Among the best gaming laptops, there are a variety of styles. Some go for as much RGB lighting as they can muster, while others opt for the standard black and red look we've seen for a decade. But a recent trend has been to make gaming laptops more subtle than in the past, with a more refined gamer flair. Alienware's latest effort may be its most subtle and yet also among the most stylish I've ever seen.
The Alienware x17 isn't just redesigned externally, though, with its soft edges and ports almost exclusively on the rear . It also has a new four-fan cooling system and a new thermal interface material, both of which are proprietary to its parent company, Dell.
All of this engineering, though, comes at a cost. The way we reviewed the laptop, with high-end parts from Intel and Nvidia, as well as 2TB of storage and a mechanical keyboard is more than $3,600, and you could go higher. That makes the x17 a laptop for those with means. If you want a designer laptop, you're paying for the brand.
Design of the Alienware x17
It's been awhile since we've seen a new design from Alienware, and this one is a bit of a surprise. Typically, 17-inch gaming laptops are thick, heavy machines that value function over form. The Alienware x17, though, aims to be both thinner and more powerful than competitors, while still maintaining a look that ensures you know that it's for only the most mature gamers.
Specifically, this notebook is 0.84 inches thick, while still packing an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 and 11th Gen Intel processor, all cooled in this elegant build. (More on Alienware's unique, four-fan cooling system later on).
The lid and the bottom of the laptop are light gray that Alienware calls "lunar light." The company claims that an extra "high endurance" clear coat of paint will protect it from getting stained, but only time will tell how well it works. Either way, the lid is emblazoned with a big militaristic "17" in white, as well as an Alienware logo with full RGB lighting. The touchpad, too, lights up -- something Alienware hasn't done in a few years, though there is a small black border around the RGB this time. (Touchpad lighting used to go edge-to-edge.)
But when you lift the lid up, the color pallet changes to black. There's a thin bezel around the 17.3-inch display, while the keyboard is black with RGB lettering and backlighting and the wrist rest has a soft-touch feel to it. The power button is also an Alienware logo with RGB, nested among some honeycomb-shaped vents.
Alienware laptops have traditionally placed a number of its ports on the back of the laptop. On the x17, almost all of them are there. The power jack is on the left side, while the 3.5 mm headphone jack is on the right. But since the rest of the sides are covered in venting, everything else is within an ovular RGB light ring on the rear, including a Thunderbolt 4 port, USB Type-C and Type-A, HDMI 2.1, a micro SD card slow and mini DisplayPort. The last of those feels a bit dated, considering the option for USB-C or Thunderbolt 4 to a full-sized Displayport cable, but otherwise it's a good list. Some creatives may wish it had a full-sized SD card reader.
While it's not a dealbreaker, it's puzzling that Alienware didn't place the power jack in the back, where it would be out of the way. In this setup, it's the lone cable jutting out of the left side. A single USB port would have been more easily reachable and more useful in that location.
At 15.72 x 11.79 x 0.8 inches, the x17 is quite thin for something this powerful. But at 7.05 pounds, it's deceptively heavy for its size. It's a surprisingly substantial machine. Lift with your knees, not your back.
The existing flagship Alienware m17 R4 is 6.6 pounds and 15.74 x 11.56 x 0.87 inches isn't really that much bigger. It's lighter, however, at 6.6 pounds. The MSI GE76 Raider, meanwhile, is 15.63 x 10.57 x 1.08 inches and 6.39 pounds. The Razer Blade Pro 17 is actually the slimmest of the bunch at 15.55 x 10.24 x 0.78 inches and 6.06 pounds.
Alienware x17 Specifications
|CPU||Intel Core i7-11800H|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Laptop GPU (16GB GDDR6, 165W Max graphics power, 1,545 MHz boost clock)|
|Storage||2x 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD in RAID0|
|Display||17.3 inches, 3840 x 2160, 120 Hz|
|Networking||Killer Wi-Fi 6E AX1675, Bluetooth 5.2|
|Ports||Thunderbolt 4, USB Type-A 3.2 Gen 1, USB Type-C 3.2 Gen 2, Ethernet, HDMI 2.1, Micro SD card slot, Mini DisplayPort 1.4, 3.5 mm headphone/mic jack|
|Power Adapter||330 W|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|
|Dimensions(WxDxH)||15.72 x 11.79 x 0.84 inches / 399.23 x 299.49 x 21.4 mm|
|Weight||7.05 pounds / 3.2 kg|
|Price (as configured)||$3,606.39|
Gaming and Graphics on the Alienware x17
Editor's note: September 24: Following our review being published, Alienware pushed out a BIOS update to enable discrete graphics to run continuously over the mux switch. We, however, test with out of the box settings.
I decided to put the Alienware x17 and its RTX 3080, a top-of-the-line laptop graphics card, through their paces using Deathloop, Arkane Studios' latest FPS.n that game, Alienware's latest didn't disappoint. At 1080p, the laptop ran Deathloop at ultra settings between 80 and 93 frames per second, including in battle. It could even handle ultra settings at 4K, though it dropped to between 38 and 45 frames per second.
We also ran the laptop through our traditional benchmarks, which were a bit more mixed. On Shadow of the Tomb Raider (1080p, highest), the Alienware x17 ran the game at 77 fps, but actually fell behind the other laptops, including the MSI GE76 Raider (106 fps), Alienware m17 R4 (103 fps) and even the Razer Blade Pro 17, with an RTX 3070 (86 fps). At 4K, the x17 rand Tomb Raider at 38 fps.
The Alienware x17 did far better on Grand Theft Auto V (1080p, very high), running the game at 129 frames per second, just two frames shy of the Raider, and higher than both the Blade Pro and the m17 R4.
We saw similar results on Far Cry New Dawn (1080p, ultra), where the x17 played at 94 fps, just behind the Raider's 99 fps, though here the other Alienware, the m17 R4, took the crown at 104 fps.
Similarly, on Borderlands 3, the elder Alienware took the lead on badass settings at 1080p, hitting 102 fps compared to the x17's 94 fps. On Red Dead Redemption 2 at medium settings and 1080p, the x17 ran 1t 81 fps, on par with the m17 and beating the Raider at 77 fps.
We also ran the Alienware x17 through our go-to gauntlet: Metro Exodus at RTX settings for 15 runs, which simulates roughly half an hour of gaming. The first runs started at 71 fps, but slowly dropped to just under 68 fps by the last run. The average frame rate was 68.98 fps.
During that test, the CPU ran at an average of 4.16 GHz and measured an average temperature of 75.77 degrees Celsius (168.39 degrees Fahrenheit). There were some instances of CPU thermal throttling, but it was constant. The GPU ran at an average of 1,429.43 MHz and an average temperature of 73.42 degrees Celsius (164.16 degrees Fahrenheit).
Our review unit came packing an Intel Core i7-11800H, 32GB of RAM, a pair of 1TB M.2 PCIe SSDs in RAID 0 (acting as one drive in Windows), and, of course, the RTX 3080. In our testing, it showed a wider range than gaming: it has productivity muscle, too.
On Geekbench 5, an overall performance test, the Alienware earned a single-core score of 1,539 and a multi-core score of 9,024. That's a higher multi-core score than the MSI GE76 Raider (8,388), but lower on single-core. The x17 also beats the Alienware m17 R4.
The x17 copied 25GB of files at a rate of 1,226.67 MBps, coming in just behind the Raider (1,309.64 MBps) but easily beating both the m17 and the Razer Blade.
On our Handbrake test, the x17 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 5 minutes and 41 seconds, faster than the m17 R4 (6:44) and the rest of the field.
Alienware x17 Cooling
The cooling in the Alienware x17 is unique, and different from the rest of the "Cryo-Tech" it uses in its other laptops.
The obvious part is this: there are four fans. You rarely see a laptop with more than two. Alienware refers to the quad fan tech as "a patent-pending industry exclusive." The idea is that the fans are supposed to move air throughout the system, covering hotspots. They can even run independently at different speeds to prioritize airflow to the CPU, GPU or help reduce external temperatures.
The CPU doesn't just use ordinary thermal paste. Alienware is using a "gallium-silicone" material it is marketing as Element 31, which the company says will let you play at stable rates for a long period of time. Alienware doesn't use Element 31 in systems with RTX 3060 GPUs - just RTX 3070 and RTX 3080.
Display on Alienware x17
Our Alienware x17 review unit boasted a 17.3-inch, 16:9 display with a 4K (3840 x 2160) resolution and 120 Hz refresh rate. It also happens to be very bright with excellent color. You can also opt for 1080p 165 Hz and 360 Hz panels.
The 4K / 120 Hz combo is a bit of a curious one. Even the most powerful laptop graphics cards struggle getting some games to play at 60 frames per second at 4K, so 120 fps seems kind of nuts. I suppose for some indie titles, it could work, as well as for playing games in 1080p.
When I played Deathloop on the Alienware x17, the game looked great, both at 4K and 1080p. The game was nice and bright, and some of the '60s orange hues popped in otherwise bland gray fortresses in the snowy Complex level.
I used the laptop to watch Tears of Steel, our go-to 4K film. Several scenes take place on a bridge overlooking a canal, and the trees on either side were lush shades of green, while the character Celia's bright blue jacket contrasts with a pink stripe on her pants.
In our lab testing, we determined that the Alienware x17's display reproduces 116.2% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, handily defeating the rest of the field.
The x17 also measured 438 nits of average brightness, far and away more luminous than the rest of the gaming laptops we tested. The next best was the MSI GE75 Raider, at 319 nits.
Keyboard and Touchpad on Alienware x17
If you're willing to spend some extra money (on top of an already expensive gaming laptop, I might add), the Alienware x17 has an optional Cherry MX "ultra low-profile" mechanical switches. These debuted on the Alienware m15 R4 and m17 R4 earlier this year, but it's the first time I got to try them.
I kind of felt like my mind was being tricked as I took the 10fastfingers.com typing test. I reached 115 words per minute, which is in a normal range for me. But what was more important was that keyfeel. Honestly, it took me some time to get used to, but I love that mechanical feel. As a touch typist, it simply gave me that click I love. But it's also loud (not Cherry Blue loud, but far louder than your average membrane keyboard), and I could see that disturbing some people.
The layout may be a bit strange to some. Unlike on the m17 R4, there's no number pad here. I'm fine with that, but there is one extra row, where the volume keys are placed. We often find these on the function row or even the arrow keys, so this takes some getting used to. There also aren't any media keys to pause or switch between music tracks for when you're not gaming (or for those who listen to music while they do).
There are, however, five macro functions on keys F2, F3, F4, F5 and F6 (labeled, A, B, C, D and E), that you can use to create macros.
The touchpad measures roughly 2.4 x 4.8 inches, it's just large enough for four-finger Windows gestures, and I would like to see something a bit larger. That being said, if you're using this as a gaming machine primarily, you'll likely have a mouse hooked up to it.
Audio on Alienware x17
The speakers on the x17 are a mixed bag. There's two 4-watt speakers, but they point out from underneath the laptop's wrist rest. They're OK for gaming. When I played Deathloop, dialogue was clear, though shooting didn't deliver much of a punch. The background music sounded fine, but not exciting.
For music, they get decently loud, but CHVRCHES' "How Not to Drown" sounded muddy, with drums and keyboards getting lost with guitars and vocals, all fighting for dominance. Switching to the music audio preset in Alienware Command Center didn't do anything to help.
Upgradeability of Alienware x17
To pop open the Alienware x17's hood, you'll need a Phillips head screwdriver. A size 1 or 0 should do the trick.
There are four screws to remove: the two nearest the palm rest and the two closest to the rear. The rest are captive screws that you loosen.
Well, they're supposed to be captive. One of those screws completely came out of our unit. Once I got it open, the small metal washer was loose. Alienware informed me that this would not cause warranty issues.
That didn't prevent me from opening the laptop, though it didn't simply slide open like Dell's official maintenance (opens in new tab) manual suggests. Some aggressive spudding helped me pop it open from one free corner and carefully take the bottom off.
The inside may appear a bit more complicated than other laptops, especially with two extra fans and some serious heatsink brackets. But the battery, both RAM slots and two SSD slots are all easily accessible for replacements and upgrades. In our case, they were already filled.
Battery Life on Alienware x17
17-inch gaming notebooks usually serve as desktop replacements for a reason. One of them is that, like many gaming laptops, they don't tend to last that long on a charge.
On our test which involves browsing the web, streaming video and running OpenGL tests, all while connected to Wi-Fi with the screen at 150 nits of brightness, the Alienware x17 lasted for 4 hours and 31 minutes.
That's a better showing than the Alienware m17 (2:05, the worst of the group) and the MSI GE76 Raider (2:40), but the Razer Blade Pro 17 lasted almost six hours.
Of course, while gaming, none of these laptops will last very long. You should plug in while you play for best performance.
Heat on Alienware x17
At least for skin temperatures, the Alienware x17's cooling system gets the job done. We ran it through our usual gaming gauntlet, running the Metro Exodus benchmark, and took skin temperatures towards the end of that test.
Between the G and H keys at the center of the keyboard, the Alienware measured 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Meanwhile, the bottom of the laptop measured 46.9 degrees Celsius (116.42 degrees Fahrenheit) at its hottest point, a vent near the back. The keyboard does feel hot while gaming — my fingers got a bit sweaty (gross) when playing Deathloop.
Additionally, because heat is dispelled from both the sides and the back, you're likely to get some hot air on your mouse hand.
Webcam on Alienware x17
Alienware included a 720p webcam on the x17. It's a slight failing, as other 17-inch laptops, the MSI's GE76 Raider, have moved on to 1080p.
Beyond the resolution, which isn't the end-all-be-all, the picture from this webcam has an issue with color. Specifically, a red t-shirt I was wearing looked more orange when I tested the webcam out. That being said, detail was decent enough for a laptop camera, but if this is going to be your daily driver, you may want to invest in one of the best webcams.
One thing this webcam does have going for it is infrared support, so you can use it to log in with Windows Hello facial recognition. Some gaming laptops still don't have any biometrics at all, so I appreciated the feature.
Software and Warranty on Alienware x17
Those who get an Alienware x17 will find a handful of applications already installed when they boot it up the first time.
The big piece of software you may want to keep around is Alienware Command Center, a catch-all application to control thermals, adjust audio, switch between power profiles, change lighting and check component usage. If your laptop has an overclockable CPU, you can adjust that here, as well.
Most of the other software is re-named software from Alienware's parent company, Dell. They include Alienware Customer Connect, largely designed to push surveys about Dell's products, and Alienware Mobile Connect to answer texts and make calls via your smartphone.
Of course, most Windows 10 laptops come with bloat built into the OS, and that's still the case here. Ours, for instance, had Roblox, Tik Tok, Spotify and Hidden City: Hidden Object Adventure filing up our start menu.
Dell sells the Alienware x17 with a 1-year warranty, though you can pay extra to extend that up to 4 years and add accidental damage support.
Configurations of Alienware x17
This laptop doesn't come cheap.
We tested the Alienware x17 with an Intel Core i7-11800H, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080, 32GB of DDR4-3220 RAM, 2TB of storage (a pair of 1TB M.2 NVMe SSDs in RAID 0), Cherry MX low-profile key switches and a 4K (3840 x 2160), 120 Hz display. As of this writing, that will run you $3,606.39.
The base level model is $2,155.99, which gets you the same processor, but bumps you to a GeForce RTX 3060 GPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and 1080p, 165 Hz screen,without the Cherry MX keys
If you money is no object, you can boost the CPU to a Core i9-11980HK, get 64GB of faster RAM (3466 MHz) and boost the storage to 4TB, while keeping the RTX 3080, Cherry MX keyboard and 4K screen. That will run you $4,615.79
Each configuration can be further personalized. For instance, there's an option for a 1080p, 360 HZ G-Sync display ($98), a non-mechanical keyboard (the bump to CherryMX is $49 and well worth it) and different amounts of RAM and storage.
There's no argument that the Alienware x17 is one of the sleekest gaming laptops I've seen in a long time. The new design is as pretty and modern as gaming laptops get these days. The screen, too, is gorgeous and bright. It's rare that I enjoy simply looking at a gaming laptop so much.
And the internals are interesting, too, with quad fans and a new cooling material in Element 31. However, in my usage and testing, I did find the system can get a bit steamy. And while every game we ran was playable, and usually competitive, there were a few instances where extra heat may have been the reason that the x17 wasn't the most competitive laptop in the field.
If you want something that runs a bit cooler but still like this aesthetic, Alienware's m17 R4 is still a good choice, as is the MSI GE76 Raider, though that's a thicker machine. Both of those were just slightly more consistent in our gaming testing.
But if you want something that looks nice with the options for top of the line parts, including an excellent mechanical keyboard, take a look at the Alienware x17. Just be sure you're ready to take the hit to your bank account.