Alienware M17 R3 Laptop Review – Who needs a desktop?

Reviewed on September 15, 2020

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been spending a lot of time getting seriously acquainted with the new Alienware M17 R3 gaming laptop. For anybody who knows me or has listened to Checkpoint on JOY before, you’ll know that I am, basically, a console-boy. I have never really understood the allure of PC gaming, beyond a few titles that I didn’t have access to. I suck with a mouse and keyboard and am of the opinion that I would much rather spend my time sitting on the couch with a TV in front of me than sit at a desk with a computer monitor in front of me, like I do with my day-job.

It’s with surprise and glee then that I tell you the Alienware M17 R3 has, mostly, converted me. I’m still a console gamer at heart, but the benefits of stunning visuals and an entire library of VR experiences are just a couple of things that have more than justified this beefed-up little machine, to the point where I can’t imagine my life without it.

Firstly, the design of this thing is slick and simple, but what’s impressive is that it doesn’t have any major issues when it comes to heat. I’ve had machines in the past that sounded like a plane taking off when being pushed to their limits, but here, despite me attempting to play a range of titles that tested the machine out fully, it was never offensively loud and felt fine to the touch, as if RTX and other visual tricks were no big deal. It’s incredibly light, too. I didn’t physically have to move it around much considering I can’t leave the house at the moment, but they’ve managed to pack a lot of bells and whistles into a machine that is light-weight and easily maneuverable.

While looking slick and feeling light, don’t sleep on the function itself. The keyboard feels great to use and you can go as far as adjusting the colours of the lights beneath them, which I love because I’m a gay man with questionable taste levels. It’s incredibly responsive and the touch-pad also feels great, though you’ll likely be using your own gaming mouse instead. My setup in particular takes full advantage of the portability. Running the Alienware M17 R3 directly next to my TV and plugged in through HDMI, I use a wireless keyboard and mouse so that I can sit on the couch comfortably. I also utilise the Xbox Wireless Adapter so that I can simply play the laptop as if it’s an extra console. Then, if it’s an RTS or shooter like Valorant that requires mouse and keyboard, it’s a matter of quickly switching over. You might laugh at the fact that I attempted to turn my laptop into another console, but it works fantastically for me, and being able to move it onto my desk and connect it up to a regular monitor given its portable nature makes it a tantalising proposition, more-so than a larger, unmovable rig.

“…I tested games like Control with RTX, flew around the world in Microsoft Flight Simulator and pushed the system to the max…”

The M17 R3 configuration I reviewed has a NVIDIA GeForce RTX2070 video card, which basically is one of the better options and will mean that the machine can run anything you throw at it. For comparison, a laptop I purchased five years ago (that was decent at the time) had certain graphics-intense games like GTFO running at a crawl on lowest settings, but everything runs like an absolute dream on this bad-boy. I tested games like Control with RTX, flew around the world in Microsoft Flight Simulator and pushed the system to the max with other games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Gears 5, Metro Exodus and more, and they all looked stunning and ran smoothly.

On top of that, this laptop is entirely VR capable. I tested it out with my Oculus, playing recent releases like Half-Life Alyx and Boneworks (which require a decent setup to run), and they all worked perfectly, looking fantastic at the same time. Purchasing a gaming PC of any kind is a big investment, and ensuring that you own one with a certain level of future-proofing is incredibly important as nobody wants to upgrade something like this year-on-year. I can say with confidence that the M17 R3 will handle everything you can throw at it, and given the current climate of gaming (with next-gen consoles finally getting things like ray-tracing and steadier frame-rates), this is a wise choice for those wanting to ensure their gaming machine will last them for years to come.

For those who want to get really stuck into the details, the Alienware Command Center allows you to take everything up a notch, by creating profiles designated for power, thermal management, sound, lighting, macros, and more. You can link a profile to a game and its settings will automatically apply whenever the game is launched, no matter where it’s launched from. While I’m nowhere near nerdy enough to take proper advantage of this, having a quick dabble, ensuring that each game is perfectly optimised and allowing you to quickly and safely squeeze additional performance out of it means this machine is even more effective for those willing to put the extra time in.

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“…Alienware are one of the top-end laptop makers on the market, but the old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ rings true…”

For all the great things I have to say about the Alienware M17 R3 gaming laptop, it has to be mentioned that the battery life is a bit of a problem. I found myself only getting a couple of hours of charge when not plugged in, and this dropped dramatically when I was playing a game with any sort of high-intensity. One could argue that the main purpose of a laptop is that you can take it with you portably, and while I can’t imagine someone sitting in a crowded cafe playing Control with ray-tracing on this while they sip their Melbourne coffee (especially right now, given the lockdown we find ourselves in), you might still find it disappointing that you need to have the charger and a powerpoint nearby at almost all times so you don’t risk losing any progress.

For me, this isn’t even close to a deal-breaker, as I am essentially using the M17 R3 as a PC replacement, and only moved it from my study to my TV every now and then, but it’s worth keeping in mind. I can’t imagine taking this laptop outside of my house really, and in that sense battery life is pretty negligible.

The pill that’s hardest to swallow, and one that has often been my personal gate-keeper when it comes to PC gaming, is the cost associated. Starting at $3,198.99, and the model I reviewed coming in significantly higher than that, Alienware are one of the top-end laptop makers on the market when it comes to cost; but the old adage of “you get what you pay for” rings true here as well. It’s a high-quality product and looking underneath the hood shows that it matches up with some of the best high-end gaming rigs, with the added bonus that it’s relatively light-weight and easily portable. For a gamer like me that likes to run the laptop through my TV, it’s a pretty perfect addition.

I often made fun of my PC-loving counterparts, but really that was from a lack of understanding on my part. The Alienware M17 R3 may be a pricey proposition that needs you to keep your charger close-by at all times, but when it provides the power to play stellar video games with the highest quality settings possible, along with being able to run VR without a hitch, even a console-lover like me completely understands the value that a gaming laptop like this can bring. Consider me converted.

Alienware loaned the M17 R3 gaming laptop to Checkpoint for the purpose of this review.