(Pocket-lint) - The Alienware m17 R2 is the larger-screened alternative to one of our favourite gaming laptops. Like the Alienware m15, this 17-inch laptop is built from the ground up - with a focus on creating a thinner and lighter gaming notebook without on compromising power. 

With Alienware's trademark styling, it's also a looker. But is the beauty of this machine just skin deep, or more than just style over substance? We've been gaming, working and streaming with the Alienware m17 for a couple of weeks to find out. 

A refined design for a gaming powerhouse

  • Magnesium alloy chassis in Lunar Light, Dark Side of the Moon finishes
  • 9th Gen Intel processors
    • Intel Core i5 to i9-9980HK
    • 8/16GB DDR4 2666Mhz RAM
  • Nvidia Geforce GPU options
    • GTX 1650/1660 Ti, RTX 2060/2070 or RTX 2080 Max-Q
  • Killer Networking E2600/E3000, Intel Dual Band Wireless, Bluetooth 4.2
  • Dual Raid 0 SSD storage, various size options

Like its smaller sibling, the new m17 has been revamped with a snazzy finish compared to its predecessor. It's been lovingly crafted from a lightweight magnesium alloy and comes in a choice of bold and striking colour options: Lunar Light (white) and Dark Side of the Moon (black). 

Alienware says this m17 R2 is the "thinnest and smallest" gaming notebook the company has ever made. Supposedly it's leaner and punchier than its predecessor, but let's not forget there's other competition out there making super-time gaming laptops, such as the Razer Blade.

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Under the hood, the Alienware m17 R2 certainly means business. There is a range of specification options to choose from, including everything from Intel Core i5 processors right up to the Core i9-9980HK.

On the graphics side, you'll also get the latest and greatest options of Nvidia GPU, ranging from the GTX 1650 to the RTX 2080. Performance, in this case, will certainly depend on the size of your bank account, but there are plenty of options to choose.

To ensure gamers get the most out of their shiny new Alienware notebook, the company has made some other improvements to the design as well. The R2 has larger fans blades and enhanced cooling performance - delivering a 25 per cent increase in airflow over the previous model, according to the company.  

Cool and portable

  • Ethernet port
  • Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port
  • 2x USB 3.1/1x USB 3.1 with PowerShare
  • Thunderbolt 3 with DisplayPort, 1x HDMI 2.0/1x Mini Display Port 1.4
  • Enhanced airflow design with Alienware Cryo-Tech 3.0 cooling system

A large exhaust system at the rear of the m17 R2 ensures hot air is blown backwards rather than downwards, so the laptop is ideal for lap gaming as much as it is desktop play.

You'll also note this area features a nifty RGB lighting ring to round off the overall style of the device. That lighting, along with keyboard, and the Alienware logo on the lid, can all be controlled from the Alienware Command Centre. There you can not only do things like individually adjust the RGB lighting for those zones, but also customise power and performance settings to enhance your gaming experience. 

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The m17 R2 has also been built with a new dynamic thermal control system. This uses gyroscope and accelerometer tech to work out how you're gaming. If you're using it on your lap the cooling adjusts to ensure that's a comfortable experience, while adapting and changing performance when you're gaming on a desk instead.

During our gaming sessions this machine stood up well in terms of thermal performance. It never got too hot in the areas that matter - the keyboard and underside, for example - and even the fan noise was bearable compared to other gaming laptops we've tested.  

The highlights keep coming too: the keen-eyed reader may spot the Ethernet port on the side of this device, which is great if you're playing online games or streaming your gameplay to Twitch, YouTube or Mixer and need a steady connection.

The Alienware m17 R2 won't disappoint from a ports front either. There are plenty of connection options, including several USB ports, alongside both HDMI and Mini Display Port connections (perfect for VR gaming on the Oculus Rift S). We used a both a Rift S and HTC Vive Cosmos with this laptop and it performed really well with VR. 

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During our testing, we also connected the laptop to an external screen, setup Streamlabs OBS, and ran a stream to Twitch with live chat and OBS on the second display. The m17 R2 coped fine with this, though there was a noticeable difference in frame -ate performance versus just gaming on the laptop's own screen. It was, however, recording with Nvidia ShadowPlay, streaming with Steamlabs OBS, running the game, Discord and Chrome all at once. 

Alienware is not messing about when it comes to internals either. This laptop has SSD-only storage options. Gone are the days of slow platter-based hard drives. Now gamers are set to enjoy swift and nippy SSD and PCIe M.2 drives in their favourite gaming notebooks.

The storage options here even include up to two 2TB PCIe M.2 SSDs in RAID0. According to Alienware, this means the two drives are recognised as a single large drive with uber-fast read-write speeds and plenty of space for your favourite games.

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The model we tested only had a single 500GB SSD drive that acted as the main boot drive and storage device. Not ideal, as you'd quickly fill up a drive that small without much hassle. We'd certainly recommend splashing out for one of the more superior models if you've got a number of titles to play.

Being thin and light does come with its compromises, unfortunately. We found this laptop only managed around two hours of life from its battery before it needed charging. That's with the screen turned down and the backlighting off. Though this is fairly standard for gaming laptops of this calibre. 

An easy-on-the-eye display

  • Updated 17.3-inch OLED Full HD panels (1920 x 1080 resolution)
  • Improved screen visuals with 60/144Hz refresh rate options
  • 72% colour gamut with Eyesafe blue light filter
  • Tobii eye-tracking tech (on some models)

The new Alienware m17 R2 has been crafted with a narrow-bezel design to make the most of the potential screen space. The company has crammed a 17.3-inch OLED display into a relatively compact frame. 

There's also the option to choose a 144Hz panel option with 9ms response rate. Both versions come with the Eyesafe technology that's designed to reduce blue light emissions without negatively impacting display colours or visuals.

However, there are no 4K options here. Yet the smaller 15.6-inch wielding m15 R2 has not only 4K options but also screens capable of up to 240Hz. This seems like a strange omission to us considering both devices have roughly the same internal specs on offer. 

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We certainly weren't as impressed with the screen on the m17 R2 as we were with that on the m15. The m17's isn't necessarily disappointing, but it's certainly nowhere near as stunning.  

That said, the m17 R2 obviously has a larger screen, so you can see more of what's going on in your game and be more productive during the day too. The Full HD panel means games can often run at higher frame-rates too, so if speed and smooth visuals is your thing then the m17 R2 might be the more logical choice. 

Some models of this laptop also have the addition of Tobii eye-tracking technology. This tech tracks head pose, position, eye gaze and movement, then translates that data into your gaming experiences. A number of recent games have this system integrated into their design, including the likes of the Division 2Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Assassin's Creed Odyssey. So there's plenty of opportunities to experience games in new and exciting ways with this device too. 

Gaming grit

We put the Alienware m17 R2 through various different tests. We've already mentioned we used this laptop for virtual reality gaming and it performed well there. It also performed well playing and streaming both Far Cry New Dawn and Cuisine Royale with semi-decent frame rates (around 60fps) despite being under heavy load and extending to a second monitor too. 

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We also used the m17 R2 to play and review Doom Eternal, a game that's meant to be able to be run at 1,000 FPS if you're machine is good enough. We have to say, not only did the game look stunning and incredibly well polished on this laptop (partly due to the developer's talent) it also ran really well - we saw the frame-rate counter regularly in the high 100s, even with visuals cranked all the way up to Ultra Nightmare. It often topped out at 200fps, which is quite remarkable. 

Benchmarks elsewhere with Far Cry New Dawn and 3D Mark showed lower scores, but the gaming experience was certainly satisfactory all around. A higher-spec machine from the line-up may outperform our experience too.

Enhanced keyboard and precision trackpad

  • Increased key travel (1.7mm)
  • New concave key design
  • N-key rollover
  • Per-key RGB illumination
  • Precision point glass trackpad

Alongside the other enhancements, the Alienware m17 R2 also features a newly architected keyboard setup. This keyboard now includes keys with a greater travel, as well as a tactile response, RGB backlighting via Alien FX, N-key rollover, and anti-ghosting tech too. 

The keyboard backlighting is adjustable on a per-key basis, meaning you can customise the colours in the Alienware Command Centre. You can also do this separately for the rear and logo lighting too.

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We found the keyboard on this laptop to be comfortable and accurate enough to use. It doesn't suffer from odd layout problems as we've seen in more compact laptops.

We did, however, notice that there were some issues with registering multiple keypresses at times. For example, while trying to strafe, jump, reload and take a screenshot all at the same time (playing Doom Eternal) the machine often failed to handle all those commands at once. Most normal people wouldn't be trying to do something so complex though. 

An updated and improved trackpad also makes an appearance on this device. Now gamers can play with a precision point glass touchpad, ensuring accuracy and an improved experience all around. As with most trackpads, though, we found it was good enough to work and browse with, but you really need a decent gaming mouse to get down to business with serious gaming. 

Verdict

The Alienware m17 R2 is a potential show-stopper. The screen visuals are great, with brilliant viewing angles and fairly decent small bezel design.

The m17 R2's specification options mean you can equip it to be a bit of a gaming beast, while masses of ports and new and improved keyboard design result in a fairly fantastic gaming machine.

There are a few oddities though, like the fact Alienware m17 starts at the same price as the smaller m15 and only supports a 1080p display. The smaller m15 model offers higher resolution and refresh-rate options too.

Overall, the m17 R2 is a powerful, lightweight and easy-on-the-eye gaming laptop that packs a punch - and does it with class and style you won't see much elsewhere.

This article was first published 29 May 2019 and has been updated to reflect its full review status

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