LA Noire: The VR Case Files, The Witcher 3, and Forza Horizon 4. To the game, each played perfectly. GTA and The Witcher look amazing and play buttery-smooth. The VR titles were free of hiccups, tearing, and freezing – a rare feat for a laptop. And frame rates were consistent across the board – over 100 for 1080p, over 60 for 4K.
But I found I liked the m17 best when I started pulling out games I usually reserve for playing on larger monitors connected to beastly desktops. Civilization VI, Total War: The Three Kingdoms, and NBA 2K19 all work much better on a 17-inch screen than a 15, and this one has enough power behind it to make sure I don’t miss my desk.
Things go from stellar to perfectly average once you get past the main selling points of the m17. This isn’t a knock, obviously Alienware had to choose carefully when it came to filling up the limited space it had to work with inside of the slimline case.
The audio is passable. I’ll be honest, I was so nonplussed by the speakers that I didn’t bother listening to music on them. They do a fine job for gaming, having all the right moves to imitate surround sound, but there’s no oomph to them. I compensated by using headphones.
The fans aren’t quiet and, under the default power profile, they’re always on. And I mean always. If you put the laptop in sleep mode by pushing the power button or closing the lid, they’ll still be on. If they shut off after a few minutes, they’ll inexplicably kick on minutes or hours later even if the lid remains closed. This isn’t a complaint, this computer is a monster and all similar laptops run hot. But it’s something potential buyers should be aware of. Especially if you’re used to less powerful rigs.
However there is another bright spot for the m17 buried beneath its growling graphics card and gnashing processor: the battery. Whatever magic Alienware‘s managed to do has resulted in a laptop with a 17-inch 4K screen that can run for about 5 hours on battery power alone. Obviously this dips dramatically if you’re gaming, but otherwise it means you can actually commute with this thing or use it at a coffee shop.
The bottom line
I like big laptops and I cannot lie, but this one isn’t huge. If you’re moving up you’ll love the extra space, but if you’ve already got an older 17-incher and you’re looking to modernize: you’re going to love how small the m17 feels.
If you like power, it’s got plenty crammed inside its relatively diminutive shell. If all you care about is power: consider the Alienware Area m51 instead. The m17 is the better looking model, for my money, and its gorgeous 17-inch 4K screen pushes it over the top for me.
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Published May 22, 2019 — 19:43 UTC