Alienware X17 review: pretty pixels for a pretty penny

Alienware did it. The new 17.3-inch X17 gaming laptop is capable of delivering a fun 4K gaming experience.
When I last checked on laptops' performance with 4K gaming in 2019, it wasn't looking good. Nvidia's last-gen RTX-20-series mobile chips couldn't handle demanding games at 4K without many compromises to visual fidelity. Fortunately, the RTX 3080, specifically for the X17's 16GB VRAM variant, has made things better.

The X17s 3080's maximum graphics power is 165W, with a boost clock speed at 1,545MHz. This is a powerful mobile GPU, and it's close to the maximum Nvidia allows for mobile graphics chips. This laptop is definitely the most capable in graphics that I have tested.

While I'll be getting to the performance numbers shortly, it is important to mention near the top that this laptop is Alienwares most powerful gaming laptops, and not just because it excels at gaming. The X-series design, which is new for 2021 has a slimmer, sleeker appearance that balances form with function better than other models that have the same power levels but don't forgo ports. (more details later). Its cooling system is very efficient and keeps the beast at 17.3 inches (4K) cool and quiet. The clicky Cherry ultra-low profile mechanical switches make it easy to type even while you're doing other things. Although it's a heavy laptop you won't want to carry around too much, the X17 is functionally just as great for work.

Alienware X17 Verge score 8 in our review

There are many ports

Better design than the M-series Bad Stuff. The 4K configuration is extremely expensive

It is heavy

For laptop form factor, 1440p is a good price.

Too small for the trackpad

ALIENWARE X17R1 SPECS (AS TESTED). Intel Core i7-11800H (octacore, 2.3GHz base speed, up to 4.6GHz boost)

32GB DDR4 XMP 3466MHz (user-replaceable, two SO-DIMM slots)

Nvidia GeForce RTX3080 GPU with 16GB GDDR6 RAM (1,545MHz boost speed, 165W maximum)

2TB NVMe SSD (user replaceable with support two 2230- or 2280-sized M.2 drive)

17.3-inch UHD 3840 x 2160 display, 120Hz refresh rate, 4ms response time, 500-nit

Windows Hello IR 720p webcam

15.71 x 11.79 x 0.84 inches, 7.05 pounds

Six-cell, 87Wh lithium battery

330W power brick

Two USB-C 3.2Gen 2 ports with PD charging (5V/3A), and one that supports Thunderbolt 4. Two USB-A Gen 1 ports with PD charging (5V/3A), one supports Thunderbolt 4. A plug for the power cord and a headphone jack.

Cherry MX ultra low mechanical switches and RGB per-key keyboard

Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2

Even though the glowing reviews are great, I wouldn't recommend that you buy this gaming laptop unless you really want a 17.3-inch gaming notebook. The $3,680 asking cost is prohibitive considering the configuration. This MSI GS76 Stealth configuration is similar to the X17 but costs hundreds more, and has twice as much RAM. Razers Blade 17 is now available for $3,699, with a 4K/120Hz screen and a faster processor. However, it has less storage and its GPU isn't as powerful. Alienware has stopped accepting new orders since the unit was received for review. This is because it needs to catch-up with its backlog in supply. Alienware spokesperson stated that the company plans to sell it again in the near future.

I tested X17's gaming performance by running some games that are demanding at the highest graphical settings. Red Dead Redemption 2 was my first. It ran native 4K at 46 frames per seconds. This is without Nvidia's deep-learning Supersampling (DLSS), tech that tends give games a noticeable increase in frame rate (by lowering the render resolution and using AI for image cleaning), but it does not include Nvidia's deep-learning supersampling. The frame rate increased to 60 frames per seconds when DLSS was set to auto with no other settings. For those extra frames, I rely on DLSS more than any other game.

Shadow of the Tomb Raiders benchmark recorded an average of 55 frames per seconds without ray-tracing. DLSS dropped to 49 frames per sec when I enabled ray tracing. DLSS running with no taxing ray tracing increased it to 64 frames per sec.

Similar promising results were achieved with Deathloop and Doom Eternal by the X17. Each game produced between 55 and 70 frames per second when all settings were turned to the highest setting. Each game's ray tracing settings were turned on to get performance closer to 50 frames per second. This is still amazing at this resolution. Doom Eternal, without ray tracing was the best performer of all at 4K. It sometimes ran over 100 frames per minute in smaller corridors and dropped to 75 frames per second when fighting in larger environments.

All these frame rates are very usable, regardless of whether you choose to ray trace or use DLSS in supported games. The X17 is capable of running AAA games at 4K/60 with little effort, so other games should also be able take advantage of the 120Hz refresh rate display in native 4K.

I will be honest: I didn't expect this kind of reliability with my system. Similar specs have been seen in action in other models and I was not impressed. Alienware isn't the first laptop to have a 4K 120Hz display, nor the RTX3080, but it deserves credit for packing it all into a slim chassis that's both more powerful and quieter than the rest.

The X17's performance in Adobe Premiere Pro is impressive, as you would expect. The X17 took just three minutes and 22 seconds to export a 5 minute, 33 second 4K video. The PugetBench Pro for Premiere Pro scored well against similarly-specced gaming desktops. This is to be expected (and a great deal). As we found in our review, Apple's M1 Pro-equipped MacBook Pros and M1 Max-equipped MacBook Pros easily beat Alienwares scores. These outliers aside though, it's hard to find this level of performance on any other gaming laptop right now.

The X17 did not see my normal workload as a problem. The X17 was able to handle 20 tabs in Microsoft Edge. This includes Spotify, Slack and Affinity Photos. I was unaware that I had 40 tabs open in my Edge window, which caused no noticeable slowdown or hitch.

This Windows Hello IR webcam is great for logging in hands-free. However, if you plan to make a lot of video calls, it will be mediocre. Although the video feed is good if you are in good lighting, it was unable to compensate for being rearlit.

Alienware didn't prioritize battery life as the X17 was primarily designed to deliver fast 4K desktop gaming while plugged-in. It isn't the worst, with an average of almost four hours mixed use and the work load I described above. I would find it difficult to justify the weight of this laptop being taken from its charger. It is seven pounds in weight and weighs almost as much as a brick. The good news is that the power supply charges the X17 quickly. It takes just over an hour for it to charge from approximately 10 percent to full.

The X-series chassis was designed for 2021. It is a significant improvement on the M-series' bulkier design. The company's Alienware logo is used as the power button. Its rear, where nearly all the ports are now located, looks almost like the exhaust from a futuristic spaceship. This is where the majority of the hot air from X17's quad-fan cooling system, and the many copper heatsinks, is dispelled.

Alienware did not make major changes to its ports list when slimming down. Two USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 ports are available with PD charging (5V/3A), and one is Thunderbolt 4. There are also two USB-A-3.2 Gen 1 ports. These include a 2.5-gigabit Ethernet, an HDMI 2.0, and a micro SD slot. The mini DisplayPort 1.4 is also available. The right side has a single headphone jack and the left has a plug to charge the power cable. In case you are curious, the X series gaming laptops do not have an Alienwares graphics amplifier port. However, it should support Thunderbolt GPU enclosures.

Alienware made a small, but well-received change to the body. Alienware also softened the look of a few places around it. The laptop's corners were no longer angular, which was a bit too alien-esque. Even if you don't like the look, it may not be altered here.

Gaming laptops are usually reliable in delivering power, good display and ports. But you don't always have a good keyboard to match them. The X17's X17 version includes the Cherry mechanical key switches. They are extremely low-profile and feel great to type on. These mechanical keyboards are quieter than traditional membrane laptop keyboards, and they feel much more thumping than mechanical keys. I was impressed at how many components Alienware managed to fit into its thinnest section, which measures just 16mm thick. The rear section is up to 22mm. There's still room for a mechanical keyboard.

Although the key layout is simple, some might be annoyed that the numberpad is not there. The keyboard's responsiveness was an issue that I encountered occasionally. Sometimes my first keypress didn't register. I would need to do it again. It wasn't a n-key rollover problem, but a strange latency in accepting inputs. Other times, the keyboard would stop accepting input and require a restart. Although it felt like something that could be fixed with a patch, it was not encouraging to see this happen so many months after the laptop was purchased.

Alienware X17: I agree to continue We are unable to review and analyze all of these agreements. We started counting how many times we had to click agree to use devices as we reviewed them. These are agreements that most people don't read and can't negotiate. Alienware X17 gives you multiple options to accept or decline during setup. An agreement is required for the following mandatory policies: Request for language, region and keyboard layout

Windows 10 License Agreement

How to make a PIN

Privacy settings for devices: Online speech recognition, Find My Device and Inking and Typing. Advertising ID, Location, Diagnostic Data, Tailored experiences

Microsoft can access your location, location history and contacts. Voice input patterns, typing history and search history. Calendar details, messages, apps, Edge browsing history and calendar details can all be accessed by Microsoft. Cortana will provide relevant suggestions and personalized experiences.

Updates for Alienware products Support There are four mandatory and fifteen optional agreements.

The RTX 3080 has a light-up trackpad, which illuminates when you touch it. However, the light fades after a few seconds. Although it's purely for display, the trackpad supports Windows Precision drivers and gesture customization in Windows. I would like to see Alienware following in the footsteps of MSIs and Razer, and implement larger trackpads rather than superfluous features such as trackpad backlighting. The current trackpad is too small. It almost seems to suggest that you use a dedicated mouse instead. This is my usual advice for gaming laptops. You should also consider accessories such as a headset for gaming, since the speakers built into the laptop aren't very special.

QHD screens were the most exciting thing about gaming laptops this year. I believed that 4K gaming on a laptop would be possible in the future, but it was still far away. Because the resolution would be reduced from 4K to 1440p, games will still look great, but more affordable components would be able run them. This would drive down the overall cost of laptops. There are now many powerful and fully-featured QHD options available that are much cheaper than 4K laptops, and they are well worth it.

The Alienware X17 is in a difficult spot. One thing is certain, gaming on a large 17.3-inch screen is the best. Although the 16-inch QHD 16:10 aspect ratio QHD screens are more popular, they don't feel quite as immersive. The X17's large screen real estate and high power offer a lot of entertainment.

It also proves that it can play 4K games with finesse, and that Alienwares is more serious about improving the chassis design. This laptop is a huge, well-designed gaming laptop, which delivers 4K gaming on the move.

It is simply too expensive for most people. It is also too expensive for the amount of cooling and power required to run 4K games. I don't think it provides a better experience than cheaper, but no less competently built, laptops with sharp QHD displays. You can use the remainder of your money to buy a headset, mouse or gaming monitor.