Hands-on with Alienware’s eye-tracking behemoth gaming laptop
Traditionally, I’ve recommended that PC gamers avoid 17-inch gaming laptops unless absolutely necessary for two key reasons. First, because their ridiculous size means they’re normally laptops in name only. Second, because they’re super-expensive and run lower powered, mobile GPUs that can't be upgraded and don’t come close to matching desktop performance.
This year, my opinion could change. Thanks to great work by Nvidia and OEMs, we’re set to see a fresh wave of top-notch 17-inch gaming notebooks that run full-fat desktop GPUs in the very near future.
The Alienware 17 is one of the first set to hit the market and, thanks to the addition of nifty eye-tracking tech, it could be one of 2016’s most exciting gaming laptops.
Here are four things you need to know about the Alienware 17.
Watch: Hands-on with the new Alienware 15 and 17
2015 was all about supersized laptops. Thanks to advances in Nvidia’s graphics card designs, we saw numerous giant laptops with desktop components hit the market – the ridiculous MSI GT72S Dragon Edition and Asus GX700, for example.
The Alienware 17 feels like a refinement of 2015’s model, packing Nvidia’s shiny new desktop GPU into a sleek new chassis that won’t see you break your back on the way to LAN parties.
The company claims the new case is “almost” 25% thinner and has an improved cooling system that will stop it heating up to dangerous levels during prolonged gaming sessions. I managed only 15 minutes of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate during my hands-on, but I'm pleased to report that the laptop never fired up to even noticeably warm levels in that time.
The chassis uses a new anodized aluminium, magnesium alloy and redesigned "TactX" keyboard. The alloy feels slightly more solid than past Alienware machines.
We see a modest, but important upgrade with the keyboard. Alienware lists it as having a 2.2mm key travel and rapid-response feature that lets it register more than 108 key commands per minute. I didn't get close to reaching the key command limit, but found the keyboard comfortable to game on and especially reactive. I can see it being a big hit for competitive RTS and aRPG gamers.
I was only able to test the basic Full HD version of the Alienware 17, although a spokesman on hand confirmed that the company will offer a 4K option. This will be a great news for people looking to play games at resolutions above 1080p, although I found that the basic FHD model was still pretty awesome.
The IPS panel’s 120Hz refresh rate is well suited for gaming and, even though blacks didn’t appear quite as inky as I’d like, colours looked balanced and viewing angles were excellent.
This is a huge step forward; thanks to refinements in Nvidia’s manufacturing process, there’s pretty much no difference between the 1070 and 1080s used in the Alienware 17 and the full-fat desktop version.
The only notable difference is that the 1070 desktop version has 2,048 CUDA cores and a marginally higher 1,683MHz clock speed. The 1070 seen in the Alienware 17 will have 1,920 CUDA cores and a 1,645MHz clock speed. In real terms this will make very little difference to performance, and in some circumstances the laptop GTX 1070 will be slightly faster than its desktop sibling.
Backed up by an Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor and 8GB of DDR4 memory (upgradeable to 32GB), whichever card you choose, the Alienware 17 will happily cope with 1080p and 1440p gaming – 4K will still be a stretch, tif you ramp up things like anti-aliasing, but it'll handle most games with aplomb.
The use of Pascal GPUs also means that the Alienware 17 is VR-ready and will work with headsets such as the HTC Vive.
Related: Best GPU 2016
Ever since the Terminator movies, I haven't been a fan of machines that can watch me. Which is why I was a little nervous to hear some versions of the Alienware 17 will watch me game using a glitzy IR Tobii eye-tracking camera sensor.
The optional sensor sits at the bottom-left edge of the laptop's screen and is designed to let you control some titles with eye movements, and track your movements during gaming sessions using the Overwolf app.
The control feature only works on specific games, but I was impressed by how fun it was when playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. The tracker let me control the game’s camera using eye movements. Specifically, it would adjust the camera to focus where I was looking and turn it when I looked left or right for prolonged periods.
The Overwolf app is a little more interesting. The app uses the sensor to record your gaming session and retroactively create a heat map that shows where you were looking at any given time. This means you can see your “gaze pattern” as well as what commands and actions you took at any given point. In theory, this will make it easier for competitive gamers to spot mistakes and hone their skills.
I didn’t get a chance to try out the feature, but I can see it being a key selling point for serious MOBA, RTS and racing gamers.
Related: Best Gaming Laptops 2016
The new keyboard feels great
And I'm all for the slimmer chassis
The choice of 1070 and 1080 GPUs also makes it an outright beast for gaming
Competitive gamers will likely love the eye-tracking tech
The Alienware 17 is set for release in October. Alienware hasn’t confirmed the 17’s UK pricing. but considering its track record, it won't be cheap.
Featuring a full-fat GTX 1070, or 1080 graphics card, the Alienware 17 is an absolute beast of gaming machine. Outside of the Asus GX800 and Acer Predator 21X, which run the GTX 1080 in SLI, you’re not going to get a more powerful gaming laptop.
If money is no object then this could be the ideal choice for competitive gamers looking for a mobile rig that they can lug to LAN parties. Its overall mass-market appeal will be determined by one key detail we currently don’t have; how much it will cost.