Alienware is definitely the OG when it comes to gaming brands. They’ve been in the industry making these computers with a fancy alien-themed aesthetics with decked out hardware for the longest time. Fast forward to 2019 – and we have a lot more gaming-oriented brands. How does the latest Alienware m17 R2 compete with others? Let’s take a look at this review.

The Alienware m17 R2 that we have for review here comes with the best hardware configuration as shown on Dell’s website here. The price is RM17,056 and it comes with a few specialties here.

Unboxing

I honestly think that the Alienware m17 R2 is great. It might be a little big, but the inside of the box is packed with thick foam.

Alienware m17 R2

Inside the box, you get:

  • The Alienware m17 R2
  • 240W power brick
  • Documentation

Alienware m17 R2

I did expect to have something like a microfiber cloth or something similar to clean, since the Alienware m17 R2 can get dirty easily.

Alienware m17 R2

Specifications

Alienware m17 R2
CPU Intel Core i9-9980HK
GPU Intel UHD Graphics 630 + NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q with 8GB GDDR6
Display  17.3-inch 1080p FHD IPS 144Hz
RAM  16GB DDR4-2666 (soldered)
Storage  512GB PCIe Gen 3 x4 NVMe SSD
OS  Windows 10 Home
I/O 
  • Right
    • Ethernet
    • USB 3.1 Gen 1 with USB PowerShare
    • Combo audio jack
  • Left
    • 2x USB 3.1 Gen 1
  • Back
    • Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port
    • Thunderbolt 3 Port
    • Mini-DisplayPort 1.4
    • HDMI 2.0b
Battery  76Wh
Dimension  20.5mm x 399.8mm x 295.5mm (HxWxD)
Weight  2.63kg
Price RM17,056

Around the Laptop

The Alienware m17 R2 actually comes in two different colors – you can get it in both “Dark Side of the Moon” or in “Lunar Light”, which is basically black and white. At first glance, I absolutely love the aesthetics of the Alienware m17 R2. It’s clean and does not have any “in your face” gamer design, with the “m17” printed at the corner of the lid. It is reminiscent of the Alienware product design from my teenage years!

Alienware m17 R2

However, the coating on the Alienware m17 R2 is something I’m not a fan of. The entire laptop is made out of plastic with soft-touch coating It can get oily and all reflective quick – and surprisingly difficult to wipe off. If it ever gets scratched, the sudden change in texture will cause it to look and feel very different from the rest of the laptop.

Alienware m17 R2

Then comes the back of the Alienware m17 R2 with its big protrusion. That means this laptop is much wider than a typical 17.3-inch laptop, making it even more difficult to find a backpack that can house this laptop in.

Alienware m17 R2

To spice things up though, Alienware added a rim light around the protruded part. You can also sync it with the Alienware logo that is found on the laptop’s lid – and they look quite classy.

I/O

The Alienware m17 R2 does come with a pretty good set of I/O ports.

Alienware m17 R2

  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • USB 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gb/s) with USB PowerShare
  • Combo audio jack

Alienware m17 R2

  • 2x USB 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gb/s)

Alienware m17 R2

  • Alienware Graphics Amplifier Port
  • Thunderbolt 3 Port
  • Mini-DisplayPort 1.4
  • HDMI 2.0b

Display

This is a 17.3-inch IPS LCD display with 144Hz refresh rate. Honestly, the display looks great – and bright enough too. I was taking pics of the display outdoors at about 3pm, and the sunlight was already scorching my body – but the display managed to be bright enough to be seen outdoors.

Alienware m17 R2
Note to self – never take pics of displays under the sun.

The overall color reproduction on the Alienware m17 R2 is pretty good too. The green color isn’t particularly the best I’ve seen, but it is definitely good enough.

Alienware m17 R2

The display itself has pretty narrow bezels, housing a webcam at the top and dual microphones flanking both sides. It is also lifted slightly upwards because of a thicker bottom bezel to house the Tobii eye-tracker. I am amazed by how thin the entire module is packed close to the hinge, yet functional.

Tobii eye tracker

The Tobii eye-tracker here is very nicely tucked into the body of the laptop. If I didn’t check the details of the Alienware m17 R2, I wouldn’t have known that there is a Tobii eye-tracker module down there. Combined with the software developed by Tobii, you are able to show the world how your eyes move while playing games. I’d say this feature is most useful for competitive gamers or for the likes of Kephrii, a prominent Widowmaker player in Overwatch.

Alienware m17 R2
That strip is the Tobii Eye Tracker.

To take advantage of the Tobii eye tracker, Alienware themselves have something called the Alienware Academy which offers courses for select games to train you where to look. Currently, the academy is still in beta and has courses for The Divison 2, Rainbow 6 Siege, and prominently CS:GO.

Alienware m17 R2

The Tobii eye tracker is also a great tool to analyze your gameplay to know what made you look elsewhere and potentially caused a loss in the game match. So far throughout my usage of the Alienware m17 R2, there are no performance penalties for recording Overwatch gameplay footages via OBS with the Tobii eye tracker overlay. I suggest you watch our video review up at the top of this page to know what we mean.

Keyboard

Like many other 17-inch laptops in the market, the Alienware m17 R2 comes with a full-sized keyboard – complete with a number pad as well. It also has 4 dedicated macro keys located above the number pad that you can customize in the Alienware Command Center.

Alienware m17 R2

The keyboard is actually pretty nice to type on. Every key bounces back with enough speed yet without the aggression. The actuation force and travel distance also makes this keyboard very comfortable to type on.

Alienware m17 R2

The keyboard is so well-made that I personally think that Dell’s experience in the enterprise industry has brought them lots of experience. The Alienware m17 R2 has the page up and page down buttons right beside the full-sized arrow key cluster. For the keyboard, this is obviously the best design out there.

Alienware m17 R2

When it comes to the lighting modes available, the AlienFX is rather counterintuitive. There is a learning curve in which you need to really pay attention to what zones you are selecting before changing the color.

Trackpad

I honestly really like the trackpad on the Alienware m17 R2. It is a glass trackpad that runs on Windows precision touchpad drivers. My fingers glide on the trackpad with grace and the gestures work without a hitch.

Alienware m17 R2

The sensitivity of the trackpad is something that I had to make adjustments to. In Windows settings menu, the default “medium sensitivity” is too sensitive to my liking as its palm rejection is not good enough. But when I changed to “low sensitivity”, it has proper palm rejection and doesn’t randomly trigger.

Performance & Thermal

Packed with the best mobile version of the hardware, the Alienware m17 R2 scored as expected for the hardware that it packs.

Alienware m17 R2 Gaming Benchmarks

Even at the quietest fan speed, the Alienware m17 R2 has superior thermal performance thanks to its special cooling design. It has two intake fans that draw in air from the bottom, and then spew out hot air from the sides and the back of the laptop. That protruded back piece houses a larger heatsink for exhaust fans – and that helps a lot.

Alienware m17 R2 CPU (°C) and GPU (°C)

Through the Alienware Command Center, you can also change the fan profile and power plan per game. For example, I can crank up the maximum fan speed with maximum power for Overwatch but have the lowest fan speed for CS:GO. However, I don’t realize any significant performance boost by cranking up the fan speeds.

Alienware m17 R2
Peekaboo on the heatsink.

Honestly speaking, this is a big double-edged sword for the Alienware m17 R2. To have a protruding back to house that large heatsink for superior performance comes at a price of having a larger footprint. Hence, this laptop is much bulkier than a conventionally-sized 17.3-inch laptop.

Upgradability

Alienware m17 R2

The Alienware m17 R2 has a backplate that can be opened up with relative ease. All of them are standard Phillips screws – and they’re captive too. Once all 8 screws are released, slowly pop off the backplate from the laptop body around the sides first, then pull away from the protruding black piece to release the entire plate.

Alienware m17 R2

Once the Alienware m17 R2 has been opened, we find nothing particularly interesting here. In fact, it’s actually very disappointing here. The only upgrade that you can do is add another M.2 SSD and that is literally the only thing you can do.

Alienware m17 R2

Both CPU and GPU dies are on the opposite side of the motherboard, which means there is no way to reapply thermal paste – at least easily. There is also no option to upgrade your RAM since it is soldered. When you choose the amount of RAM before you place your order, that’s going to be permanent.

Alienware m17 R2
The row of RAM chips are just above the black cable.

Despite being such a large laptop, there is also no place to mount a 2.5-inch storage drive. There are empty spaces around the battery and the speakers – so moving around the components and reshaping the battery can definitely make way for another 2.5-inch storage drive.

Battery Life

The Alienware m17 R2 has a fairly large 76Wh battery. I typed this review using the laptop while on battery – and it lasts for 2 hours tops with battery-saving power plan and using Chrome only.

Alienware m17 R2
The battery is split into two parts. Interesting.

The battery life on the Alienware m17 R2 is actually as expected for a laptop with these specs. Considering that many other laptops with such high-end specs and high refresh rate has short battery life, the Alienware m17 R2 is actually above average.

If you want to extend the battery life, you’ll have to manually change to 60Hz refresh rate.

Final Words

I think the Alienware m17 R2 is a great performer. It looks great and feels great, though there are some jarring issues with this laptop. Usability wise, the protruded back part means that this laptop can’t fit into many backpacks.

I think Alienware really wants to make this laptop last a long time too, as it also comes with the Alienware Graphics Amplifier port at the back of the laptop. However, I think the thermal paste would’ve dried up and drastically thermal throttle your CPU and GPU before the RTX 2080 Max-Q goes obsolete.

Alienware m17 R2

Pros

  • Great design language and build quality
  • Quiet while having great thermal performance
  • Decent display
  • Classy RGB on the lid and protruding piece at the back
  • Great keyboard with proper arrow key cluster
  • Smooth trackpad with good tracking
  • Tobii eye tracker is properly integrated and hidden

Cons

  • Alienware Command Center is clunky
  • Soldered RAM
  • No 2.5-inch storage drive
  • No direct access to CPU and GPU die to reapply thermal paste
  • Soft-touch material feels great but could become sticky later
  • Protruded back piece that makes it difficult to fit into many backpacks (Alienware does include a free Vindicator 2.0 backpack)

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