Alienware 17 review: A little slimmer and lighter, but still not exactly portable

What difference does a few inches make? While the Alienware 17 Desktop Replacement Gaming Laptop Isn’t That Small 18-inch Alienware 18The version we reviewed recently sounds like a very different beast. If the 18-inch model was a giant tank that rolled across my desk like a victorious army, the 17-inch version feels like a standard big-screen laptop. Not exactly portable, but of a size and weight you’ve seen before.

While it’s immediately less impressive as a conversation piece, the smaller (of course, that’s a relative term here) chassis is more ergonomic and easier to use for gaming, web-surfing, or even on those rare occasions. Handy when it has to be carried in a backpack or under your arm for transit.

Trade-offs include a smaller screen, albeit with the same 1,920×1,080 resolution, a single video card versus the power-hungry SLI setup in the Alienware 18, and fewer hard drive options—if you want to mimic the 512GB SSD in the Alienware. In 18 plus the 750GB HDD, you’ll have to swap out the optical drive bay.

When it comes to 17-inch gaming laptops, you have more options than the 18-inch size. In addition to Alienware, Origin PC, Maingear, Toshiba, Asus and others all make similarly configured 17-inch laptops, and most start at around $1,500 for decent, but not eye-popping, specs. Our Alienware 17 includes a high-end Core i7 processor, top-of-the-line Nvidia GeForce 780M, a Blu-ray player, and a 256GB SSD/750GB HDD storage combo for a total of $2,699. A hearty investment to be sure, but nothing close to the $4,000-plus Alienware 18.

If you don’t want to spend as much as our more expensive Alienware 18 costs, the 17-inch version is a bit more portable, while still delivering in excellent game performance. Your primary options are to build or buy a non-portable gaming desktop, or get a similar 17-inch system from a boutique PC maker. In the latter case, the trade-off is between Alienware’s excellent design and chassis construction and the boutique-level hands-on customer service and overclocking you can get from a younger PC gaming specialist.

cost$2,699$1,799$4,449
Display Size / Resolution17-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 screen17.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 screen17-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 screen
PC CPU2.7GHz Intel Core i7 4800MQ2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700MQ3GHz Intel Core i7 4930MX
pc memory16GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM16GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM16GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM
graphics4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M3GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 770(2) 4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 780M
Storage256GB SSD + 750GB HD256GB SSD + 1TB 7,200rpm Hard Drive(2) 120GB SSD + 750GB
optical drivebd-romBlu-rayDVD WriterNo one
networkingGigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wireless, Bluetooth 4.0Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth 4.0Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating SystemWindows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)Windows 8 (64-bit)Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

Design and Features
Even though the Alienware 17 and Alienware 18 differ by only about an inch in screen size, the overall physical difference between the two systems is significant, as the larger Alienware 18 can fit dual video cards and multiple hard drives at the same time. The 17-inch chassis is 1.8 inches thick, while the 18-inch version is up to 2.5 inches deep. This is especially important because the 18-inch Alienware’s keyboard sits above your desktop, and I had some ergonomic trouble with it. The 18-inch model weighs 12.3 pounds without the bricked power cable, and 15.5 pounds with it, while the Alienware 17 itself is 9.4 pounds, and 11.4 pounds with its power cable—still heavy but fairly light .

Other than the size difference, both the Alienware look almost identical. The latest all-the-board Alienware Design Revision presents the system as a thick, matte black slab, its monochromatic color interrupted only by Alienware’s distinctive kitschy light show. Off, it absorbs light, not quite blending into the background, but still simplistic for a thick, heavy, dark laptop with colored lights and an alien head logo on the back of the lid. The rock-solid construction feels very high-end in the hand, and I especially like the soft-touch finish.

The biggest advantage of the 17-inch model over the 18-inch model is the comfort. The big Alienware is so thick, its keyboard tray sits 1.75 inches above the desk. For gamers who spend a lot of their time with fingers rested on WASD keys, this can mean that your arm and wrist are raised at an awkward angle from the system’s pointed-angled front lip. is sharp and how far the keyboard is from the edge.

Alienware 18 on the left and Alienware 17 on the right.

In the Alienware 17, the keyboard tray is only 1.25 inches high (the front rises slightly to the back), and that makes a big difference. The keyboard is also closer to the front lip, and I had fewer problems getting my hands on the all-important WASD keys comfortably.

Plus, the keyboard and touch pad will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the current-gen 14-inch and 18-inch Alienware systems. The large keys are tapered slightly at the top to avoid accidental keystrokes. They have a satisfying depth and the large shift, controls, and other keys often used in PC gaming are well placed for in-game use. A full number pad is on the right, but this model looses the row of user-definable macro keys found on the left side of the keyboard on the Alienware 18.

The backlit touch pad is a good size, and holds separate physical left and right mouse buttons, rather than using a new clickpad-style surface. But for gamers, it’s probably a moot point, as you’re likely to be using an external mouse for all of your serious gaming.

As expected from Alienware, the chassis lights up in all sorts of interesting ways, with a backlit keyboard, the Alienware logo, a light-up Alien head on the back of the lid, and a few more zones. All of these can be controlled from the Alien FX Control Panel, a software app that allows you to choose from preset themes or create your own with different colors for each backlit zone. It’s nothing more than a cool party trick, but I especially like how the touch pad is fully backlit, can glow in any of two dozen colors, and lights up when touched.

Any big-screen gaming laptop lives or dies depending on its display. This 17.3-inch screen has a native resolution of 1,920×1,080-pixels, which is about what you’d expect from a gaming laptop. Still, smaller, less expensive systems, from the MacBook Pro to the Lenovo Yoga 2 to the Toshiba Kirabook, all have high resolutions of up to 3,200×1,800 pixels, and it’s unfair to ask forward-looking gaming laptops to follow suit. is not.

Both the 14-inch and 17-inch Alienware laptops have matte displays, while the recently reviewed Alienware 18 has a glossy display (all with the same 1080p resolution). I personally prefer the matte look for less glare and eyeshadow, but it’s not a deal breaker by any means. The Alienware 17 looks great when playing games, but I’ll admit to using it once the 18-inch version leaves me a little screen-size-envy.

VideoHDMI and Mini-DisplayPort
AudioStereo Speakers, (x2) Headphone/(x1) Microphone Jack
data3 USB 3.0, SD Card Reader
networkingEthernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
optical driveNo one

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