4K TVs, movies and shows have been around for years now. It’s the new normal. But make no mistake, rendering a highly detailed 3D video game in full 4K requires a monumental amount of processing power.
And 4K is still a massive challenge in the console world. PS4 Pro and Xbox One X promised 4K gaming, but rarely hit the mark. Now we have the PS5 and Xbox Series X, and even those incredibly powerful consoles still struggle with 4K. They often employ slightly lower resolutions paired with fancy upscaling techniques, or give gamers the option to lower the frame rate to 30fps in order to hit that lofty resolution target.
And that’s what makes the Alienware x17, equipped with a new NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080, so exciting. Here we have a portable device that’s less than an inch thick, and capable of running AAA games in full 4K at 60fps or more.
It’s also $3,679.99 as tested. And I know, for many of us, that’s insane money. But this is the Ferrari of gaming laptops; a total dream machine. It’s sleek, sexy and capable of incredible performance. But, as a supercar enthusiast, I’m well aware that the Ferrari comparison is a loaded analogy, because Ferrari ownership can have its quirks. Ferrari makes killer engines, but sometimes a parking brake lever can just… come off in your hand.
Like an Italian supercar, then, the Alienware x17 also blows you away with its unmatched performance while you’re raising an eyebrow at its unique “charms.” Let’s have a look at what this thing can do. And yes, I’m totally rolling with this sports car analogy.
Alienware x17 Gaming Laptop Technical Specifications
- Intel Core i7 11800H (up to 4.6GHz)
- NVIDIA Geforce RTX 3080 (16GB GDDR6)
- 32GB RAM 3200MHz
- 2TB NVMe SSD (2x 1TB SSD in Raid 0)
- 4K (3840 x 2160 resolution) IPS display
- 120Hz refresh rate
- CherryMX ultra-low profile mechanical keyboard
- Per-key AlienFX lighting
- 2x USB-Type A ports with PowerShare, 1x USB-C port with Power Delivery
- 1x HDMI 2.1 port, 1x Mini DisplayPort 1.4
- RJ45 Ethernet, microSD Card Slot, Aux/mic combo port
“More than you can afford pal. Ferrari.”The base Alienware x17 starts at $2,155.99, with a respectable GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card. And I’m sure that’d be a great gaming machine, but the model we were sent for testing is the boss of the lineup.
With an RTX 3080 on deck, an Intel Core i7 11800H CPU, 32GB of fast RAM and 2TB of NVMe storage (two 1TB drives running in parallel in Raid 0, for even faster load times), this device is not messing around. The display is a 4K IPS panel, capable of a 120Hz refresh rate. (The lack of G-Sync on the 4K panel is disappointing, but not a deal breaker.)
As I said previously, all of this hardware comes out to a mighty $3,679.99 as tested. If you forgo that frankly insane tandem SSD setup, you can get the same rig with a single 512GB drive for $3,379.99, saving yourself $300 in the process. And you can always upgrade the storage later for less money.
“Can you rev it for me?”So, with all that tech, the obvious question is: What can it do? I loaded a small assortment of titles with excellent in-game benchmarking tools designed to rev its processors to redline. And then I tested a beast of a game to push this thing to its breaking point.
First up, possibly my favorite racing game of all time: Forza Horizon 4. This game scales excellently to lower-spec PCs, but you need powerful hardware to get a smooth 60fps at a native 4K and ultra graphics settings. And the Alienware x17 smashed through the benchmark, turning in an 80fps average.
That’s great considering the benchmark has multiple cars on screen at all times. During normal gameplay, where the action isn’t typically as hectic, I saw even more impressive frame rates hovering in the 90 to 100fps range.
Just out of interest, how fast would it go if you buy the x17 with the 1080p screen? Dropping to that resolution saw frame rates soar to over 150fps.
Far Cry 5 was up next. This is a much harder game to run in full 4K, yet the Alienware managed to get through the benchmark with a 61fps average. Running at 1440p (which still looks excellent on its built-in display) bumped performance up to 73fps.
Gears 5 looks amazing with its graphics settings turned all the way up, and I saw a 63fps average at 4K. But enough playing nice, it’s time to break this thing. It’s time for Cyberpunk 2077, a game notorious for being capable of bringing pretty much any hardware you throw at it to its knees.
At a native 4K with all visuals set to high (ray tracing off), it struggles to hit 30fps even on this beast of a laptop, instead hovering around 27 frames. But NVIDIA’s next-gen upscaling tech, DLSS, works wonders on clawing back performance with almost no visual drawbacks.
Amazingly, with DLSS set to Performance mode, frames hit 55 to 60fps, and it looks incredible. This is probably how I’d play it. But what about the ray tracing? I had to employ DLSS Ultra Performance mode to hit 45fps with RT set to Ultra. That’s very impressive and even 60fps could be in reach with further tweaks to other visual settings.
The bottom line, though, is that this is a seriously powerful laptop. Finally, true 4K gaming is possible on a portable device. And that gives you the flexibility to play high-end games wherever you want: on the built-in display, on your desk with an external gaming monitor or even on your 4K TV using the HDMI 2.1 port on the rear.
Cool Under the HoodWhat’s really impressive is how well the Alienware x17 handles being pushed to its limit. Heat is consistently a problem in gaming laptops, and with all that power under the hood, the expectation is for things to get toasty.
But Dell has engineered a new cooling system for this laptop, utilizing a proprietary thermal paste and four fans pushing air over an enormous copper heat pipe array. The end result is a CPU temperature of around 85 degrees Celsius, and a GPU that never climbed above 79 Celsius during gameplay.
That’s not just impressive — it even means there’s room for more. You can actually apply a small overclock to this laptop without it melting a hole through your desk. For me personally, this is uncharted laptop territory.
It’s quieter than I expected, too. Gaming laptops tend to sound more like an aircraft taking off when pushed hard, but the x17 manages to keep audible fan noise to a respectable level even with all four fans at 100%.
Fully LoadedThere are several laptops available in today’s market that feature powerful internals, but what I really like about Alienware’s latest offering is how it all comes together as a package. Looks-wise, I think the Alienware remains in a class of its own. The new x17 sports the latest iteration of the Lunar Light aesthetic, and it’s a gorgeous device from every angle.
The smooth white outer shell, adorned with the iconic Alienware head, contrasts nicely with the speckled matte black interior, which itself has stylized hexagonal grills for the massive air intake surface above the keyboard.
Speaking of which, our test unit came with the optional CherryMX low-profile mechanical keyboard. It’s odd, at first, to feel a mechanical keyboard on a laptop, but once you get used to the tactile thunk under every keystroke, it’s hard to go back to a life without it.
The touchpad is small when compared to devices like the XPS, but it’s a necessary compromise to allow for more space for cooling vents. It’s also lit up on the RTX 3080 models, which looks futuristic.
Supercar QuirksLike the Ferrari in my supercar analogy, the Alienware x17 isn’t without its quirks. No, pieces of it didn’t snap off at random, but there were some design oddities to deal with. For example, all of the ports are on the rear of the device — none on the sides. I found myself having to pick up the laptop and spin it around so I could see where a USB port was every time I wanted to plug in a USB device.
Another odd issue with this design is that, unless you’re in a very bright room, the AlienFX lighting that surrounds the rear IO panel overwhelms your eyes enough that you can’t see the ports (as somewhat depicted in the image above). I had to turn off that zone of lighting in order to see the ports more clearly. It’s such a funny issue, but a more prominent one than on previous models because all of the ports are now on the back.
Also, the on-board speakers produce woefully flat sound. This isn’t as important to gamers who would typically pair their laptop with a nice set of headphones, but I look forward to a time when these expensive Alienware laptops sound as good as the new XPS 15.
Should You Buy the Alienware x17 Gaming Laptop?It comes as no surprise that a gaming laptop with an RTX 3080 on board is a total performance beast. What is surprising, however, is how the Alienware x17 manages to tame all that power.
It keeps temps under control; it stays relatively quiet; and it does all of this in an impressively slender chassis (0.843 inches thin). It’s also one of the best looking gaming laptops on the market.
It has its quirks, and it certainly won’t be the cheapest RTX 3080 laptop you can find. But if you want a premium powerhouse gaming laptop and have the funds to back it up, the Alienware x17 should be a frontrunner on your shortlist.
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