(Pocket-lint) - The Alienware X17 R1 is, in traditional Alienware fashion, a real looker. It's part of the brand's X-Series range - notebooks which the company likes to call "gaming masterpieces".
It's among the thinnest gaming machines ever produced, some five per cent thinner than even the M17 R4 - and that was already a svelte gaming laptop. It's also enhanced with Alienware's exclusive thermal cooling material, Element 31, along with a number of other attractive specifications.
On paper, the X17 R1 is really appealing - but what's it like to actually use? We've been running gaming sessions to find out the good and bad.
Legend industrial design
- Quad cooling fan design; Element 31 encapsulated gallium-silicone thermal interface material for cooling
- Ports: 2x USB Type-C ports (one Thunderbolt), 2x USB 3.2 Type-A (Gen 1) with PowerShare
- Killer Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Wireless LAN, Killer E3100 RJ-45 2.5G Ethernet, Bluetooth 5.2
- Five power modes: Performance, Balanced, Battery Saver, Quiet, Full Speed
- microSD card reader
There's no denying that the Alienware X17 R1 is a visually striking laptop. Having taken it out of the box, even before turning it on, that much is clear. That's thanks to the tried and trusted Alienware design aesthetic. This model sports the 'Lunar Light' off-white finish that we've seen and loved on previous Alienware laptops.
It's noticeably thin, too, but not especially lightweight - and that's because of all the tech that's bristling under the hood. But also because it sports a 17.3-inch screen that's frankly much more immersive than lesser 15-inch laptops don.
We enjoy the subtle and the not-so-subtle styling accents of the X17 R1. The large honeycomb-style cooling vents, for example, are dotted around the body - around and above the keyboard, down the sides of the chassis and at the rear - and certainly help to keep the machine running well when gaming. However, they certainly don't help with noise when set to performance mode - but more on that later.
One odd and somewhat frustrating aspect of this laptop's design is the port placement. Alienware has designed the X17 R1 with its connectivity around the rear of the machine. So if you want to plug in a mouse, headset, external display or indeed anything else, then you need to get to the back of the laptop.
The second minor complaint we have here is there are just two USB-A ports on this machine, so you'll need a dock if you want to use multiple devices. There are USB-C ports, but USB-C connections aren't universal for peripherals just yet, so this could be frustrating depending on what kit you have.
That said, you do have the convenience of Ethernet, HDMI and Display Port connections, so plenty of opportunity to connect to multiple devices. We hooked the X17 R1 up to the gargantuan Samsung Odyssey Neo G9 (with its 5120 x 1440 resolution) and had no trouble driving gaming to that.
Not got a big separate monitor? No problem. The quality of the Alienware's display is really quite something. The model reviewed here sports a 4K panel, but there are other options with faster refresh rates at lower Full HD resolution.
Though the laptop is thin, the screen is hardly bezel-less. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it means there's room for a sensible placement of the integrated webcam. But it'll perhaps date quickly.
Glorious gaming and display options
- 17.3-inch display options
- FHD (1920 x 1080) at 165Hz 3ms or 360Hz 1ms
- UHD/4K (2160 x 3840) at 120Hz 4ms
- Nvidia G-Sync and Advanced Optimus
- Up to Intel Core i7-11800H CPU
- Up to 32GB DDR4 XMP 3466MHz RAM
- Up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU
- Up to 1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive
The X17 R1 comes with a few different screen options, as outlined above. On review here is the 4K/UHD panel. It's crisp, wonderfully colour rich, and generally easy on the eyes. We found various games looked fantastic on this screen.
One inevitable downside is that 4K gaming is fairly hard to drive, even with the RTX 3080 graphics card this machine sports.
We found that Control ran at around 20fps on max settings, for example, but managed over 50fps with DLSS turned on. The Battlefield 2042 beta ran at 40fps with everything set to maximum and dynamic resolution turned on.
Rainbow Six Siege, maxed out, achieves around 60-70fps. It looks great in 4K, of course, but you'd get a higher and more consistent frame count with a Full HD panel and lower resolution settings - you'd need that to make the most of the 120Hz refresh rate.
- Timespy - 9,560
- Timespy Extreme - 5,806
- Port Royal - 7,353
- Firestrike - 18,154
- Firestrike Ultra - 7,855
- Firestrike Extreme - 13,620
- DLSS test
- PC Mark - 6,095
- Rainbow Six Siege - 69fps max settings, ultra quality
- Watch Dogs Legion - 35fps max settings
- Red Dead Redemption 2 - 40fps max settings
- Far Cry New Dawn - 49fps high quality settings
- Dirt 5 - 57fps max settings
That's part of the issue with 4K gaming: you're paying for the improved visuals but with paltry frame rates. This is why the Full Hd versions of the X17 R1 might be preferable for competitive gamers, but if you put graphical quality first then there's no denying the 4K model is glorious.
The X17 R1 is no slouch either, with multiple performance modes, and several Nvidia technologies to help your gaming experiences. Those include Dynamic Boost 2.0 technology - which automatically delivers power where it's needed (to the GPU) to help improve your frame rates. On a basic level, you can just press a button on the keyboard to kick the laptop into performance mode and get the best experience out of it. It's nice to have that hassle-free option.
If you want to get a bit more hands-on, then you can fire up Alienware Command Center and access various overclocking options. This software lets you select from several overclocking profiles or tweak them manually to your preference. You can also tweak fan curves in here too. So it's a nice balance of automated optimisation and manual overclocking controls.
One downside is performance modes mean more noise. Fortunately, we found that the speakers are more than capable of overpowering this fan noise, but when it's ramped up it really gives off some obnoxious fan noise.
When not gaming, the X17 R1 delivers the goods. It's got enough power to handle most everyday tasks, even down to video editing. For working, browsing and other productivity the screen is great and has other bonuses too. The 4K option boasts 500nits maximum brightness and has a colour gamut equivalent to a 100% Adobe RGB spectrum.To ease the pressure on your eyes, the options include a ComfortView Plus technology that's designed to reduce blue light without reducing image quality.
Alas, as with all the thin-and-compact gaming laptops we've tested, the battery life is on this Alienware laptop is one place it falls down. We found we just got a few hours of use out of it before it needed plugging in.
The other issue is with the storage. The model we reviewed came with 512GB M.2 NVMe storage as standard. Plenty fast enough for booting up and for gaming, but far too small for modern needs. We found we filled it up with just a couple of games. Install Red Dead Redemption 2 and Call of Duty Warzone and you'll soon find it's nagging you about storage space.
Compact keyboard design
- Ultra-low profile truly mechanical laptop keyboard
- CherryMX low profile switches, 1.8mm travel
- Per-key RGB LED lighting
- Backlit touchpad
The Alienware X17 R1 packs a compact, low-profile keyboard with Cherry MX switches. This means all the goodness you'd expect from a gaming keyboard, with N-key rollover technology, anti-ghosting, and either four-zone or per-key RGB illumination too.
As you'll see, there's a lot of the usual keys you'd expect and the layout is certainly good enough to work on. There's no numpad, but most other keys are there. You also have access to volume adjustment and function keys with secondary actions for keyboard lighting adjustment, screen brightness and more.
The other highlight is the trackpad, which is a good size and pleasant enough to use, though naturally you'll want a proper gaming mouse for your gaming sessions. One quirk is this trackpad lights up when you're using the laptop. The blue hue it gives off is nice looking, but you may just find it distracting. Turning the keyboard lighting off doesn't turn this off by default either, which isn't ideal.
The trackpad's lighting is one of several lighting accents that this laptop rocks. Other zones include the lighting bar around the rear cooling vents, the Alienware logo, and of course the keyboard.
All told the Alienware X17 R1 is a great gaming package. There's plenty on offer here, including great specification and visual design, in a slim-yet-powerful package that does little wrong.
We only have a few minor complaints about the setup - some of which could be combatted by just ensuring you make the right choices in terms of the spec options. That 512GB drive, for example, is far too small for most modern games.
The Alienware X17 R1 continues the company's trend of releasing cracking gaming laptops. It's out of this world.
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