Alienware 17: AMD's R9 M290X Goes Mobile

Keyboard, Sound, and Display

Physically, the Alienware 17 on the bench today is identical to the machine that Seth reviewed back in August, but this is the first time I've gotten to see one up close and personal. This is a hefty laptop, but the weight and size give it a definite solidity.

There's some interesting innovations here that I think deserve to be called out. First, there's the fact that the base of this system has an enormous wrist-rest. If you're the kind of person who likes to rest your wrists on something while typing or that finds laptop keyboards uncomfortable because most of them offer no such benefit, you're going to love the Alienware 17. I was initially dubious of the trackpad's position, but I found it worked quite well -- many of the pads on budget systems are ridiculously sensitive and couldn't tell a finger tip from a hand slap as far as ignoring unintended input. The Alienware 17 doesn't have that problem.

Audio response is good, provided you utilize the included Dolby Home Theater plugin. It's unclear as to why this plugin is essential to the laptop's audio, but I promise you, it is -- disable it, and the audio fidelity is negatively affected. The good news is that there's no reason to disable it, and the various options it offers for tweaking equalizer response are all solid. The overall sound is decent even by desktop standards.

The display is a 17-inch 1920x1080 panel, and while it's not exactly an Apple Retina display, it's far sharper than the 1366x768 panels we sometimes see vendors shipping in this screen size. Unfortunately, color reproduction isn't all that great. Like most TN panels, the Alienware 17 struggles to reproduce a decent color range and I found myself fiddling with software controls, using one preset for gaming but trying to find a different one for desktop work that didn't create blown-out whites or crushed blacks.

On a good IPS or PVA panel, each color bar is distinct from 1-32. On most TN panels, including this one, the last few bars of each color will blend together. Good TN panels will only blend 30-32 for most bars, whereas poor TN panels will blend 26-32.

On the bright side (badump-ching), the Alienware 17's display doesn't have the hyperglossy coating that infests any number of modern panels. If you care about accurate color reproduction you may not like the panel, but gamers who prefer a fast, bright screen should have no problems with it.

You've got a full set of USB, HDMI, audio outputs, an optical drive, and a mini-DisplayPort. Unless you need to hook up an elephant or two, you've got plenty of port flexibility on this system.

Meanwhile, laptop functions like macro key programming, the various light colors, power settings, sleep timers, and the various trackpad settings are all controlled in Alienware's Command Center (shown above). It's an excellent suite of configuration tools -- much better than the typical dubious utility of so-called "value-added" software.

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