There are a lot of laptops on the market with 4K, ultra HD screens, but not a lot of them can easily run demanding games at that resolution. Kitted out with Nvidia’s Geforce RTX 2080 mobile graphics, Alienware’s M17 gaming laptop is the first time I’ve felt comfortable with a 4K laptop gaming.
Founded in 1996 and purchased by Dell in 2006, Alienware is one of the most recognized names in gaming hardware. Its name and alien head logo have graced countless colorful PC and laptop housings over the years, signaling that the particular computer was very good at playing video games. While Kotaku has reviewed Alienware desktops, laptops, and “Steam machines” in the past, I’ve never had the pleasure. Now I have.
The M17 is the slimmer sibling of Alienware’s Area-51m, recently reviewed by our sister site Gizmodo. At .91 inches at its tallest point it’s not the thinnest 17-inch laptop Alienware makes—there’s a new version of the M17 out now that’s only .81 inches thick—but it’s still a pretty low-profile machine. With its magnesium alloy housing it weighs a little under six pounds, so it’s not much to lug around either. The case is a subdued design that doesn’t shout “someone steal this expensive gaming laptop,” though the Nebula Red cover of my review unit is quite eye-catching.
The model Alienware sent for evaluation is quite nice on the inside as well. The processor is an 8th generation Intel Core i9-8950HK with a base speed of 2.90 GHz and turbo speeds of nearly 5.0 GHz. It’s got 16 GB of DDR4-2666 Mhz memory, though the system can handle 32 GB. The graphics, as mentioned previously, are handled by Nvidia’s Geforce RTX 2080 with the power-efficient Max-Q design, which is the best you can get in a gaming laptop these days. That’s more than enough to play games at full resolution on the system’s 17.3 inch ultra HD (3850 x 2160) IPS display. All of this powerful hardware is packed beneath a lovely RGB-lit keyboard and a touchpad that works well enough when I can’t have an external mouse connected.
- CPU: 8th Generation Intel Core i9-8950HK (6-Core, 12MB Cache, Overclocking up to 5.0 GHz)
- Operating System: Windows 10 Home 64-Bit
- Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce RTX 2080 8 GB GDDR6 with Max-Q Design
- Display: 17.3" UHD (3840 x 2160) 60 Hz IPS, 400-nits, sRGB 100% color gamut
- Memory: 16 GB 2x16GB DDR4-2666 MHz
- Storage: 512 GB PCIe M.2 SSD + 1 TB (+8 GB SSHD) Hybrid Drive
- Battery: Lithium Ion (60 Wh) Battery
- Ports: (2x) SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Type-A , HDMI 2.0 Output, Mini-Display Port 1.3 Output, Thunderbolt 3 Port, Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port, Killer Networks E2500 Gigabit Ethernet NIC, USB SuperSpeed 3.1 Type-A with Powershare Technology, Audio Out 1/8" Port (Compatible with inline mic headset)
- Dimensions: Height: Front 0.727" (18.5mm.) – Rear 0.91" (23 mm.) – Width: 16.1" (410 mm.) – Depth: 11.52" (292.5mm.) – Weight: 5.79 lbs. (2.63 kgs)
I have to spend a lot of time in bed lately, recovering from multiple surgeries following an incident last year. That means a lot more laptop time. Much of my computing is done on the table below, which covers a bed in a room much less tidy than in this product photo. Just imagine a large, bearded balding man here and several cats.
The Alienware M17 fits nicely on that table, where it’s spent the past couple of months being my go-to computer. I’ve worked on it, editing video in Adobe Premiere Pro and creating images and animated GIFs in Photoshop. I’ve tortured the poor machine with more than 20 open Google Chrome tabs at a time, because I have the world’s shortest attention span and hate clicking on small Xs.
I’ve gamed quite a bit on the M17. Most of my ongoing coverage of Final Fantasy XIV’s Shadowbringers expansion has stemmed from playing it on Alienware’s machine. The game runs incredibly well on the M17, to the point where I assumed it was running at 1920 x 1080 until I realized the screenshots I was capping were at 3840 x 2160.
That Power: Like I said in the lede, the M17 and its RTX 2080 GPU had me comfortably playing in 4K on a laptop for the first time. My personal laptop, a 2018 Razer Blade Pro, has a 4K screen, but I run games at 1080p, preferring not to take the performance hit. Having a nice 4K screen is great. Having the graphics power to back that screen up is the best.
Just bear in mind that there are versions of the M17 that come with less powerful graphics cards and a 1080p display, which is obviously not going to do 4K at all.
That Display: The M17’s 17.3 inch ultra HD IPS display is one of the brightest and sharpest I’ve seen. The colors are bright and vivid. Overall image is excellent.
While I would have preferred a system this powerful have a screen that runs faster than 60 Hz, this is as good as 60 Hz gets.
That Look: Alienware’s laptop design has mellowed significantly over the years. It’s much less in-your-face-gamer with the bright lights and flashy colors. The M17 is short and sleek. There are angles on the lid, but they’re not very pronounced.
Even the red model, which I’ve been using, is a lovely crimson with a soft touch finish that’s elegant and decidedly un-flashy.
That Spill-Resistant Keyboard: The Alienware AlienFX mSeries keyboard looks lovely and doesn’t feel bad at all for a low-profile laptop affair. It’s also incredibly resistant to spilled liquids, which I know for reasons I won’t go into here.
That Heat: As is the case with many slimmer gaming laptops, the M17 gets really hot while playing games. Not so much that I can’t touch it, but hot enough that it can get a little uncomfortable to play on a summer’s day in Georgia when the air conditioning is doing the best it can. The system fan runs a little loud at times, but considering the heat it’s fighting against, it’s forgiven.
My review M17 has been through a lot. I took it to Momocon in downtown Atlanta in late May. Most of my Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers progress has happened on it. I’ve edited lengthy videos and created some amazing animated GIFs. I filled 90 GB of its 460 GB solid state main drive and 300 GB of its 476 GB hybrid drive with games from Steam, Epic, Origin and other sources. It’s served as an outstanding desktop replacement on a very cluttered desktop. My review unit, which sells for $3,000 as configured, has taken a licking but keeps on ticking. It’s my first time with an Alienware laptop, and I’m impressed.
What impresses me most is how well the Alienware M17 handles 4K gaming. To be fair to all the laptop makers out there, any system with similar specs would probably perform just as well. But Alienware does it with sturdy style, and you always remember your first.