The Alienware brand name has an impressive pedigree behind it and their refreshed Alienware 17 R4 has a lot to live up to though it fortunately justifies its reputation and then some as an outstanding gaming rig.
Externally, the Alienware 17 R4 is a massive obsidian behemoth hewn of matte black plastic that dials the bling up to 11 by including customisable LED lighting on the left and right edges as well as the Alienware logo inset into the top lid and the lower flanks of the notebook. This LED backlighting extends to the touchpad and the backlit keyboard too which creates an unearthly glow if you turn it on at night.
The design is all about aggressive angles with angular edges on the corners all around. While it makes for an eye catching stylistic choice, the sharp angles at the bottom edges of the notebook make for an uncomfortable typing experience over long durations of time as they tend to poke at your wrists. This may vary depending on your typing style of course though a modest adjustment by placing the notebook slightly lower than our normal waist height resolved the problem handily.
The right side of the notebook comes with a Type-A SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port and extensive heat ventilation grilles. The left side of the notebook comes with more ports than the left including a USB Type-C port, a Type-A USB 3.0 port, a headphone port and an audio out for attached headsets.
The rear of the Alienware 17 R4 comes with a Gigabit Ethernet port, a mini-display port 1.2 output, a HDMI 2.0 output, a Thunderbolt 3 port and the obligatory power port to jeep it juiced with the rest of the space taken up by extensive grilles that allow the notebook to efficiently vent heat.
Of note is the inclusion of an Alienware Graphics Amplifier port that effectively future proofs it as it allows you, sometime down the line, to augment the notebook with external graphics.
Popping the lid open reveals the massive 17.3-inch Full HD display. If you have cash to spare, you can upgrade this panel to UHD resolution though our review unit was the stock configuration which consists of a 1080P resolution panel that has a matte finish with somewhat chunky bezels surrounding it and the LED-backlit Alienware logo as well as Tobii eye tracking hardware at the base of the display. The top comes with a webcam.
Interestingly enough, the hinge for the display is set not at the every edge of the notebook, which is the norm, but slightly forward of the edge. According to their boffins, this was a conscious design decision for better ventilation even under heavy loads and for better organisation of the notebooks extensive array of ports which are mostly plonked on the rear. The hinge mechanism itself is built like a tank and is exceptionally sturdy without any perceivable wobble. It is also surprisingly smooth as well, allowing you to actually open it one-handed. The top-lid itself has similar build quality and while thick and somewhat chunky, exhibited no play or flex.
The full sized LED-backlit keyboard comes with the works including a numeric keypad on the right as well as a customisable array of keys set in a vertical row to the left of the keyboard and the upper right. The keyboard itself also supports n-key rollover and integrates a reinforced steel backplate that ensures structural integrity over the long term. Inset at the base of the notebook facing forward are a pair of stereo speakers.
Bar the somewhat uncomfortable edges on the palm rests, the Alienware 17 R4 is a proven design with an otherwise soundly designed gaming rig that has a fingerprint resistant finish and a well considered, relatively ergonomic layout with most of the ports and ventilation arrayed around the back to keep it neatly out of sight. The external LED backlighting combined with its aggressive angular aesthetic lends it a distinctive look that will appeal to those looking for a unique looking rig.
Alienware 17 R4 performance
In terms of hardware, the Alienware 17 R4 is loaded for bear with an Intel Core i7-7700HQ 2.8GHz processor, 16GB DDR4 RAM, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card and a combination of a 256GB PCie SSD paired with a 1TB 7200rpm hard disk for storage. Granted, it’s not the latest eighth generation Intel Coffee Lake processor but the i7-7700HQ remains one of the more potent options from the existing Kaby Lake generation of processors.
When subjected to synthetic benchmarks, the notebook yielded a score of 5265 on 3D Mark’s TimeSpy benchmark and a score of 4,071 on 3D Mark’s Fire Strike Ultra. In PCMark 10, the notebook got a score of 4,312 while in PCMark 8’s Creative Accelerated test it got a score of 4,717. In CineBench R15, the Alienware 17 got an OpenGL score of 84.34fps and a CPU score of 725cb. In the Far Cry 5 benchmark, the notebook got an immensely pleasing average 86fps, dipping down to a minimum 71fps under heavy loads and maxing out at 103fps on High graphics quality settings. In Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, it yielded a respectable 59.8fps on average and maxes out at 60.7fps.
The benchmarks aren’t a definitive indicator of overall performance though they paint a very positive picture of it as an immensely capable gaming rig that can handle the latest games today without faltering and serious paperwork up to and including a decent amount of enthusiast video rendering too.
When put to the test, the Alienware 17 R4 capably handled the likes of Far Cry 5 at Full HD with most of the settings on high without a hitch with exquisitely beautiful textures and smooth framerates without lagging even with heavy firefights involving multiple combatants happening onscreen. Other games including Deus Ex: Mankind Divided were handled without issue with equally smooth frame rates and nary a pause to the action onscreen.
The Tobii Eye Tracking feature tracks where your eyeballs are pointing at and helps add another level of interactivity when gaming but it only works with certain games such as Tom Clancy’s The Division and the aforementioned Far Cry 5. Alas, it proved to be a novelty more than a compelling enhancement to gameplay during our time tinkering with it.
The matte display proved a treat for watching movies and gaming alike with beautifully vibrant hues and pin sharp detail under all the usual indoor scenarios including under direct overhead neon lighting. The notebook’s front-firing stereo speakers proved rather capable and had enough breadth and depth to handle Ramin Djawadi’s varied work in the Westworld soundtrack which spans everything from his robust rework of Paint it Black to subtle tracks like Dr. Ford.
Naturally, it excels at its primary task of rendering gaming audio and was a dab hand with all of Far Cry 5’s diverse array of explosions and gunfire. Should the default settings not appeal, you can open up the Alienware Sound Center and tweak the treble, bass and other minutiae to your exact specifications.
When tackling paperwork, the Alienware 17 R4 is sheer overkill with the ability to open a dozen browser windows in Chrome simultaneously, run iFlix in a window on the side and also render a short video too.
All this would be for naught though if the notebook had a naff keyboard. Fortunately, the Alienware 17 R4 was up to the task and it’s full sized TactX keyboard was a delight to type on as it had a short 2.2mm of key travel and excellent tactility that allowed for a fairly robust typing speed to crunch through reams of text.
We initially thought the shortcut keys were placed in a somewhat quaint position, being as it is plonked on the extreme left row on the keyboard in a vertical row but after several weeks of field testing, found them to be in exactly the right place. It’s close enough that the majority of the shortcut keys can be reached with a pinky finger if needed and just far enough away to prevent an accidental misfire. The touchpad itself proved equally swift and responsive as well though you still need a decent gaming mouse if you aim to play competitively.
Alienware 17 R4 Price and Battery Life
The Alienware 17 R4 has a number of power settings on a slider that let you choose between performance or power efficiency. The test unit was set at just a notch below maximum performance levels and managed to eke out a decent 4 hours of battery life on a heavy albeit non-gaming workload that included streaming videos on iFlix and a spot of writing too. Heavy gaming however drained the battery in under a couple of hours. Naturally, your mileage may vary on your own usage settings. Like many gaming rigs, you still oughtn’t wander far from the mains with this.
As it stands, the Alienware 17 R4 is a solid gaming rig that ticks all the boxes that a gamer would want – a good display, solid hardware than can tackle any game currently available, a great keyboard and solid speakers too.
While your individual tastes towards bling can vary, the fact that the Alienware 17 R4 has the option to light things up with LED strips on its chassis is a welcome one. All this clocks in at a fairly pretty penny though and the Alienware 17 R4 doesn’t come cheap. What you do pay for though is solid build quality and Dell’s usual impeccable after sales service. If you have the cash to spare and are in need of a solid (and blinged up) gaming rig, the Alienware 17 R4 is well worth your consideration.
Display 17.3-inch, Full HD with Tobii Eye-tracking
Processor Intel Core i7-7700HQ 2.8GHz
OS Windows 10 Home
Storage 16GB DDR4 RAM / 256GB PCie SSD + 1TB 7200rpm hard disk
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 with 8GB GDDR5
Size/Weight 424 x 332 x 29.9mm / 4.42kg
What we liked Powerful hardware, great performance, responsive keyboard, good display
What we didn’t Middling battery life, immensely heavy, some ergonomic niggles with the palm rests
We say The Alienware 17 R4 is an immensely powerful and weighty gaming rig that proves to be exceptionally capable at tackling some of the most demanding games in the market today.