One thing I love about Alienware is the company’s relentless confidence in its new products. Whether that’s bragging rights that a desktop is a “Benchmark Bruiser (opens in new tab)or releasing one of the slickest OLED Gaming Monitors (opens in new tab) to date. So if I get the chance to check out the new Alienware m17 R5, it’s been called “the most powerful 17-inch AMD Advantage gaming laptop”, how could I pass up?
And does it live up to the hype? Uh, yes and no.
The Alienware m17 R5 is powered by an AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX and Radeon RX 6850M XT combo that on paper looks like a slam dunk for Team Red. It’s also the first gaming laptop we tested with an RX 6850M XT, so I was excited to see how it stacked up against laptops with an RTX 3070 Ti and even RTX 3080 Ti mobile GPUs.
Alienware also sent a specially upgraded configuration of the Alienware m17 R5. It comes with a 4K panel with a refresh rate of 120 Hz. It has 32 GB DDR5 RAM and 1 TB NVMe SSD. How much does this thing cost? You’re looking at about $2,800.
Expect to pay more if you decide to go even bigger by maximizing the memory and storage with 64GB of RAM and a 4TB SSD, although that may seem excessive, but who am I to judge? Like Alienware’s Intel-centric laptops, you have tons of options to choose from. The lowest amount you will pay for the AMD configuration starts at $1,911. This includes cheaper 1080p display options at 165Hz or 360Hz.
If you’re feeling frisky, Alienware even has a 1080p display at a ridiculous 480Hz, which is $300 more expensive than the 4K 120Hz I’m reviewing here. While I haven’t personally seen 480Hz displays in action, I can’t tell you if it’s worth it.
Alienware m17 R5 AMD Specifications
PROCESSOR: AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX
Memory: 32GB (2x 16GB) Dual Channel DDR5-4800
Graphic: AMD Radeon RX 6850M
Storage: 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD
Display: 17.3-inch UHD (3850 x 2160) 120Hz
Guarantee: 1 year parts/lifetime labor
The surprisingly bright 4K screen of 500 cd/m² was widely used for streaming video. I appreciate seeing the detailed stress lines on Guenther Steiner’s face in the final season of F1: Drive to Survive in 4K on Netflix. Games look pretty good, although this screen is better suited to professionals and creatives. So if you don’t fall into that category, you might be better off sticking to the 1080p display at 240Hz to save money and add time to your much-needed battery life.
This laptop also uses AMD’s suite of game-enhancing technologies (opens in new tab)like SmartAccess Graphics, which automatically switches your output from the Ryzen APU and Radeon GPU, along with Smartshift Max, which automatically shifts depending on which app or game you are using. The good thing about these features is that they just work without you messing with them. All nice features, especially if you’re jumping back and forth between gaming and, say, video editing and trying to gain extra horsepower.
That’s the ‘AMD Advantage’, a feature set that comes from having both Radeon GPUs and Ryzen CPUs in the same machine.
As you can see from the benchmarks below, the mobile Ryzen 9 6900HX’s multi-core performance underperforms the comparably priced Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 (opens in new tab) and MSI GS66 Stealth (2022) (opens in new tab) both of which have an Intel Core i9 12900H under the hood. That’s where the eight-core, 16-thread design of the Ryzen falls, namely the Alder Lake core layout, where the 14 cores and 20 threads push it forward.
The Alienware also falls behind the Core i7 12800H found in the Razer Blade 17 “ (opens in new tab) we tested a while ago, again, that’s a 14-core, 20-thread Intel chip. The Razer Blade 17 is an absolute beast of a machine… and very expensive ($4,000), even by premium laptop standards. Still, if you want serious performance, it’s clear that the new Alienware isn’t the pinnacle.
Fortunately, on the GPU side, the Alienware m17 R5 AMD Advantage model excelled in almost all of our gaming benchmarks at 1080p at mostly max settings. It reached three-digit frame rates in almost all the games I played, with a Hitman 3 average of just over 200 fps.
It struggled with Metro Exodus and Cyberpunk 2077, which isn’t surprising since those focus on ray-tracing performance, which we know has been a pain point for AMD’s GPUs. Unfortunately, there’s nothing going on in this new mobile GPU to actually change that.
Since the screen is 4K, it would be rude not to watch some games in ultra-high resolution. The Radeon RX 6850M XT performed admirably at 4K, often a win over the MSI GS66 (another powerful 4K laptop we reviewed recently). Except when ray-tracing was involved, at least. In those cases, the GS66’s RTX 3070 Ti walked away with it. The frame rate at 4K was good, but still nothing that will set the world on fire.
For example, if you were running Cyberpunk 2077 with ray tracing effects on it, the Alienware would often slow things down to a crawl reaching frame rates up to 17 fps with the graphics settings set to Ultra. With RT disabled, the game ran at a slow 22 fps in 4K. For fun, I turned on FSR (FidelityFX Super Resolution), AMD’s answer to DLSS, to see how much more of a bump I got. I was able to get things to a playable 35 fps in 4K on Ultra settings. This is better, but not much.
If frame rate is more important to you than resolution, the m17 R5 will easily deliver over 100 fps frames on most games at 1080p. Even Cyberpunk got around 128 fps (with FSR enabled). Due to the high refresh rate of 120 Hz on the screen, you have little to no tearing. I played more games at 1080p than at 4K because of the drastically higher frame rates. If you’re playing a shooter like Apex Legends or Fortnite then that’s the way to go, usually making the 4K screen a bit redundant.
Note: All benchmarks were run without using Alienware’s high-performance one-button mode. That didn’t stop me from seeing how a handful of games went through with it. When you press the F1 key and engage the high-performance mode, you will notice for the first time that the fans start spinning aggressively almost immediately. It’s like Alienware’s engines are preparing to take off.
This is because the fans are cranked up to 100% in this mode. This brought down the average GPU and CPU temps quite a bit, which is what you want in the long run. If you’re hoping this was a magic “better frame rate” button, it’s not because I haven’t seen a noticeable increase in frame rates in the games it tried.
It’s all about the thermals. But, as with other Alienware gaming laptops and desktops, it gets loud when the fans are on full blast. Just make sure to pick up some wireless headphones, and you should be fine.
This thing is definitely a desktop replacement. Yes, it’s a laptop and technically you could game on the go, but chances are you won’t be on the road for long. I got a terrible 49 minutes of battery life during our gaming battery test. It is logical; you have a lot of high end hardware and a 4K panel does a lot – that’s definitely not battery friendly.
The uber-expensive Razer Blade 17 fared just as badly. I wasn’t expecting the battery life to be great, but part of me was hoping we’d get at least an hour.
The Alienware m17 R5 may not be the most powerful gaming laptop ever, but it’s not for lack of trying. Even if the CPU performance lags behind some of its rivals, the m17 R5 makes up for the shortfall with impressive gaming results. The 4K display is great for anyone watching movies or working, but you could save a few hundred bucks by downsizing some of the more expensive components and score a really solid 1080p gaming laptop.