Alienware 15 2017: performance, screen & conclusions
The good news is that this thing can’t be faulted on performance. The NVIDIA GTX 1070 can eat its way through almost anything – we’re talking at least 60 frames per second at max setting and 1080p, and often far better than that. It was hitting 80-odd frames in Dishonored, while managed a constant 30 frames in the Witcher 3 at 4K and max settings. I reckon you’ve got at least 18 months with this system before you need to meaningfully turn down settings in a new game. The screen on this configuration also includes G-Sync and a max refresh of 120 Hz, which means both a faster image if I want it and great flexibility for the screen to cope with a changeable frame rate – this latter will be most useful as the system gets older and can’t run new games as well.
Unfortunately, the 1920×1080 screen’s not great. It’s a TN+WVA rather than IPS screen, and sadly it shows. If you don’t know what those terms mean, without blinding you with science the quick answer is that IPS usually means better colours, contrast and viewing angles, whereas TN means faster at the expense of those other things. Often enough TN isn’t too bad, but I really struggled with this one.
Viewing angle is the main issue – unless you tilt the screen just so (quite far back in this case, which I didn’t find comfortable), the picture looks washed-out, with pale text and that camera negative effect in black areas. Some people will willingly pay this price for the 120Hz refresh, but I breathed a sigh of relief when I hooked the Alienware up to a seven-year-old IPS monitor.
This model can be bought with an IPS screen, but it’s a 4K one without G-Sync and topping out at 60Hz. I’m sure it looks lovely (haven’t seen it myself), but 4K is a pain in as much as even a 1070 isn’t up to 60 frames & high settings at that res, and it will place an enormous extra toll on the already short battery life. I’d consider it over the TN panel were I buying one of these, but ideally there’d be a 60Hz G-Sync 1080p IPS screen (which could also ideally be a little cheaper). That exact option is available in the US – along with a whole bunch of other configs – but sadly not in the UK.
The other teething issue I encountered was that the built in ‘Killer’ wi-fi chip kept malfunctioning, requiring me to run Windows’ troubleshooter and reset the adaptor every 20 minutes or so, and sometimes more frequently than that. A search reveals this is a long-running problem with this Killer chip and that Alienware continue to use it despite that, but fortunately disabling the pre-installed Killer software and dipping into drivers to tell Windows to not power down the chip to save energy sorted it out. Once sorted it’s sorted, but this isn’t something someone dropping almost £2k on a new laptop should have to face at all.
Quite a few gripes there I realise, but inna final analysis this absolutely works as a high-end gaming machine. I like it a lot more connected to an external monitor than I do with its own screen, but once I did that I was genuinely taken aback to see something that’s a fraction of the size of my desktop PC (with an AMD R9 Nano and an overclocked Core i7 980X) dramatically outperforming it.
Yes, that is exactly what its specs should do, but it’s something else to see a laptop doing that first hand, after years of received wisdom being that portables stood inescapably in the shadows of their stationary cousins. If you want a gaming PC and have a couple of grand to spend, this is a strong one that will handle anything, for now at least.
Would I buy one myself? Well, we’ll revisit that at the end of all this, as my mind may well change along the way, but right now my feeling is that I’ll keep my powder dry. This isn’t the cheapest machine – 1070 laptops can come in for two to three hundred quid less, and all being well I’ll be looking at one of those soon. If this were closer to £1500 I’d more easily dismiss its shortcomings, as its raw performance cannot be argued with. For £1800 though, there are a couple of boxes it’s just not quite ticking for me.
Particularly, the screen is ill-suited to all my typing work and general internet-goggling, and though the size and weight is far more manageable than I’d expected, I suspect I’d trade some performance for something a little sleeker, less wanton about how it uses its footprint and ideally less overdesigned. (But this does remain to be seen – I have a 1060-based model due soon, and it may be that the compromises inherent in the next chip down are more than I’m comfortable with.) A fine gaming laptop, without doubt, but right now I wouldn’t say it’s the machine for me, at least not at this price.
The Dell New Alienware 15 (US and UK store link; exact specs and prices differ per territory) with GTX 1070 is available now, with a price ranging from £1800/$2,069/ to £2,039.00 or $3,094 depending on spec (a far wider range of configurations is available in the US than the UK, hence the latter price disparity). Cheaper 1060 models are available too. N.b. model reviewed contains a 7th generation Intel Core i7 CPU, but in some territories the Dell site is still selling it with 6th generation chips instead. Wait a few weeks and this should change, I reckon.