Alienware has gone back and radically redesigned the chassis of their entire mobile lineup, and it's a difference you can see and feel. Their motif was to capture the difference between the 90s idea of alien technology which informed the previous designs and the modern pop culture idea of alien technology, and amusingly I do think they've found it. The base of the new 17 is bevelled and extends up and out, and illuminated lines ring it.

The lid and much of the shell is now aluminum; there's color-configurable illumination of the Alienware logo and two slits in the panel, as well as an aluminum trim surrounding the body of the notebook. Open it up and the interior is still the same soft touch black plastic we're used to from Alienware.

Gone is the group of shortcut buttons above the keyboard, with media controls now shifted to Fn key combinations. The keycaps and keyboard layout are also changed; the caps are a bit more subtle and still very comfortable, but the keyboard layout is a step back, I think. The document navigation keys have been moved (but are still dedicated, thankfully), replaced with a row of four configurable keys above the number pad. I feel like the essential problem with this placement is that it's not something you even see on desktop gaming keyboards; the old and more traditional layout was, I think, superior.

The new touchpad surface is comfortable and we still have dedicated buttons, but I'm not keen on having the touchpad itself backlit. Alienware went through the trouble of having the backlighting in the keyboard become less obtrusive, so why undermine that decision with a big fat backlit rectangle? It only lights up when you touch it, and it can be disabled entirely (along with all of the configurable lighting as is traditional), but it seems like a waste in the first place. The highlighted touchpad trim on the old chassis was more attractive and more sensible.

The interior of the Alienware 17 remains as sensible as ever, though. The battery is no longer easily user-replaceable, but notebooks like this one seldom spend much time off the mains in the first place. We still get a dual fan cooling system that isolates the CPU and GPU from one another. Honestly, this internal design remains relatively easy to service and upgrade independently, but remember that Dell/Alienware has a bad history of generationally updating BIOSes. There's no reason why the M17x R3 can't use a 680M or 780M, for example, or even an Ivy Bridge CPU, but a lack of BIOS updates made all but the 680M impossible, and that chip requires modified drivers.

Ultimately I'm fond of the Alienware 17 redesign, especially the switch from a glossy display to matte, but I feel like there's still a void in the market where a sleeker, more sophisticated and frankly adult design could exist. Razer is halfway there, but by being unwilling to produce a thicker machine, they're prevented from using the highest end mobile hardware. This redesign is fine and arguably an upgrade from the old chassis, but there's honestly a lot of room for improvement. Alienware really needs to find the happy medium between form and function.

Introducing the Alienware 17 System and Futuremark Performance
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  • JarredWalton - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    GE40 has HDD + SSD, so toss that out. Larger screen and other items remain, but really we're talking about a laptop (GE40) that draws around 7.15W in our Light battery test compared to 20.63W (AW17), 18.56W (P157SM), and 20.49W (P177SM). That's a full 10W or more difference for basically a 1-2W screen difference; most of the other items on the motherboard should be in a deep sleep state during the battery life testing, but Clevo and Alienware appear to have been quite lazy in that regard this round.

    To illustrate just how bad it is, let's look at the MSI GT70 Dragon. Dustin tested the initial Dragon and measured 22.34W power draw in our Light test, making that the worst of the GTX 780M notebooks. I received two more Dragon notebooks for testing, and I'll have an article on this shortly, but with an updated BIOS and firmware MSI dramatically improved battery life. The second two laptops achieved power draw of 13.71W (i7-4700MQ) and 14.21W (i7-4930MX) in the exact same Light test. So firmware updates to help power down inactive components on the motherboard and such were able to reduce idle power use by over 30%. The Alienware 17 and Clevo notebooks almost certainly could achieve the same reduction, if Dell and Clevo were to put in the time and effort to properly optimize their BIOS.
    Reply
  • CharonPDX - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    Ladies and gentlemen, we have found an apologist for a manufacturer other than Apple, and it's even worse than Apple fanboyism... Reply
  • landsome - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    I don't get it... So the AW17 earns a recommendation, but what are its advantages over a similarly equipped Clevo or MSI? Apparently by your own admission design still leaves a substantial amount to be desired, and in other departments - battery, screen, raw power, perhaps even temps were it not for AW's conservative approach to clocks/heat - the 17 seems no better or slightly worse than a GT70 or a P177SM. Price is another disadvantage. So what makes it the gaming notebook to buy at this time? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    The design leaves something to be desired, but it's still better than the Clevo and MSI offerings. Obviously there's subjective opinion on this matter, but the designs on all of the top gaming notebooks are flawed to varying degrees. I'd probably go with Clevo this round, based more on pricing than on design, with Alienware 17 being second and MSI third. Dustin swaps AW for Clevo, and since he's used the P177SM and AW17, he's entitled to that opinion. Reply
  • MDX - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    Agreed. Alienware's keyboard might have been a step back, but it's light years ahead of the chiclet keyboards found on all other gaming computer. Dell's warranty is (IME) better, as well. Personally, I can't stand matte screens, so that's a mark against it, and I think the styling could have used more metal and been a bit slimmer - especially on the 14.

    I'm in the market for a gaming notebook since my XPS M1730 finally bit the dust, but I'm leaning towards a customized MSI Dragon 2 from XoticPC, because I can get it with a gloss screen there. Just wish I could get a non-chiclet kb on it...damn you apple, and damn everyone that's copied apple and installed chiclet kbs.

    Clevo/sager don't even make it on my radar...sorry, at these price points, I expect my hardware to have some style other than "square/black". Your phone/car/clothes aren't black bricks are they? I don't want my PC to be, either.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - link

    Why do you place the MSI last? Reply
  • Gunbuster - Sunday, September 8, 2013 - link

    "Alienware isn't as flexible as it used to be, and as a result if you want any of the good stuff, you have to shell out for the $2,299 top base model and then upgrade that."

    Dell this is why your sales are down something like 74%. People who buy dell's like to customize. Your "ships quick" BS where the config choice is office, a mouse, and bloated AV is NOT Customization.

    Stop hiding config options. Stop penalizing long time customers.
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Monday, September 9, 2013 - link

    Funny, not noticing an awful lot of fanboy screaming about the 780M like there was with the 7970M. It appears to be comparably broken, only it costs more too! Yay! Reply
  • Gunbuster - Monday, September 9, 2013 - link

    You mean the 7970M that had broken Enduro for over a year all while AMD had user forum threads about it deleted so no one would catch on? Reply
  • deeps6x - Monday, September 9, 2013 - link

    The 'bonus performance' you speak of should only exist in overclocking situations. In standard form the 780M should work the same for everyone. They are only binning it for power, so I don't get why they are having problems with drivers on it. The desktop GK104 has been out a long while and doesn't have the same problems.

    OMG, Dell FINALLY figures out that this thing should have had a matte screen all along? Will wonders never cease? Now hopefully they realize they also need to move to 16:10 instead of 16:9.

    Yes, the light up track pad is exclusively for kiddies. How many kiddies have 2 grand plus to blow on an overpriced laptop? Scrap it Dell. Scrap it now.

    No IPS option? What F the?
    Reply

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