Alienware has gone back and radically redesigned the chassis of their entire mobile lineup, and it's a difference you can see and feel. Their motif was to capture the difference between the 90s idea of alien technology which informed the previous designs and the modern pop culture idea of alien technology, and amusingly I do think they've found it. The base of the new 17 is bevelled and extends up and out, and illuminated lines ring it.

The lid and much of the shell is now aluminum; there's color-configurable illumination of the Alienware logo and two slits in the panel, as well as an aluminum trim surrounding the body of the notebook. Open it up and the interior is still the same soft touch black plastic we're used to from Alienware.

Gone is the group of shortcut buttons above the keyboard, with media controls now shifted to Fn key combinations. The keycaps and keyboard layout are also changed; the caps are a bit more subtle and still very comfortable, but the keyboard layout is a step back, I think. The document navigation keys have been moved (but are still dedicated, thankfully), replaced with a row of four configurable keys above the number pad. I feel like the essential problem with this placement is that it's not something you even see on desktop gaming keyboards; the old and more traditional layout was, I think, superior.

The new touchpad surface is comfortable and we still have dedicated buttons, but I'm not keen on having the touchpad itself backlit. Alienware went through the trouble of having the backlighting in the keyboard become less obtrusive, so why undermine that decision with a big fat backlit rectangle? It only lights up when you touch it, and it can be disabled entirely (along with all of the configurable lighting as is traditional), but it seems like a waste in the first place. The highlighted touchpad trim on the old chassis was more attractive and more sensible.

The interior of the Alienware 17 remains as sensible as ever, though. The battery is no longer easily user-replaceable, but notebooks like this one seldom spend much time off the mains in the first place. We still get a dual fan cooling system that isolates the CPU and GPU from one another. Honestly, this internal design remains relatively easy to service and upgrade independently, but remember that Dell/Alienware has a bad history of generationally updating BIOSes. There's no reason why the M17x R3 can't use a 680M or 780M, for example, or even an Ivy Bridge CPU, but a lack of BIOS updates made all but the 680M impossible, and that chip requires modified drivers.

Ultimately I'm fond of the Alienware 17 redesign, especially the switch from a glossy display to matte, but I feel like there's still a void in the market where a sleeker, more sophisticated and frankly adult design could exist. Razer is halfway there, but by being unwilling to produce a thicker machine, they're prevented from using the highest end mobile hardware. This redesign is fine and arguably an upgrade from the old chassis, but there's honestly a lot of room for improvement. Alienware really needs to find the happy medium between form and function.

Introducing the Alienware 17 System and Futuremark Performance
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  • kogunniyi - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    Oh, and Dell's NBD warranty.
  • nerd1 - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    Personally I think it should be more sensible to just get last gen model with 680M and save $1000. I prefer the old design and keyboard, and 680M is still no slotch even compared to 780M.
  • xenol - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    No temps, noise, or the like?
  • Drumsticks - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    It's amazing how you can write "the progress is palpable" for the exact same thing! Haswell) in an ultra book review and an alien ware review and have it mean the same thing.
  • Drumsticks - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    Different things* no edit :(
  • inighthawki - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    Anyone else ever wish there were baselines of desktop models to compare against? I've never purchased a gaming laptop before, so it'd be really cool if I could see the difference between the two. Like, how much slower is a 780M than a GTX780, or a 7970GE. I know they're significantly less powerful, but it'd be nice at some points to see by how much rather than just comparing to a bunch of similar classed laptops.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    780M is going to be more like a GTX 680 with lower clocks, and performance will also be a bit more variable thanks to the thermal constraints. If you're after bang for the buck, gaming notebooks have never been a good choice; we figure anyone looking for a new gaming notebook is looking for a new gaming notebook -- they don't need to see how much faster a desktop that costs less will be. Or if they do, they can do a bit of research on their own -- our system benchmarks and desktop benchmarks are using the same core tests (other than battery life, of course), though the lack of higher resolution tests on notebooks makes it a bit trickier.

    If you want a couple links, though:

    I've taken the Enthusiast gaming scores and compiled them into a single image, showing performance differences between the Alienware 17 and an overclocked GTX 680 and stock GTX 780 (with overclocked CPUs on both as well). Here's that image (hopefully the link works):

    Short summary: the desktop 680 OC is 12% to 60% faster than the AW17, with an average increase of 33%. The desktop 780 is 32% to 77% faster, with an average increase of 53%. StarCraft II is the game that shows the smallest improvement, being largely CPU limited even with OC'ed desktop CPUs. Metro Last Light shows the greatest improvement, followed by Tomb Raider and then Bioshock.
  • nerd1 - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    Recent laptops are quite good up to 1080p. 680M or 7970M can run pretty much anything on 1080p, and cheaper one like 765M can run most games on 1080p, except for metro or crysis series maybe.
  • waldojim42 - Sunday, September 8, 2013 - link

    I actually play Crysis 2 on my AW 14 just fine. Have to use the "Extreme" preset rather than "Ultra", but 1080P is no problem.
  • brucek2 - Friday, September 6, 2013 - link

    Actually Jared I'm not sure at all that the difference between desktop and mobile parts is well understood by the mass of computer purchasers. Certainly the manufacturers are not helping by reusing the same product names, a practice I feel is dishonestly misleading. Its something I have to explain to my less technical friends frequently, the last time being not three days ago.

    Anyway, that's a long way of saying I actually think it would be a great service if reviews could attempt to assign a dollar premium for mobility so potential purchasers understand how much they are paying for the privilege and/or how far down the performance curve they are limiting themselves. In the case of the talk from three days ago, the upshot was the friend realized a desktop would be the better choice after all.

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