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

Dell already had a winning formula for its flagship desktop replacement.

The Alienware 17 R4 sat atop our guide to the best gaming laptops 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 high-performance Core i9 laptop chip. Friends, the Core i9-8950HK inside turns this already beastly gaming laptop into an utter monster. Let’s go.

Alienware 17 R5 specs, features, and price

The Alienware 17 R5 is available in a variety of configurations, from a $1,560 model 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-no-object-I-want-performance$3,810 version 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, 2560×1440 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.

alienware command centerBrad Chacos/IDG

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

The powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics comes overclocked 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.

alienware 17 r5Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

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.

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