The Alienware 17 R5 doesn’t mess around. Equipped with an Intel Core i9 CPU and overclocked Nvidia GTX 1080, we’ve finally seen high-frame rate gaming at 1440p on a laptop.
- Amazing graphical performance
- Surprisingly decent battery life
- Immaculate 17-inch display
- Tobii eye-tracking with high-res display only
- Weighs nearly 10 pounds
- Squared off proportions
Despite going almost two years without new graphics chips, Alienware has managed to deliver an exciting update to its 17-inch gaming laptop by incorporating some of the first Intel i9 processors seen on a notebook. With these new hexa-core Coffee Lake chips, desktop-class processing power has finally been brought to heel on laptops.
Sure, you could say full-on desktop CPUs already made their way into devices like the Origin EON17-SLX and PC Specialist Octane II Pro. But, unlike those devices that were just fitted with a full-size processor, the Alienware 17 R5 is designed to deliver on both performance and battery life without compromise – though your bank account might languish as you empty it out for this baller machine.
Price and availability
The Alienware 17 R5 starts at a fairly reasonable $1,549 price and is decently equipped with an Intel Core i7-8750H, factory overclocked Nvidia GTX 1060, Full HD IPS display, 8GB of RAM and 1TB hybrid hard drive. You might scoff at the solid-state hybrid drive, but it’s better than a plain old spinning drive – and you can always install an affordable SSD later on.
Unfortunately, the UK and Australian listings for this laptop are a little behind the curve. The starting configuration in these territories still comes with a last generation Intel Core i7-7700HQ, a standard Nvidia GTX 1060 and 8GB of RAM – but a 128GB SSD complemented by an 1TB HDD – for £1,348 or AU$2,298. To even consider the latest 8th generation CPUs, you’ll have to spend at least £1,849 or AU$2,999 for an Intel Core i7-8750H-powered system that also doubles the memory capacity.
Our own review configuration features an almost fully-loaded spec list for an equally impressive $3,949 (£3,235, AU$5,465). It’s been a while since we’ve seen the price of a gaming notebook go so high, but it seems par for the course as far as Intel Core i9 machines go.
The $3,999 (£3,499, AU$5,899) MSI GT75 Titan costs as much as the Alienware 17 R5 for identical specifications. Meanwhile, the Asus ROG G703GI runs for a little less at $3,699 or £3,499 (about AU$2,745) while featuring a 2TB HDD.
That said, the Alienware 17 R5 differentiates itself with a factory overclocked Nvidia GTX 1080, QHD (2,560 x 1,440) 120Hz G-Sync display and an integrated Tobii Eye tracking module. Both Asus and MSI’s competing systems feature Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution displays rated for 144Hz and 120Hz refresh rates, respectively.
The Alienware 17 R5’s design remains unsurprisingly and amazingly unchanged since its chassis was last overhauled in 2016. Despite approaching its second birthday, Alienware’s hinge forward design is still fresh and unique in the laptop world. At the same time, it’s impressive that this 17-inch laptop didn’t have to get any thicker to accommodate for the two extra processor cores within the system.
Rather, Alienware’s 17-inch gaming laptop maintains all the same 16.7 x 13.1 x 1.18-inch (42.4 x 33.2 x 2.99cm; W x D x H) dimensions and 9.74 pound (4.42kg) weight of last year’s R4 model. Of course, this machine is by no means small and light. Its nearly 10-pound weight will wear out you out and its square-shaped proportions makes it awkward to find a suitable laptop bag.
But, then again, this is much more of desktop replacement system than a gaming laptop you’ll want to lug around.
It comes loaded with all the luxuries you expect out of battle station, including a keyboard with 2.2mm of key travel and tactile responsiveness to make you forget about a mechanical gaming keyboard. Meanwhile, the 2.1 stereo speakers are potent enough to overpower the system’s loud fans and give you a surprisingly booming gaming experience even without having to plug in a gaming headset.
Last year, we felt that the Tobii eye-tracking feature to be an excessive add-on, and unfortunately Alienware has decided to directly tie this upgrade to high-res screen options. So, if you want the same 1440p display as on our review unit or a 4K panel, get used to seeing two eye-tracking red dots just below it.
The most use we got out of the eye-tracking module remains to be Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, where we could use our eyes as a ‘third thumb’ for aiming our grappling hook. Otherwise, the Tobii-integration in other games is usually just neat or nauseating at worst.
There are arguably some Windows-level uses for Tobii’s eye-tracking technology, including Windows Hello login and presence detection; telling your laptop to dim the screen or go to sleep when you’re not looking at it. However, you’ll still get the same presence detection features if you forgo this extra Tobii option and just stick with Alienware’s stock webcam.
Big screen fun
Of course, a big part of this desktop replacement’s package is the 17-inch QHD screen. The TN-panel might sound disappointing on paper, but the color depth and black levels of this display are almost as good as an IPS monitor.
Then the 120Hz refresh rate makes this display sing an even sweeter song as you watch your favorite games go past the now pedestrian 60fps and into the bliss of high-refresh rates. The spectacle is made even more joyous when you relish the fact that the Alienware 17 R5 is so overpowered that it can actually push games at a higher 1440p resolution and still find the wiggle room for even more frames per second.
An Intel Core i9 processor combined with a factory overclocked Nvidia GTX 1080 makes for a monster combination. By widening the CPU bottleneck just a little bit, the Alienware 17 R5 proves Nvidia’s aging Maxwell GPUs still have a little performance to give by producing some of the highest graphics scores and frame rates in games we’ve seen from a gaming laptop.
Alienware’s 17-inch gaming laptop wipes the floor with the Asus ROG G703GI in all the 3DMark tests. Though, it seems like Asus is able to keep its Core i9 part at a higher frequency, as it scores better in both Cinebench and Geekbench. This is likely due to the ROG G703GI utilizing two power bricks, whereas the Alienware 17 R5 only relies on one.
The extra throughput of the Intel Core i9 CPU also enables Asus’ 17-inch to run both Total War: Warhammer II and Shadow of War at 1080p and Ultra-quality settings with slightly higher frame rates. Still, it’s impressive that these two laptops have managed to overpower the previous graphics titan, Aorus X9, which came equipped with two Nvidia GTX 1070s in SLI.
Outside of our traditional benchmarking, the Alienware 17 R5 runs Vermintide II at a steady 100 fps even in the face of a giant AI-powered horde, as well as us running the game at max settings and 1440p. We see equally smooth experiences while playing State of Decay 2 and FarCry 5 – both running at an average 90 fps even with V-Sync turned on.
Despite the higher power demands of its Intel Core i9 processor, the Alienware 17 R5 proves to have even better battery life than its predecessor. Compared to its R4 predecessor, this year’s model ran for an hour and eight minutes longer on PCMark 8 and 21 minutes longer on our usual local video playback test.
That’s also far longer than the Asus ROG G703GI that only managed to hang on for a dismal 1 hour and 29 minutes in PCMark 8 or 1 hour 53 minutes in our movie test.
Of course, four hours max with regular use isn’t really actually usable when on the go, so we’d recommend always traveling with this laptop’s power adapter if you’re going to take it outside.
The Alienware 17 R5 is an amazingly performant machine, if you’re willing to cough up the wads of cash for a high-end configuration. You can definitely go for a lower-priced configuration and still get a great experience out of it. But, as far as our baller system goes, we’re thoroughly impressed by what Alienware has on offer here.
Combining Intel Core i9 power with a factory overclocked Nvidia GTX 1080 has unlocked a new level of graphical and gaming performance for notebooks. All the while, Alienware’s impeccable build quality continues to impress, and you’ll get a surprising amount of battery life out of this 17-inch machine.
In terms of Intel Core i9 gaming laptops we’ve tested so far, the Alienware 17 R5 seems the most balanced between performance and everyday usability.