Alienware m17 R5 Review: AMD Advantage Gaming Laptop Shines
Alienware m17 R5 Laptop: A Burly Beauty With Beefy Gaming Performance
Back in January at CES 2022, AMD rolled out its Rembrandt processors, now more properly known as the Ryzen 6000 mobile family. AMD made some bold claims about these CPUs, including that they'd surpass its previous generation with up to a 30% performance lift, despite employing fundamentally the same CPU core architecture. AMD's Ryzen 6000 chips come with all kinds of improvements over the previous-generation family, and in fact, the changes are enough that the company refers to this core architecture as "Zen 3+". Many of the updates for Zen 3+ have been focused at improving the power efficiency of Rembrandt as well, and improve they have.
Besides these revised CPU cores, the Ryzen 6000 family also comes along with software updates that enable a variety of new features, like AMD SmartShift Max. Smartshift debuted in 2020 inside a single Dell laptop, and that surely wasn't satisfying for AMD's engineers who had worked so hard on the power-balancing feature. However, this year, you can find it inside "AMD Advantage" laptops from every vendor. That moniker describes machines that ship with an AMD Ryzen CPU and a Radeon discrete GPU but also a host of validated system and performance features that cater to optimizing the gaming experience.
So here it is: the Alienware M17 R5 all-AMD powered gaming laptop. Let's dig into the pertinent specs first, then we'll discuss this machine's design, build quality and performance in deep-dive detail.
Alienware m17 R5 Features And Specifications:
After perusing the spec table, a number of things stand out. Nothing so much as the dimensions and weight, though. Make no mistake: this is a hefty boy -- not the sort of thing you'd want to lug around all day for business, but then, that's not the point of this laptop, either.
Indeed, this is a gaming machine through and through. From the 45-watt AMD Ryzen 6000 CPU that will boost to 4.9 GHz under load, to its powerful RDNA 2-based Radeon GPU, the 120-Hz UHD LCD, and the mux chip that connects them all and allows direct output from the on board Radeon RX 6850M XT, this machine is decidedly not messing around when it comes to, well, messing around.
We won't go to great detail on the Ryzen 6000-series processors here, but if you want to read more on those chips, you can check out this review which has a more thorough write-up on AMD's mobile flagship CPUs.
Other nice-to-haves include the 2.5G Ethernet connectivity, 2x2 Wi-Fi 6E, and a USB4 port. Sure, it's only a single port, but it gives you a 20 Gbps connection that you can use with a dock for a bunch more connectivity.
We do have a few nitpicks about the specifications, though. There isn't much storage as configured, although you can outfit this system with a pair of 2TB NVMe SSDs if you want. 1TB just feels a bit cramped once you start installing AAA games to it. Also, while there's a nice amount of external connectivity, it's a bit of a bummer that only one port on the entire machine supports a transfer rate greater than 5Gbps.
Those are vanishingly small complaints in the grand scheme of things, though. Let's take a look around the exterior industrial design of the machine.
Alienware m17 R5 Design And Aesthetics
The party end of the machine has a generously-sized wrist-rest and a humongous trackpad. The landing area underneath the display is filled with grilles that provide a path for the laptop's stereo speakers to serenade your ears and also some venting for the system's thermal solution. While we weren't blown away by the sound quality here, we nearly were by its volume. This laptop audio solution can get loud, which we suppose could be a boon if you need to make a Zoom call in a noisy environment, or various other requirements that require louder output.
Speaking of Zoom calls, up above in the bezel above the display there's a 720p webcam. This setup should serve for adequate but not stellar teleconferencing, though we wish a higher 1080p resolution was supported here. This camera does support Windows Hello IR, however. The camera is also flanked by a pair of microphones and the audio quality was surprisingly crisp and clear — a lot better than your usual laptop webcam mic, though admittedly that's not saying much.
The front of the machine is, of course, dominated by the keyboard—though perhaps not so much as we might wish it were. As you can see, the keyboard is a reduced layout, missing the numeric keypad. The editing block (that's the home/end, insert/delete, and page up/down keys) has been relegated to the tiny top row, while the far right side of the keyboard is taken up by volume and microphone controls keys.
Don't get us wrong, we love this keyboard. It's rocking Cherry MX key switches with ultra-low-profile mechanical action, and it's a joy to type on, with a sharp response as the keys actuate, but without the noise of a clicky keyboard. The deck layout is uncommonly slightly limiting for a 17" laptop, though. We would have really preferred a complete layout on a laptop of this size. Not only does it benefit the machine tremendously in productivity workloads, but it also makes for a handy set of shortcut keys while gaming. Still, the centered keyboard does make typing a little more comfortable.
On the left side of the machine you have an RJ-45 jack and a 3.5mm combo audio port for headsets. We have do have another nitpick about the Ethernet jack: it's inverted, so that the clip is on the bottom. This can make it sort of tedious to get the Ethernet cable out of the machine without picking the whole thing up and tilting it upwards.
On the right side of the m17 R5, you get a pair of USB Type-A ports. Both are USB 3.2 Gen 1, which means they top out at 5 Gbps. This is completely fine for most common USB devices, and conveniently-placed for gamepads and mice. We would've appreciated a second USB Type-C port over here on the side as well perhaps.
The derriere of the m17 R5 features customizable RGB lighting on both the alien logo and around the port cluster and cooler exhaust. You can sync it up with the keyboard's lights or have it do its own thing. The lighting seems to default to the cyan color shown here.
Around the back, you get another USB Type-A port (5 Gbps, again) and a USB Type-C port that supports the nascent USB4 protocol with a transfer rate of 20 Gbps. Unfortunately, we didn't have any USB4 devices to test with, but this should be a great option for devices like Thunderbolt docks, which can add much more connectivity if need be. There's also an HDMI 2.1 port for connecting an external display if you so choose.
Despite the large vents in the back here, a significant amount of exhaust also comes out of the small vents on the sides of the machine. It's not so much that it'll make things uncomfortable, or anything like that, but it might be worth noting if you don't want to warm up a cold drink sitting next to the machine.
But that's enough gawping at the thing, right? Let's see how this baby handles.