Alienware m17 R3 (2020) full review

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Alienware laptops are some of the boldest gaming machines available, and the firm arguably kickstarted the demand for gaming laptops in the first place – so new notebooks from Dell’s offshoot attract plenty of attention.

This is the third iteration of the m17 notebook, and unsurprisingly it’s a big rig packed with high-end hardware from Intel and Nvidia. Equally unsurprising is the price – the m17 R3 for 2020 will set you back £2,999 in the UK and $3,179 in the US.

At least the model tested here will, anyway.

Design & Build

The model I’ve reviewed uses Alienware’s Lunar Light colour scheme and shows off the m17’s eye-catching looks. The lid has the familiar, RGB LED-lit Alienware logo and the rear shows off hexagonal air vents and more lights. The area above the keyboard has more honeycomb venting, another glowing logo and a single huge hinge.

The magnesium alloy body delivers excellent build quality. The thick screen barely flexes, and the underside panel is sturdy. There’s a little movement around the keyboard, but it’s minor and is better than most 17.3in gaming machines. It’s certainly not cause for concern.

Alienware’s machine weighs 2.94kg and it’s 22mm thick, so it’s hardly a bruiser – you can shave off a few grams and millimetres on the slimmest and lightest 17.3in gaming notebooks, but the difference doesn’t make a big impact. Impressively, it’s barely heavier than the Razer Blade 17 and only a little thicker than the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15, which is £1,000/$700 more expensive.

Alienware m17 R3 cooling

The m17 R3 has three USB 3.2 Gen 1 and a Thunderbolt 3 port that supports USB-C 3.2 Gen 2. There’s a microSD card reader, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort outputs and a slot for an Alienware Graphics Amplifier. On the inside, Killer-branded Ethernet chip is paired with dual-band WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.

Still, there are some omissions here: no faster USB 3.2 Gen 2 or 2x2 ports, and no 2.5Gbps Ethernet either.

The interior is easily accessible, and there are two full-size M.2 sockets and a smaller 2230 connector. Disappointingly, the memory is soldered down, and the wireless card isn’t within reach.

Keyboard & Trackpad

The keyboard is a full-size unit with a numberpad, a double-height return key, proper cursor keys and four dedicated macro keys alongside n-key rollover. In the UK, the Alienware comes with per-key RGB LED lighting by default, but in the US the default is a four-zone model and the per-key lighting is a $30 extra. Regardless of your choice, the lights can be customised easily.

The keyboard itself is excellent. The recessed design allows the buttons to have a generous 1.7mm of travel, and the buttons are fast, crisp and consistent, with decent weight and with a solid base.

It’s about as good as a chiclet keyboard can get for gaming, and better anything that Razer or the dual-screen Asus machine can provide. You’ll only get a significant improvement by seeking out a machine with a mechanical keyboard.

Alienware m17 R3 keyboard

The trackpad is decent but could be better. Its buttons are fast and shallow, so they’re good for gaming, but the pad could be larger, and it’s a too far to the left – it’s too easy for your hand to catch the when using the WASD keys. A USB or wireless gaming mouse is the superior option, of course.

Screen & Speakers

This m17 R3 has a Full HD (1080p) display with a monster 300Hz refresh rate and a 3ms response time. It’s not got Nvidia G-Sync, which is restricted to the 144Hz variant, but that barely matters – the 300Hz design delivers sensationally sharp, smooth gaming, and it’s easily quick enough for eSports.

Of course, only the keenest competitive players will notice a significant difference between 144Hz and 300Hz – as refresh rates go higher, they deliver diminishing returns.

Quality levels are top-notch. The Delta E of 1.63 is great, and the colour temperature of 6,564K is fantastic. The brightness level of 332 nits is good enough for any indoor scenario, and the black point of 0.26cd/m2 is solid. The contrast ratio of 1,277:1 delivers great depth and vibrancy. The solid benchmark results are rounded out by a reasonable 93.3% sRGB coverage level and excellent uniformity figures.

Alienware m17 R3 specs

There are few weaknesses here – games will look fantastic on this screen. A handful of laptops are brighter, but extra backlight strength will only aid outdoor use. The Alienware m17 R3's display also isn’t good enough to handle the Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 gamuts. If you do need Adobe ability, then the Alienware’s 4K 60Hz panel is your only option.

The speakers are mediocre – tinny, with a crushed mid-range and poor bass. There are different audio modes, but none make a huge difference. You’ll be able to use this audio kit for casual gaming and media duties, but a gaming headset will always be better.

Specs & Performance

This m17 R3 deploys Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super 8GB graphics in this review sample – and it’s the full-power version rather than a cut-back Max-Q edition, too.

The processor is similarly powerful. The Intel Core i9-10980HK is Intel’s fastest new i9 Comet Lake chip, and it’s got eight Hyper-Threaded cores alongside base and boost speeds of 2.4GHz and 5.3GHz. It’s hefty hardware, and it’s paired with 32GB of memory. In the UK this machine comes with a 512GB SSD, in the US it’s sold with a 1TB boot drive and a 512GB secondary SSD.

The RTX 2070 Super zips through Far Cry New Dawn and Wolfenstein: Youngblood’s Ultra benchmarks with average framerates of 92fps and 138fps. There’s enough pace to play single-player titles smoothly at way beyond 60fps – and eSports games will run quickly enough to effectively use the 300Hz display. The Alienware m17 R3 has the power to output to 1440p screens, VR headsets and widescreens, and it’ll handle 4K if you dial back graphics settings.

Alienware m17 R3 design

The m17 is faster than the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15, which uses an RTX 2080 Max-Q with cut-back clock speeds. The Alienware’s 3D Mark Sky Diver score of 48,054 illustrates the power of the GPU – the Max-Q version of the chip scores around 35,000 points.

The processor is excellent, but it’s not necessarily the best option. The m17 R3’s Geekbench 5 score of 7,976 is comfortably ahead of the popular Core i7-10750H, but it trades blows with the AMD Ryzen 7 4800H, which is becoming more popular in cheaper laptops. The Alienware outpaces the AMD chip in PC Mark 10 but is slower in Geekbench 4 and virtually level in Geekbench 5.

The Core i9-10980HK is superb – it’ll handle content creation and tough multi-tasking easily. However, this chip and the 32GB of memory are actually overkill for gaming, and AMD’s Ryzen 7 4800H is better for productivity. Frustratingly, AMD’s chip isn’t currently available in laptops alongside the RTX 2070 Super, but it would still be a better and more affordable bet for CPU power alongside a weaker GPU.

Here are all our benchmark results compared to the Zephyrus Duo and other rivals.

Noise levels are never a problem – the laptop is quieter than most large gaming machines. Heat is an issue, though; the underside gets warm, so desk use is advised and the area above the keyboard becomes extremely hot. Warm air is pumped out of the right-hand side rather than the back, which could become uncomfortable if you’re using a mouse.

Alienware’s Core i9 CPU almost reaches 100 degrees during a stress-test, and when stressed during benchmarks the chip’s clock speeds are throttled to improve thermal performance. Those throttled speeds aren’t terrible, but they do mean you won’t get the most out of this CPU for productivity.

Don’t expect great battery life, either. The Alienware m17 R3 lasted for two hours and eighteen minutes in our video playback test, and just over an hour when gaming. It’s very much a laptop that should stay rooted to the mains.

Price & Availability 

The Alienware m17 R3 I’ve reviewed is one of the most expensive UK-based models – you’ll only have to spend more for an RTX 2080 Super, and prices rise to £3,649 for that GPU and the Core i9 CPU.

Two models are available for under £2,000, but they use weak AMD Radeon RX 5500M and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics. Mid-range options include the RTX 2060 and RTX 2070 Super for less than £2,500.

In the US, the Core i9 and RTX 2080 Super option costs $4,169, and the cheapest models cost $1,599 and $1,849. Impressively, US buyers can get hold of an RTX 2060 machine for $1,849.

On both sides of the pond, buyers can choose between the 1080p 144Hz and 300Hz displays and the 60Hz 4K option and different storage configurations are also available. Some models can also be purchased with a more discreet Dark Side of the Moon colour.

Alienware m17 R3 ports

Users can make big savings by eschewing high-end options like the Core i9 CPU, 32GB of DDR4 and 300Hz screen. In the UK, an RTX 2070 Super machine with a Core i7 chip, 16GB of memory and a 144Hz display starts at £2,349; in the US, it’s $2,099.

Buying direct from Dell gives you the choice of the full range of models, but you can find certain SKUs at the likes of Amazon, Very and Currys PC World if you prefer.

And, as ever, Alienware machines are expensive – even if you dial back the internals. If you’re willing to forego the brand and high-end trappings like the 300Hz screen and the Core i9 CPU then you can find the RTX 2070 Super in 17.3in laptops that cost £2,000 or $2,000 – or only a little more.

There’s also the question of Nvidia’s new GPUs. There’s no word yet when Nvidia Ampere will make its way to laptops, but it’s worth holding out for a few months if you want the last word in GPU power.

Check out some alternatives in our best gaming laptop chart.

Verdict 

The latest Alienware m17 R3 excels in several important areas.

It looks fantastic, it has a superb keyboard and a high-quality, butter-smooth screen, and it’s hugely powerful – it’ll handle any gaming task and its CPU will scythe through work applications.

The speakers and trackpad should be better, although these issues are easily solved with the headset and mouse combination that most gamers will surely use.

Battery life is poor, but that’s no surprise, and not unique to this particular 17.3in device. Some components and the 300Hz display will be overkill for many users, and people who need CPU power will be better-sated by AMD hardware.

If you choose appropriate components and don’t mind paying a little extra, though, the Alienware offers great performance and quality inside a large, impressive exterior.

Specs

Alienware m17 R3 (2020): Specs

  • Screen: 17.3in 1,920 x 1,080 IPS 300Hz
  • Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core i9-10980HK
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super 8GB
  • Memory: 32GB 2,666MHz DDR4
  • Storage: 512GB Micron 2200S NVMe SSD
  • Ports: 3x USB 3.2 Gen 1, 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C/Thunderbolt 3, 1x HDMI 2.0, 1x mini-DisplayPort, 1x microSD, 1x audio jack
  • Connectivity: Dual-band 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Dimensions: 400 x 294 x 22mm
  • Weight: 2.94kg
  • Warranty: 1yr RTB

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