Hands-down the most well-known company on the gaming PC market, Alienware was started in ’96 by two engineers who were a bit too much into The X-Files. To say they were successful is an underestimation – after all, there’s virtually no computer user these days who hasn’t heard of them. They were successful enough, in fact, for a certain major PC manufacturer to be interested and eventually purchase the company in 2006.
As a result, Alienware is now a subsidiary of Dell, with operations in over 35 countries. This partnership offered Alienware access to new markets, new technologies, and incomparably higher funding for research and development. Both their desktop and laptop lines improved greatly, and so did their lesser-known line of gaming consoles.
We’d like to introduce you to what we think are the best Alienware laptops to date. Make sure to have a good look!
1. Alienware 17 AW17R4-7352SLV-PUS
The biggest and the most badass, in a nutshell. This is the best thing Alienware has to offer regarding sheer size and strength, with Hulk-level power packed in a 17-inch body, 1.17” thick and a pretty crazy 9.7lbs heavy. Its display is a satisfying 17.3” QHD TN Anti-Glare, 400nit, @120Hz, with nVidia G-Sync and eye tracking. It features the keyboard mentioned above, the Alienware TactX, with 2.2mm key travel – a bit too much for some, but we think it’s the next best thing after an actual mechanical keyboard.
The mother ship itself is powered by the aforementioned i7-7820HK, and that’s the literal best there is. It’s paired with a GTX 1080 with 8GB GDDR5X, which is again the best single graphics card you can get. Add 32GB DDR4 RAM @2400MHz and a 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD combo, and you get a genuinely fantastic overall configuration. The details are what matters – both the memory and the storage are the fastest available, with 2400MHz RAM, PCIe-based SSD, and 7200RPM HDD.
2. Alienware 15 AW15R3-7338SLV-PUS
The middle one in the magical trio is a 15.6” laptop. It looks pretty much like its bigger brother, including the dark pink highlights characteristic to the 2017 generation of laptops and also the thick portion of the main body behind the hinges, which allows for better cooling and also lesser noise thereof – a very important factor when you’re overclocking your components like crazy. This particular model comes with an FHD IPS Anti-Glare display, 300nit, and it’s also fully VR-compatible in case the display doesn’t satisfy you.
The processor on this one is an i7-7700HQ, from the same generation as the monster 7820HK. It’s a quad-core, 2.8GHz and up to 3.8GHz with Turbo Boost, 6MB cache. It comes together with a GTX 1060 with 6GB GDDR5, another Pascal-based graphics card which allows for VR applications to run as smooth as hand cream. It only has 16GB DDR4 RAM, but it’s upgradable to 32 if you need to (you probably don’t, but oh well) and the same SSD-HDD combo as the 17-incher above.
3. Alienware 13 AW13R2-5567SLV
The little brother here is a lot smaller than its younger brothers and also pretty fat. In fact, at 13.3”, it’s 1.4” thick and a bit over 7lbs heavy, which is a lot even for a full-size laptop. It has, however, a beautiful surprise for those who don’t care about weight – a QHD OLED display. It’s pretty, and it’s shiny, and it has a contrast ratio that makes the other ones crack in anger. Also, calling it “fat” doesn’t exactly do it justice. Rather, like one of those strongmen, it has plenty of muscle under a thin, fat layer.
The heart of the system is a 6th generation (Skylake) i7-6500U, 2.5 GHz and up to 3.1GHz overclocked. It features a GTX 965M (4GB GDDR5), which is based on the 28nm Maxwell architecture but it’s still better than the 960M used in affordable computers. It also has 8GB DDR3L SDRAM, upgradable to 16, and a 500GB hybrid storage drive.
When it comes to gaming laptops, Alienware brings to the table a good number of models of three main sizes: 13, 15, and 17 inches. Each of these sizes can be purchased with more than one configuration, according to your budget. However, you must be advised: there’s not a single Alienware laptop we would call “budget.” Performance does come at a price, after all, and Alienware only addresses the high-end gaming market. Of course, there’s the second-hand option to consider as well, but we would honestly advise against buying used electronics in general and even more so computers.
Design and construction
The thing about gaming laptops is that they’re almost always big and bulky and Alienware laptops are a perfect example of that. There are Razer and Asus models which are even thinner and lighter than normal laptops, but this doesn’t apply to Alienware – instead, even their 13-inch models exceed 5lbs (2.26kg), which is exactly what an average 15.6” classic model weighs. Same goes for thickness, although the latest models are professedly 20% thinner than the corresponding 2016 design.
There are excellent reasons for this, though. To begin with, in spite of these laptops’ chassis having plastic components as well, the construction is at least 40% metal, using an anodized aluminum/magnesium alloy reinforced with steel. It’s about as solid as it could get and certain essential parts have been redesigned for better access. For instance, it’s a lot easier to upgrade both the memory and the storage.
Another great thing about the new design is the cooling. Admittedly, most Alienware laptops have individual heating issues, leading to their performance not being exactly as you’d expect. This is not the case with the newer models. Alienware has moved the screen hinges about an inch from the rear of the chassis, to make room for fans and some extra rear ports. This appears to be an excellent idea, as it allows for better overall cooling – in fact, while the rear does get a bit hot (which is to be expected), the palm area stays pleasantly cool.
Even the Alienware logo on the back has been slightly changed, for the first time in a few years. Some may call the new one “ominous,” while others would rather refer to it as “badass.” Everything is more streamlined and somewhat “darker,” so-to-say, in spite of the LED strips on the back of the screen. The keyboard, however, is illuminated exactly as you want, i.e. whatever shade of the rainbow you may prefer, and the same applies to the touchpad. And speaking of the keyboard, it seems that the company has introduced a few significant improvements here as well. We’re not sure what exactly happened, but the typing experience appears to have improved a great deal on the new TactX, and we’re very OK with that.
Connectivity-wise, Alienware doesn’t necessarily stand out, but they’re not doing badly either. The minimum you get on a 13-inch laptop of the latest generation comprises 2x USB 3.0 Type A, 2x Type C, 1x HDMI, 1x RJ-45, and an audio combo. The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are up to the latest standards, 802.11ac and 4.1/4.2 respectively, so that part is covered as well.
As previously said, Alienware laptops are made for the higher-end market. That is not to say they don’t make mainstream gaming models, but even those are in the upper mid-range when it comes to performance. Here’s what you can expect:
The older models (older as in “not the latest generation,” not old), are based on 6th generation i5 and i7 CPUs, with the i7-6700HQ being the most common. It’s a high-voltage component, with a maximum power consumption of 45W, and it’s clocked at 2.5GHz and overclocked with Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 up to 3.5GHz. It has four cores and eight threads, and it features 6MB cache and a memory controller for dual-channel DDR3L-1600 and DDR4-2133. It also comes with the integrated video chip Intel HD 530, which can apparently handle games up to 2015 on low to medium settings, being on par with a nVidia GeForce GT 730.
The early 2017 models feature the newly-released 7th generation (Kaby Lake) processors, which have been not used until now due to not being optimized for gaming. The new king of the mountain is the i7-7820HK, quad-core, 2.9GHz and usually up to 3.9GHz overclocked. The advanced cooling capabilities of the new Alienware laptops allow it to go up to 4.4GHz, thus becoming the single most powerful consumer-grade CPU to date. It has 8MB cache, the memory controller for DDR4-2400, and it comes with Intel HD 630. Paired with dual-channel DDR4 memory @2133/2400MHz, this integrated chip can reach the performance of a GeForce 920M, which is neat.
The bottom line is that the old processors are great and the new ones are even better regarding endurance and power efficiency. What’s more, the new design allows Alienware laptops to make better use of all that power.
The actual key component when it comes to hardcore gaming, it comes as no surprise that Alienware has done everything possible to integrate some of the best models into their build. It’s mostly nVidia here – AMD Radeon-based laptops are also available, but we don’t exactly trust them when it comes to heating issues.
The lower-end (yeah, right) Alienware laptops are equipped with a GTX 960M, which is an upper mid-range discrete graphics card based on the 28nm Maxwell architecture. It’s compatible with DirectX 11, and it supports up to 4GB GDDR5 VRAM @5000MHz. It’s quite commonly found on laptops between $800-1300, that is to say, affordable gaming laptops. Performance-wise, it’s not bad at all and can run games like Resident Evil 7 on high settings.
The higher-end goes about as high as possible. No models are available with factory dual GPU (no SLI or Crossfire for you, guys), but that’s not exactly an issue – in all honesty, you don’t need that. Which is because you can get a GTX 1080, based on the 14nm Pascal architecture, which is not all that far from the Titan X, performance-wise, and also within +/- 5-7% from a non-overclocked desktop GTX 1080. It supports up to 8GB GDDR5X VRAM @10,000MHz and it can and will run any game on 4K with maximum detail level. Seriously, you will NEVER see that one drop below 30FPS, no matter what you’re doing.
While the models above are extremes, Alienware laptops also feature some in-between ones, such as the GTX 980, 1050 Ti, and 1060.
Not much to say in this chapter. You won’t get any less than 8GB, which is imperative considering games are rather taxing on the memory, and it’s not uncommon for people to also run another couple of apps at the same time. You can also get 12, 16, and 32GB as well, for some extra cash (or by default on some models) and the best part is that it’s really easy to upgrade it – just remove some screws, take off the back lid, plug in another memory card or two and put everything back together.
Alienware laptops are in tune with the latest trends here as well. While there are a few HDD-only models for those who want to save some cash, most of them come with an HDD-SSD combo which we find best for basically any possible purpose. SSD for speed, HDD for size – a perfect recipe.
If you don’t have the money for that extra 256GB SSD, don’t worry. It’s not particularly necessary for gaming, and the 7200RPM HDD provided by default is fast enough for all practical purposes.
Here’s something Alienware holds great pride in, and not without reason. We have, to begin with the bad parts though because there are some as well. Many reviewers complain that the (practically) 200-250nit displays you can find on older Alienware laptops is nowhere near bright enough for their needs, and that is a completely legitimate complaint. Same goes for the color gamut, which is around 70% of the sRGB color space and a far cry from the 110-125% shown by certain Asus models.
However, these things seem to be in the past, according to Alienware and a couple of those lucky enough to touch the fresh models. Currently, every Alienware display is rated at 300-nit or above, with a couple of them even being 400-nit. This is more than solid and pretty much everything you can demand from a computer monitor. Same goes for screen resolution itself, as well as color gamut, viewing angle, contrast ratio, and so on.
The latest surprise is an OLED display on some 13-inch models. Until now, OLEDs were mostly either TVs or smartphones, but certain companies have started to implement them on laptops, and we have to say, it’s a damn fine result. Of course, there’s still a long way to go, and it’s not perfect yet – the OLED technology itself has a way to go. However, you can clearly see the difference between that and the average LED display, especially when it comes to the level of blacks, color gamut, and contrast ratio.
That’s about all we have to say about Alienware laptops. There are, obviously, plenty more details to discuss, but they are either model-specific or not relevant to the general public, so you should check the reviews of that particular model that interests you.