Alien­ware 17 R5: Core i9 and an over­clocked GTX 1080 cre­ate an in­cred­i­ble desk­top re­place­ment

In­tel’s first Core i9 mo­bile chips de­liver as­ton­ish­ing per­for­mance.

PCWorld (USA) - - Reviews | Intel Kaby Lake G Core I7- 8705g - BY BRAD CHACOS

Dell al­ready had a winning for­mula for its flag­ship desk­top re­place­ment. The Alien­ware 17 R4 ( go.pc­world.com/r417) sat atop our guide to the best gam­ing lap­tops ( go.pc­world.com/bsgl) ever since we re­viewed it just shy of a year ago. Sure, it was big and heavy like all the most pow­er­ful gam­ing lap­tops are, but the note­book de­liv­ered such blis­ter­ingly fast per­for­mance that the trade-off proved worth­while for en­thu­si­asts. The clas­sic Alien­ware de­sign de­liv­ered nice touches (like side RGB ac­cent lights) you don’t of­ten see else­where. It

kicked ass, full stop.

The new­est it­er­a­tion largely sticks with proven suc­cess, with one key dif­fer­ence: an up­grade to In­tel’s 8th-gen mo­bile pro­ces­sors, which pack more CPU cores than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions did. The Alien­ware 17 R5 we’re re­view­ing to­day packs In­tel’s de­but high­per­for­mance Core i9 lap­top chip ( go. pc­world.com/hpi9). Friends, the Core I9-8950HK in­side turns this al­ready beastly gam­ing lap­top into an ut­ter mon­ster. Let’s go.

SPECS, FEA­TURES, AND PRICE

The Alien­ware 17 R5 is avail­able in a va­ri­ety of con­fig­u­ra­tions ( go.pc­world.com/nw17), from a $1,560 model ( go.pc­world.com/m156) with a 6-core Core i7-8750h, an over­clocked Ge­force GTX 1060, and a 60Hz 1080p dis­play, all the way up to the price-is-noob­ject-i-want­per­for­mance $3,810 ver­sion ( go.pc­world.com/ m309) we’re test­ing to­day. Op­tional fea­tures could push that to­tal even higher. Here’s what’s in­side our re­view unit.

Spoiler alert: It’s loaded.

CPU: Core I9-8950HK (over­clock­able)

GPU: Over­clocked Nvidia Ge­force GTX 1080 RAM: 32GB DDR4/2666 (dual-chan­nel)

Stor­age: 512GB NVME SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Wire­less: Killer 802.11ac Wi-fi, Blue­tooth 4.1

Dis­play: 17-inch, 120Hz, 2560x1440 G-sync dis­play (TN + WVA)

Ports: Thun­der­bolt 3, USB 3.0 Type-c, two USB 3.0 Type-a, HDMI 2.0, mini-dis­playPort 1.2, head­phone/mic, No­ble Lock slot, eth­er­net, Alien­ware Graph­ics Am­pli­fier port

Weight: 9 pounds, 12 ounces, or 12 pounds, 15.2 ounces with power brick

Di­men­sions: 16.7 x 13.1 x 1.18 inches

We­b­cam: Alien­ware FHD with To­bii IR eye-track­ing

Price: $3,810

As you can see from the spec list, the high-end Alien­ware 17 R5 spares no ex­pense on the in­ter­nals. The Core I9-8950HK packs

the same six cores and twelve threads as the 8th-gen Core i7 chips, but at higher clocks that range from 2.8GHZ all the way up to 4.8GHZ. Even more im­pres­sive, it man­ages to stay steady at 4GHZ even when Cinebench is stress­ing every avail­able CPU core and thread. This thing cranks—and as an Hk-se­ries chip, you can crank it even fur­ther by over­clock­ing it.

The pow­er­ful Nvidia Ge­force GTX 1080 graph­ics comes over­clocked and kick­ing butt out of the box, but you can use the re­vamped Alien­ware Com­mand Cen­ter app to tweak the tun­ing of your CPU and GPU. The Com­mand Cen­ter in­cludes a pair of one-click over­clock op­tions as well as the abil­ity to cre­ate your own pro­file. You can also ad­just per­for­mance set­tings based on de­sired ther­mal pa­ram­e­ters. Alien­ware’s app dou­bles as the Com­mand Cen­ter for the lap­top’s RGB light­ing fea­tures, and it swipes a page from Nvidia’s Ge­force Ex­pe­ri­ence by act­ing as a cen­tral hub for all your in­stalled games.

This 10-pound lap­top is big, but at­trac­tive, largely mir­ror­ing the de­sign of last year’s Alien­ware 17. The black color scheme of our re­view model strad­dles the line be­tween flashy and pro­fes­sional: The stark, clean de­sign is aug­mented with taste­ful, cus­tom­iz­a­ble light­ing.

Slim RGB LED strips ac­cent both side edges and the lid, as well as the touch­pad it­self—a unique ad­di­tion that I found my­self ap­pre­ci­at­ing greatly while us­ing the lap­top in bed at night. Back­lit key­boards are great, and it turns out back­lit touch­pads are too! The key­board back­light­ing is still zone-lit rather than per-key, which is a slight bum­mer, but the key­board it­self feels great, with plenty of travel and re­spon­sive­ness. The touch­pad is just as good, as it thank­fully in­cludes a pair of phys­i­cal but­tons at the bot­tom.

Au­dio­vi­su­als prove just as im­pres­sive. The Alien­ware 17 R5 de­liv­ers big, boom­ing sound for a gam­ing lap­top, and un­like its pre­de­ces­sor, the au­dio isn’t ut­terly drowned out by roar­ing

fans. The fans aren’t quiet while you’re gam­ing—not at all—but they a rea­son­ably pleas­ant noise that’s not too high­pitched or whiny. Bring a gam­ing head­set ( go.pc­world. com/ghst).

On the visual front you’d be hard-pressed to iden­tify this as a TN panel. The 2560x1440 screen pumps out vi­brant imagery with fairly gen­er­ous view­ing an­gles, though it starts to darken once you reach more extreme slants. The screen hits an im­pres­sively eye-sear­ing 390 nits at full bright­ness. Play­ing on a 120Hz G-sync panel—which syn­chro­nizes the re­fresh rates of your GPU and dis­play to elim­i­nate tear­ing and stut­ter­ing—feels just as glo­ri­ous as you’d ex­pect.

It’s the only panel op­tion avail­able for the black chas­sis, un­for­tu­nately. If you switch to a sil­ver chas­sis you can opt to up­grade to a 60Hz 4K IPS panel, with or with­out G-sync, for an­other $150. Re­gard­less of chas­sis type, there’s no abil­ity to save some cash by ditch­ing the in­te­grated To­bii IR eye-track­ing sen­sor.

To­bii is nifty ( go.pc­world.com/tbii) but far from es­sen­tial, let­ting you sign into Win­dows 10 via face recog­ni­tion or use your eyes to con­trol the cur­sor in a lim­ited se­lec­tion of games. Be­yond the cost of im­ple­ment­ing it, the To­bii hard­ware man­i­fests it­self as a se­ries of con­tin­u­ous, rapidly flick­er­ing red lights be­low the panel when­ever you boot up a game. It’s in­cred­i­bly dis­tract­ing and an­noy­ing.

We’re still not a fan of the rear of the Alien­ware 17, ei­ther. It ditches tra­di­tional note­book de­sign and in­stead places the lid’s hinge about 1.25 inches in from the rear edge, cre­at­ing a huge lip on the back. That lets Alien­ware add mas­sive vents that no doubt help to keep the colos­sal hard­ware in­side cool, but it’s butt-ugly and gets aw­fully hot dur­ing long game­play ses­sions.

The power cord, dis­play con­nec­tions, eth­er­net, and pro­pri­etary Alien­ware Graph­ics Am­pli­fier ports are all on the rear of the ma­chine, too. We dis­like the er­gonomics of rear-edge ports even in stan­dard lap­top de­signs. In the Alien­ware 17, it all but guar­an­tees your fum­bling fin­gers will brush those hot vents if you need to plug some­thing in while you’re work­ing or play­ing.

BENCH­MARK PER­FOR­MANCE

The Alien­ware 17 R5 packs fe­ro­cious fire­power, so let’s see how it stacks up ver­sus some other heavy hit­ters. Let’s start with the Alien­ware 17 R4, which packs an In­tel Core I7-7820HK, the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion’s over­clock­able quad-core flag­ship. We’ll also com­pare it against Origin PC’S EON17-X ( go.pc­world.com/e17x), a beast that uses an over­clocked 6-core, 12-thread Core i7-8700k desk­top pro­ces­sor but still man­ages to come in slightly cheaper and slightly less heavy than the Alien­ware— though much thicker. All of th­ese pack Nvidia’s full-fat Ge­force GTX 1080.

We’ll also in­clude Acer’s Preda­tor Tri­ton 7000 ( go.pc­world.com/ apt7), a more por­ta­ble pre­mium lap­top with a quad-core Core I7-7700HQ and a pow­er­ef­fi­cient GTX 1080 Max-q, as well as the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE ( go. pc­world.com/gst6). Th­ese two lap­tops cost sig­nif­i­cantly less than the Alien­ware, at $2,780 and $1,799 re­spec­tively. MSI’S slim four-pound lap­top only has a GTX 1060 in­side, but it also has the 6-core Core i7-8750h pro­ces­sor that many gam­ing lap­tops opt for over the beefier Core i9 chip found in the Alien­ware 17.

Speak­ing of which, this is the first Core i9 lap­top to hit our test bench, so let’s kick things off with pro­ces­sor power. Maxon’s

Cinebench R15 mea­sures raw CPU per­for­mance, and will hap­pily use as many threads as you can throw at it. Higher scores are bet­ter.

The newer lap­tops with

In­tel’s 8th-gen Core i7 and

Core i9 CPUS ab­so­lutely smoke the older mod­els run­ning the Core

I7-7700HQ, which makes sense: This gen­er­a­tion added two cores and four threads to high-end chips.

Sin­gle-threaded per­for­mance sees a no­table but more mod­est in­crease com­pared to pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion CPUS.

No­tably, the Core i9 in­side the Alien­ware 17 trades blows with the desk­top

Core i7-8700k in­side of the Origin EON17-X—A very im­pres­sive feat.

But Cinebench’s bench­mark runs in a short du­ra­tion. The file we en­code in our Cpu-in­ten­sive Hand­brake test (which uses an older ver­sion of the soft­ware) takes around 45 min­utes on a quad-core pro­ces­sor. The ex­tended du­ra­tion re­veals how a lap­top’s tem­per­a­ture throt­tling af­fects per­for­mance over time, some­thing that can vary wildly depend­ing on a given lap­top’s de­sign and tun­ing. We mea­sure re­sults in how many sec­onds it takes to per­form the en­cod­ing, so lower scores are bet­ter.

No sur­prise here, ei­ther: The 8th-gen

Core i7 and Core i9 chips de­mol­ish the last-gen com­pe­ti­tion thanks to their more abun­dant CPU cores. The Core I9-8950HK in­side the new Alien­ware 17 man­ages to fin­ish

the job nearly 4 min­utes faster than the 8th-gen Core i7 in­side the MSI GS65 Stealth, and al­most 10 min­utes faster than the 7th-gen over­clock­able cream-of-the-crop pro­ces­sor in the pre­vi­ous Alien­ware 17 R4. Holy mo­ley. It’s a few sec­onds slower than the desk­top chip in the Origin lap­top, though.

Gam­ing lap­tops need strong graph­ics ca­pa­bil­i­ties, of course. We test their visual chops us­ing the Graph­ics sub-score in 3Dmark’s Fire Strike Extreme bench­mark, a syn­thetic bench­mark that fo­cuses on pure GPU per­for­mance.

Dell man­aged to crank the GTX 1080 even fur­ther in the Alien­ware 17 R5 com­pared to the older R4, with the newer model turn­ing in an ul­tra-rare 10,000-plus score. As far as sin­gle-gpu lap­tops go, the only other note­book to break that lofty bar­rier is the thicker Origin EON17-X, which man­ages to push sig­nif­i­cantly fur­ther on ac­count of the ex­tra room.

But enough syn­thetic bench­marks. Let’s get to the games! We com­pare lap­top gam­ing per­for­mance at 1080p res­o­lu­tion to stan­dard­ize re­sults across the board, us­ing the in-game bench­marks in­cluded with each ti­tle. Our cur­rent suite mostly con­sists of older games so that we can com­pare new and old lap­tops eas­ily. (Note that we don’t have Tomb Raider re­sults for the older Alien­ware 17 R4.)

The Alien­ware 17 pushes th­ese es­tab­lished games be­yond even what its ul­tra-fast 120Hz

screen can pump out, al­beit at 1080p res­o­lu­tion. The over­clocked GTX 1080 re­ally spreads its wings here. Most mod­ern games are bot­tle­necked by your GPU rather than your CPU, so a

Core i7 lap­top with a GTX

1080 will per­form in the same gen­eral ball­park as a

Core i9 lap­top with a GTX

1080 in the ma­jor­ity of cases.

That said, out-of-the­box over­clock­ing and ther­mal de­sign choices can af­fect gam­ing frame rates to a de­cent de­gree, as while the older R4 also has a GTX

1080, the new Alien­ware 17

R5 turns in a solid per­for­mance lead over its pre­de­ces­sor. The much thicker, desk­top CPUpow­ered Origin EON17-X once again tops our charts.

Part of the rea­son that the Alien­ware 17 R5 is so big is be­cause Dell crammed an ab­so­lutely mas­sive 99Whr bat­tery in­side. That gives it a huge leg up in longevity com­pared to other ul­tra-pow­er­ful desk­top re­place­ments in Pc­world’s bat­tery run-down test, which con­sists of loop­ing a 4K video in the Win­dows 10 Movies and TV player, with bright­ness at 250 to 260 nits and au­dio at 50 per­cent, un­til the ma­chine gives up the ghost.

The Alien­ware 17 R5’s 3-hour, 45 minute en­durance would be hor­ri­ble in a main­stream lap­top, to be fair. But de­spite all its ex­tra cores and fancy over­clock­ing, it still lasts more than 90 min­utes longer than com­pet­ing high-end lap­tops. Im­pres­sive. The in­cluded 330-watt power brick charges it pretty quickly, too.

VER­DICT

The old Alien­ware 17 kicked ass. The new Alien­ware 17 R5 blows us away.

The $3,810 ver­sion we tested pumps out more per­for­mance than we’ve ever seen in a gam­ing lap­top with all-mo­bile parts. It of­fers over 55 per­cent more multi-thread per­for­mance than its al­ready-po­tent di­rect pre­de­ces­sor. CPU bench­marks this fast were prac­ti­cally un­think­able mere months ago. Alien­ware uses the ex­tra head­room to push the GTX 1080 harder than be­fore, too. And re­mem­ber: The Alien­ware Com­mand Cen­ter lets you over­clock the CPU and GPU for even more po­ten­tial per­for­mance.

It’s not for ev­ery­one, though. Make sure you can use the Core i9’s ex­tra power ( go. pc­world.com/ci9l) be­fore you pay its siz­able pre­mium. All those cores and threads aren’t fully uti­lized in most games, so if you plan to use your lap­top mostly for play, you’d be bet­ter off sav­ing your cash and go­ing with a more af­ford­able op­tion, such as In­tel’s new Core i7-8750h.

The Core i7 chip still sur­passes pre­vi­ous­gen per­for­mance by a long shot, and you’ll save $1,000 or more depend­ing on the al­ter­na­tive you choose. An­other ver­sion of the Alien­ware 17 R5 with a Core i7, a GTX 1070 ( go.pc­world.com/r5i7), and 16GB of RAM costs $1,900, for ex­am­ple—al­most $2,000 less than the lux­u­ri­ous Core i9 load­out we’ve tested to­day.

But if you ab­so­lutely, pos­i­tively need as much por­ta­ble per­for­mance as pos­si­ble and are will­ing to shoul­der a big, heavy ma­chine to get it, the Alien­ware 17 R5 should be near the top of your list. Com­bin­ing a Core i9 mo­bile chip with an over­clocked GTX 1080 re­sults in as­tound­ing per­for­mance. As a bonus, the Alien­ware 17’s slick, so­phis­ti­cated aes­thetic makes the lap­top look more stream­lined than it re­ally is. Its per­for­mance is sur­passed only by Origin’s EON17-X in our test­ing—a $3,712 beast that packs a pow­er­ful Core i7-8700k desk­top pro­ces­sor, but with a some­what coarser de­sign that’s al­most half an inch thicker and half as long-last­ing.

Re­fine­ment or raw power: Pick your poi­son. Re­gard­less of which you choose, Core i9’s ar­rival means that mo­bile lap­tops can fi­nally ri­val top-tier tower PCS in per­for­mance. The Alien­ware 17 R5 her­alds an ex­cit­ing fu­ture. “Desk­top re­place­ments,” in­deed.

Over­clock­ing con­trols: The Alien­ware Com­mand Cen­ter app de­faults to a light scheme but the dark theme is gor­geous.

The touch­pad on the Alien­ware 17 R5 thank­fully in­cludes phys­i­cal but­tons.

We aren’t a fan of this hinge-for­ward de­sign.

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