Alienware 17: AMD's R9 M290X Goes Mobile

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Thermals, Enduro, and Battery Life

I have a serious dislike of laptops that can't handle their own thermal output. In order to pass muster, a gaming laptop needs to be able to dissipate its own heat during prolonged play sessions without sounding like a jet turbine or scorching anything within six inches of the fan exhausts. I'm happy to report that the Alienware 17 fulfills these requirements -- it's actually possible to game with this system in my lap, though the back right quadrant of the system does become uncomfortably hot when it's running all out in that configuration.

The Alienware 17 is definitely audible when you're gaming, but it isn't loud enough to overpower its own speakers or to cause problems if you have a pair of headphones.

AMD Enduro: Badly Brittle

It's our policy to only review laptops with the drivers they ship with, unless a catastrophic problem or purposefully early driver set requires us to do otherwise. A large number of notebook users don't like to bother with driver updates, and proper software integration is part of what boutique OEMs charge for in these kinds of systems.

In theory, the Alienware 17 supports AMD's Enduro switchable graphics technology that's supposed to seamlessly swap between the Intel HD Graphics for low-power workloads and the AMD GPU for heavy lifting. Unfortunately, we had no end of problems keeping the system stable in its default configuration.

Games would crash without warning. Application tests like PCMark 8 would throw errors related to Intel or AMD DLLs. Even some application installers had trouble, while running two different game benchmarks back-to-back was effectively impossible -- and while we always test performance from a clean reboot, a laptop needs to be able to launch multiple titles in succession without crashing in between.

The only way to resolve these problems was to shut off the graphics switching and run every workload on the AMD GPU from start to finish.

We should note that it's not clear if the problem was the Intel or the AMD GPU -- the problem stopped once we ran everything on just the AMD card, so clearly the issue wasn't a stability problem on the GPU side of things. At the same time, however, the entire point of Enduro is to improve battery life -- and that's not what what happened here.

Battery Life:

Battery life on this type of mobile gaming system is never great but you can see the difference between running on the Intel GPU versus AMD's own chip. Users who want to conserve additional battery life should consider using third-party tools to lower in-game frame rates, as discussed here.

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